Monday, April 11, 2016

Through the Glass, Darkly! Our Recap!

A recap of Season 2 episode 1 from your Aussie blogging lass!

OUTLANDER HOMEPAGE ORIGINALS, Written by Admin, Susie Brown.

If there’s one character who tends to divide the Outlander fandom, it’s the character of Frank Randall. Many readers find his actions in the book to be unforgivable; while others defend him, saying that Claire was the one who left, however unwillingly it may have been at first. But even the most ardent of Frank supporters, when faced with the obvious soul connection between Jamie and Claire, must find it difficult to stay devoted to Team Frank for too long! But now, just to confuse the issue a little, we have TV Frank. TV Frank has been fleshed out far more than Book Frank ever was. Again, this has divided the fandom. Some say that the Starz version has taken away from the character of Jamie in order to give more to Frank. Others have enjoyed the more detailed characterisation and indeed, have even warmed to Frank in a way that they never had before. It is to TV Frank that season 2 quickly returns and the honours for the first half of the episode belong to Tobias Menzies. The talents of this actor are immeasurable, something to be discussed further a little later on.

There are a number of parallels with season 1 all throughout the first episode, all cleverly woven into the narrative. We open to a distressed Claire laying at the base of the stones at Craigh na Dun, with a voiceover declaring that she’d wished she were dead. In the first episode of season 1, Claire had no idea what had happened to her and once she’d worked it out, was desperate to return to the future. This time, Claire knows exactly what has gone on, but is desperate to be back in the past.
The anguished cries of Frank at the stones from season 1 are matched by Claire’s howls of grief in the opening moments of this season; both characters crying for the loves of their lives that have been taken from them. From this point, we see a Claire who is a shadow of her former self, walking ghost-like along the road.

Her passion returns briefly when she is met by a concerned motorist and she demands to know the result of the Battle of Culloden. The answer she is given throws her back into her despair. She is in 1948 and the British had been victorious on Culloden Moor. This means of course that Jamie and Claire’s mission has failed. They did not succeed in preventing the battle from happening and we witness Claire’s agony when this realisation hits. As the season 2 opening credits begin to roll, complete with Raya Yarbrough’s glorious new French verse and lush new costumes and landscapes, tv-only viewers will no doubt be thinking, “JHRC, what is going on?! We’re only 4 minutes in and it’s all doomed?”

Indeed, book fans may wonder this too, as the first half of the episode represents a fairly big diversion from Diana Gabaldon’s version of events. In a recent interview, Ronald D Moore spoke of the process of creating new scenes for tv and how he took bits from other books in the series, as well as reworking conversations and descriptions into new dialogue between the main players. This is a spectacular piece of production magic, because what emerges from the whole process is the fleshed out character of Frank Randall. It is easy to forget Book Frank, because we experience the story through Claire’s eyes and her heart belongs to Jamie from early on. But the TV series forces us to consider the man she left behind. How would it have felt to have your wife disappear? How would you cope, having to constantly deal with people telling you that she’d run off? And how would you feel when she returned, years later, pregnant and obviously mourning another man? It’s a lot to deal with and we get to watch some of it play out on the screen. TV Frank is joyful at his wife’s return; uncertain in her company and confused by her largely distant behaviour. He is a man desperate for them to return to the life that had been theirs, but intelligent enough to know that this is unlikely to happen easily.

Frank comes to see Claire in the hospital, and finds a woman irritated by the time period that she now finds herself in. It is too noisy outside and she hates the radio. Claire speaks without looking up, obviously believing Frank to be a hospital orderly. When she finally realises it is him and Frank approaches her to express his gratitude at her return, Claire immediately recoils, seeing the vision of Black Jack before her. A photographer bursts into the room and snaps a picture, the flash of his camera another rude intrusion of present day life. Frank informs Claire that Reverend Wakefield has rooms waiting for them, where she can be free from intrusions while she convalesces. The only thing that interests Claire about this news is whether the housekeeper Mrs Graham is still in the employ of the Reverend. This is presumably so that she can speak to the older woman about what has happened to her. Turning away, Frank stares thoughtfully at Claire’s 18th century garments.

Back at the Wakefield house, the Reverend and Frank discuss the authenticity of Claire’s clothes and how she could possibly have acquired them. As Ronald D Moore has explained, Book Frank had not been told the story of the stones, but TV Frank has been, which gives him the option of being more likely to believe what has happened to Claire. Throughout the conversation, both men look out into the garden, watching Claire turning pages of books and mentioning her obsessive research into Scottish history and the Jacobite cause. Reverend Wakefield presses the need for Frank to be given some answers, but Frank says that Claire will speak when she is ready. He is a man lost and unsure, still in love with a woman who, despite his best efforts, no longer seems to be in love with him.

