After last week's foray into sexy kilted romance, Outlander quickly transitions back to the action-adventure-intrigue of previous episodes for the mid-season finale, Both Sides Now, with Claire confronting some harsh realities.
Spoilers, ye ken?
Our gang of MacKenzies is back on the road after last week's brief stop for the wedding. Claire and Jamie's passion hasn't flared out in the cold rain of the Highlands; no, they seem to be getting on quite well outside of the bridal chamber. Meanwhile, in a parallel world, Frank has been searching for Claire for seven weeks, to no avail. Everyone - even the Reverend Wakefield, who stood by Frank for as long as possible - is trying to get Frank to accept the truth: Claire has left him for another man, most likely the mysterious Highlander who turned up outside her window on Samhain. Frank insists Claire wouldn't cheat on him, but seven weeks in, his faith in Claire is getting worn down.
Cut to: Our newlyweds Claire and Jamie having a hilltop picnic, talking about how their feelings are more than just the usual infatuation. Indeed, they can't seem to stop touching each other, even if it's just their hands. They are interrupted by a beggar, Hugh Munro, coming by to give Jamie news. (Munro has suffered having his tongue cut out and boiling oil poured on his legs, so he has been given gaberlunzies - licenses to beg - in many of the local parishes.) After a brief introduction and toast to Jamie's new wife, and a small wedding gift, Munro signs to Jamie his news.
There's an English deserter who witnessed the scene of Jamie's supposed murder, and could clear Jamie's name, having seen who actually killed the soldier. Jamie agrees to meet the man, Horrocks, and find out what he knows.
Jamie and Claire's First Test
Just in case you were thinking that we would spend the rest of our time watching Claire fret over two men while having hot Highlander sex...think again. That is not Outlander. Claire and Jamie's honeymoon on the road comes to an abrupt end at the point of Claire's sgian dubh (hidden dagger). The men give her the small dagger after a nighttime raid on the MacKenzie camp, so that she won't be defenseless against future assailants. Angus gives her a short training session on how to hit the vital parts while avoiding the troublesome bones in the way. She involuntarily tests out her training shortly thereafter.
Two Redcoat deserters stumble upon Jamie and Claire at a most inopportune time during a romantic interlude in a meadow. After dragging Jamie off of Claire at gunpoint, they go after Claire (keeping Jamie around "to watch" with a pistol jammed into his throat). Claire, seeing Jamie held captive, and with a deserter's hot breath on her face, employs her sgian dubh on the man's kidneys to good effect. Jamie then takes the opportunity to slit the other man's throat with his dirk, and quickly carries Claire away from the bloodshed. The gang arrives and takes stock of the situation as Claire quietly goes into shock.
The event throws into sharp relief both the risk that Jamie is taking by meeting with the deserter Horrocks, and the risk Claire is taking by just being a woman in 18th century Scotland. It's hard to tell who is angrier: Claire, at the deserters and at Jamie for not coming to her rescue, or Jamie, at the deserters and at himself for failing to rescue Claire. Her line "I can take care of myself; I think I've proven that," is a dig at him, and it hits home. If the events in the meadow were a test, it appears that Jamie failed.
The men decide they must accompany Jamie to his meeting, and keep Claire away from it for her own safety. Claire, left to wait in the woods with poor Willie, still reeling from the attack, her faith in Jamie shaken, suddenly sees Craigh na Dun within walking distance. She hesitates for only a moment before running headlong for the stones.
Frank's Brush With Darkness
Frank, in 1945, is looking into whether or not a large dose of whisky will make Claire's desertion more bearable. (It doesn't.) A woman approaches him, and tells him that she can take Frank to the anonymous Scottish man, but only if he meets her in the middle of the night with the £1000 reward.
Needless to say, it's all a setup. But in a surprising turn, Frank isn't just beaten and robbed; no, he is not one to be taken advantage of, even if he is grieving his missing wife. Fueled by the rage of his shattered hopes, Frank wails on the wood-be thieves and flirts with darkness - the darkness in which Black Jack lives. Surely it would be better to live in darkness than to face the truth.
