Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 3, Episode 1

Season 3 has begun! My intention is to write an “Insta-Reaction” post for each episode soon after viewing, to share some initial thoughts, questions, reactions — you name it.

Warning:

Spoilers

I may be talking about events from this episode, other episodes, and/or the book series… so if you’d rather not know, now’s your chance to walk away!

Outlander, episode 301: “The Battle Joined”

The official synopsis (via Starz):

After living through the Battle of Culloden, Jamie is at the mercy of British victors, until his past provides his only hope of survival. Meanwhile, a pregnant Claire attempts to adjust to life in 1940s Boston.

My take:

Major plot points:

We follow two separate plot threads, Jamie’s and Claire’s.

  • Jamie wakes on the battlefield in a heap of bodies, half-dead and with visions of the last day flashing before his eyes.
  • We see him at Craigh na Dun after saying good-bye to Claire, then arriving at Culloden, where Prince Charles still thinks he’s going to have a victory.
  • We see flashes of Jamie on the battlefield, carnage all around him, finally killing Black Jack Randall while receiving his own seemingly fatal wound.

  • Jamie’s life is ultimately spared by Lord Melton, older brother of John Grey, who considers there to be a debt of honor due to Jamie’s sparing of John’s life at Carryarick.
  • Meanwhile, Frank and Claire are beginning their life together in Boston.
  • Claire is not well-suited to the life of a faculty housewife, expected to look pretty, stay quiet, and prepare dinner on a modern-day stove.
  • Claire can’t allow Frank to touch her. Things are tense.
  • Finally, Claire goes into labor, and delivers a healthy baby girl. Claire and Frank declare themselves ready for a new beginning, which is immediately tested by a nurse asking where the baby got her red hair. Oops. Loaded question.

Insta-reaction:

Such a beautiful episode. Really, I couldn’t have asked for better.

Book readers will know that while Voyager starts with Jamie lying wounded on the battlefield, wondering if he’s dead already, we never actually see the Battle of Culloden. It’s quite effective that it’s shown, with all its horror and carnage. The Jacobites are running with swords into the line of fire from guns and cannon, and they just don’t stand a chance.

And that blasted Prince Charles, still dreaming of victory as he shows off his pretty silver cups while the men devoted to a Stuart restoration rush to their deaths. So terribly, needlessly tragic.

Jamie’s vision of Claire on the battlefield is lovely. She’s all he can see, and he has nothing without her.

I enjoyed the brief moments of Murtagh during the battle and the quick interchange between him and Jamie. His fate, at least on this episode, is unknown, although I think it’s safe to assume that he met the same end here as in the book. Or does he? Is the show leaving open the possibility that we’ll see him again? Murtagh’s death in the books was one of the hardest to take. A fan can hope, right?

(But how could he have survived Culloden? The British killed everyone wounded on the battlefield, and if he wasn’t wounded or dead, he would have found Jamie or died trying.)

Where’s Murtagh???

I know, I know… this really is probably just wishful thinking on my part. A key piece of the coming years of Jamie’s life is how alone he is. Having Murtagh there would change the dynamic and shift the story quite a bit, so I can’t really see the showrunners going in that direction. I guess I just don’t want to say good-bye to him. I do love the character!

Rupert plays a heroic role, looking after the few survivors as they await their turn to be executed, before making his own good-bye to Jamie and facing death. I love that he stepped up and acted as a leader in these scenes, and that his parting with Jamie was full of affection, not dwelling on Jamie’s killing of Dougal. It must be nice to have the belief systems of these Highlanders — Rupert takes comfort in the idea of being with Angus once again. (Are we crying yet?)

Hal, Lord Melton, is a book favorite of mine, and while I don’t expect to see him again this season, I felt his portrayal and his handling of the moral dilemma presented by Jamie was quite good. And it was great seeing Jamie end up back in Jenny’s loving care by the end of the episode.

As for Claire — well, this housewife role is clearly not for her. It’s almost painful to see how voiceless and powerless she is as a woman in 1948. This is a woman who advised kings and chieftains, engaged in high-level political scheming, and performed amputations, battlefield medicine, and more. And yet when she offers an opinion at the Harvard faculty club, she’s treated as impertinent and out of line, with nothing of value to say because she’s a woman, and a pregnant one at that. And then later, when the doctor asks Frank about her contractions instead of Claire, and then sedates her against her will — infuriating! We assumed when Claire first arrived in the Highlands that she’d be shoved into a powerless role because of her sex, yet it’s really here in the late 1940s that Claire is more pigeon-holed than ever before.

It does seems an important point that she mentioned that Harvard Medical School began admitting women just a few years earlier, giving a hint of her own next step. Claire is a woman whose calling in life is to be a healer — sitting home making dinner, staying quiet, and not worrying her pretty head about anything absolutely isn’t her.

Likewise, if we really think about it, Claire has never been a housewife before. From the opening of episode 1, season 1, we know that Claire has never had a home of her own. She and Frank married and then were separated by war, which she spent on battlefields and hospitals. They no sooner reunite than they’re separated again by Claire’s trip into the past, where she certainly wasn’t a housewife, instead involved in non-stop action and called on time and time again to use her remarkable skills as a healer. She’s never had a home or the expectation that home was where she was meant to be. It’s so not Claire! Ugh, 1948, you’re the worst.

Poor Frank. I’ve never been all that fond of him, but he does seem to be getting a pretty raw deal here. It still doesn’t really make sense to me that he and Claire chose to remain together and stay married. How can they ever expect to get past the three years they were apart, and the fact that Claire fell passionately in love with another man? I’m not sure either of them is being realistic about the deep layers of hurt and sorrow between them.

Oh, that moment in the hospital when Claire wakes up and says “where’s my baby?”!! Stunning. Such a beautiful and powerful throwback to the tragic stillbirth of her first child. In the moment when Frank brings her newborn daughter to her, we can see hope finally beginning to shine in Claire’s eyes.

Insta-reaction wrap-up:

A stellar beginning to season 3! Kudos to the cast — their emotions are so raw and spot-on. Kudos as well to the production staff, especially in regard to the staging of the battle and its aftermath. Simply breathtaking and devastating.

And furthermore…

I’m just so damn glad that Droughtlander is over! It’s been a long time, but worth every moment of waiting if the full season promises to be as great as its first episode.

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3 thoughts on “Insta-Reaction: Outlander, Season 3, Episode 1

  1. Love this! This was such an incredible episode and everything you said about it was spot on. It was so hard watching Claire struggling in her new role as housewife. I did love the scene where the stove wasn’t working and while wondering what to do she spots the fireplace and immediately sets to work cooking in it. I loved seeing her apply her knowledge from the past where most women in that day probably would have given up. I’m really excited for the rest of this season, especially after having read the books and knowing that she doesn’t sit by for long and pushes back against how women in that time were expected to act. And of course for the big reunion episode!

    • Ha, I did love the cooking scene as well! I really would have loved to see Frank’s reaction when he came home and found Claire cooking over a fire — I can’t imagine that would have gone well. I’m really excited for the whole season… although I have to admit that I’m among the minority when it comes to the reunion. I loved seeing them back together in the book, but there’s something about the first day or two that didn’t quite work for me. It’ll be interesting to see how they choose to portray it in the show.

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