Please note: This article contains heavy spoilers of the midseason finale of Outlander.
Last year, Outlander showrunner Ronald D. Moore and author Diana Gabaldon shared a cab to a fan event at New York Comic Con and, during the ride, Moore filled in Gabaldon on why his plan for the Starz show’s midseason finale needed to go off-book. “[I said,] ‘We cut to Frank in the 20th century and see what he’s been doing, and we cross-cut the two stories: We just go cold to Frank in Inverness, hunting for Claire desperately, and then we see she’s with Jamie right after the wedding,’” recalled Moore. “Diana actually loved it, when I was telling her about it.”
“I thought it made perfect sense,” Gabaldon told us in a separate interview. “We need to see Frank. I couldn’t do that in the book, as the entire novel is told from Claire’s point of view, but I thought it was fascinating to see more of Frank’s inner character than is revealed in the book.”
Coming on the heels of the much-anticipated wedding episode, we as an audience know that Claire, stuck in another time, had just been forced to marry Jamie. So when the police try to break it to Frank that his wife must have run off with the Highlander he spotted spying outside her window back in episode one (the man who was mysteriously there and not there), we know that it’s both true and not true. “He keeps saying, ‘My wife is not with another man,’ and we keep cutting to her, and yes, she is!” Moore said. “So you’re like, ‘Jesus!’”
We also know that Claire feels incredibly guilty about her predicament, that she’s actually enjoying the company of her other husband. “When she picks up her wedding dress, out of the dress falls her Frank ring, rolling across the floor,” Moore explained. “She goes over, she picks it up, and she puts the two rings on, so the last image is of her looking at the two rings, to bring you back to the idea, ‘Oh my god, wait a minute … she’s married to two people now!’ And what I really wanted to make was a ‘Who am I rooting for now?’ moment.”
Sure, it would be easy to sign up for Team Jamie after all the amazing sex Claire just had with him, but let’s not forget that she’s had amazing sex with Frank, too. (Nor should we forget that Frank knows what he’s doing.) “It was important to really spend time with Claire and Frank as a couple, to invest in their marriage, and to say, ‘Oh, I’m kind of rooting for them. They have some problems, but I hope they work it out,’” Moore said, so that we have some sympathy for what Frank is going through.
With his wife missing for six weeks, most people are telling Frank to just give up. He’s a regular presence at the police station, and probably a regular presence at the local tavern. “He’s unraveling,” said actor Tobias Menzies. “He’s unraveling as a man as he comes to terms with the disappearance of his wife, and we see a bit of Black Jack in Frank. I think the two really feed into each other, and make each other richer.”
We saw a bit of Frank in Black Jack in the way he told the flogging story, and we see a bit of Black Jack in Frank during the altercation in the alley, when he “lets out all his rage and frustration,” Moore said. “But he pulls himself back.” Gabaldon was so impressed with Menzies’ performance as both Frank and Black Jack that she wrote him a note, “telling him how great his two performances in this episode were,” she said. “I was blown away, how he touched that line of consent between good and evil, turning away from it in one role, and embracing it completely in the other.”
Although Frank dismisses it at first, Mrs. Graham’s suggestion that the ancient stone circle Craigh na Dun had something to do with his wife’s disappearance — that she “pierced the veil of time” — sticks with him. “He doesn’t want to believe it, but it’s like the last straw,” Moore said. “He thinks he’s wasting his time, and he should just go back to Oxford, but when he sees the sign for Craigh na Dun, he drives up there.”
Simultaneously, we cut to Claire in the 18th Century, where Claire is left waiting at a glen. Although Jamie very specifically told her not to leave – something to remember when the season continues on April 4, 2015 – she bolts. And because we see Frank’s loss, and we remember the moments when Claire and Frank were together, we understand “the wrenching nature of her choice,” as Gabaldon put it, to get back to him. “Because otherwise you’re going, ‘What, are you an idiot? Where are you going, lady?’” Moore laughed.
Because Frank and Claire are both at the stones, albeit in separate centuries, we get a near-miss, as both approach the stones, both yelling each other’s names, but not able to connect. “They are there at the same time, but separated by time,” Menzies said. “It’s a slightly sci-fi moment, and those are the kinds of things you can do when you have the premise we have.” Those who haven’t read the books might even wonder, Could Frank go back in time, too? And even if you know the answer to that from the books, you might still be left wondering, How does this change the rules?
“It’s one of those moments that fans of the book will love, but they’ll be going, ‘Wait a minute. Have they lost their minds?’ And they’ll get really worried, you know?” Moore said. “I was really looking forward to that, because in the book, she just runs for the stones,” but she falls in a stream before getting there and then gets snatched by a Redcoat. “Here, I played it all the way up to the stones, before they pull her back. And I was really happy with how it turned out.”