A truly moving performance from Sam Heughan
Equally good work from Tobias Menzies and Caitriona Balfe in their studies of loneliness
Some great opportunities to objectify the men when they aren't wearing shirts
An odd pacing issue makes the episode feel simultaneously rushed and slow
Lack of groundwork make some plot points feel like they come out of nowhere
A return of the "tell don't show" voiceover that underestimates the audience. Don't worry, we understand Claire needs more out of life.
Outlander’s separated power couple surrender their souls along with themselves in episode two
The timelines don’t quite match in this week’s episode of Outlander so we get a little bit of a hand with time cards to clarify things a bit. We jump ahead seven years back in the 18th century and things are clearly not going super well for Jamie’s family. The British are looking for the “Dunbonnet” and the new captain of the garrison thinks he might be the famous Scottish prisoner Red Jamie (Sam Heughan). Ian (Steven Cree), Jamie’s brother in law, is arrested again for failing to provide information on this notorious prisoner. Jenny (Laura Donnelly) is worried about Jamie who has been stonily silent for the most part so we get where she’s coming from.
Back in the 1940’s Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is masturbating next to her sleeping husband and thinking of Jamie without clothes on. You do you, Claire. In their little cozy domestic scene things are a little tense between them despite Frank (Tobias Menzies) looking damn sexy in just a towel, so it appears their “new beginning” pledge has lasted about six months. Back in the 18th century young Fergus (Romann Berrux) post voice change is desperately trying to connect with his foster father but nothing seems to work, not even calling him a coward. Jamie has a close call with some redcoats when he pops on over from the cave where he’s been living to Lallybroch where Jenny is having a baby and the Fergus, Rabbie and Young Jamie decide it’s a perfect time to get superstitious and shoot a raven.
Claire is still Claire: Girlfriend still owns her sexuality big time but she seemed to have more of a connection with Jamie while she was getting herself off than with the current husband she has right there. Fergus has decided he hasn’t pissed the English soldiers off enough yet so he taunts them a bit too far one last time and they cut off his hand. Luckily Jamie sees the whole thing and saves him. He finally decides enough is enough and he can’t continue watching hurt come down on the people he loves so he concocts a scheme where Jenny will turn him in for the reward money on his head.
Everyone’s favorite 40’s housewife Millie Nelson is back and she’s brought her husband along. If you thought Millie was irritating- good news, she’s no longer the most irritating person in the room because she’s brought her husband Jerry along. Their crudeness obviously inspires Frank and Claire for a little fireplace sexiness, but it all quickly goes awry when Frank asks Claire to open her eyes and she won’t. There’s a bit of narration to help fill in the gaps and Claire goes to medical school and meets Joe Abernathy, a black man who is just as much an outcast at Harvard as she is. And Claire and Frank are suddenly sleeping in separate twin beds like a 1950’s sitcom.
Back in the 18th century Jamie is spending his last night alone in his cave and Mary McNab shows up to give him some food, a haircut, and a shave. She’s pretty talented with the shears because in no time he’s looking like old Jamie again. He goes to wash and when he comes back she’s there wearing just her shift ready to service the laird. At first Jamie is too noble, but she’s kind and lovely and speaks to him about both of them needing something so he gives in. The next day he follows through with the plan, Jamie is arrested and Jenny gets the reward money. But she is not happy as he’s taken away.
There was so much to discuss here in this episode we can’t possibly waste any more time recapping! Time to go for it!
How Claire got her sexual power back
There was a great deal said about Outlander during season one being about the show being for the female gaze (http://jennytrout.com/?p=8049) and how it was a shining example of female sexual power. That faltered a bit when Claire was sexually assaulted in the latter part of the first season and there was very little chatter about it during the second season. The thought comes right to the forefront here with this episode. The first time we see Claire during this episode she’s actually masturbating thinking of Jamie while she’s next to Frank. When we next see Claire she’s the one who initiates sex, and she’s on top. When their next sexual encounter comes, she taunts him. She’s the one who is in control of their lovemaking. But what sort of sex is this? Claire is sexual. She needs sex, so she takes it. It’s both gratifying to see her seize this point of power back and painful. Gratifying because Claire seems so powerless in her current life with Frank and painful because as we’re watching Claire be a blatantly sexual being it’s overlapped with scenes of Jamie living like a monk.
