The wait is finally over as Outlander returned to our TVs this week. Voyager is one of my absolute favorite books in the series, so to say I was excited for the new season is a bit of an understatement. But enough about me, let’s get into The Battle Joined!
When we left our star-crossed lovers, Jamie had sent Claire through the stones and went to meet his death on the battlefield of Culloden, having killed Dougal and knowing the fate of the Highlanders. The premiere opens with new credits, which play without a cello or bagpipes, a poignant reminder of all that was lost on that bloody moor. Our first view is of Jamie, lying alive(barely) in a pile of bodies in the ruins of Culloden. As the British army walks through the field, giving no quarter and killing any wounded Highlanders they come across, Jamie, pinned under a Redcoat and barely breathing, remembers. We see the battle as Jamie lived it, in fragmented pieces and through the lense of his memory. Sam Heughan guides the audience through his loss of Claire, and the frustrations of a stubborn prince and a battle loss with impressive poignancy and heartache. People expecting a big battle scene to open the season may be disappointed, but the jarring cut of the fight as Jamie remembers and reacts to them is much more fitting of the show’s sensibilities.
Memory is a strange thing, and new director Brendan Maher captures its quirks well, as we, through Jamie’s recollection, see the fight between him and Jack Randall when they meet on the battlefield. The coloring is brighter, the feeling surreal as we watch the two spy each other and rush to fight. It’s a momentous fight for Jamie, and it shows as they are depicted as the last two standing and fighting amongst the dead. To Jamie, it’s a personal battle in the midst of a dying war. Later that night, once the field is clear, Jamie sees Claire walking amongst the dead, but it’s Rupert, searching for survivors and taking them to a nearby cottage, slight protection while the British are hunting.
Meanwhile, in Boston, Claire tries to adjust to her new(old) life in the 1940s with Frank. I’m not sure how it’s possible that the 40s feels more oppressive to women than 18th century does, but there you have it. Even with a progressive and open-minded husband such as Frank, Claire struggles to find her place and purpose in a life and time when women had a taste of independence and are now being forced back into their old roles by the men in their lives. Frank may not mind what Claire cooks for him, but it’s clear that he expects her to cook. After her stove gives her trouble, Claire buys wood to cook in her fireplace and meets an American housewife named Millie, and the two chat while the audience is given a nice bit of exposition about life in the 40s. Women are meant to raise children, cook, clean, and look pretty to meet the boss.
Later, Claire goes with Frank to a work event, and that point is hammered home by a giant asshat superior of Frank’s. Dean Jackson has no interest in Claire as a person with thoughts and opinions, and even goes so far as to tell Frank to “mind what his wife reads” before she starts doing crazy things like having thoughts or wanting women to be allowed into Harvard Law (Elle Woods would be this dude’s fucking nightmare, as if I needed another reason to love her). He figuratively pats Claire on the head for her “patriotic hobby” of being a combat nurse during the war, but scoffs at the idea that the powers that be “threw a bone” to the women’s rights activists by allowing women to enroll in Harvard Medical School. Claire trying not to do murder unto Dean Jackson is all of us. Say what you want about the boorish behavior and sexism of the Highlanders, at least Claire was able to feel useful on her own terms and gained a modicum of respect as a healer.
The tension between Frank and Claire grows as time goes on, and finally comes to a head when Claire suggests wanting to apply for citizenship to the “young, eager” America. Frank is surprised and enumerates all the parts of her heritage that she would be giving up (because your heritage changes with your citizenry?). He mentions the Stuarts and Claire flinches. He tries to touch her pregnant belly and Claire recoils. The two fight about her remoteness and his need for intimacy (of any kind), and I’m kind of on Frank’s side here. Not about the belly touching, because I don’t think being pregnant makes a woman’s body community property, but he has a point when he tells Claire that he didn’t force her into this. He didn’t make her move to Boston, he didn’t drag her from Jamie. They decided together to try and make a marriage work, and she isn’t really doing her part. Claire gets angry and throws an ashtray at Frank’s head, who then goes to work, because at this moment, Frank is the only adult in the room.
Back in the cottage, Jamie awakens with Murtagh’s name on his lips. We saw his godfather once during the episode, and no one in the cottage knows his fate. I am hanging onto this goddamn thread for the rest of my life. The British soldiers find the wounded men, because they are literally feet from the battlefield, and Lord Melton informs them that they have an hour to get their affairs in order and make peace with their maker before they are shot.
There are no exceptions for age, as boys and men alike give their names to the clerk before being taken out one by one to be executed. Rupert and Jamie talk and make peace. They both miss Angus and will be glad to see him again, and Rupert can’t go to his death hating Jamie for what he did to Dougal, though he can’t forgive him. Rupert volunteers to go next and a little part of me dies with him. Sam Heughan is on his back for this whole episode, with few exceptions, and depends on his eyes and face to convey the utter desolation Jamie feels. He is amazing. I was sad to see Rupert die, but Jamie is devastated by the loss of his clansman and friend.
After the ambulatory men are all shot, it’s time for the men who are too wounded to be taken outside. Lord Melton’s clerk is a jackass who suggests that they just shoot the prisoners lying down, at which Melton, to his credit, balks. No man will be shot lying down on his watch. Lord Melton is a honorable man, goddamn it. Jamie volunteers to be first, which isn’t surprising at all. He just wants it to be over. Melton is more than willing to accommodate him, until he hears his name. Jamie is also known as Red Jamie, an infamous rebel and a feather in the Duke of Cumberland’s cap to take to the Tower. The only problem is that Jamie is also the man who saved the life of John Grey, Lord Melton’s youngest brother. Lord Melton cannot kill Jamie, else his family’s honor would be besmirched, but he also can’t have a record of letting him go. In order to honor the family debt to Jamie, Melton allows the severely wounded Jacobite to be sent to Lallybroch, figuring he’d die on the way, taking care of two birds with one stone. Such it is that James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, AKA Red Jamie, is one of the few to survive Culloden.
The aftermath of another battle is happening in Boston, as Frank, unable to sleep on the couch, gets up to write a letter to Reverend Wakefield to look for Jamie. He’s interrupted by Claire, however, who tells him she’s gone into labor. I’m not sure if this was how it actually was in the 40s or if Outlander is just trying to hammer home a point, but Claire’s doctor is an absolute douche. He talks to Frank as if Claire wasn’t there, and there is an awkward moment when Claire tells of her previous miscarriage.
When it’s time to deliver, they literally drug her to knock her out and she wakes up, hours later, to an empty belly and no idea where her baby is. This would be terrifying for anyone, let alone Claire, who had this happen with her last baby. Frank comes in with a beautiful red-haired daughter, however, and they decide to start over, and try to make it work. It’s a happy and hopeful moment, and it’s completely undermined by the nurse asking where their daughter got her red hair.
So what did you think of the premiere of Outlander? Do you wish that they had gone full on with the battle of Culloden, or are you like me, happy with the way they did it? Are you ready for several episodes of Jamie and Claire apart? Let us know!