Monday, September 11, 2017

“Life's Rich Tapestry - survival, loss, hope, despair.” A recap of season 3 episode 1 by your Aussie Blogging Lass


Outlander Homepage Originals By Susie Brown




We really shouldn’t complain. After all, as season 3 begins, Jamie and Claire are about to endure 20 years of separation, whereas Droughtlander has lasted a mere 427 (or perhaps 428, depending on your location in the world) days by comparison. Yet fans felt every single one of those days since Jamie sent Claire back through the stones and thus expectations were high when the familiar theme music heralded the official beginning of a new season.  Would the first episode live up to them? 

As the rich vocals and stirring vocals of the opening credits die away, a tattered St Andrew’s Cross flutters in the breeze. Viewers had been promised the Battle of Culloden and the episode begins with its brutal aftermath. There is no gentle ‘easing in period’ to the first episode of season 3. Bodies are piled high, the decimated Highland army lie dead or dying on the unforgiving soil. English soldiers move amongst them, collecting up swords and slaughtering any man who still breathes. Suddenly the camera pans in on two familiar bodies - one Highlander and one English soldier. Jamie Fraser’s eyes flutter open and he takes a ragged breath.


The camera takes on a blurred dreamlike quality that matches Jamie’s unfocused gaze, as he slips in and out of consciousness. The narrative alternates rapidly between the reality of a seriously wounded Jamie, who watches as a kinsman is slaughtered by a nearby redcoat and his fragmented, delirious recollections of parts of the battle. In brief glimpses, viewers see the overconfident Bonnie Prince before the battle begins, as well as the desperate charge of the Jacobites towards their enemy. 

Night falls and snow drops gently onto Jamie’s face. He licks a fragment of a snowflake and swallows painfully, as the redcoats continue their examination of the bodies. Jamie’s visions continue. This time, he is reliving the moments immediately after Claire’s departure, his grief raw as he touches the cold stone and picks up her shawl. Then he returns to the battlefield to find chaos all around him. Charles Stuart is panicked and indecisive, his generals at odds with each other as to the best course of action. As he did so often in season 2, Jamie tries to advise the Bonnie Prince, who once again ignores him. Jamie’s disgust is obvious as he turns away, while the camera closes in on a fearful Charles’ face. 

With or without an official call to charge, the battle begins and is brutal in its intensity. Jamie is locked in a struggle with a redcoat, finally succeeding in defeating the British soldier as his godfather appears miraculously at his side. It is perhaps the one brief lighthearted moment of the exchange. Murtagh grins at Jamie, who immediately asks whether Murtagh has been off ‘enjoying a wee whisky’. 


Murtagh answers by knifing another redcoat coming towards them, and telling Jamie that the Lallybroch men have gotten safely away. Helping each other to their feet, the two men leap back into the fray, as the Highlanders charge towards the British. It is certain slaughter, yet Jamie charges forward, as the men around him are felled by either bullets or bayonets. Then the action slows, the lighting changes and somehow Jamie seems to stand apart from the other men as the familiar face of Jack Randall comes into view. Jamie almost smiles. The longed for confrontation with his ultimate foe is finally here. The two men make eye contact before lunging towards each other.

This is a brief and horrific moment of reckoning. Jack’s sword slices Jamie’s leg; Jamie’s dirk finds Jack’s belly. As the haunting music underscores their battle, both wounded men swing their weapons past the point of exhaustion. Both are grievously wounded, until in a final macabre dance, Jack staggers towards Jamie.


He collapses on his shoulder and both men fall. It perhaps the last irony that in his death, it is the weight of Randall’s body that keeps Jamie alive, acting as a human tourniquet for the wound he has inflicted. From season 1, every touch by Jack has caused pain to Jamie’s body and soul. This final touch inflicts an additional pain, as it denies Jamie the death that he had expected. In Wentworth Prison, Jamie had said that Randall owed him a death. It appears he still does. 

