Great flow and pacing of episode
Stellar performances by all three leading actors
A great balance of action and character driven sequences
Excellent development of characters within each different century
Snappy writing and excellent direction
A little cheese with that 1940's ham?
Outlander gives us battles of varying stakes in the electrifying season premiere
Over a year after we saw the Outlander season 2 finale, our favorite Scottish time travel romance is back with the long awaited season 3 premiere. Friends, Droughtlander has been long and arduous. There were times when we didn’t think we’d get through it. Twitter battles were fought. Fans imploded. But all that is over now. Jamie, Claire, and yes, Frank too are all back and we couldn’t be happier. After teasing the Battle of Culloden for a solid two years we finally get to see it on screen. Was it all worth it? Come with us as we get to dive deep into Outlander once more!
The premiere is divided into two parts. The first is Jamie lying wounded after the battle of Culloden with British soldiers killing the wounded where they lie. As he slips in and out of consciousness in his present we flash back to the battle itself, out of order and chaotic. We even got one more “mark me” from Charles Stuart and thank goodness for that. Jamie (Sam Heughan) finally gets his reckoning with Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies). In an elaborately choreographed fight Jamie finally kills him- but not before Black Jack nearly mortally wounds his leg. While Jamie lies bleeding out on the battlefield hallucinating Claire, Rupert Mackenzie (Grant O’Rourke) finds him and carries him to a small house at the edge of the moor. They’re caught by the British and are taken out to be executed one at a time, but fortunately for Jamie his name is recognized by Lord Melton (Sam Hoare), the officer in charge. Because Jamie had spared the life of young John Grey last season, Lord Melton spares his life and sends him home to Lallybroch.
While Jamie is suffering post battle in Scotland, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is facing battles of her own back in the 1940’s. Reunited with her husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) but still uneasy, they buy a fancy Boston home fit for a Harvard professor and his wife. But Claire just can’t get into the swing of her new life and has trouble with everything from lighting a stove and recognizing her new “place” as basically an ornament on Frank’s arm to letting Frank in both emotionally and mentally. She’s also uncomfortable with him physically. They’re sleeping apart and she can’t help pulling away when he tries to touch her. It causes a massive fight between the two of them which ends with Claire lobbing an ashtray at Frank’s head. She can’t stop living in the past. He can’t leave talking about the past alone. Frank is struggling and decides to write a letter to the Reverend Wakefield asking for information about James Fraser. When Claire goes into labor they go to the hospital where Claire is patronized yet again and treated pretty abominably. But she has the baby and her and Frank pledge to start fresh. They’re basking in new family glow when a nurse comes in and ruins everything by asking where the baby’s red hair comes from, putting a giant exclamation point at the end of the premiere.
It’s the episode we couldn’t wait for and now it’s finally here! Let’s talk Outlander, guys!
Black Jack’s Ballet
All throughout season two we heard about Culloden. Every single episode of last season was dedicated to stopping Charles Stuart from ending there on that moor. Which made it all the more devastating when we didn’t get to see it! But when we finally did see it- what a battle. With hundreds of extras (Matt B. Roberts, one of the executive producers actually said over a thousand), thousands of weapons, and countless horses, the scenes are beautifully shot and feel lush and expensive. Maybe we didn’t get Culloden during season 2 because Outlander blew their season two budget on Terry Dresbach’s gorgeous French costumes? One of the best parts about the battle was the decision to present the battle out of order as a surrealistic fever dream of Jamie’s. The entire thing was beautiful. Rather than one monotonous long drag the punctuation marks put on it by flashing to Jamie in his 18th century present was really genius.
“Sire, give the command to charge, while there is still a chance.” -Jamie
Without doubt, the best part here is the fight between Black Jack and Jamie. Beyond that, it’s Tobias Menzies and Sam Heughan at their best. From the moment they see each other across the moor it’s like a masterclass in being awesome. Menzies’ head cocks. Heughan’s lips curve with a self-satisfied anticipatory smile. And for the next few minutes we’re watching something that’s as much a romantic dance as it is a fight between mortal enemies. The sexual tension flying during this fight almost melted the television. Every gasp, grunt, and groan was laced with that same raw sexuality. How many ways are there to say that something was phenomenal? There aren’t enough. And when Menzies reached his hand out to Jamie, with such longing and raw hunger still on his face, we were sold on just how much we really loved this episode.
This is also the moment to praise Heughan. He gets precious little dialogue the entire first half of the episode. It’s hard to sell dying without being ridiculous, and while we do cry BS at the length of time he lay dying (surely he would’ve bled out long ago?) his eyes and labored breathing said everything they needed to. When he does have dialogue, he hits all the humor just right. It’s his best work since season 1’s episode 15 (“Wentworth Prison”).
Sh*t 1940’s people say
Claire is back in the 1940’s fighting battles of her own. And in some ways it seems like Claire is actually fighting more than Jamie is. She’s waging an internal war with herself and her despair, and she’s fighting the latent misogyny present in post war America for her own place in it. Is Claire really trying to move from her past, or are the restrictions placed upon her weighing upon her too hard to prevent her from really forgetting everything she’s lost? The 18th century certainly seems like a better place for her than where she is now. Some of these scenes were a little ridiculous (come on, that Millie Nelson character was straight out of these clever little videos here and here down to her last inflection), but they didn’t go so far that we didn’t believe that someone like Dean Jackson existed (and probably still does, but that’s another story). They also really put us firmly in Claire’s corner. Who wouldn’t want to deck that guy.