Fortunately, Frank has the Reverend Wakefield to fight for his soul. And Mrs. Graham, she of the confusing tea leaves, provides one last thread of hope for Frank. She actually tells Frank about the stories of Craigh na Dun, and people traveling in time through the stones. But rather than follow this lead, Frank seems to realize how much he is grasping at straws, and decides to leave Claire behind once and for all.
But he just can't help himself as he drives past Craigh na Dun - he goes up to the stones in search of Claire one last time. And as he weeps and cries out for her in 1945, she is running up the hill in 1743, calling back to him. And for a moment, it appears that she is going to appear in his arms in 1945...until we see the Redcoats yanking her back from the stones in 1743.
Above: Frank, shutting the door marked "Claire" once and for all.
All of that fuss trying to keep Claire out of Black Jack's hands, and her attempt to return to Frank lands her exactly there. And this time, no one knows where she is. All of the MacKenzies are far away meeting with Horrocks, and Willie is probably looking for her in the forest.
Claire has a go at bluffing her way out of Fort William, name-dropping Black Jack's patron the Duke of Sandringham, hoping to set Black Jack off-kilter enough to get herself out the door. But again she misjudges Black Jack (and, I think, gets a little too over-confident). He calls her bluff and ties her up while instructing Corporal Hawkins to make sure they're not disturbed, "no matter what he hears."
Just when you think all is lost for Claire - no one knows she's there, she has no means of escape - Jamie shows up! Perched in the window, pistol in hand, determined to protect his wife!
Menzies' performance this episode is amazing. Frank's wretchedness and despair as he tries to reconcile his faith in his wife with the facts before him is heartbreaking to watch. And as Frank gets drunk and/or violent, Menzies actually takes on some Black Jack mannerisms (particularly in the mouth), which I think is fascinating. Also, when he's at the bar, and the woman approaches him, he definitely gives her a once-over. Frank is overall not the gentle historian he appears to be. And of course Menzies plays Black Jack with a horrible sadistic menace that makes the English deserters in the meadow look like children.
Did you catch the small boy in Reverend Wakefield's house, and become confused? That's because we haven't seen him before. ***Minor Book Background*** His name is Roger Wakefield, having taken the Reverend's name once the Reverend adopted him. The Reverend is Roger's great-uncle, and he took Roger in after both of Roger's parents died in the war (his mother in a London bombing, his father in combat as an RAF pilot). I thought maybe Roger's appearance was a bit abrupt and unexplained, so now you know who he is.
And so, we are left to anxiously await Claire's rescue on April 4, 2015. (Ronald D. Moore, I both love and hate you.) Overall the show is amazing and hopefully has surprised some viewers who were expecting "abs and kilts" and got more than just a timey-wimey love triangle. Claire continues to be a stand-out female lead character in a world full of standout characters. Caitriona Balfe continues to give a stand-out performance on a show full of stand-out performances.
What about you? What were your expectations for the show, and did it meet them?
PS - I've been entering the Outlander Watch and Win sweepstakes, and can only hope that I'll win so I can pull a Meredith and tell you all about how difficult it is to be an extra, and what Sam Heughan smells like. (My guess: wool and horses. And, if we're going by the books, "his own male scent.")
Claire: "It's too long and heavy for me." Rupert: "The lassies say that to me all the time." Claire: <incredulous look>
Murtagh: "I still say the only weapon for a woman is poison." Dougal: "Perhaps. It has certain deficiencies in combat."
Jamie: "Now I know why the church calls it a sacrament." Claire: "Why?" Jamie: "I feel like God himself when I'm inside ye. What? Is that a foolish thing to say? Are you laughing at me?" Claire: <giggling helplessly>
Obligatory Beautiful Picture of Scotland: