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Say goodbye to your fall weekend plans, everyone. Say sayonara to that jaunt to Prince Edward’s Island or Warren’s Cranberry Festival because Outlander Season 3 is here to dominate your calendar until Christmas. As I often like to do when we begin a new season of Outlander coverage and recaps and nonsense here at That’s Normal, I would like to welcome every single one of you, even the haters and losers* and remind everyone that this is the place to air your grievances, live your best fandom life and get seriously second hand embarrassed with the best people on the internet.
*I would never call you all losers. Talk to your Commander-In-Chief if you feel attacked right now.
Every time Outlander comes back for a new season (and we consider this the 4th time that’s happened because season one was … really two seasons), we get a little trepidatious along with a lot excited. Sure, we can’t wait to see what Ron D Moore and company are bringing our TV and tablet screens, but will it live up to our vaulted expectations? Will Diana get mad at us because we did a bad impression of her on Hangoutlander? Will we ever have any free time between watching, tweeting, recapping, gif-ing, snapchatting and blurtlandering this show for the next THREE MONTHS? Truth is, we love it and wouldn’t trade the craziness for the world.
And so … Outlander season 2 ended with Claire discovering, with the help of Roger Wakefield and her daughter Brianna, that Jamie survived the infamous Battle of Culloden, and that he just might be alive back in the past. She’s declared to glorious sunrise that she has to go back. But we don’t pick up at the stones in 1968. No, season three is going to give us all the pain and suffering of the 20 year separation that Jamie and Claire have endured so far. How did Jamie survive the battle he meant to die in? What was Claire’s marriage to Frank like after she returned pregnant with another man’s child? Season Three answers those questions and more – from the last minute on.
Episode 301 promises by its title opener to give us the one thing in season two that kept evading and subsequently infuriating us. The Battle of Culloden moor. Book readers and historians know that this battle not only is the pinnacle of the years of conflict and tension between the Scottish and the English, but also that it’s the reason author Diana Gabaldon chose to set her book in 1740’s Scotland. There was already plenty of plot, villains, stakes and mayhem to go around in the history of this time period; she didn’t have to manufacture it.
But all of season 2 worked as simply prelude to this final battle. As much as it was discussed, we never saw it, and as an adaptation and not a direct reproduction of the book, viewers were ready for the conflict. And here it was, finally. I was worried in the first moments of the episode that all we would see was aftermath, and no cathartic triumph. The bodies piled on the moor, the blood pooling, the mist looming, the tartan crumpling all mixed to show us the end game. Over.
And then I realized: there IS no cathartic triumph in this battle. Our heroes die. The story is not the battle fought and won; it’s the battle, having been lost, affecting the lives of those who live beyond it. We root for those who lose this game, and therefore joining the battle in medias res is a defeatist way to write it. Like Claire, we must go back only once we know the outcome.
We Noticed That Too: We can spot Sam’s fingers in the opening credits. We know them THAT well. #embarrassed
Let’s just take a minute and think about everything that Sam Heughan did in this episode with about 10 actual lines of dialogue.
He.Did.All.That. Starting with that first burst of pained breathing, we are sucked into Jamie’s realization that not only has he not perished in the battle as he intended and expected, but he is going to be forced to relive each moment in painful bursts. His injured whimpering and fearful countenance let viewers into the psyche of a man without hope, left torn and bleeding on a battlefield. We can see AND hear his fear and his pain, and perhaps … amid the whuffing of horses and his own labored breaths … maybe his is not the only strained breathing we hear.
I loved the look back at the battle through Jamie’s thoughts as he flits in and out of pained consciousness. Seeing Jamie on the front lines, making a charge, is bookended by a despondent look on Sam’s face. Watching his eyes widen, at his most shell-shocked, we see the most arduous memory he has – Claire leaving him at the stones. Sam made a master class of these moments, and it was a glorious bit of subtlety and an emotional gutpunch that required no words.
We Noticed That Too: Jamie is parched. That lip lick and bite! Looks like he needs help moistening his mouth. #VolunteerAsTribute
At the cue the dusk and firelight, time stops as they see each other at the same time across the field. Eyes only for each other, they crash together violently and intimately, intent on the physical expression of their feelings for one another.
