We’ve had floggings and weddings. Now it’s time for Outlander to say goodbye with a send-off that’s memorable enough to keep us talking until the show’s April return.
Let’s bitch it out…Apparently the structure of this mid-season finale – which cuts back and forth between Claire (Caitriona Balfe) in the 18th century and Frank (Tobias Menzies) coping in the 20th – is unique to the show. Since the book is written exclusively from Claire’s point of view, Frank’s response to her disappearance is (apparently) unexplored. The decision to include it here, as explained by showrunner Ronald D. Moore, is to expand on Claire’s anxiety at being a twice married woman.
In this capacity it mostly works. Spending time with Frank in 1945 enables us to see his struggles with suggestions of his wife’s infidelity, his spiral into the bottle (he looked pretty familiar in that bar) and, of course, it sets-up the near miss with Claire at Craigh Na Dun (for my money, that’s the emotional climax of the episode). As a narrative structure, the back and forth can feel a bit tidy – a lot of ‘Both Sides Now’ feels telegraphed, though that doesn’t necessarily diminish its impact. I knew as soon as Frank heard the legend of the rocks’ time travel abilities that he would eventually end up there at the same time as his wife (not that that made it any less dramatic). In fact I may have wailed a “No!” when the screen went to black and Claire was hauled away by the Red Coats. If anything I’d probably credit the strength of this mid-season finale to the editing team as a result, especially the masterfully cut sequence wherein the spouses journey up (and down) the hill (my notes clearly reflect the tension: “Dammit Claire, run faster!”). My favourite moment of this mid-season finale is actually the very simple but effective shot of Claire being carried by the Red Coats followed by a slow pan to the left that similarly sees Frank walking away – the lovers inhabiting nearly the same space two centuries apart. So close, and yet so far away.
In many ways there’s a heavy burden on this fall finale to re-establish the premise of the show. Episode six saw Black Jack firmly entrenched as the series’ villain and the titular ‘Wedding’ last week solidified Claire and Jamie’s relationship – thereby checking off two large aspects of the series’ agenda. The responsibility of this last episode of 2014 was to establish where Outlander will go from here. As a result we get scenes that cement Claire’s position within the camp of the Highland rebels as well as clear indicators that this move does not remove her from danger. This is made crystal clear by not one, but two callbacks to her near rape in the pilot – first by the pair of Red Coat deserters (where she puts to use her recent combat training) and again with Black Jack himself after her capture.
I’ll admit that the final scene in Fort Province ended up feeling a little rushed and anti-climatic to me. I almost wish that emotional wallop at Craigh Na Dun had provided the cliffhanger rather than Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) out of nowhere chivalrous rescue. So much work has been done to unify Claire’s connection with her new husband that the deck seems unfairly stacked in Team Jamie’s favour. If Moore and his creative team truly want our sympathies to oscillate back and forth between Claire’s two husbands, capping ‘Both Sides Now’ with her near-miss with Frank would have offered the episode a little more balance (and lent it less of a pulpy women’s fantasy feel). Still, as a cap on a surprisingly solid first run of episode, I can’t help but feel disappointed that this is the last we’ll see of this fantastic show until the end of the first quarter of 2015. I guess I’ll just have do some light reading, maybe with a new book series or something?
- Another point in favour of Team Jamie: he asks her in the opening scene whether all connections between men and women is like theirs and she confirms that they have something special. Of course, anyone who watched those sex scenes last week probably already knew that.
- Outlander loves to highlight Claire’s hands: we are repeatedly meant to notice the rings on both of her hands (such as when she hugs Jamie and the focus settles very clearly on them). Here there’s a new opportunity when, in the moments following her first murder, we see her hands covered in blood.There’s a lot of emotional wear and tear signified in those digits, I tell ya.
- I did appreciate that we see Claire go into shock after the murder. Initially I felt that this was a little strange considering how much blood she’s seen as a battlefield nurse, but eventually I realized that her reaction builds nicely off all of the times we’ve seen her use her gifts to heal rather than harm this season. She’s well and truly involved in this conflict now.
- Simon Meacock makes a big impression in his introduction as Hugh Munro, a man who’s suffered extreme injuries in the battle with the English, including the loss of his tongue. Outlander has done an exceptional job of introducing these unique and memorable characters, despite their limited screen time.
- I particularly like that mild-mannered Ned Gowan (Bill Paterson) is the one who saves the camp from bandits. His self-impressed response to his successful gunshot is highly amusing.
- Finally, a note to Claire: your 200 years of history is only as valuable as your ability to convincingly use it. So while the gamble to convince Black Jack that you’re also an undercover agent in the service of the Duke seems like a shrewd move, it would be best to stop underestimating his quick wit. So far you’re 0 for 2 when it comes to playing this guy!
- Frank (admonishing the police officer who suggests Claire disappeared with her lover): “My wife is not with another man!” Cut to Claire with another man.
- Graham McTavish’s Dougal (when it is suggested that the only weapon suitable for women is poison): “Perhaps. But it has its deficiencies in battle.”
Your turn: how did you feel about cutting back and forth between Claire and Frank? Do you think that the episode should have ended with the near-miss of Craigh Na Dun? Was the ending with Jamie’s appearance at the window a little much? Are you glad that Claire can finally defend herself considering how often she ends up in rapey situations? And what will you do to entertain yourself in the six months until the show returns? Sound off below, but please refrain from posting spoilers about upcoming events from the books!
Outlander has finished the first half of season one. It will return Saturday, April 4, 2015 on STARZ. Thanks for reading and see you next year!