One of the hardest things I do as a fan of a book and the television series is to step back from the story I know and stay focused on the story I’m being told. Normally, this is a separation I’m fairly good at. I am able to, if not forget my preconceived notions of what should be happening, at least set aside the source material and enjoy what I’m watching on it’s own merits. I found that really hard to do for the season 2 premiere of Outlander, I’m not exactly sure why, and I find that disappointing. For the sake of this recap, however, I’m going to forget just how different the beginning of this season is from the beginning of Dragonfly in Amber and talk about where the Frasers are now (and then) and what I think of this episode in and of itself.
Through a Glass Darkly (written by Ron Moore and directed by Metin Hüseyin) was a jolt for anyone who hasn’t read the books. The episode opens with Claire’s voice telling us that she wishes she were dead, and if she just kept her eyes closed, she could pretend she was. We see that she is back at the stones, and “Back to a life I no longer wanted.” as she scrambles to find a very old ring, with a missing stone. Claire screams and sobs that “He was gone, they were all gone,” as she and we realize that she is back in the future.
This is where I have trouble stepping back from the book. Not to give any spoilers, but the second book opens in a wildly different way, and the choice to go in this direction surprised me, and I’m not quite sure yet, after a few viewings, how I feel about it. I’m willing to put my faith in Moore & Co to get the season right, but it took a bit for me to adjust my thought process. But I digress, Claire is back. We see her walking down the paved road, and hear a car horn. An older man gets out of his car and asks if she is okay. Claire asks him what year it is, to which he replies that it’s 1948, two years after she vanished. She then asks him who won the Battle of Culloden. When he tells her the British won, she falls to the ground, and Caitriona Balfe breaks our hearts as she lets out a keen and a wail of sheer agony.
We have a new title sequence!! It threw me off a little, but I’m liking the deeper tones, the rich French wardrobes shown while the French lyrics lilt through the air. It melds the roughness of season one and the decidedly different, lusher feel of season two well. The title card drifts over a young Roger Wakefield sleeping, as a toy plane falls from his fingers. The title cards are always something I look forward to seeing.
We come back to see Frank Randall rushing to Claire’s side, who is, according to the doctor, physically healthy, but mentally… well, she’ll get there. The radio is playing a jaunty tune, completely incongruous to the mood in the hospital room. Claire thinks so, too and tells Frank to turn it off. She’s feeling pretty shitty, which is understandable. It’s too noisy and loud here, and her estranged husband, whom she can’t look in the eye, who reminds her of her nemesis and terrifies her, is “so grateful” to have her back. Claire’s world is shattering, and Frank is happy. It’s not his fault, he has no idea that she’s in the depths of despair, but this whole scene feels too…loud…for what we know is going through Claire’s mind, it’s a wonderful tool used to put us in Claire’s mindset. While Frank is telling Claire that they can go to Reverend Wakefield’s until she has recovered, a photographer sneaks in and takes her picture, the flash blinding and too bright. Claire is mostly concerned that Mrs. Graham is still working for the reverend and Frank has noticed that her clothes aren’t exactly the latest fashion of sophisticated English women.
A week later, Claire is reading everything on the Jacobite rebellion and the battle of Culloden that she can get her hands on, while saying nothing more than pleasantries to Frank and Reverend Wakefield, both of whom are concerned for her. Frank’s contact about the clothes has told him that they are “extremely well made reproductions of 18th century women’s clothes and very valuable.” Clearly Claire didn’t just find this dress on a whim. The two men discuss that there might be other problems to consider, as we see Claire’s photo in the paper under the question “Kidnapped by the Fairies?”
