Sunday, May 26, 2024

Outlander Review: episode 2×13 “Dragonfly in Amber”

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Welp. I cried like 7 times. How about y’all?

This was a quintessential Outlander episode. A lot happened, but the focus was on the characters and their relationships. While other series might have focused on the big looming battle, for Outlander it was background noise, literally and figuratively. Because at the end of the day, we know what happened on Culloden Moore. We care about the people, not the fighting.

The episode jumps between 1968 and 1746. It opens with Roger Wakefield, the cute lil guy you might remember from earlier this season, all grown up. It’s Reverend Wakefield’s wake, and Claire and her grown daughter, Brianna, pop up from London to pay their respects. Frank is dead, we learn, and we get the very clear impression that Bree was close to her father, but not so much to her mother.

Roger, Claire, and Brianna

Claire spends a few days visiting old sites: the ruins of Lallybroch (I cried); Culloden Moore (cried); a museum devoted to the Jacobite rebellion with a waxwork of Bonnie Prince Charlie and an artifact found on the field: the dragonfly in amber that Hugh Munro gave Claire as a wedding gift.

Geillis, Gillian, trouble.

Roger and Bree bop around Scotland a bit. Their first stop is Fort William, where Jack Randall held Jamie. They stop in front of the spot where Jamie was flogged so horribly and Bree says the place gives her the creeps. Smart kid. Later, at Inverness College she meets someone we recognize, even if she doesn’t. Geillis Duncan, known in 1968 as Gillian Edgars, is a passionate believer in Scotland’s need for independence from England. It’s easy to see what might have led her back in time…

Bree picks up one of her brochures (complete with several photos, including one just like that one above, so I guess they, uh. Didn’t think that one through.) and promises to be at the next rally.

Back in 1746, the battle is approaching. Jamie tries one more time to talk the Prince out of fighting, but he calls him Doubting Thomas and says that in a few hours he’ll believe. Uh huh.

Claire suggests they assassinate Charles. She offers Jamie the same potion she gave Colum and tells him she’s been treating the Prince for scurvy. It would be easy to slip the potion in his tea. Jamie is horrified, but it seems he’s on the verge of agreeing…when Dougal appears. He’s overheard the whole thing. He calls Jamie a traitor and Claire, amongst other things, a witch.

Jamie tries to calm him, but Dougal is out of his mind with fury and grief. Remember, he just lost his brother an hour or so ago, and Dougal is like Mr. #1 Jacobite, so hearing his nephew make plans to assassinate his prince is…well, it’s troubling.

Jamie and Dougal fight, and in the end Jamie kills him, with Claire’s help. They’re both horrified, but there’s nothing to be done now. Man, this fight. It wasn’t pretty, and neither man wanted to be fighting the other. After seeing a softer, or at least more honest, side of Dougal in 2×12, watching him have to fight his nephew now is heartbreaking. And, of course, we know Jamie well enough to know how he values family. I think I cried? I lost track.

Jamie, knowing he’s now not just an outlaw to the English, but also to all of Clan MacKenzie, draws up a document deeding Lallybroch to his eldest nephew. He backdates it for 1745, before he was an outlaw, and has Claire and Murtagh sign it. He sends Fergus to Lallybroch with careful instructions to deliver it to Jenny.

Let’s keep it in the family.

Back in 1968, Claire finds the document, complete with her signature. Bree, meanwhile, has started looking for clues about the “event” that occurred between her parents in Inverness shortly before her birth.

She finds more than she bargained for. Reverend Wakefield kept every piece of evidence about Claire’s disappearance, and some easy math causes Bree to realize that if Claire returned in April, and Bree was born in November, there’s no way Frank Randall was her father.

She confronts Claire. They argue, loudly, and Claire admits that Jamie was the love of her life. Obviously that upsets Brianna, and she’s further upset when Claire tells her the entire time-traveling saga. Needless to say, she’s not a believer.

That night Claire finds the brochure for Gillian’s rally and recognizes the picture. She feels like she has a responsibility to stop Gillian from going back in time since it ends in her fiery death, burned at the stake as a witch. She goes to visit Gillian’s husband, but he says he hasn’t seen her in weeks. She steals some notebooks Gillian’s been keeping and discovers that Gillian/Geillis planned her trip through time, and she’s going to try to leave soon.

Roger and Bree are getting drunk in the pub when they run into Gillian. She scolds them for missing the rally and tells them she’s leaving that night to “further the cause.” Later, they tell Claire, and she insists they head for Craigh na Dun. Brianna is angry, but Roger tells her it’s a win/win: either Gillian isn’t there and Claire has to admit she was wrong, or they watch Gillian run headfirst into a big rock and Claire has to admit she was wrong.

Reluctantly, Bree agrees to go.

Oh boy.

