**this is not a spoiler-free review, if you’ve not seen it, prepare to be spoiled**
The wait is finally over!! Season four of Outlander is officially on and is looking to be a lot more action-packed and exciting than last season if the premiere is anything to go by. Hold onto your knickers, because I have a feeling this is gonna be a wild (and at times frustrating) ride.
We open in 2000 BC North America, with some people building a circle of towers (made from, you guessed it, stone) as Claire narrates, telling us about how people have always been entranced by circles. We quickly meet back up with Big Red and his Sassenach in 1767 North Carolina, four months after we last saw them. Jamie is doing what he does best; bribing guards and scheming to set his friend Gavin Hayes free before he swings for a murder he committed while drunk. Jamie visits Gavin to tell him the plan, but he tells Jamie that the only things he wants are some whiskey to calm his nerves, and the face of a friend to be the last thing he sees before he hangs. Jamie offers him the only thing he has, which is rum and even then is obliged to share it with another doomed prisoner who asks for a swig.
After leaving Gavin, Jamie tells Fergus and a companion from Ardsmuir, Lesley, that the plan is off. Jamie’s there to be the friendly face for Gavin as he’s hanged, but in his anguish, Lesley causes a disturbance afterward, allowing the rum mooch to slip away. Methinks this is not the best outcome for our merry band of migrants.
After some amazing new opening credits (I honestly watched them about five times, and love the small and big changes made throughout the years), we come back upon the Frasers and their group in a pub, discussing their return home to Scotland and the gems they need to sell to get there. Lesley laments that Gavin didn’t get a proper farewell and that he can’t be buried in a churchyard and the group, along with the whole pub, eventually, sings a dirge for Gavin’s soul.
Later that night, Jamie and Ian start digging an illegal grave on consecrated ground when Ian has some flashbacks to his time with Geillis and the torment she put him through. Jamie convinces Ian to tell him what happened, and Ian spills all. He tells Jamie that Geillis was upset that he wasn’t a virgin, and her rape of him, along with his subsequent guilt over how he body reacted even though his mind revolted. It’s a smaller scene in the premiere, but it’s also so important.
One thing Outlander has done better than most shows that use sexual assault as a plotline (a device with which honestly I could do with, like, 100% less), shows the aftereffects and trauma that continues long after the attack is over. No one who is assaulted in Outlander just “gets over it” and moves on. Ian telling Jamie about what happened to him allows Jamie to tell Ian that he, too was raped and tortured, and though it still haunts him, talking about it helped to purge the demon. He reassures Ian that, regardless of how his body may have responded, Ian is not responsible for what happened to him, and there is no shame in doing what you have to do to survive. It’s such an important message both for the young man and the viewers to hear.
Once the grave is dug and Ian’s ghosts are somewhat exorcized, the two men go to retrieve the body of their friend, when who should pop out but the escaped convict! The rum bum introduces himself as Stephen Bonnet and after some persuading from Jamie, tells them that he was a pirate, but a nice one who only killed people who tried to kill him. He’s charming as fuck, and the charm works on Jamie and the group, who allow him to go, but Stephen asks if he can help bury his “good friend” Gavin, and then maybe hitch a ride out of Dodge, since he’s a wanted man, after all. One look in his earnest face and Jamie the Outlaw Sympathiser agrees to take him out of town. Claire offers to join him since a couple is less suspect. This decision will absolutely have no bearing on Fraser’s future. At all.
While heading out of town, Jamie and Claire (Ian and Lesley went home) are stopped by some Redcoats who, understandably want to know what the fuck they’re doing moseying around in the middle of the night. Claire and Jamie tell them they’re taking their dead friend home, and after a quick check in the back, a soldier confirms that there’s a shrouded body in the back. Not being a super trusting type, however, the Redcoat in charge tells his men to stab the body with a bayonet, over Jamie and Claire’s protests about desecrating a corpse. The soldier does, and when there’s nary a twitch, they let the Frasers pass. They go like, ten feet up the road before Stephen sits up, scratched, but not impaled since the venison took the brunt of the puncturing. Thank God that soldier has literally the worst aim since he couldn’t hit a body from six inches away. Claire tends his wound and, not one for small talk, Bonnet tells her about his love of circles and charms her over her “two lucky men” when he notices her two wedding bands. He tells her about his nightmares of drowning and the pull of the sea, and thanks Jamie and Claire for their help before offering a reward. Jamie tells him helping a friend of Gavin is reward enough and they part ways. Not wanting to go back through the checkpoint so soon, Jamie and Claire decide to camp out. Claire tells Jamie she’s worried that after finding each other again, things are too good. She’s just waiting to have it all ripped away. Jamie assures her that death is as nothing between them since they both know nothing is ever gone, just changed. The couple then have some sexy times in the woods because mourning makes you want to reaffirm that you’re living.
