Welcome, friends, to the Scottish Highlands! At the mid-season premiere of Starz’s Outlander, the year is 1743, the time is winter, and the enemy is England, whose soldiers occupy Scotland. Our hero, Jamie Fraser, a strapping redheaded outlaw, is breaking into the English stronghold of Fort William. There, Jamie’s nemesis, Captain “Black” Jack Randall, is holding hostage Claire Beauchamp, our heroine, a refugee from 1945 who accidentally traveled 200 years into the past, and who, for protection, recently became Jamie’s wife.
If Jamie is caught, he will be hanged; if Claire is not saved, she will be tortured. If these two hotheads don’t reunite to make some more sweet, sweet love, millions of audience members will take to the streets in howling protest.
This is Outlander, aka Game of Thrones for librarians. The show is based on the series of epic, meticulously researched, keenly imagined books by Diana Gabaldon that are part romance, part historical fiction, part fantasy, and entirely the best way to kill time short of actually doing it with someone you love. And, since the first half-season, which ran on Starz in 2014, did not disappoint, expectations for the upcoming episodes are high.
One of the series’ strong points is its casting. Somehow the show found a plausible Jamie, a swoon-worthy, sensitive hunk who could act and speak Gaelic. It found a Claire, a fiercely intelligent battle nurse who is constantly getting her shirt ripped down the front, yet is never upstaged by her breasts. And it found a man who can play both Claire’s kindly, scholarly 20th-century husband Frank Randall and Frank’s ruthless, sadistic ancestor Jack.
In the mid-season opener, titled “The Reckoning,” all three of the leads are in a room together within minutes. Jamie bursts through a window like Errol Flynn and growls, “I’ll thank you to take your hands off my wife.” Randall speaks for all of us when he says, kind of admiringly, “Good God.”
After some fighting words and more sexual tension, Jamie and Claire manage to break free, knocking Randall unconscious but not killing him. Then, with soldiers after them, in a “You jump, I jump,” moment, they leap hand-in-hand off the wall of the fort into the dark water below.
As romantic and exciting as their escape is, though, once they’re somewhat safe, they have a score to settle. In the half-season finale, Claire got captured after she disobeyed orders and went off by herself, hoping to sneak back to the ring of stones where she crossed through time and returned to her 20th-century husband. Jamie assumes that she thwarted him because she was mad about his not being able to defend her against a couple of Redcoat deserters in the previous episode. Claire had to kill her potential rapist herself.
Claire treats this suggestion with the contempt it deserves but then escalates the conflict. The lady has been under a lot of stress, and she has a short fuse at the best of times, even when she’s not being threatened with rape and murder, which isn’t often; and she hasn’t had a hot shower in months. But Claire, come on! The man saved your life and the way he looks single-handedly saves the reputation of gingers everywhere. Give him a break maybe?
She doesn’t. “Fucking bastard!” she cries. “Foul-mouthed bitch!” he retorts. After they scream themselves hoarse, Jamie looks like he’s about to have a heart attack. Finally, Claire apologizes, and Jamie gives her a crooked smile.
The others in the gang, led by Jamie’s war chief Uncle Dougal MacKenzie, are less forgiving. Once they go upstairs together to their room, Jamie explains to Claire that the men won’t rest until Claire is punished. He takes off his belt.
“There’s such a thing as justice, Claire,” says Jamie. “You’ve done wrong and you have to suffer for it.”
“You sadist!” she shrieks at him later, after he’s wrestled her into submission and beat her with his belt. "I said I was going to punish you,” he says. “I didn’t say I wasn’t going to enjoy it.”
They make it back to the castle and Claire’s sore ass is only one of several obstacles the young couple must face. There’s also Laoghaire, the pretty teenager with whom Jamie did more than flirt, who is distraught that Jamie is now off the market; and there’s Colum, Dougal’s brother and the clan laird (Scottish for “lord”), who is displeased by Jamie’s choice of a Sassenach (“English”) bride. Then Claire throws Jamie out of bed. Ah well, the course of wedded bliss never did run smooth.
Colum is also pissed that the group, which was out collecting rents, passed the hat for the Jacobite cause without his consent. The Jacobites want to restore a Catholic Stuart king to the Scottish throne, which is not merely treason but rather a long shot. Jamie convinces Colum, for the sake of peace and clan unity, to make a gift of the gold back to his brother Dougal. Meanwhile, even though Dougal infuriates Colum by making reference to the fact that he sired Colum’s only child on Colum’s behalf, Dougal gets to keep his head for now
Also trying to keep his head? Jamie, when Laoghaire finds him alone by the water and puts his hand on her heaving, virgin bosom. “She was married before,” Laoghaire says. “I want you to be the first and only one to have me.” Not to slut shame, but dude, the guy is still on his honeymoon! Maybe wait a minute before making your move?
Jamie apologizes to Laoghaire as he sends her on her way. All that remains now is to get back into the honeymoon spirit with his bride. Back in their bedroom, Jamie gets down on his knees before Claire – who’s sitting on a stone bench, so she’s clearly not too inconvenienced by the recent affront to her behind – and swears the same oath that he avoided, in an earlier episode, swearing to his uncle. He will never raise his hand against her again. “You are my home now,” he tells her, and with eight minutes left on the clock, they get to the, um, reconciling. Bless those smut-loving producers at Starz! They show us nearly everything.
Of course, there’s a bit of a pall cast on the proceedings when they find an unpleasant bundle under the bed, which Jamie identifies as an “ill wish.” 20th-century viewers will recognize it as “a gun on the wall.” However happy this couple may be at the moment, there is more bad luck coming their way.