Finally, late at night, Claire invites Frank into her room so that they can talk. Another parallel with season 1 occurs in the subsequent “confession scene”, where Claire finally tells Frank what has happened. In season 1, Jamie believes Claire’s story unconditionally, a fact for which she is profoundly relieved and grateful. In season 2, Frank declares believing her to be “quite the leap of faith” but one that he is also prepared to take. Yet far from being relieved or grateful, Claire seems almost irritated by this. She goads him further by referring to herself as his ex-wife and in the midst of his tearful declaration of unconditional love for her, distantly informs him that she is pregnant with Jamie’s child.

Frank’s reaction to this news is heartbreaking. For a split second Frank has believed the child to be his, before the inevitable truth dawns. We see elation mingled with shock, hurt and finally anger. It’s also a brilliant piece of direction, in that the only time Claire can look Frank in the eyes is when he is angry, looming over her with his fist clenched as if to strike. In this moment, suddenly, she can cope, fixing him with the full force of her stare. It is only when a distraught Frank storms out of her room and proceeds to take out his anger on the contents of Reverend Wakefield’s garden shed that Claire’s distant facade crumbles too.

The characters of the Reverend Wakefield and Mrs Graham have been fleshed out for the series, each acting as an advisor to Frank and Claire, respectively. Like Mrs Fitz in the 1700s, Mrs Graham emerges as a kindly mother-type figure to Claire. There is no question that she believes Claire’s story, but urges Claire to keep “her extraordinary adventure” tucked away in her heart, so that she can move on with the man who loves her here in the present. Similarly, the Reverend, while struggling with the truth of what has happened, counsels Frank on loving a child who is not his biological offspring, but who will always see him as Father. (We are also treated to another appearance by young Roger and he’s every bit as cute the second time around.)

Frank goes to Claire and declares his wish for them to start again, in Boston, where he will take up his position at Harvard University. He names two conditions: that they raise the child as their own and that while he lives, Claire must stop her fevered attempts to find Jamie’s name in the history books. In yet another painful moment for Frank, Claire agrees to let Jamie go, not because of Frank’s plea, but because of the promise she had made to Jamie to do just that. Her decision made, she accepts Frank’s hand and steps into an awkward embrace. We see the emotion clearly on both faces - Frank, tearfully hopeful and Claire, tearfully bereft. Breaking away, she gives Frank her 18th century clothes, declaring it time to leave the past behind and starts to attempt to remove Jamie’s wedding ring. Seeing her struggle, Frank stops her, telling her to do it when she’s ready. She gives him a brief look of gratitude and it is the first inkling we have of an uneasy restart to their relationship.

But as Claire prepares to leave, packing Jamie’s charred ring into her suitcase and looking at her reflection in the mirror with a protective hand on her pregnant belly, we know that she will never be free of her “ghost”. In another clever parallel, she is wearing the same coat and carrying the same suitcase as in season 1. Presumably, Frank had kept her possessions all this time, in the hope that she would return to him. Meanwhile Frank burns her 18th century gown in a bin below her window as the music of Bear McCreary’s Frank theme grows in intensity, and Claire watches the smoke from the fire rise into the distance. The close up of her face looking skyward is reminiscent of the shot from Season 1 when Jamie and Claire rode towards Lallybroch, speaking of planes. Almost on cue, we realise that Claire is indeed sitting in a plane, having just arrived in Boston. With a look at the skyline, she hesitates before stepping onto the tarmac. Frank reaches out his hand, which she takes. Finally, she seems a little less haunted.

“One more step,” as Frank says. It is their leap of faith. At this point, the hands morph into those of Jamie and Claire and we are suddenly back in 1745, as the couple arrive in France.

From here, the story is back “on book”, with events panning out as Diana Gabaldon’s chapters dictated. But before continuing with the France section of the episode, some kudos must be given to Tobias Menzies. Early reviews have used the phrase “a masterclass in acting” and it is certainly that. We ended season 1 loathing the evil Black Jack Randall - a sadist, a man without honour, a man devoid of feeling. Yet within moments of the start of season 2, we are feeling real sympathy for Frank Randall - a realist, a man with honour, a man displaying joy, sorrow, despair and love. The fact that these characters are so diametrically opposed would not be unusual, except for the fact that they are portrayed by the same actor. Tobias Menzies deserves every accolade for his performance in this episode. It is truly beautiful.

