***Spoiler Warning: Spoilers for Outlander through Season 3, Episode 1, and Book Spoilers through Diana Gabaldon’s Voyager follow. Spoilers***
With a flurry of frenetic images and the impossibly gorgeous dance of combat drifting through the haze of Jamie Fraser’s broken consciousness, we rejoin the wounded warrior on a field in Culloden, where the Jacobites were soundly defeated in 1746. Deftly directed by Brendan Maher (MI-5, Beastmaster, Kidnapped), the breathtaking opening scenes of Outlander’s third season bring the balletic battle to life with such beautiful, slow-motion imagery, it seems a shame not to stop each individual frame in appreciation, a Renaissance parade of depth and color rarely played out across modern day screens. Piles of the dead and still dying cover the ground — Redcoat bayonets finishing off the unlucky as they’re one by one discovered — Jamie among them, his breath slowed and gasping and he intermittently takes in his surroundings … remembers.
Amid the flashes of rushing soldiers, explosions, a pompous prince, and eye to eye with a finished-off dying lad (hardly fast or painlessly), Fraser remembers his own killings — a horrific sod-stuffing asphyxiation, and an unexpectedly quick encounter with his greatest enemy. The minute he shows up on the field, everything else fades out, Jamie and Black Jack Randall lock eyes and charge each other, gazelle-like, almost too graceful and beautiful right to the bloody end. After every terrible deed Randall has perpetrated, there’s still something almost loving in his gaze, he slashes at Fraser, wounding Jamie with a final cut before Jamie stabs Jack in the gut over and over again. The two men fall to the ground, and Black Jack dies right on top of Jamie, in a twisted mockery of Fraser’s would-be victory. In his hallucinatory daze, gravely wounded and bleeding out in the falling snow, Jamie imagines Claire walking toward him, angelic, asking if he’s still alive, but it’s really Rupert come to rescue the reluctant Fraser who, realizing his wife is gone, the battle lost, only wants to die. In his weakened state, Jamie drops the dragonfly in amber he’d been holding.
In 1948 Boston, Claire and Frank do their own dance around the empty chasm gaping between them, their pretense quickly falling apart when Frank dares to touch his heavily pregnant wife. Believing Jamie to be thoroughly dead doesn’t mean Claire can forget him; for that matter, nor can Frank, who begins a letter asking his reverend to help research the father of Claire’s child. Tobias Menzies and Caitriona Balfe each mark their characters’ struggling return with heartfelt tears, and anguish at their inability to contain irrepressible emotions. Frank only wants back the woman he loves and inexplicably lost, and Claire’s similar predicament involves her other husband. Nearly all their troubles quickly fade to the background as baby Brianna’s birth becomes immanent; their singular focus narrows in on the hope of a newborn child.
While Jamie waits with Rupert for his turn to die — “You will be shot, like soldiers” — by Redcoat hands, pleas for youthful exceptions fall on deaf ears, and one by one Fraser’s mates head outside their makeshift hospice to face quick fates. His goodbyes complete, Jamie gives his full name in preparation for his own execution; at the last moment, again reluctantly saved by an honor-bound Lord Melton (Sam Hoare), elder brother of Lord John Grey, whose life Jamie once spared. Sent home by wagon, Red Jamie incredulously awakens to Jenny and Ian’s voices, welcoming him back to Lollybrach, while in another place and time his daughter’s eyes likewise open, her heritage unmistakably noted by a nurse …
Though not hugely eventful in the grand scheme of Diana Gabaldon’s sprawling series, this first Season 3 hour was so gorgeously rendered and beautifully acted, it practically flew by. The art of the battle in the past played against the emotions of Claire and Frank’s own internal wars, he trying to salvage the life with his wife in any way possible, and she trying to let go of the love she thinks is gone forever; what a stunning episode.
I think we’re all so thankful to be rid of Black Jack Randall, and at the same time, thrilled we’ll continue to be graced by Tobias Menzies’ brilliance. Don’t know that I’ve ever been so happy an actor was playing a dual role.
Ron Moore said Menzies and Heughan decided Black Jack and Jamie should almost fall into each others’ arms when they were fighting — it wasn’t written in the script that way. “And then the actors themselves just expanded on that moment. They came up with that moment where the two of them reach out for each other and collapsing together. That was something they created on the day rather than it being in the script. The director recognized the importance of that scene for the two men and for the series at large. So all of the elements came together for this very important beat and we gave it its time.”
The three leads were exceptional, as always, reminding us how right they each are in their roles as Claire, Jamie and Frank. Sam Heughan’s grace and trembling lip; Caitriona Balfe holding back tears and visibly fighting all Claire’s emotions, trying to make the best of the life she committed to with Frank for both Jamie and her daughter; Menzies’ Frank, still madly in love with his wife, and angry that she basically cheated on him, albeit in another time — that tear rolling down his face, and the look when Claire pushed away his hand from her belly — the man is a sublime actor.
Loved the bits when both Claire and Frank politely pushed back against his boss’ sexism, and Claire practically ready to rage, but holding herself back from just pounding the crap out of Dean Jackson (Colin Stinton).
Likewise, the panic that set in as Claire realized she couldn’t be in control of her own childbirth — when the attending physician, Dr. Thorne (Roger Ringrose) basically ignored her and spoke to Frank as if she wasn’t there — I was sure Claire would deck him … but then the nurse put her out — “You bastard.” It was heartbreaking when Claire woke in a panic, likely reliving the loss of Faith, followed by her joy at seeing baby Bree in Frank’s arms. As much as we want Jamie and Claire back together (6 episodes, really?), Claire and Frank’s closeness at the end was so sweet. For a minute, I believed they could actually be happy together.
And then that nurse: “Where’d she get the red hair?”
Frank’s line about teabags was perfect: “It doesn’t even smell like tea anymore after weeks of sitting in paper diapers.”
Um, and touché: “I’m not the one who’s been fucking other people.”