Let me plant my flag here and now: Outlander is an EPIC ROMANCE about high-quality knitwear and incredible sex, it is not about Scottish history, and no one will convince me otherwise, including Diana Gabaldon. I will do my best to not just make up dates and battle names to irritate the purists among you.
When we left our intrepid heroine at the end of season two, she and her aggravating daughter, Brianna, had just watched Geillis go through the stones at Craigh na Dun. Back in 18th-century Scotland, Jamie is alive and Dougal is dead. (R.I.P., you mad bald bastard!) Now, let’s get into it.
This episode is a stone-cold bummer. There is no making out of any kind. It’s also heavy on plot explication, which is actually quite forgivable in a season premiere, especially for a show trying to keep as many balls in the air as this one.
We open on a tattered St. Andrew’s Cross flag and a battlefield liberally sprinkled with Scottish corpses. Jamie is a very unromantic shade of grey and appears to be just this side of the grave, with a (dead?) Black Jack Randall on top of him. Outlander is incapable of not setting up visuals that frame Jamie and Black Jack as lovers (guys, you HAVE to stop with that), so it’s unsurprising when Jamie begins flashing back to the battlefield, where he and Black Jack lock eyes like it’s “Some Enchanted Evening.” It immediately becomes more Alien vs. Predator as the two begin to hack wildly at each other and grapple and bleed and so on. I will never, ever believe Black Jack is dead until I see him laid in the ground, but he is at least ostensibly dead at this point in time. Before Jamie passes out again, he hallucinates Claire coming to him across the fields. (It’s actually Rupert, bless his heart.)
Speaking of the Randalls, Black Jack’s VERY HARD DONE BY descendant has just arrived in Boston with a pregnant Claire in tow, where they are moving into a Back Bay house that I have to imagine would cost six zillion dollars in modern times. We are treated to Tobias Menzies’s attempt to say, “Rustle me up some vittles” in a Western accent, which is well worth the price of admission for the episode. Also, let me get this out there: I like Frank. He is very handsome and he sincerely wants to make their relationship work, which is really all I require in a man.
Speaking of men, our Boston sojourn is like Mad Men Take Two: Claire Encounters Modern Misogyny. Every man she meets who isn’t Frank is a goshdarn cartoon monster of sexism. “What if olden Scotland WASN’T worse than modern America?” asks the show! She endures a grim faculty lunch with Frank’s boss, who makes it clear that women belong locked under the bed in an oak chest. (We also learn that Harvard Medical School has started admitting women, much to his disapproval.)
The episode’s way of telegraphing “Claire smart, Frank’s boss dumb” is to have them literally engage in a debate about Dewey and Truman. This may shock you, but Frank’s dumb sexist snobby boss thinks Dewey is a stone-cold lock for the presidency! Claire, having maybe learned not to try to invent feminism wherever she goes, bites her tongue and professes her joy at having finished with her combat nurse days forever, leaving her free to devote herself to making a home for Frank and the forthcoming baby.
As time passes in Boston, Claire looks increasingly like late-stage Mia Farrow in Rosemary’s Baby. She and Frank have lost that lovin’ feeling: She isn’t letting him touch her, and you can tell that particular intimacy of marriage hasn’t clicked back into place. Frank is being, in MY HUMBLE OPINION, super-reasonable about wanting to work on their issues, at which point Claire accuses him of just wanting sex and hurls a heavy glass ashtray at his head. Claire is notoriously terrible at dealing with the difficult emotions of others. (See also: her cack-handed attempts to jolly Jamie through his PTSD last season.)
Jamie, meanwhile, is waking up in the rickety barn where Rupert dragged him. The stragglers from the battle have gathered there, hoping to escape notice and get away under cover of night. The Redcoats would prefer this not to happen, so they arrive and announce they will be summarily executing the lot of them. Redcoat-in-Charge has that weird English sense of fair play that supposedly means a lot while meaning literally nothing: He insists that the soldiers too weak to stand will be propped up for their firing squad so they can die with dignity. Jamie is clearly ready to shuffle off this mortal coil, having lost both Claire and his rebellion, but SOMETHING tells me he’s not done for yet. Rupert, that pilgrim soul, knowing he’s about to take a bullet, makes his peace with Jamie over the whole Killing Dougal thing, and bravely meets his maker with a very laudable insouciance. Love you, Rupert! I hope Jacobite Heaven is filled with chubby ladies delighted to make your acquaintance.
In Boston, in the immediate aftermath of ashtray-throwing, Frank attempts to sleep on the couch, fails, and gets up to begin writing a letter to our favourite reverend about Jamie. A letter interrupted by a shockingly calm Claire announcing that her water has broken. At this point in the episode, I am still crying about Rupert, and also I have a one-week-old baby girl at home, so just assume I weep continuously from here until the credits roll, okay?
Back at the farm, the Redcoats are down to the prone and wounded, and Jamie has volunteered to go next. When he announces his name to the clerk, however, Redcoat-in-Charge turns puce and is all, “Ugh, it’s Red Jamie,” because — GASP! — his little brother is the kid that Jamie saved in the forest, and who now owes him a debt of honor. You can tell this puts a real wrench in Redcoat-in-Charge’s plans, because now he has to wait until nightfall and dump Jamie on a jouncy wagon home to Lallybroch, where he will wake to find Jenny standing over him. That’s Jamie sorted for us!
We return to Mad Men Take Two, as Claire’s obstetrician turns out to be yet another repellant sexist monster. He ticks off all the boxes: talks only to Frank, knocks her out against her will, pats her on the head, and so on. However, I did enjoy him packing Frank off to the dads’ waiting room with, “Follow the smell of cigarettes and flopsweat.” Just before Frank leaves, he learns in passing about Claire’s miscarriage, but wisely chooses not to start any shit about it.
Claire wakes up confused, panicky, and worried about her baby, who (thank God) is immediately brought in by a completely besotted Frank. They have literally one minute of marital bliss in which she admits she’s been a real asshole to him and he says it doesn’t matter and they mutually pledge new beginnings and love …
… and then the DAMN NURSE says, “Where did she get that red hair?” The moment, as you can imagine, lands like a stone.