In the eerie silence of the night, Jamie still lies on the field. He sees a rabbit, hopping amongst the bodies. But then his gaze focuses on an approaching figure. It is Claire, clad in white, an angel of mercy amongst the dead. She reaches Jamie and caresses his cheek. “Are you alive?” she asks. It would be a perfect moment of death and one that Jamie clearly wants. But the figure of Claire morphs into that of Rupert Mackenzie, who has found his kinsman on the battlefield. Declaring that he will not leave Jamie to be slaughtered in the mud, he asks if Jamie can stand. Randall’s body is pushed away and the blood flow begins once more. As Rupert and another highlander drag Jamie away, it looks for all the world as if his death is imminent. Indeed, he asks Rupert to leave him be. But Rupert is in charge now, and viewers are relieved to see one whole and seemingly uninjured man from the Mackenzie clan, still capable of making a joke about whisky and Jamie’s inability to drink him under the table. Jamie’s fingers drop Claire’s dragonfly talisman, which is left on the battlefield as the surviving men attempt to find shelter and escape. At this point, the timeline shifts and we are in Boston in 1948. 

Claire and Frank are walking around their new home. With echoes of the very first episode of season 1, they are uncertain and nervous around each other, attempting light hearted conversation as they discuss the location of Frank’s study and Claire’s position as “lady of the house.” The mention of Claire “rustling up” dishes in their new kitchen indicates already the role she is expected to play - that of domestic housewife. It is not a role that Claire is either used to or comfortable with, and this is a theme visited many times throughout the rest of the Boston part of the episode’s storyline. 

We soon see Claire do battle unsuccessfully with the stove, until the fireplace in the living room gives her an idea. With an affectionate look at the hearth, she hits on a solution and we next see her arriving home in the car with a load of firewood. A new neighbour, Millie Nelson, immediately displays good old fashioned Boston hospitality and helps Claire inside with the wood, marvelling at Claire’s ability to cook over the open flame. A word of warning is inserted into proceedings, as Millie embarks on a discussion of men and their expectations of their wives. She remarks that Claire is lucky to have such a progressive, open minded husband. When Millie says, “You’re lucky. You won’t find another man like Frank again”, we see Claire close her eyes briefly in pain. We know, although Millie does not, it is not Frank she is thinking of, but Jamie. 

Back in the 18th century, Rupert is giving Jamie a drink. The survivors of the battle are huddled together in a cottage somewhere, most gravely wounded. Rupert and another man, Gordon Killick, discuss the possibility of making a run for it, an option that is quickly dismissed. Jamie listens as the two men outline the hopelessness of their situation and realises that the Lallybroch men may not be safe after all. The healthy English soldiers would have no trouble hunting down the bedraggled escapees from the battlefield. He stares into the distance. There is nothing he can do.

Perspective shifts again and an obviously pregnant Claire is staring into the mirror. She is preparing to “look pretty to meet the boss”, a task that she is obviously not relishing. The following scene shows exactly why. Frank’s new boss is a misogynist of the highest order, taking exception to Claire’s opinions on American politics and admonishing Frank for allowing his wife to read the Globe. His opinion on women at university or at work are scathing, dismissing both female physicians in general and Claire’s combat nursing during the war in particular, with a condescending remark about how relieved Claire must have been to return to more important and fitting domestic concerns. Somehow, Claire manages to control her temper, biting her tongue as she grips Frank’s hand and declares her happiness at her impending maternal bliss. The look on her face shows her true feelings, but of course, this is not noticed by the patriarchal group around her. It is increasingly obvious that Claire is not fitting into her new life at all. 

As Jamie grows progressively weaker, he asks about Murtagh, who hasn’t been seen since his brief appearance by Jamie’s side. Rupert asks the other men, but no one knows of Murtagh’s fate, having lost sight of him during the fighting. The comment is made that they hope that Murtagh is already dead, when suddenly the doors open and two English officers enter the cottage. The leader introduces himself as Lord Melton and Rupert responds with his own introduction as Rupert Mackenzie of Leoch. It is odd to see someone other than Jamie in charge. While leadership suits Rupert (and it is a transformation that Grant O’Rourke portrays beautifully) it also highlights the desperate nature of Jamie’s condition. Without preamble, Melton informs Rupert that the men who engaged in the recent treasonous rebellion are to be executed and asks if anyone wishes to declare their innocence. With a smirk befitting the hopelessness of their cause, Rupert speaks for the group, declaring them to be “traitors all”, and asking if they will be hanged. 




Melton replies that they will be shot like soldiers, the implication being that this is somehow the most noble death that the men could expect. Resigned, Rupert nods and thanks Melton, whilst the younger members of the party look at each other in horror. Melton gives the men an hour, offering them writing materials to compose a letter. It is a formal show of English honour and highlights that Melton is a man of duty, a fact that is soon to become very important. 