“Claire when I’m with you, I’m with you. But you’re with him.” -Frank
It’s interesting to note that Frank before Claire’s journey through the stones reveled in this sort of behavior from Claire. During episode 3×01 Frank accused Claire of not trying and pulling away from him. She’s clearly no longer doing that and at least attempting to make some sort of connection with him. But would anything have been enough for Frank here? It’s difficult not to feel like this is an impossible situation for both of them. It’s hard to have sympathy for Claire who appears to be fantasizing about Jamie but at least seems to be making some sort of effort towards the husband she does have despite not opening her eyes during sex and the disturbing feeling that she’s really jut coldly using him. But previously she wouldn’t even let Frank touch her, so surely there is some effort being made there?
It’s difficult to sympathize with anyone here with the exception of Jamie. After their vow last week to try and make a fresh start neither Frank nor Claire seemed to make more than a cursory effort and they gave up awfully quickly. Yes, the story needs to move forward. But if Frank and Claire really wanted to make an effort, then they should probably make the effort! Their cursory relationship was actually a boon for Heughan’s performance in the long run though. Their lack of emotion in matters sexual made Heughan’s tears when he finally consents to sleeping with Mary McNab so effective. Watching Jamie cry as he touched Mary made our throats close with sympathy for that kind of loneliness.
“Revenant” Jamie Fraser appears in 18th century Scotland
When Ian is first carted away to prison, Captain Lewis helpfully provides us with a good deal of exposition. Turns out it’s exposition we need since the styling on Jamie in this episode was mystifying, to say the least. Why on earth would be necessary and appropriate to put a brown hat on your head to cover your red hair if said red hair is growing long past your shoulders and has an equally long red beard to match? We get it, Outlander. You really want us to understand Jamie doesn’t care about anything including his appearance. So dress him like a slob and toss some dirt on him! But don’t tell us the British are looking for a redhaired Jacobite and then let us believe that the British shoulders missed a man with a ginger mop that’s about as inconspicuous with that brown hat as an elephant in a flamingo enclosure. Jamie couldn’t have looked more like Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant if he tried.
“He’s an outlaw that wears a brown hat to cover his distinctive red hair.” -Captain Lewis
While we’re on the subject of lonely sad Jamie and his homage to caveman hairstyles, it’s difficult to say if Jamie’s surrender felt earned in this episode. Yes, he was lonely and quiet, a shell of himself. But were the hardships of the Murray family really that difficult? Yes, it’s a bother than Ian keeps getting arrested and their loyalties are continuously questioned. And oh, right, their tapestry was slashed. But Jamie is providing them with food. And Jenny herself said that the British hadn’t come around for two years before this new Captain came around. Unlike the novel there are functional and practical things Jamie is providing for them instead of going to prison. Does this make it sadder that he surrenders himself to the British? The slight changes from the source material: The lack of food & money and the superfluousness of Jamie to the running of Lallybroch make his reasoning for turning himself in more vague. The situation and Jamie’s great sacrifice just feel unearned to us.
Teens act like idiots in any century
Jamie’s biggest issues in this episode seemed to stem from his lack of ability to make any sort of meaningful connection in ways that are familiar to him. Though the people in his life attempt several times to get some sort of reaction, they’re largely unsuccessful. Jenny tries to force Jamie back to the land of living by talking about him needing a woman, but Jamie isn’t buying. Fergus at first attempts to ask Jamie to teach him to shoot and calls him a coward when he refuses. But Jamie doesn’t respond to that sort of goading because he probably believes it. It takes a real disaster to force Jamie to some sort of action, even if it’s not one that necessarily makes clear sense because of the aforementioned changes from the source material.
