The last five minutes of the episode were the emotional payoff we wanted the whole time
Caitriona Balfe is, as usual, just lovely
Wil Johnson is the best friend we want to have!
Richard Rankin as Roger is the dorkiest and we love him for it
Poor writing for Claire made us scratch our heads and really had a negative impact on our empathy for her
Sophie Skelton is still struggling to develop chemistry with Balfe
Claire's entire story felt underdeveloped and forced
Wil Johnson was underutilized
Claire deserves better, Outlander
In the Outlander episode before the one everyone wants to see, It’s Christmas 1968 and Claire’s (Caitriona Balfe) doing some good old fashioned doctoring. Things get a little tense for a moment but Claire’s a total badass and she’s all over it. Her friend Joe Abernathy (Wil Johnson) seems properly impressed with her skills. Things aren’t going as well for her daughter Brianna (Sophie Skelton) who is failing out of Harvard. She returns home and gets nostalgic for her dead father Frank (Tobias Menzies) in front of a Christmas tree.
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In the meantime Claire has a drink and a chat with her good buddy Joe in the hospital about her trip to Scotland. Joe tries to pump Claire about her “man from the past” but she manages to avoid. The next day Claire and Brianna get a surprise visit from Oxford super hottie Roger Wakefield (Richard Rankin) who has interrupted a massive fight. Seems Brianna is dropping out of Harvard and moving out of the house with one box. Things are super awkward between Claire and Roger after Bree storms out but they get worse when he tells her he’s found proof Jamie is alive and she gets really pissed.
Back in the hospital a moderately clairvoyant Claire helps Dr. Joe figure out a skeleton he’s got was a murdered white lady from a cave in the Caribbean. Wonder if that will be important later? Joe then pumps Claire for information on her long lost Scottish lover. She confesses that he was Bree’s real father and that wonders if it was fate that kept them apart. Joe disagrees and tells her she’d be a fool to turn down a second chance at love.
We never got to to see Frank’s funeral so next we head to Harvard to the dedication of a fellowship in his honor. Bree is having feelings about her own history. At the dedication ceremony, Candy/Sandy (who you might remember as Frank’s former mistress) basically unloads on Claire about making Frank miserable for twenty years and how she ruined his life. After Sandy unloads on Claire, Bree gets her opportunity to unload on Claire as well and demand details of who Sandy was. Bree also wants to to know if she’d been a constant reminder of Jamie to both of them. But Claire reassures her and it goes well later.
Then Claire and Bree level with each other. It’s a mother-daughter conversation Claire explains to Bree if she goes she’s never coming back and that’s really hard. Bree explains she’s grown and no worries, Claire should go ahead and go to Jamie. At the hospital the next day Claire asks Joe if she still has a cute butt. He assures her that she does and that’s it for Doc Joe.
Bree and Roger found Claire some old currency and some other practical gifts which will assist her journey through the stones. Claire filched some antibiotics and other stuff she might need when she gets back to the 18th century. And then Claire sews an entire 18th century ensemble out of some raincoats. They all share a drink and she does a little soul-searching. She hugs Bree, gives her some documents and advice, they share their goodbyes in Boston (including passing Jamie’s mother’s pearls to Bree) and she’s off on another jaunt through the stones.
The next time we see Claire there’s some poetic puddle voiceover and she steps right in it in the 18th century. She gets directions to Carfax Close where A. Malcolm, printer works, and she slows down and savors the time. The journey of a thousand miles, right? She walks into the shop and after Jamie asks who he thinks is his employee where he is, she announces it’s Claire and Jamie faints dead away.
Well our hearts were certainly racing at the end there! What about the rest of the episode? Let’s talk!
Wake us up when we get there.
So here comes the tough part. This is the first episode that’s rested solely on Claire. We get that that’s the structure of the book. We just don’t like the way they’ve written it. Toni Graphia wrote some winners (we adored “Faith”) and we’ll forever love her for Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman. But this episode wasn’t one of our favorites. Claire just didn’t seem like Claire. All that time searching for Jamie, and when Roger shows up with the news he found her she tells him she wished she didn’t know? Things seemed like they came out of nowhere.
“You know I never asked you do to this.” -Claire
Caitriona Balfe is a great actress. She’s proven over and over how capable she is, and often the series rests squarely on her shoulders. That’s why we don’t think it’s her fault we thought this episode was one enormous nap. Direction? Writing? Perhaps a combination of both. But Claire’s gotten nothing particularly juicy yet besides a few smashing rows with Frank. Her friendship with Joe is even reduced to a lowest common denominator, with a few cheeky scenes and the nickname “Lady Jane” thrown in for book fans. Wil Johnson was great and he was definitely underutilized.
The Brianna bind
There are a host of issues we’ve got with Brianna. Some of those are not Sophie Skelton’s fault. When Brianna first appears, she’s unlikeable. Diana Gabaldon herself describes Bree as a “tough nut”. That is, a character’s voice that she struggled to hear at first before she really came into her own. But that’s the point of adaptation, isn’t it? If the character of Brianna is underdeveloped, try something else. In this episode we see Bree being confronted by a professor that she’s close to failing out of Harvard. She returns home and is alone. She runs her hand across what we presume to be Frank’s chair, or picking up Frank’s pipe and smelling it. We get it, she’s struggling. But we’ve never seen Bree interact with Frank. He made her an English breakfast once. So we don’t care about her being sad about her father at all.
