Jamie and Claire have been one of my favorite fictional couples for years and so much of that is because they’re imperfect people who, against all odds, managed to find each other and be imperfect together. One of my least favorite TV tropes is the idea that unrequited longing is better storytelling than trying to build a story around a couple getting together. Somehow, since the Sam and Diane and Moonlighting days, television writers have shied away from the idea of telling a romantic story after a couple get together. It’s often blamed on the audience losing interest, but frankly I call it bad writing and storytelling. Problems and conflicts don’t end when two people get together, a whole new batch of them arise. And last week’s episode, “First Wife” is an example of an established couple weathering a storm together.
When Claire, Jamie, and Young Ian arrive at Lallybroch, Claire can’t help but feel that while it looks as though nothing has changed, everything has, like they’re bound to do in a twenty year span. I’m not sure what kind of welcome Claire was expecting, but the cool, passive aggressive one she gets from Jenny certainly wasn’t it. Jenny scolds Young Ian and yells at Jamie for not telling them he was with her son (and bringing home a “stray,” since Jenny is now leaving the “passive” part in the dust), and Young Ian helps matters by firmly placing his foot in his mouth due to his pride in being a smuggler and in his auntie Claire for killing a man. I am one hundred percent on Jenny’s side here. Jamie could have taught Young Ian to be a printer, or at the very least let his parents know he was safe, but instead he brought him into a frankly dangerous world. Jamie may not have a choice but to be a criminal, but Young Ian does.
After the yelling stops and the punishment of Young Ian begins,we get a peek at life at Lallybroch. The house is overrun with Jenny and Ian’s grandbabies and is full of love. With one exception. Jenny can’t even look at Claire, and continues to make remarks about Claire being a stranger. I know that this might seem to be overkill to the audience, but I personally love seeing a realistic reaction to Claire’s return. The cover story is flimsy, and Jenny is rightfully hurt and pissed that in twenty years, Claire didn’t so much as write a letter. Obviously we and Jamie know that there was no way, but the resentment on Jenny’s behalf is completely justified. She watched her brother suffer for so long, and Claire’s behavior must seem so callous to someone who doesn’t know the full story.
Jenny’s anger isn’t reserved solely for Claire, though. She has plenty to say to Jamie when he tries to give her advice on raising Young Ian. It’s easy to think that Jenny is being cruel when she makes comments about Jamie being an “expert” at raising bairns, but she has no idea just how close that must hit to Jamie’s heart. Jamie never shared his pain at losing three children with Jenny, he never shared his pain with her at all. I said before that the great tragedy of Jamie’s life is that he never got to raise his own children, and that pain is being played pretty heavily this season. When asked what happened, Jamie tells his sister that he sent Claire away with money for the colonies, since he was determined to die at Culloden. He heard that the British laid waste to the village she was in, and that none were spared. Claire thought that he had died, and so went to America. It’s a better story than the one they’ve been telling, but Jenny knows her brother is still holding back.
Later that night, Claire suggests that they tell Jenny the truth, so she might be more understanding, but Jamie turns that plan down, saying Jenny wouldn’t ever believe them and it could just cause more pain. He then tells her about his escape from Ardsmuir when he thought she had come back. He tells her about swimming out to Silky Island when he was told about the White Witch there. He obviously didn’t find Claire, but he did find a pretty hefty treasure hidden. When Claire asks him why he went back to prison, rather than take the bounty and run, Jamie explains that, without her, there wasn’t really anything for him, and the other prisoners needed their leader. The two seem to be coming together again, when Jamie asks Claire to listen to him, because he has something he has to tell her. That something makes itself known when a little redheaded girl, followed by her older sister, bursts into the room, calling Jamie “Daddy.”
Needless to say, this is not the best time. Claire looks on in shock as Laoghaire follows her daughters into the bedchamber, calling Claire a whore and laying claim to Jamie as her husband in no uncertain terms. Jamie ushers everyone out of the room, leaving Claire alone. He talks to the little girl, Joanie, and it’s clear he loves her very much. He explains that Claire is his first wife, whom he loves very much, but assures her that he’ll always look out for her and Marsali before sending them home. Claire is packing to leave when Jamie finds her. He tells her that the marriage was a mistake and they’ve not lived together for most of the two years they’d been married. The girls are his stepdaughters and he couldn’t tell Claire before because he’s a coward. He couldn’t bear the idea of losing her again, and the fight begins. Jamie’s underlying resentment of Claire leaving and finally comes to the surface, and it hurts to watch because it’s so relatable. He might have been the one to tell her to go, to force her to leave to protect their child, but Jamie had never counted on living without her. Neither of them really had much of a chance to tell the other exactly what their lives have been like for twenty years, and both have some serious misconceptions of the others’ lives. When Jamie talks to Claire about living for twenty years without a heart, Claire gets justifiably pissed and asks Jamie what the hell he thought her life was.