The next day while taking in the purple mountains majesty, Claire waxes poetic about what America will become. She tells Jamie about the thousands and millions of people who will flood the country in search of the American Dream. She gets the dewy-eyed look on her face that many Americans get when we talk about the land of the free and how our only limitations are our will and talents. When Jamie asks her what happens to the Natives who already live here, reality crashes back when Claire tells him about how they’re forced from their lands, killed, and shunted off to reservations. Jamie, being a Highlander and having literally this same shit happen to him back in Scotland, is less impressed with the American Dream after learning that the dream was his nightmare. I’m actually so grateful that he had this reaction, because while Claire is so far removed from what happened both in Scotland and here in America, having been born 200 years later, the anguish of losing your land and being forced to give up your culture and customs is still a very fresh and raw wound for Jamie, who puts it in perspective. Jamie is woke AF.
That evening the two head to the governor’s house to try and sell a big fucking ruby. The dinner they attend is full of the self-important assholes we have seen all over the “better class” as they make passive aggressive comments and talk about the Natives in America much the same way they spoke of the Highlanders in Scotland. Claire manages to get someone to buy her ruby and Governor Tryon invites Jamie for a post-dinner drink, where he offers Jamie a shitload of land for nothing. Well, not nothing, since Jamie would have to work the land and bring settlers in and swear allegiance to the King (which he’s already done as a pardoned Jacobite). Clearly, Tryon wants a former soldier and farmer in his pocket to help stave off the Regulators who have been hounding his taxmen.
The next morning Claire and Jamie talk about Tryon’s offer, weighing the pros and cons. The idea of having their own land to work and build a life on is tempting and has long been their dream. The downside is that not only is there a war coming of which Jamie wants no part (being old and creaky now), but when that war comes, Jamie will be expected, as Tryon’s man, to fight for the King, which, ew. Jamie tells Claire that, since this is going to be Brianna’s home, he wants to do what he can to make it a good place for her, and the decision is made. Awwwwww.
On their way to breakfast, they run into Ian and his new friend (and my favorite character) Rollo, the half-wolf he won in a game of dice. After chastising Ian with yet another “what would your mother think?” the foursome joins Lesley, Fergus, and Marsali for breakfast. Jamie and Claire tell them their plan to stay in North Carolina and give each their share of the ruby money. They’re not sure where they’re going to live but plan to figure that out while visiting Jocasta at River Run. Ian gets super pumped to stay when his dreams are crushed by Jamie, who tells him he’s heading home to his mother, who will no doubt sail the New World to beat Jamie should any harm come to her son. Ian sulks a bit while Fergus and Marsali announce that they, too, will be settling in Wilmington, since pregnancy and transatlantic travel don’t go well together. Yay a grandbaby for Jamie and Claire!! Lesley also opts to stay with the Frasers, so it looks like Ian will be heading home alone.
The family is heading to Rivier Run via riverboat and Jamie gives Claire some family history on his aunt Jocasta, who is his mother’s sister. Seems she has a fondness for Camerons, but they don’t seem to last long as all three of her husbands are dead. Yikes. He hasn’t seen his aunt since he was a boy, but Jamie remembers that she’s a Mackenzie through and through, but he’s looking forward to seeing her, anyway. The two talk about their lives together and apart and Jamie gives Claire an apothecary chest, and honestly, it’s so tranquil and nice that my skin is starting to itch. Things never go this well for the Frasers.
That night, as if on cue, while Ray Charles sings America the Beautiful, Rollo freaks out, attacking someone who is on the boat. Hey look, it’s Stephen Bonnet! Fancy seeing him here! Stephen and his men proceed to lure Jamie out onto the decks as they beat him, brutally rob and kill Lesley, and then, to add insult to horrific injury, Bonnet takes Claire’s wedding ring. She manages to save the one Frank gave her so long ago, however. The score overplays everything, and we don’t hear what is said, but it’s clear that Bonnet is set up to be a formidable villain for the season. With that combination of charm and brutality, I don’t think this is the last we’ll see of him. The premiere ends with Claire and Jamie again destitute and devastated as Bonnet, clearly returning the favor, allows them to live. I can’t think of any other explanation when he clearly had no qualms with slitting Lesley’s throat.
This was such a beautiful and brutal premiere, and I’m honestly more excited for this season than I have been since the show first premiered. I have been waiting for my favorite couple to head to the colonies for years. I’ve read all the books, but it hasn’t dampened my excitement for the show, and I love watching as Jamie and Claire once again try to merge their lives, stitching a family together from love and commitments made, both to each other and the young people in their care.