Some great changes from the book made the journey exciting even for book readers that knew every line
A layered, nuanced performance from newcomer David Berry as Lord John Grey
Some moments between Claire and Frank that really made us cringe in all the best ways.
Extended flashbacks to when Lord John and Jamie first met felt like they wasted time when we wanted more of the great chemistry between actors in scenes
Some GIANT time jumps made us feel like there could've been more in here.
Outlander surprises in all the best ways in what may be their best episode to date
Who doesn’t love surprises? This episode of Outlander was a doozy for book readers starting with Frank (Tobias Menzies) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) in the 1950’s. Claire suggests of film over breakfast but Frank admits he’s seen it (with another woman guys, oh boy are we getting into this later). Later at Claire’s graduation she even shows up when Frank messes up the times of the celebratory dinner! This doesn’t go down particularly well with Claire and they have a massively cruel fight about it when Frank returns drunk as anything.
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Back in the 18th century we meet the new Governor of Ardsmuir prison Lord John Grey (David Berry) as he’s touring it. The old governor tells him about the story of “the Frenchman’s gold” and how nobody has been able to find it in addition to doling out information about the prisoners and one who seems to be in charge of them. Of course it’s our redheaded Scottish hero. Grey sees Jamie (Sam Heughan) who is chained in irons and there’s the spark of recognition between them: They’ve met before. Jamie is brought back to his cell and who should be waiting for him and not too well but Jamie’s Godfather Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix)! Later when a man is found wandering the area outside the prison babbling in two languages about gold, Grey strikes a bargain with Jamie to get any information this man since Jamie speaks French and Gaelic.
Jamie interviews the raving man and gets a mixture of languages talking about gold, member’s of Jamie’s family, and finally babbling about a white witch. When asked, he tells Lord John what the man says but doesn’t reveal everything that it means to him and that he thinks white witch may mean Claire. Later Jamie meets with John Grey and has dinner with him, telling him of prisoner’s needs and thus beginning their friendship. Jamie manages to escape to follow the clues from the old man but he returns and gets the jump on Grey, revealing that he knew him from before Prestonpans- he was the soldier he released. Jamie explains why he escaped and tells Grey he didn’t find the gold, only an empty box, and he offers him a sapphire as proof.
Jamie’s friendship with John Grey progresses. They play chess, Grey offers a physician to tend to Murtagh and they find themselves sharing parts of their lives with each other. Jamie shares true feelings and also tales of Claire, even thanking Grey for his defense of her those many years ago. Grey missteps by touching Jamie’s hand and revealing his true feelings for him, not knowing of Jamie’s previous trauma at the hands of Black Jack. Despite Jamie’s rebuke, when Ardsmuir is closed and all the prisoners including Murtagh are transported to America, Lord John arranges for Jamie to be moved the Helwater instead of moved to another prison.
Time marches on for Claire, all the way to Brianna’s (Sophie Skelton) high school graduation. Only now that Brianna is eighteen and Frank wants out. He informs her he’s accepting a position at Cambridge and he wants a divorce and Brianna. This doesn’t go well at all, they fight again and Frank storms out. Claire is called to the hospital and while she’s there Joe Abernathy (Wil Johnson) comes to her and tells her about a car accident. Frank was killed and Claire confesses to him too late that she did love him and that he was her first love.
This episode was packed full of goodies. Let’s discuss!
Surprises for book fans abound
When a show is based on a popular set of books it can be difficult to surprise fans. As adaptations go Outlander has been really quite faithful, sometimes to its detriment. But a little adaptation can be a good thing. Such was the best surprise Ron Moore gave fans this season- Murtagh survived Culloden. We cannot emphasize enough the amount of love we had for this change and how the writers made it work. We’re not sure of this will continue (we can only hope), but Jamie’s Godfather seems to have taken the place of Duncan Innes- A character from the books that becomes Jamie’s right hand moving forward in their adventures.