No, that’s not the opening sentence of chapter 17 of my upcoming novel; it’s basically what happens when Jamie and Black Jack see one another across the bloody battlefield of Culloden. Romantic lighting. The swell of music. The stoppage of time as they take in one another. The urge to run into one another’s arms. It’s so F***ing … romantic.
Like all good nemeses, these two are emotionally bound to one another. When the one person you hate more than any other enters a room, you are just as aware of their presence as you are the one you love the most. And so what we get in this epic battle between Jamie and the tormenter he loathes is a beautifully choreographed dance. It’s like a love scene, with blood and swords, but also with plenty of sweat and exhausted grappling. They are fully intent on one another. And as they do damage, they exhaust themselves trying to finish, until they finally just collapse on one another. Sweet.
Tobias does some masterful work as they circle each other, looking for a place to maim and kill, but also … hating having to do it. He truly looks despondent at the idea that he’s going to finally dispatch the object of his affection.
Then of course … the afterglow. The two are clinched in a lovers’ embrace, faces turned toward one another like a post-coital sleep. I fully expected Jamie to begin remembering Claire again as his lips brushed Jack’s hair. And still … for all that intimacy, we never see the killing blow, and we’ll never know for sure if Jack made it off that field.
We Noticed That Too: I’m sure for new viewers who’ve never read the books, it must have been an audible shock to see the face of Black Jack Randall as the redcoat who’s been lying on Jamie. It’s one of the things that sucks about being so well-versed in the source material. Those shocks hit less potently than they deserve.
I don’t know what Frank was feeling in the books when all this went down. Did the move to Boston feel like a new start with Claire? Was he truly ecstatic about the prospect of being a father, even if the child he would raise was not biologically his own? Did he love Claire or did he simply feel duty-bound? These are questions that book readers can truly discuss and disagree on.
Not so with the show. Tobias’ Frank is adamant that this marriage is the one he’s missed for three years, that their new life will be the BEST.EVER! And that Claire’s child is fully HIS child. In every scene in episode 301, Frank is making an earnest effort to bring the wife he knew back from her obscurity. Asking if she slept well, and promising to be happy with whatever she makes is just the bottom of the barrel of Frank’s Try. He follows her with his eyes in a way that ensures that he’s connected to her emotionally, aware that she’s gone, in a distant place, and only nominally present with him.
Frank’s ultimate decision, after their fight, to begin looking for Jamie is more proof of his effort. He’s going to keep it from her, but he’s also going to believe her and examine her claims in the simple, sedulous and workable manner of a historian on a hunt. I loved this real way they’ve written Frank because it foils Jamie so effortlessly. Even when he’s not at fault, even when he’s a good husband and a man of honor, he cannot be enough for Claire.
Don’t we all?
This moment got big laughs at San Diego Comic-Con, and yes, as written it was mildly humorous. When you factor in just how BRITISH Tobias Menzies is in real life, this moment gets exponentially funnier. I can easily imagine that he just ad-libbed his way through this whole scene and went with his own feelings about tea bags vs loose leaf. “Paper diapers” has the same tone as the disdain font that he writes all his tweets in. I’m also one hundred percent sure that Tobias hates American shit even more than Frank would. Reality television, Ryan Seacrest, MAGA, pom squads, country music, Reese Witherspoon and the missionary position = American Things Tobias Probably Totally Disdains and I Definitely Do. I love your surly British ass, Tobias.
Not every woman can unerringly relate to Claire Randall. She’s churlish and brash, and she never ever simply takes the path of least resistance. Thank God. Claire, in every modern sense of the word, is a feminist. And having left the 18th century, you would think she would be entering a time that promotes, understands and values women a bit more. But the mid-20th century proves much less progressive for women than two centuries prior. The patriarchy is real.
It’s subtle when she encounters Millie from next door, but the seeds are already planted; Claire is meant to simply make sure her husband is happy with whatever she does. That is, after all, “all that matters.” But Claire diplomatically won’t let that stand. No, Frank is progressive. Frank gets her. He’ll, of course, “be fine with whatever she makes.”
It’s overt when the Harvard Dean all but leers at Claire’s swelling midsection and declares her current pursuits (child-bearing and domesticity) the more fitting for her over serving her country in the war or pursuing medicine or even … heaven forfend … reading the fucking paper. Claire’s face in this moment reminds us all that as women we often have to hold our tongues and bide our time … because we will outlive these bastards.