After nearly 40 minutes of watching distressed Claire, it is a relief to finally see her smile. It is also a relief to see Jamie and Murtagh, the latter providing us with a much needed laugh as he declares France to “reek of frogs.” Murtagh is at his dour best in this short scene, swearing in Gaelic, as he collects their belongings and sees about lodgings for the trio.

As we become reacquainted with the Frasers, it is obvious that all is not quite right. In a parallel from the first half of the episode this time, it is Jamie who is a shadow of his former self. He looks younger, thinner and in pain, both physically and emotionally. By contrast, Claire has regained all of her strength. She is in the one in charge, reassuring Jamie, counselling him on the need to go through with their plan, for the sake of the future. Jamie agrees, despite his considerable doubts, because of his love and trust in her, but what to tell Murtagh is another matter.

In the scene that follows, we are shown again a character who is prepared to sacrifice a considerable amount because of his love and trust for his kin. Murtagh agrees to wrap himself up in the “cloth of lies” that is being created, purely out of his loyalty to Jamie and the latter’s promise that when the time is right, Murtagh will know the true reason for the need for deception. Jamie’s vow is enough for Murtagh and we witness anew the bond between the two men. In another splendid piece of acting, Duncan LaCroix instantly transforms Murtagh from acerbic Scot to true friend.

The last time we witnessed the fervour of a Jacobite, it was in the guise of Dougal MacKenzie, where Jamie’s scars were used, much to his annoyance, in order to elicit donations from sympathisers. This time, the fervent Jacobite in question is Jamie’s uncle, Jared Fraser and in a truly superb parallel of events, it is Jamie who takes power over his scars. With Claire’s help, he dramatically removes his shirt and declares that he has no love for a king who would allow such horrors to be carried out in his name. The action has the desired effect and Jared welcomes him to the Jacobite cause, calling him brother and vowing to help. Just precisely how this will be achieved is a bone of contention, but Jared agrees to “give it some thought”, with almost the exact intonation that Jamie used when speaking to Claire on board ship at the end of season 1. In the meantime, the two men strike a bargain, with Jamie agreeing to run Jared’s wine business while he is away in the West Indies, in return for the use of Jared’s house and 35% profit.

But of course, it wouldn’t be a true Outlander episode if Claire didn’t manage to get herself into some sort of trouble before its conclusion and this episode is no exception. We soon see Claire publicly diagnosing a case of smallpox onboard a ship belonging to the new villain of the piece, the Comte St Germain. As well as some beautiful sounding French from both Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, we are made privy to French subtitles, in contrast to the missing Gaelic ones from the first season. Courtesy of these titles, we witness the Frasers make a new enemy, as the Comte’s attempts to make the problem go away prove unsuccessful, leading to the destruction of both his ship and its cargo. In menacing undertones, he promises that both Claire and Jamie will pay. As Jamie, Claire, Jared and Murtagh watch the ship burn, Jared warns that that the Comte will not forget. Jamie jokes that they have already made a new enemy in a new country and that life with Claire is never dull. Claire offers to endeavour to become more dull if Jamie would prefer it, but he replies that he wouldn’t change her to save the world and kisses her tenderly. The episode closes with the figure of the Comte St Germain watching their carriage leave, his face illuminated by firelight.

“Through a Glass, Darkly” is an intense hour of television that covers a lot of ground - some familiar, some new. The episode succeeds in every way, showing the full gamut of emotions of all the major players, regardless of the time period from which they come and hinting at the drama that lies ahead. It remains to be seen how often we will return to the 1940s, but one thing is clear, emotions are going to run high this season. We’d better get ready!

NB. This episode recap was written by Susie Brown, an author, teacher-librarian and ardent Outlander fan who lives in Australia. She is firmly on Team Jamie, but does have enormous sympathy for TV Frank!


  1. Frank left all Claire's things in her suitcase on the bed at the Wakefield's when he left for Oxford.It was Wakefield responsible for keeping her belongings and not Frank.
    Jamie is weakened by his abuse and severe seasickness,touched on briefly by Claire at the end of season one.He would have been dehydrated and also would have lost weight depending on how long suck a trip took by boat.


  3. Great recap! I enjoyed the parallels you brought out with season 1. It gives me an excuse to re-watch the episode (for the 4th time). I am also a reader of the books and Team Jamie, but it took this episode (Ron's adaptation)and Tobias Menzies performance to appreciate Frank's POV. His performance was amazing!!