Frank and the reverend may wonder what Claire is looking for in those books, but we all know. She’s desperately searching for word about Jamie. Mrs. Graham, we see, is her confidante, which Claire desperately needs, and she reminisces about Jamie’s hair and sense of humor. We see the soft joy in her face as she talks about him, and feel her loss again as she remembers that, no matter what, he’s far beyond her now. She just needs to find out if he actually died at Culloden, she says. Mrs. Graham reminds her that Jamie said he’d stand and die with his men, and she has no reason to doubt him. It’s easy to understand where Claire is coming from. The scraping for any last piece of someone you loved and lost is a universal feeling that hasn’t changed much in the space of humanity. It’s easy to get lost in the past and the abyss, if you don’t have someone to pull you back. Mrs. Graham tries to do this for Claire by telling her to treasure the memories she has of Jamie and her time with him, but to move on. She can’t spend her life chasing ghosts, and she has a man who obviously loves her.
Claire seems to take this to heart, and later that night, invites Frank into her room to talk. The scene is so like their last night together that Frank remarks upon it before telling Claire that she doesn’t have to tell him a thing about the past two years. This is where I rolled my eyes for the first time. Really, Frank? You’re not curious? I mean, he has every right to know where she has been. I understand him wanting to be gallant, but this feels like a stretch. Claire tells him everything, and we fade back in to see it’s now sunrise, and there is (shockingly) still whisky left.
This is where my bone of contention with this episode starts to get in the way of enjoying it. Claire finishes her story and says “I know you must think me mad,” which makes sense. Most anyone would think she’s nuts, and she already won the “understanding spouse” jackpot when she told her other husband of her misadventures. But Frank surprises her by saying that, while it’s a leap of faith, hey he believes her, too! He doesn’t accept that she calls herself his ex-wife, because she is still wearing his ring. He tells her that he only cares that she’s back and safe, that other people told him she’d left him willingly and he couldn’t believe that, even though hating her would be easier than missing her and living with the void she left. But he knew she didn’t leave him willingly. He doesn’t understand Claire’s love for Jamie, but he can accept it, He loves her unconditionally and nothing she says or does can change it. Now, at this point, Frank tripping over himself to understand and support Claire is suffocating for me as a viewer. I can’t understand how it must feel for her.
Claire decides to immediately test his declaration of undying and unconditional love by telling him she’s pregnant. Frank’s first reaction is sheer joy as he tells Claire how wonderful that is, and Tobias Menzies does a wonderful job as we watch that illusion shatter, and Frank realizes just before Claire, confused by his happiness, tells him that the baby is Jamie’s. I feel like this is the first “real” reaction we see from Frank when he shoots up from his knees in anger and almost looks ready to strike Claire. Up until then, it’s easy for Frank to keep saying “everything will be okay” and that they will get past this and move on. He’s just so relieved to have Claire back, he can look past just about anything she’d done, and hopefully they would both eventually forget and be happy together. A baby, however… well a baby is a constant reminder. It’s not something you can forget and move past. So Frank, having what I think is the first genuine and real reaction since we’ve seen him, leaves a scared Claire behind and runs to the garage, breaking a bunch of Reverend Wakefield’s shit while he’s in there. I feel for Frank in this scene, I really do It’s a hard position he’s being put in and through no fault of his own.
Later, Frank apologizes to his friend for breaking his shit, but Wakefield pretty much brushes it off as things he should’ve gotten rid of ages ago, anyway. In talking about this new hurdle, Reverend Wakefield asks if the father is truly dead, and if Frank ever even wanted to have kids. Frank tells him that, while he and Claire tried, a year ago he found out that their efforts would have been fruitless, since he’s sterile and will never sire a child. In explaining to his friend how he was feeling when Claire said she was pregnant, you can see the conflicting emotions on Frank’s face. The disbelief and sadness, the flash of joy when he recalls the brief moment when he thought the baby was his, and finally the bitterness when he mentions the father, it must feel as if this ghost has taken everything from him.
Wakefield is trying to tell Frank that he’s not the only man to be going through this, and wee Roger proves to have pretty spot on timing when he interrupts an argument about whether the Randall’s situation is Biblical or not (I say nope) and asks his “Father” a question. The quiet moment after he leaves is a poignant one, and calms Frank down. It doesn’t let Frank accept that their situations are the same, however. I can’t say I disagree. Roger came to his uncle through tragedy and the loss of his parents. Frank would be raising the child of a man he could never compete with (it’s hard to compete with a dead man). The good reverend makes a good point though, a fatherless child and a childless man have somehow found each other, and Frank can make the situation as good or as bad as he chooses.