And it’s cruel when Claire succinctly and forthrightly declares that she wants to be fully awake and present for the birth of her own child and is summarily denied and condescended to by Dr. Asshole. For a mother who recently (only a year ago!) lost a late term child, it is devastating and callous that the doctors would refuse her request. Those moments after birth when your newborn is whisked to the table nearby for their APGAR score are hard enough, and you can see and hear them perfectly well. The first thing you feel when you wake up from the first sleep you have after a baby is born is the ABSENCE of your child in your body. It’s visceral and disconcerting. How much more barbarous to wake up not knowing how the birth went, not having been the first to hold your baby? My heart broke for Claire in the moment when she asked, “Is it dead?”
F*** those men.
Marriage is hard. Everyone knows this. Marriages where one partner is in love with a literal ghost and pregnant with that ghost’s baby? Imma guess those are the worst. That being said, I loved the fight that Frank and Claire have over breakfast. It’s honest, real and comes from that silent place inside a person that knows full well that things are not alright, but has been hoping they will magically get better on their own.
Frank is right. He never forced Claire to come with him, to make a go of their union. He asked, and she agreed. Could Claire have stayed in Scotland or England, made her own way with her daughter and mourned alone? Yes. She absolutely could have. She chose to be with him, and yet coming back all the way requires her emotional, not just her physical, presence. He’s rational and level-headed and has obviously been trying – for months.
And yet. Marriage is never so easy. The injured party is rarely fully in the right, at every moment. Claire is still in the middle of some significant trauma and grief, on top of being pregnant. She may not be fully present in their marriage, but she is doing the best she seems to be able to do. And with all of that on my mind, I loved their fight. It came out of nowhere, over nothing – citizenship! – and devolved quickly as one tries to escape and the other stands and fights. It gets nasty, it gets physical, it gets devastating. And it gave us this glorious Claire face.
We Noticed That Too: The sounds of American modernism clash with both Claire and Frank’s idealism of the past. It’s why Claire is so enamored with the sparrow at her window: the simple sound of nature that brings her right back to a simpler time without clanking radiators and buzzing ice boxes.
Thank God for Rupert Thomas Alexander Mackenzie. Jamie’s literal savior in this episode becomes one of the saving graces of the hour by providing what he’s done from episode 101: sweet comic relief and the Scottish heart of the drama. Steady and honest and honorable the entire episode, Rupert stands in for who Jamie would be in this situation – if he could stand. He’s steadying the rest of the Jacobites with humor and care, and it makes me ache when he is taken out for his sentence. And of course, that would be due to Jamie’s face in that moment as well.
I’ve already mentioned how much incredible acting Sam Heughan is doing in this episode with so few lines, but I have to stop and make the distinction that when he does speak, he is BLESSEDLY JAMMF. In the first episode of season 2, we get this horrible mention by Mrs Graham of how Jamie was just so darn funny, something book readers know and love, but not something that the show gave us enough hard evidence of. Later on, they did their level best to make up for it, but this episode didn’t skimp on one of readers’ (well, mine) favorite scenes of JAMMF humor. As he lays wishing for death, Jamie is unafraid to tell the redcoat captain, “Look, either shoot me or go away.” Iconic lines like “I willna tell if you doona,” are a boon to book readers who long to see the Jamie they know and love on screen.
We Noticed That Too: Lord Melton HATES his second in command, and it’s hilarious.
Worried that Frank and Claire are going to patch things up and work towards a new beginning together where everything is happy and their small family unit is the only things that matters in their ex-pat little lives? Yeah, because everyone knows that babies fix everything.
Well, don’t worry, this nurse is the first of a million women who will nosily ask the same question, over and over again until both Claire and Frank go grey: “Where’d she get the red hair?” BOOM. Roasted.
What a great season opener! Well-paced and with performances that are out-doing the best that these three often bring to the table, Outlander 301 was by far the best season premiere to date. Let’s see if they keep up the pace and the story-telling next week for Surrender.
Check back later this week for more videos from That’s Normal’s Outlander Set Visit in Scotland! And our red carpet interviews with Sam and Caitriona. Curious about what else will we see in Outlander Season 3? Read my spoiler free review.