“If I can turn out to be half the woman you are, I’ll be fine.” -Brianna
Brianna’s main purpose seems to be to argue with Claire. There’s one nice scene where Claire tells her that she was the joy of Frank’s life. But that was after Sandy returned and Bree was immediately a jerk about it, so it was hard for the good scene to even redeem that. Add to that Brianna, who has just lost her father and we’ve seen her having difficulty with it, then tells her mother to go away forever and she’ll be fine? It’s some of the most noble behavior from a bratty nineteen year old we’ve ever seen.
The final issue is with Skelton. All of these holes in the writing wouldn’t be such a huge problem if they were delivered with verve (see: Stanley Weber, season 2 villain). It’s a shame Skelton just isn’t giving us the love we’re needing for this vastly underwritten character. She fares better in scenes with Richard Rankin, as their chemistry has improved over her time on the show. Scenes with other actors, especially Balfe, fall flat. It doesn’t seem like there’s a relationship there so maybe we should believe that Claire can leave her kid, her best friend with no explanation, and the job she professed to love so much
Pitch perfect in the print shop
It wasn’t all gloom and doom. The last five or so minutes of the episode made the entire thing worth watching. In a bit of voiceover that was actually decent Claire talked about puddles and how she never stepped into them as a child because of fear of the unknown. Cut to Claire smashing right down into that puddle back in the 18th century. This was a huge leap for her. There was some hesitancy, and rightfully so (there probably should’ve been more) but she made the leap. Balfe’s slowness upon arriving at the printshop where Jamie was was absolutely pitch perfect. Now that she’s come she’s savoring the moment.
“It isn’t Geordie. It’s me. Claire.” -Claire
For all that we said we hated the writing in this episode, there was absolutely one clever twist. Instead of ending on the bell ring, which was the predictable, obvious choice, they went another way. Claire enters the print shop. She sees Jamie. She hears Jamie (in his best “my voice is deeper so you know I’ve aged” voice). In this moment Balfe is about a thousand levels of perfect. The sheer joy shimmering across her entire face as she looks down at him is better than our wildest imaginations. And we definitely needed the levity of the musical build up to Jamie ultimately fainting. It was very well done, and thank goodness it was there. It really propels us to the next episode and their ultimate, fully conscious reunion.
Final Verdict: Outlander 3×05 was a long snoozefest to the final fabulous five minutes.
Last episode we said we wished Helwater had been spread out over two episodes. Now we wish that even more. If Helwater had been dragged out it would’ve spared us the monotony of this episode with no stakes. We know Claire is going back. It’s too easy for her to choose to go. If the writing for Claire in season three had developed Claire at all beyond as a miserable, lonely person this might have happened. But as it was we were just bored.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom. Richard Rankin is such a doll as Roger. They’ve gone a slightly different way in the show than the book. In the books he struck us as a bit more of a seducer, more assured and suave. Rankin and the writers have made him a bit more of a bashful, loveable dork. We’re on board for it. Roger is sensitive and fun but still manages to convey a sense of masculinity. Thank goodness for him in the scenes with Bree. His presence is really necessary.
What’s to come for Claire and Jamie once they’re reunited? Claire was worried about how much twenty years will have changed the way the two of them are together and we are as well! And we’re definitely dying to know how they’re going to fill in the details that were missing after Helwater!
We’re going to cry foul on Claire making the 18th century costume. Some people had a problem with the Batman theme song. It was silly, but at the end of the day that didn’t ultimately bother us. What bothered us was that we were supposed to believe that Claire could whip up an 18th century riding habit in whatever that short amount of time was out of raincoats. Terry Dresbach has said Claire would’ve known how to sew. We absolutely buy that. What we don’t buy was that a woman used to making modern clothing could read a book and pattern up a habit that beautiful. Even if she had tons of sewing experience, it was modern sewing experience. The two don’t necessarily correlate. It would’ve made MUCH more sense to see her altering existing pieces on a gown that was already a thing.
In case you were wondering about the moon thing and you’re a book reader (we were), we were confused about things happening in space this episode. In the books they landed on the moon. Here they didn’t, the astronauts were just orbiting the earth. We confess we had to be schooled on twitter as to what was going on. Just the 1968 Christmas mission, folks. Not the moon landing, which happens later.
Wil Johnson is such a great Joe Abernathy. It’s a shame we never saw Claire and Frank interacting with the Abernathys. Or saw any part of a close relationship with Brianna. Claire didn’t even say goodbye to Joe, her best friend. Maybe it’s not about Joe, but a close relationship could possibly allow Claire to leave her daughter in the care of this other man.
Which brings us back to Brianna. She’s in crisis mode. Quitting school. Moving out. Fighting with Claire more. Yes she gave that beautiful speech about how she’s fine now and it would be just great to up and go? Bree isn’t good, Claire. It’s not exactly a cracker jack time to leave.
The reunion. We’re going to shake this episode off except for this brilliant ending. It was the saving grace of an otherwise kind of boring episode. We’ve got to wait two weeks for the next one, which will be a real bummer. But given how strong most of season three has been we’ve got high hopes!
Comments and Questions: Just a few questions
- If Bree’s professor at Harvard knew her father, why is he surprised she’s struggling and failing out?
- Does anyone else remember when Brianna makes the decision to be an engineer? Wasn’t it before Claire left? We can’t remember.
- Frank smoked pipes?
- Bree was moving out with one pretty light box, then she showed back up again with Roger and made herself at home in the fridge. Typical teenager!
- Roger loving Dark Shadows was so cute.
- Why did Bree make just one lobster roll and bring out one slice of pie? Is she just going to watch Roger eat?
Outlander returns Sunday, October 22nd, 2017 at 8/7C on Starz.
Outlander Review 3×05 “Freedom and Whiskey”