“There you are, milord.” -Fergus
In another slight change from the source material, Fergus reads a lot more like a bratty teen than a noble martyr. Fergus tries to fill the hole left by Jamie in defense of the family against the English and he does it as only a teen can, in a pretty dangerous way. Instead of the English soldiers accidently being near the cave and Fergus taunting them away, Fergus instead starts with the intention of goading the soldiers all along and loses his hand for it. Though we absolutely missed Fergus’ meritorious sacrifice, we thought the change really added another layer to the relationship between Jamie and Fergus by allowing Jamie to step up as a father to a pissy kid.
Final Verdict: Outlander 3×02 “Surrender” came at us with solid drama, but some of it felt unearned with lack of development
Though there were some quality moments in Outlander’s second go of the season, the episode just didn’t have the clear storytelling and great pacing the premiere delivered. This made some of the more hard-hitting emotional moments just feel a bit rushed or unexplained. Overall we thought the episode did what it needed to narratively and there were certainly some really strong performances as usual. But we wanted to be left crying in a puddling heap as opposed to just feeling a little sorry for our separated lovers.
The shock of seeing Claire and Frank in separate beds after one contested sexual encounter was real. Does anyone want to hazard a guess as to how rapidly their relationship is going to deteriorate now? After all the talk of Frank’s stand up nobility at taking in a wife who loved someone else and raising their child it just moving to separate beds like a 1950’s sitcom had our jaws on the floor. Despite Frank’s assertion that he would always love her no matter what, he appears to be at the end of his tether for the sort of behavior he’ll tolerate from Claire.
Who has conversations like Jenny had with her brother right after she had baby Ian? Really, Jenny? That’s where you’re going? How long has it been since you’ve lain with a woman? Jenny’s a blunt gal but surely there was a better turn of phrase here. Does Jenny want Jamie to have a baby that badly? And did she think this kind of approach would work for pulling Jamie out of his melancholy?
Sam Heughan was our standout acting performance for the second week in a row for his scene with Mary McNab. This felt like it didn’t come out of nowhere. First we were dying for it to happen since Claire was having an awful lot of sex this episode herself and we were incensed on Jamie’s behalf. But snippets of dialogue led us right to the moment: Ian discussing how his leg pains him even though it was gone, and how Claire was Jamie’s heart being the most impactful of those moments. Heughan’s tears as he touched the only other woman he’d ever touched besides Claire honestly made the whole episode worth watching.
Next week Jamie will be in prison and Claire will be in medical school. We’re hoping to see a lot of Claire’s relationship with fellow medical student Joe Abernathy (Wil Johnson) and how they’re a support for each other. We’re also really concerned with how far Frank and Claire’s relationship will descend given the place they’re already at this episode. For Jamie it’s back to prison and back to a life that doesn’t belong to him. How will he cope, and how will his time in Ardsmuir shape this new Jamie?
Comments and Questions: Harsh Claire.
- Claire masturbating and fantasizing about Jamie right next to sleeping Frank felt cold as ice. We get the feeling, but… damn, Claire.
- Did Frank & Claire’s “surrender” of their marriage feel incredibly fast? They waved that white flag awfully quickly.
- Was anyone else desperately wanting Jamie to sleep with Mary McNab just to sock it to Claire for being so cold sexually with Frank? Just us??
- Did Fergus do something provoke a really intense reaction from the British to stir Jamie out of his stupor or are we really reading into it too much?
- Oh man, more voiceover. It would’ve been nice if we had seen one more scene of Claire wanting more from her life rather than just telling us with voiceover.
- Can we never see Millie and Jerry again? How pointless are they?
- Could that red headed baby be any more adorable? That baby should win every cute contest.
- We’ll miss young Romann Berrux! He’s a delightful young actor and we wish him all the luck in the world.
Outlander returns next Sunday, September 24th, 2017 at 8/7C on Starz.
Outlander Review 3×02: “Surrender”