Time shifts again and back in Boston, Claire is making breakfast. She has mastered the stove now and is going through the motions of a domestic morning, when she is distracted by the bird outside the window. The music underscores her thoughts as we see first her fixation with the small creature, and then her desolation as it flies away, free, while she herself is trapped. She and Frank make a pretence of the happy family meal, beginning by commenting on the abomination of tea bags and the abundance of post war bacon. But the mood is shortlived. Claire announces her intention to apply for citizenship, due to her inability to identify with being English and her wish for their child to have a real home. The mention of their child is an important emotional moment for Frank, but it quickly dissipates when Claire flinches as he tries to touch her pregnant belly. The tension escalates quickly.


Franks lists the importance of their British heritage, but the mention of the Stuarts hits a nerve with Claire. She repeats that citizenship is something she wants to do, but Frank dismisses the idea as unnecessary, given that his employment gives them both indefinite residency. Claire says that it isn’t what the situation is about. Frank acknowledges this, attempting once more to touch her. Again, Claire pulls away and the anger mounts. Frank accuses Claire of using the pregnancy to keep him at a distance.  Frank asks Claire when she will come back from the past; she accuses him of having made her leave behind anything that ever mattered to her. Each inflicts their pain on the other, the accusations becoming more and more bitter, culminating in Claire throwing an ashtray at Frank. After a long stare, Frank puts on his jacket and delivers a final ultimatum. He did not force Claire to come to Boston, he says, nor will he force her to stay. There is a moment just before he leaves the house that parallels a similar breaking point in Jamie and Claire’s relationship in Paris, with each character standing at opposite ends of the same room. Emotionally exhausted, Frank leaves, leaving a distraught Claire to break down in sobs. Kudos must go to Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies here, for portraying the desolate nature of Claire and Frank’s already crumbling relationship so beautifully. 

It is kudos that is swiftly followed by more praise for Grant O’Rourke in his final scenes as Rupert Thomas Alexander Mackenzie. After entreating Melton for mercy for the youngest boys in the company and failing, Rupert tries to give them strength and comfort as they march outside to their deaths. This is followed by a determined farewell to the only other healthy man in the group, Gordon Killock, who after taking leave of an increasingly weakened Jamie, volunteers to be the next man to meet his own death. 

Left alone, Rupert and Jamie share a beautifully touching final scene. It is a masterclass in acting by Sam Heughan and Grant O’Rourke and one that leaves viewers (well, this one, at least!) an emotional wreck. Rupert reminisces about Angus, his voice breaking slightly as he expresses joy over seeing his friend again. Jamie, his speech markedly slurred, adds that it will good to see the two of them together. Gripping Jamie’s hand, Rupert says that while he can’t forgive Jamie for Dougal’s death, he won’t go to his grave hating Jamie for it either. Instead, he says, he will trust in God’s mercy when they are both judged. Bidding Jamie farewell, the two look sadly at each other one last time, before Rupert becomes the next volunteer. With one final quip to his English executioners, “I mean to set a quick pace, so try to keep up”, he walks outside. The single gunshot that follows takes its toll on Jamie. Lip trembling, eyes full of tears, he murmurs a Gaelic farewell to his friend.

It is 3:30am in Boston and Frank is trying to sleep on the couch. Kept awake by the noises of the house, he goes to his desk and begins a letter to Reverend Wakefield, asking for assistance in gathering research on one James Fraser. His letter is interrupted though, by Claire’s appearance. Her waters have broken and it is time to go to the hospital. 

Meanwhile, the last of the Jacobites, those unable to walk on their own, are to be executed. Melton gives orders for the men to be propped up before they are shot, as no man, traitor or not, is going to be executed lying down on his watch. It is another example of Melton’s sense of honour. Jamie volunteers to be the next man shot, but the announcement of his full name brings Melton to a halt. 


Book readers already know why, but the reason is then made apparent for tv viewers: Melton is the elder brother of John William Grey, the young boy who had attempted to kill Jamie before the battle and whose life Jamie had spared, albeit with a broken arm into the bargain. This action had incurred a debt of honour upon the Grey family, meaning that Melton cannot in all conscience execute Jamie. Melton’s dedication to his honour is outlined one final time as he rejects, with a withering glance,  his deputy’s suggestion that they shoot Jamie under an alias. 