“Well God love Jerry, and I do, despite what you might think. He’s really no different than most men in this world who don’t want their wives doing anything out of the ordinary. Cook, clean, raise the kids, look pretty when they meet the boss. You’re lucky. You won’t meet another man like Frank again.” -Millie Nelson
Speaking of decking 1940’s people, let’s talk that birthing sequence. As far as that doctor was concerned Claire might as well not have been there! But this wasn’t a surprise to us. Anyone else have a grandparent that told them this was exactly what her birth at the end of the 40’s, beginning of the 1950’s was like? No midwife present, go to sleep and when you wake up you’ll have a baby. It was actually really gratifying to see it on screen. We think this scene really did a decent job of highlighting one of the differences between Frank and Jamie, though. Jamie often defended Claire when she was being unorthodox. Frank is “progressive” and he tolerates it, but he doesn’t come to her aid the way Jamie does.
Did anyone really understand what was going on with Claire staring at the bird, though? Please don’t tell us that the bird was free and Claire wishes she was. If there was a metaphor beyond that it was lost on us. And if that was the metaphor they were going for there… We hated it.
Time spent in the past is time spent in the future.
The best part about this episode is the care and attention given to both Jamie’s time in the past and Claire’s time in the future. Each scene felt relevant and nothing felt superfluous. There was action but there was time spent with each character that allowed Sam, Tobias, and Caitriona to really do their best work both with each other and on their own. The writing and direction took time with the best part of the show: The characters, their feelings and how they relate to each other.
“I want to know when you’re gonna come back from the fucking past.” -Frank Randall
We admit we’ve never been huge fans of Frank himself. Tobias absolutely. But Frank? Previously some of his extended material felt unearned character wise, especially when there was so much that could’ve been explored between Jamie and Claire. But the fight between Frank and Claire is almost enough to make Frank lovers out of us and it isn’t just the love of Tobias. There’s a buildup to the fight between them the entire first half of the episode so when it happens it’s a release of the tension you’ve been feeling the whole time and your heart really just aches for him. Give us more of all of this, please. We know that part of the problem with season two was inherent issues in the source material, but that’s what adaptation is for. We really like the diversions from the books to make things work dramatically in the series. Case in point: The decision to move Frank’s letter about Jamie to the Reverend here instead of revealing it in later seasons. We can’t wait to see what they do with it this season.
Final Verdict: Outlander 3×01 “The Battle Joined” delivers hard core hits – we hope they’re beginning as they mean to continue
What an episode. We asked Outlander to step it up and be the show that we know that it could, and it really did. With the right balance between the characters, beautiful development, the right mix of tension and great effects, the year plus wait was definitely worth it. It just might have been our favorite episode to date.
There were some minor quibbles about a little bit of overacting during the 1940’s sequences. We’re not sure if it’s even possible to be more of a 1940’s dame than Millie Nelson. And her name! Seriously Ron? We’re going to need to find out how you came up with that name. (EDIT: We have found out. She’s apparently named for the neighbor in the Dick Van Dyke show. Maybe she should’ve stayed there) We’re also going to have to say we could’ve done without Claire staring at a bird for an extended amount of time. When the rest of the episode was that good, why on earth waste our time with that?
There was some acting going on here, y’all. The looks each actor gave should be gifs for days. Tobias cocking his head as Black Jack Randall when he sees Jamie, and that little smile. Sam’s smile when he sees Black Jack on the battlefield. Claire’s tightening of the lips right before she smiles and tells Dean Jackson she’s “very happy” to resume domestic duties. And Tobias’ very clear swallow when Claire grabs his hand right afterwards. And Frank’s absolute shock when Claire tosses that ashtray at his head. These little moments remind us just why these guys got cast.
All the accolades for Brendan Maher and his first time direction for the series. After a jarring moment when the rest of the battle disappeared, we weren’t really sure we were into it. But as we stuck with it and our focus was solely on Black Jack and Jamie we really did love the camera effects and stunning colors and we felt it really worked beautifully. We’re also always going to respect a director that gets performances from actors like that.
We think that Outlander is really underestimated and dismissed as a “romance” when there’s really a lot going on there. Acting wise this episode really showcased powerhouse performances from the big three leads. We can’t wait to see what the journey is going to hold for Jamie and Claire living separate lives. We hope that this balance between the two stories continues and moves forward with that same consistency regarding earned moments in the story. We’re desperate to know what happened to Murtagh and we hope that we’re going to get to see that later on. Thank you, Outlander! Despite taking absolutely forever to come back, you really came back with a bang!
Comments and Questions
- Did anyone else think that Claire was going to blow up the house when she couldn’t light the stove
- We sort of got super inappropriate sexy tingles when Black Jack was close-fighting Jamie.
- It was really hard not to want to throttle Dean Jackson. Please slap him.
- RIP, Rupert! We’re definitely going to miss you!
- Everyone who is praying Murtagh isn’t dead please stand up.
- Why doesn’t Frank just buy a new stove for Claire? (Yes, we’re still on the stove.)
- We really liked the actor who played Hal. Here’s hoping we see him again!
Outlander returns next Sunday, September 17th, 2017 at 8/7C on Starz.
Outlander Review 3×01: “The Battle Joined”