In the beginning, we watched Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) fall in love. We got to appreciate a brawny man in a kilt, and there were many, many gratuitous and lingering shots of Jamie’s absolutely incredible body even before he and Claire married—and then consummated their marriage in a glorious episode of incredibly hot newlywed sex.
That was the beginning of the show’s blossoming. Outlander was somewhat groundbreaking in that the lead was a woman who was smart and independent and sassy. Even in times (the 18th century and the 1940s) when women were beholden to the patriarchy, Claire forged her own way. Her body was rarely displayed gratuitously, and in sex scenes, the focus was generally on her pleasure. This was a show designed for the female gaze, and how.
Claire’s body was rarely displayed gratuitously, and in sex scenes, the focus was, generally, on her pleasure. Outlander seemed to be a show designed for the female gaze, and how.
Alas, all wasn’t conjugal bliss. Throughout the first season, Claire and Jamie constantly became separated and forced to rescue one another. It happened so often it became tedious; another episode, another separation. Meanwhile, their nemesis, the sadistic Captain Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall (Tobias Menzies)—the architect of the mass of scarred flesh on Jamie’s back—took delight in torturing both Claire and Jamie whenever he could. Over the season, he became the kind of villain who was constantly twirling an invisible handlebar moustache while petting a hairless cat in some dark lair as he considered the most fucked-up things he could possibly do to this tormented couple.
Things took a grim turn at the end of the first season, when Jamie was arrested and sentenced to death by hanging. His sentence was temporarily commuted when Randall rode in to stop the hanging. Instead of reprieve, Jamie was thrown into a fresh hell, forced to submit to Randall’s sadistic whims—including torture and a prolonged, extremely graphic rape. The show’s sexiness evaporated in an instant; it was, I suppose, groundbreaking to see a show address male rape, but my goodness, the violence was unwatchable, as it should be.
The finale, however, offered us a bit of hope as we learned that Claire was pregnant with Jamie’s child and the couple was headed to France to try and change history. The couple that tries to mess with the spacetime continuum together, stays together.
Back—and Miserable—in the 20th Century
The second season begins with Claire once again giving voiceover (as she was so eagerly wont to do in Season 1). At the start of the premiere, “Through a Glass, Darkly,” she is lying amidst the magical stones of Craigh na Dun that make her time travel possible, realizing she is no longer in the past. She screams the way any of us would scream if we could no longer avail ourselves of Jamie Fraser’s body and sexual prowess. Before long, she finds a road. When a car comes upon her, the driver keeps asking Claire if she’s alright but she can only ask, “What year is it?” It is 1948, which is bad news for Claire, and frankly, for us, because there is nothing sexy about Claire’s life in the 1940s, nothing at all. Then Claire asks who won the Battle of Culloden, and the random man just happens to know what she’s going on about and tells Claire the British won. She begins sobbing. And here we are.
Her dreary 20th-century husband, Frank (Menzies again), strides into a hospital where he learns his wife is alive and well-ish. She is in a hospital bed, listening to a jazzy hit from 1944, “Milkman, Keep Those Bottles Quiet,” and the first thing she tells Frank is to turn the radio off. The future—well, the present—is too damn noisy. Their reunion is understated, but when Frank moves in to caress Claire, she flinches dramatically: Frank is the spitting image of Black Jack Randall. Also, he’s Frank.
The awkwardly reunited couple heads to Reverend Wakefield’s (James Fleet) so Claire can “convalesce,” which is a fine word for “long for Jamie and his strong, manly embrace.” Frank and the reverend have a chat in a study and reveal that the clothes Claire was wearing are authentic 18th-century garb, worth quite a lot of money. The men also remark on Claire’s new obsession with Scottish history because she’s been reading nothing but such history books in the week since her return. They also wonder where Claire has been. The easiest thing would be to just ask, but no one on this show ever does the easiest thing.
They wonder where Claire has been. The easiest thing would be to just ask, but no one on this show ever does the easiest thing.
Out in the garden, Claire and Mrs. Graham (Tracey Wilkinson) talk. As fighter jets soar overhead, Claire remarks, “There’s always another fucking war.” This provides a great opportunity to talk about Jamie, who didn’t even know what the F-word meant. Memories. As the women chat, we see that Mrs. Graham knows all about Claire’s time travels.
(Sidebar: Claire’s story is, on the surface, utterly implausible—but not only is she profligate in sharing it, but every single person she shares her story with believes her. You’d think at least one person would be like, “Girl, this story is fucking insane. Get you some professional help.” That never happens. Ever.)
After reminiscing fondly of young Jamie, Mrs. Graham counsels Claire to focus on the man she’s with instead of the man she left behind due to the vagaries of time travel. It’s a shame that man is Frank. I’d choose the ghost, too, if I were Claire. I’d choose the ghost of Jamie over most anyone but Channing Tatum or Beyoncé.
That night, Frank stares pensively at Claire’s closed bedroom door. Feeling his sad longing, she invites him in and proceeds to unburden herself, yet again, of her implausible story, making sure to tell Frank, several times, how much she loves Jamie. (Who can blame her? We know what happened when they first made love. Mmmm.) This scene drags on as Frank tries to be the world’s most understanding man. Is he merely being English or is he dead inside? Hard to say. I’m just saying that most men would probably need a couple weeks to adjust to the time-travel-amazing-sex-in-the-18th-century-with-another-man thing.