All the while, Jamie is desperate to be shot. He doesn’t wish to be reprieved, he wishes to die. But Melton will not comply. Instead, Jamie is to be taken, under cover of darkness, away from the cottage. Melton muses that Jamie will likely not survive the journey, but that the death will not be on his, or his family’s head. As a result, Jamie endures a jolting journey in the back of a wagon, groaning in pain.

Claire too, is groaning in labour. The doctor, who has taken his time, finally appears, condescendingly ignoring Claire as he asks Frank about his wife’s contractions. But Claire answers, overriding Frank’s answer as to whether this is her first pregnancy. A shocked Frank mutters “of course” when Claire reveals that she had had a miscarriage about a year before. (This would seem to be a continuity error, as Faith was stillborn in 1744 and the battle of Culloden was in 1746. Claire was in the earlier stages of this pregnancy on her return from the stones and has now reached full term. Even given the vagaries of time travel, this seems to indicate more than a year, but it is a minor point.) In the book, this childbirth is revealed as being difficult and possibly life threatening to Claire had she remained in the 18th century. Here, the only indication of this is the doctor’s mention of higher risk factors for mother and child following a miscarriage. Their previous estrangement paused by the impending birth, Frank declares his love for Claire as she is taken away. Claire is soon at the mercy of another misogynist in the form of the doctor, who dismisses her wishes for the birth with an injection of anaesthetic against her will. 

As Claire loses consciousness with a murmured “You bastard”, a barely conscious Jamie is being roused by Jenny and Ian. Jenny tells her brother that he has come home and Jamie breathes the word, “Lallybroch” with a smile. He looks delirious, but seems pleased to be dying at home, with loved ones. 




Claire awakens, in a direct parallel to her waking at L’Hopital des Anges after the stillbirth of Faith. Running her hand over her belly, she starts to call, “Where’s my baby?” becoming increasingly agitated and asking the nurse if her baby has died. But Frank enters, holding a little girl in his arms, and together they marvel at her beauty. Overcome by the emotion of having a healthy child, Claire turns to Frank for the first time, accepting his kiss and apologising for being so horrid to him. 



Frank is immediately forgiving, telling her to forget all of what has happened and that what they have now is all that truly matters.  Tearfully, they make a pact: Frank promising that everything will be all right and Claire agreeing that this can be a new beginning for all of them. After all the death and horror of the episode, it is a relieving happy moment. (Shortlived, of course!) As the nurse bustles back in, she compliments the couple on their beautiful little angel (another parallel to season 2), before asking, “Where'd she get the red hair?” The spell is broken, the smiles disappear and the episode ends, with the viewers left in no doubt that far from a new beginning, more tension is ahead.

This was a spectacular start to a new season that already promises much heartache and emotion. Kudos must go to all the main players in the episode. Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies give beautiful portrayals of Claire and Frank, trying to negotiate their marriage after all that has happened and already starting to sink under the weight of both societal and personal expectations. Sam Heughan, who spent most of the episode gasping, delirious and weak, left us in no doubt as to the utter desolation Jamie is feeling. And as for Grant O’Rourke, his time as Rupert came to an end with heart wrenching perfection. 

The stage is set. It’s going to be one hell of a voyage, that’s for sure. 


This episode recap was written by Susie Brown, a writer and teacher-librarian who lives in Australia. Her tweet immediately following the episode was: “Brutal, confronting, heartbreaking, desolate, hopeful, emotionally charged brilliance. So much kudos to everyone involved. I need a whisky!” She stands by her reaction! 


3 comments:

  1. Brilliant Susie.....fine writing! I thought the scene between Jamie and Rupert was the best of the show. Get me a dram!

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  2. Wonderful blog - felt like I was watching ep 1 again. I believe Claire mentions in the books that she didn't get the injection and gave birth naturally at 3am. Even though it was a complicated delivery, her doctor did say she wouldn't have survived the delivery if it wasn't for modern medicine. Yet another reason for her decision I think! Found so much sadness in this episode. Have no doubt S3 is riveting viewing.

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  3. Reading your wonderful blog made me feel like I was rewatching the episode again! Please correct if I'm wrong but I think I read that Claire wanted and did give birth to Brianna naturally! Afterwards, her doctor told her she would have died if not for modern medicine (Another excellent reason for her choice)! As my favourite book, I think S3 Voyager is riveting must watch viewing.

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