“I learned that trick from a lass who knew a fair amount about healing.” -Jamie
Murtagh surviving Culloden just makes sense and we only wish there would’ve been a little information on just how he survived and ended up in the same prison as Jamie. Duncan Lacroix’s performance is really quite wonderful. But the best part of the insertion of Murtagh back into Jamie’s life was that the writers have even gone one step further: They’ve made Murtagh ill. This allows Jamie to step up and grow into the leader we always knew he was destined to be while his Godfather and a man who always protected him was there. Towards the end Murtagh is transported to America- Will he completely replace Duncan Innes? We hope so! Combining characters is something other TV adaptations have used effectively and we’re glad to see it here on Outlander. We don’t need carbon copies of the books on screen. We can just read the books for that!
Not all prisons have walls
A huge welcome to David Berry as Lord John Grey. Book readers know that Grey is a major recurring character and we’ve been looking forward to seeing him on screen and even more interested to see how Berry would handle this pretty complex character. We’re happy to report that he’s more than up to the task. Lord John is a homosexual at a time when one could still be hanged for it. In fact Murtagh himself foreshadows Lord John’s nature (and his disdain for it) when he says, “All these Mollys look the same to me anyway.” It’s a difficult line Berry walks. He has to hint at something slightly different about Grey but at the same time not reveal too much- because John wouldn’t, at the risk to his life. When John & Jamie are playing chess and talking about their pasts are Berry’s finest moments. Lord John tells Jamie about his friend who died at Culloden and Jamie talks of Claire, even thanking him for standing up for her all those years ago. As the scene continues, Berry slowly reveals that this baring of souls means a lot more to John than it does to Jamie and his facial expressions are heartbreaking. His tear as Jamie leaves his room was everything. We’re here for you David Berry.
“God knows what you did to be sent here. But for your sake I hope you deserved it.” -Jamie
The only minor quibbles we had here were the extended flashbacks to Jamie and John’s first meeting. What was writer Matt B. Roberts saying here? The chemistry between Berry and Heughan is warm and wonderful. It broke up the momentum of their budding friendship to flash back so often. There was a great deal between John and Jamie that could have been mined further- John’s struggle to not be attracted to Jamie. His shame upon being rebuked by Jamie and his fear of discovery by his fellow officers once Jamie knew. That’s the only thing we really missed- Once the rebuff had been made, there was nothing before John took Jamie elsewhere. And why weren’t we privy to why John ended up in charge of Ardsmuir? We loved Lord John (and David Berry). We can only hope we’ll see more of him, and that he’ll be developed further.
A relationship in ruins
The other shocking moment of this episode comes from the Claire-Frank relationship. Diana Gabaldon herself has polarized fans by saying that we’re never sure if Frank actually cheats on Claire, because Claire is an unreliable narrator. We’ve read the books and disagree- Perhaps Gabaldon intended for whether Frank cheated on Claire to be ambiguous, but it never read that way to us. Whether or not you blame Frank for cheating on a woman who is fully in love with another man is up to you (for the record, we don’t). But Matt Roberts has taken a very clear stance. Frank cheated. And he didn’t just cheat, he was pretty awful about it.
When we first get the confirmation, Claire seems a little shocked but then thanks him for being discreet. Claire, what happened to your moxy?! She finds it at her college graduation apparently, when Frank’s girlfriend shows up at their house and then stays there and walks in as Claire suggests her guests leave for the party early! Wow. Wow. What can we even say about this? This was a really interesting change- In the books Frank makes snide comments about Claire and all the time she spends with Joe Abernathy. There’s a racist undertone that’s always made us feel uncomfortable and it always never really seemed like Frank. That’s gone here, thank goodness, and they’ve put in something equally as heart wrenching and just as devastating to their relationship. The man couldn’t even go to his wife’s graduation supper from medical school? Jesus, Frank. That’s ice cold.