She didn’t go back and live happily with Frank, forgetting about Jamie. They have both suffered so much and neither has taken the time to adjust. The fighting turns to some super angry fucking, before Jenny comes in the room, literally pouring cold water on them, since the whole damn house can hear them. Claire takes this moment and leaves the room.
Downstairs, Jenny’s daughter Janet gives Claire a whisky and apologizes for getting Laoghaire, telling Claire that Jenny sent her to do it. Jenny herself then comes and asks Claire why the hell she didn’t look for Jamie for twenty years. Claire sticks as close to the truth as possible, telling Jenny everything but the fact that her other husband (whom she married as a means of survival) and life in America was 200 years in the future, and omits the fact that she and Jamie have a daughter. She says once her other husband died, she came back to say goodbye to Jamie only to find him alive, and Jenny sees the truth in it, even if she can still tell Claire is holding things back. There is a tenuous truce between the two women, but things won’t ever be right, according to Jenny. Ian, ever the voice of reason, reminds Jenny that she’s only ever wanted Jamie’s happiness and questions how now she can’t let him have it because she feels personally hurt. He calls her out for stirring the pot by sending for Laoghaire, even though she knows the two haven’t been living as man and wife for years.
The next morning Claire is leaving and Jamie tries desperately to get her to stay. She tells him he lied to her, and she’s finding it hard to forgive him. Jamie tells her he’s only loved one person in his life and that’s Claire, which is the perfect time for a gun-toting Laoghaire to come into the yard. Murtagh’s words from long ago echo back and it’s clear that twenty years, three marriages, and two children haven’t been enough for Laoghaire to grow up. Shouting that Jamie is hers, she shoots the man full of birdshot. Well, that’s one way to get Claire to stay.
After she chases Laoghaire off, Claire tends to Jamie and digs the birdshot out of her now super drunk husband. Saving his life doesn’t soften her feelings about his other marriage much, but she does ask him to explain how this could have happened. Jamie tells her about how lonely he was, and when he came back to Lallybroch for Hogmanay for the first time in years, that he felt like a ghost. He was happy and sad all at once.
Two girls came and coaxed him to dance, which filled him with the first feelings of joy he’d had in years. The girls tell him who their mother is, and Jamie (with encouragement from Jenny) married Laoghaire to raise the girls and maybe have something of the life he’d always wanted: that of a husband and father. He tells Claire that things were never right with Laoghaire, but he loves his stepdaughters. He left because he couldn’t stand to be with someone who was afraid of his touch. I’d feel pity for Laoghaire but I just can’t find in myself to. Maybe it’s the book reader in me, but nothing in the show has me feeling much compassion for the conniving, murderous woman.
Once Claire pumps a fevered Jamie full of penicillin, she again tries to make things right with Jenny, whose hurt becomes more palpable every time we see her.
She tells Claire of the vision she had of Claire standing between Laoghaire and Jamie at their wedding. Jenny explains that she has never questioned any of the odd things Claire has told her to do (such as planting potatoes). Jamie picked her and that was enough to make Claire a sister to her. Claire tells her that she never stopped loving any of them, or forgot them, and I sincerely wish this rift can be healed.
When Ned Gowan shows up, he and Claire have a cute reunion before he tells the first Mrs. Fraser and Jamie that Laoghaire wants some serious alimony, even though her marriage to Jamie was never valid, since Claire is alive and all. Jamie agrees to pay the alimony and not turn her in for having a firearm (which is illegal after the Disarmament Act). When Claire protests, Jamie reasons that Joanie and Marsali are already losing a father, it’d be cruel to take their mother, as well. Jamie tells Jenny and Ian about the treasure and says he and Claire will go to fence it in France, when Young Ian pipes in that he’s a great swimmer and can go, too! Jamie and Claire promise to look after him and say all will be well, which basically guarantees the opposite, and the trio head to Silky Island.
While Young Ian is swimming the quarter mile to get there, Claire tells Jamie that it might have been a mistake to come back. She says their lives weren’t so bad before, and even I’m side-eying her here. Jamie tells her it’s never been easy, but they are mated for life. He asks if she’d risk the man he is now for the one she knew, and before Claire can answer, we see through Jamie’s telescope Young Ian being pressed and forced onto a ship, with no one near enough to help him. Well, shit.
I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that Voyager is my favorite book in this series, and I’m so enjoying the adaptation this season. Creme de Menthe may have slightly missed the mark, but holy smokes First Wife hit every note perfectly. This is what writing a couple’s life together should be for all television. Obviously not the time travel and whatnot, but the idea that getting together is the end of the story, rather than the beginning is something that has always bothered me about television storytelling.
What did you think of First Wife? Do you agree with what Ron Moore said about a chemistry between Jamie and Laoghaire, or are you like me, seeing Jamie’s marriage to her being not one of love or even a particular caring, but the product of a desperate loneliness and a desire to make his sister happy? What do you think will happen to Young Ian?