He chooses to make the best of it. He doesn’t want to be lonely anymore, and this is probably his only chance to have a family. He tells Claire he’s still in, but this time, there are some conditions: He has a job offer in Boston, to teach at Harvard, he wants to go and have a fresh start away from the place where the press will “flog them with this Fairy Story.” Claire sharply tells him not to ever say ‘flog’ around her again, and he continues. The baby will be his and Claire’s daughter, and while he is alive, Claire cannot keep searching for records of Jamie. Understandable list, and Claire rubs salt in his wounds by agreeing because “Jamie told her to let him go.” Claire gives him her old clothes, but keeps her wedding ring “until she’s ready”.
With that, they head to Boston, and as Claire takes “one more step” into her new life, the camera shifts and we all step into her old one. She is with a seasick and grateful to be on land Jamie, in France, and Outlander becomes my show again. No offense to Tobias, but Frank is terribly frustrating and dull to me, and almost an entire episode dedicated to him feels longer than it should. Jamie is still sore and suffering physically and mentally from Jack Randall’s assault and he mentions still feeling his touch. I’m glad that they are acknowledging it and I hope that means we’ll see Jamie’s healing process. Claire and Jamie discuss the Jacobite rebellion and while Claire thinks they should infiltrate and spy to stop it, Jamie would prefer to find a way to win. Claire wins out, arguing that they could save tens of thousands of lives and the Highland way of life, and proposes that they ask Jamie’s cousin, Jared, for help with introductions. Figuring out what to tell Murtagh is another matter, entirely, but he is satisfied “for now” when Jamie vows to tell him everything when it’s safe to do so.
Three weeks later Jamie and Claire go to convince Jared to help them. He is curious about Jamie’s sudden interest in politics after years of indifference on the matter. The Jacobites have a lot of friends in France, but a lot of enemies, too. To convince his cousin, Jamie takes off his shirt, and shows that yeah, he’s pretty fucking passionate about hating the Crown. It’s enough for Jared, who has a deal. Jamie can stay in his Paris apartments, he will make introductions, and grease the wheels to the leaders of the rebellion, if Jamie will watch after his wine business while he’s in the West Indies. Jamie agrees and negotiates a share in the profits, and they’re all happy little revolutionaries (or traitors, i guess, depending)!
Jamie is checking on the shipments with Jared and Claire is strolling along the harbor, when she sees men being loaded off a ship on stretchers, and sailors bound and determined not to let anyone see or be near them. I laughed out loud when I heard someone try and tell her to “get back” when she wanted to see the men, but dude has no idea that telling Claire to do anything is like spitting in the wind
Jamie has followed her and is there when she confirms, very loudly, that it’s small pox. She tells Jamie, the harbormaster, everyone… because ya know… smallpox. The owner of the pox ridden ship, Comte St Germaine, is super happy to meet Claire, who gives exactly zero fucks about his merchandise and ship having to be burned now because of her loud mouth. Jared states the obvious, that Claire has made an enemy in the Comte, but frankly, I’m surprised it took her three weeks. The Frasers enjoy a fireworks show as they watch the ship burn, and we can tell this French adventure is going to be a fun one.
I had a hard time with this episode, if I’m being honest. I don’t find Frank to be a compelling enough character to want to watch 40min of him without breaks, and seeing Claire so heartbroken didn’t feel right. I have every faith that each episode will get better and better, but until we were back in the 18th century, I had a hard time connecting this to the show I love so much. What did you think of Through the Glass, Darkly? Were you surprised to be in the 20th century? What do you think is going to happen in France?
Stitch in Time: I’m a sucker for angst, so this week it’s a tie. This was not my favorite episode, but two moments struck me: Claire’s cries of anguish upon learning that the jacobites were still slaughtered at Culloden; and Frank’s joy-turned-to-heartbroken rage when he learns that Claire is pregnant, and realizes that there is no way the child is his.