Back to the past! Jamie tells Murtagh to take the Fraser men and ride back to Lallybroch. Jamie knows how the battle will end, and he doesn’t want his men dying for a lost cause. Murtagh agrees, and asks Jamie what his plans are. He says he has to get Claire to safety, then he’ll be back to fight. He believes his destiny is on the field, and he doesn’t have any choice.

Murtagh (my hero) tells Jamie he’ll get the men away, but when Jamie returns to fight, Murtagh will be with him. Gosh, but like…okay, I don’t want to get distracted. I’ll talk more about this later.

Anyway, Jamie takes Claire to Craigh na Dun. He knows she’s pregnant, and he wants her to be safe. He wants their baby to be safe. Claire begs him to let her stay, but he can’t be swayed. She knows she has to go; she promised him; but it’s the last thing she wants to do. Their goodbye made me cry AGAIN, and honestly I’m so glad I know what happens to them, as a book reader.

It would be less painful if you shot me in the face.

In 1968, Brianna, Roger, and Claire watch Gillian/Geillis run through the stones. All three of them can hear the stones buzzing (which Jamie can’t, in 1746), and as she tries to absorb what just happened, Bree tells her mother she believes her.

Roger goes off to call the cops, and when he gets back Brianna asks him to tell Claire what he found. Apparently Frank asked Reverend Wakefield to continue searching for clues about Jamie’s fate. Roger found a letter with the Reverend’s things with evidence that Jamie survived the battle.

Jamie didn’t die.

As the full impact of Roger’s words sink in, the picture goes from present-day sepia/yellowish to 18th century vivid and bright. The past isn’t what brings color to Claire’s world; Jamie is. The camera tightens on her face. “I have to go back,” she says.

I love these shots of Craigh na Dun as Claire realizes Jamie lived.

Wow. That summary didn’t do this episode justice at all. First of all, it couldn’t capture the way the episode’s time-jump structure helped to build the suspense. You knew (even if you hadn’t read the books) that something big was gonna go down. What would happen to Jamie? Would Bree believe her mom? It seemed like Claire might go back…but why?

Let’s start at the beginning. This episode introduced two major characters for future seasons, Roger Wakefield and Brianna Randall. I liked Roger a lot; he was very book!Roger to me. I always shipped Roger and Bree, and now seeing them on screen I really really don’t want them to stick to the book next season. Book readers, I think you know what I’m talking about.

I’m a little on the fence about Bree. Obviously she isn’t meant to be super…likable, necessarily, when she’s yelling at Claire and dismissing her relationship with Jamie as a “bored housewife” fucking around. BUT it’s easy to see where she’s coming from. She loved Frank; he was her father; and to learn that he actually wasn’t is a huge blow. I hope next season we get some flashbacks of Frank and Bree together, since we never once saw them on screen, and that relationship was incredibly important to Brianna. Also I don’t want Tobias Menzies gone.

This episode, as so many of Outlander’s best are, was about relationships. We’ve spent 26 hours (give or take) watching Jamie and Claire’s relationship develop, and when they finally had to say goodbye…goddamn, every bit of that was earned. I was right there with them, not wanting to say goodbye. I honestly can’t…form proper words? Except I talk a lot about “unearned pathos” and how cheap it is. I hate storytellers who rely on that nonsense, using lowest common denominator tricks to pull at our heartstrings. It’s melodrama, and while sometimes there’s nothing wrong with melodrama, when it’s done poorly it’s a ripoff.

This was not melodrama, poor or otherwise. Their parting felt genuinely tragic, and it was the moment that made me cry the hardest. I kept thinking about Claire living the next 20 years…becoming a surgeon and raising a daughter, trying to be a good wife to Frank…and meanwhile this huge part of her is back in the 18th century with Jamie, wondering what might have been if she’d stayed or if they’d stopped the rebellion or if he’d been able to come with her.

Claire gives Jamie the dragonfly in amber.

It was the fulfillment of all these relationships that made the episode so good. Murtagh pledging to die by Jamie’s side; Jamie and Claire calling Fergus their son; Dougal dying at Jamie’s hand; every one of these moments mattered. This is not an episode to watch as a standalone. I mean, you could, and I’m sure you’d enjoy it, but it’s so much more when you’ve spent so much time with these characters, watching their relationships grow and change and struggle.

In the end Claire learns that Jamie lived, and she knows she has to go back to him. She has a daughter in 1968 who she finally has a chance to get to know, but it’s clear what choice she’s going to make. Of course, Bree has Claire’s blood and Roger has Geillis’, and they both heard the stones buzzing…

Ahem. Anyway. This was an amazing ending to the season, and I’m so psyched for season 3. April is so, so far away…

I’m not worried about Claire’s age makeup anymore. It was super subtle, with just a few streaks of gray in her hair and the lines on her face emphasized. I’m sure Jamie’s will be good, too, if hers is any indication.

Episode Grade: What’s higher than A? Honestly, this finale did everything right.

images curtesy of Starz

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