“What, are you jealous now? Green ain’t your color, Claire.” -Frank
Frank returns piss drunk and the savagery continues. If you didn’t cringe every time you saw them together afterwards we don’t know where your heart is. They eviscerated each other. They’re not even at ease during Brianna’s high school graduation. Despite the undercurrent between them that frankly made us sick to our stomachs we were still sad when Frank asked for divorce at last. We actually really liked how uncomfortable all of these scenes made us because we weren’t sure what to feel. Anger, because Frank was just so horrible? But how would we have reacted? Sympathetic for how much pain they were both in? Nobody was right. They both weren’t wrong. It was messy and wonderful and oh boy was it perfect.
Final Verdict: We were here for Outlander 3×03 – Surprises, stellar story and scintillating acting, it absolutely ranks up with some of the best episodes of the entire series.
If this is Outlander doing an adaptation, please, bring on the adapting! The moment Murtagh showed up on screen we screamed and tossed our devices! Thankfully we screened this episode before that unfortunate article from another outlet spoiled that surprise. We hope that other fans avoided it and had an experience as authentic as we did. Well done storytelling. We’re in no rush to the print shop with episodes as engaging as this one.
The Frank who showed up in this episode was the Frank we always pictured when we read the books. He was cruel in this episode. Who schedules a dinner with their mistress the day of their wife’s graduation from medical school? And when there was a house full of people there to celebrate? The thing is, though we’re angry at Frank for blatantly cheating on Claire, we can’t really blame him. Who can? Maybe he was being petty. But we don’t know what it’s like to live married to a person you love so much who doesn’t love you back.
This episode really went to the heart of what it must have been like between Claire and Frank as a couple in a difficult long term marriage. But despite his cruel words, you still got the feelings of longing off of Frank, especially when he confronts Claire about Brianna looking so much like Jamie. And we felt that Claire was paying him back for that meanness when she told him the amount of time it would take to forget Jamie didn’t exist. Claire was being particularly hurtful, even though she was being truthful. But she has her own sad confession over Frank’s body at the end of the episode. It’s a sad end to a marriage that had love after all.
Why was John Grey sent so far to the prison at Ardsmuir? We want to know more about his friend from the past, the one he sobbed over at Culloden. We just want more Lord John. There’s loads to be mined there. It’s possible it even could’ve been mined this episode if the extended flashbacks had been cut. In fact had the flashbacks been to Lord John and his first love that would’ve been intriguing.
Do we just love actors who can let one tear streak down their faces each episode? The gold star for “All Debts Paid” goes to David Berry. How can one person show shame, lust, longing, loneliness–with just one look? The way you know something up with Grey but can’t put your finger on it was great. We’re looking forward to seeing Berry grow in the role as it moves forward (hopefully) over more seasons!
Lord John. Jamie. Claire. Frank. This episode shows us that not all prisons have four walls. What’s in store for Jamie at Helwater? And now that Frank is gone, how long will it take Claire to make the decision to go back to the 18th century? Stick with us next week for another episode!
Comments and Questions: Surprises cause questions!
- Tobias Menzies as drunk Frank is still damn attractive. We also love the glasses.
- Frank lashed out hard at Claire this episode, but can you blame him?
- Additionally, Frank didn’t even try to cover up the fact that he cheated. Anyone else think this was another way to hurt Claire?
- Tell the truth. Who else screamed when Murtagh was in Ardsmuir?
- Other than saying the guards were afraid of Jamie, why was he in irons?
- Boy that was a clever prison escape plan. How on earth did they work that out?
- Millie and Jerry are divorced. We’re so surprised (we’re not surprised). Jerry was gross. And Millie was awful.
- Here’s hoping that season 4 fills in more Claire, Frank and Bree. Eighteen years was kind of rushed!
Outlander returns next Sunday, October 1st, 2017 at 8/7C on Starz and streaming all episodes online.
Outlander Review 3×03: “All Debts Paid”