This season still feels like it’s waiting to really get started, which is a tribute to how in thrall we are to the chemistry between our two leads. People have lost hands, had babies, gone to prison, started AND finished Harvard Medical School, but there’s still a bit of a suspended-animation vibe.
We plunge forward in time right away to Boston, circa 1956. Claire has shorter hair, Brianna is now old enough to be in SCHOOL (they grow up so fast!), and things are … different … in the Randall marriage. It’s open! Frank is going on (“discreet!”) dates and Claire is ostensibly cool with it, but not really. Honestly, it’s not the worst idea for them, since Claire obviously no longer loves Frank and that’s a bummer.
Meanwhile, the man she DOES love is cooling his manacled heels back in prison. (It’s now 1755, if you’re keeping score at home.) A very dishy and grown-up Lord John Grey is now the new governor of said prison, a terrible job obviously given to those who have screwed up in some spectacular way back in England. The old governor points Jamie out to him as the unofficial leader of the Scottish prisoners — a.k.a. the only man kept in chains — and the one he’ll want to speak to if he needs something.
Jamie clearly feels a sense of responsibility to the other prisoners, including our beloved Murtagh (I wondered where he was!), who looks as sick as Dustin Hoffman at the end of Midnight Cowboy and is clinging to a scrap of his now-forbidden tartan. They’re also stuck with one hell of a rat problem, though the men see it more as a rat OPPORTUNITY, since they eat them. The carceral state is bad!
Back in Boston, even more time has passed (we can tell because Frank is wearing glasses now) and Claire is celebrating her graduation from Harvard Med. The party looks like a lot of fun, until a knock on the door reveals that Frank’s latest squeeze has shown up at a HIGHLY inopportune time, which results in Claire thoroughly bitching out her inebriated husband at the end of the night. This is not “being discreet,” Frank! Claire suggests they consider divorce, but Frank, who has been reading way too many men’s rights subreddits, says he can’t reconcile himself to losing custody of Brianna so they’ll just have to continue muddling along and making each other miserable. He also points out that she’s not holding up her end of the bargain: Her utter lack of interest in Frank has not escaped the notice of their friends and colleagues. Woof.
In Scotland, we’re firing up the engine for Jamie’s new plot arc. The Redcoats have picked up a babbling lone Scot off the roads, who speaks a blend of Gaelic and French and has something to say about the (possibly mythical) French treasure we previously heard the old governor mentioning. They drag him to the prison and Jamie is shanghaied into translating. In return for this, he gets his chains removed and Murtagh gets some blankets, though he also immediately warns the babbling Scot (his name is Duncan) that anything he says WILL be reported immediately to the English. “The gold is cursed!” Duncan says. “The MacKenzies are dead! Ellen MacKenzie, something something selkies, something something the white witch! She seeks a brave man! She’ll come for you!” Then he dies. I have seen several Scooby-Doo mysteries begin this way, so buckle in!
Lord Grey is underwhelmed by this news. Murtagh isn’t! He immediately hopes it’s Claire. (Love that man.) Grey invites Jamie to dinner. Jamie, referencing the lack of food for the men, asks leave for the men to set snares and gather watercress to prevent scurvy. Grey doesn’t shoot him down, which is something! Then they have a nice smile over the sauce, which Jamie describes to the other prisoners after the fact to cheer them up. It works? You could really see that going either way!
In the next scene, the men are outside checking the snares that Grey has allowed them to set, and Jamie makes a break for freedom. Grey is not thrilled. Jamie manages to grab him, at which point he reveals that he does, in fact, remember Grey as the boy whose life he spared. (Grey also remembers, and says the debt has been paid.) “You also promised to kill me,” Jamie says. Man, he really doesn’t see a point to living without Claire, bless him! He kneels and sets down his sword. Grey won’t do it, of course, and Jamie winds up telling him a little about Claire — just that she’s the one known as the white witch, not like, “HERE IS THE STORY OF TIME TRAVEL!” Anyway, Grey DOES send a doctor to treat Murtagh.
(Meanwhile, in a brief glimpse of 1966 Boston, we see Brianna graduate in front of her blissfully proud parents. I suspect Frank is not long for this world!)
Grey and Jamie are now quite chummy, and we see them playing chess together like old friends. Grey reveals that he, too, wanted to die after Culloden, after having watched the death of a Very Special Friend. Jamie talks a bit more about Claire — the way he says, “Her name was Claire” just SLAYED ME, it was SO ROMANTIC — at which point Grey lets his hand linger a little too long on Jamie’s. Jamie immediately flashes back to the last man to put the moves on him, and is like, “Stop touching me or I’ll kill you.”
Now that graduation is over, Frank is ready to drop the bomb on Claire: He wants to take a position at Cambridge, he wants Brianna to come with him, and he wants a divorce. This all seems very reasonable to me! “I want to live the rest of my life with a woman who truly loves me.” FRAAAAAAANK. Whenever Claire looks at Brianna, he can tell she sees Jamie, and if it weren’t for Brianna, he thinks she might have forgotten Jamie in time. “Listen bub,” Claire says. “There is no amount of time in which I could have forgotten him.” BOOM. He leaves, and Claire heads to the hospital for a surgery.
It’s now winter in Scotland, and all the prisoners except for Jamie are being taken to the Colonies, where they will be set free after 14 years of indentured servitude. (Doesn’t sound like a great deal to me!) Jamie is not eligible, what with the treason and all, but Grey has set him up to work for a nobleman. Jamie is all, “But I didn’t let you have sex with me,” and Grey is like, “That was not my best moment, off you go.”
Now we come to the crying part of the episode and Caitriona Balfe’s best work of the season, for my money. Claire’s friend from medical school comes to find her, his face a grim mask, and tells her that Frank has been in a car accident. He’s dead. Claire kisses Frank, telling him that she did truly love him, that he was her first love, and then leaves. It is certainly an abrupt way to shuffle Frank off the show, and I don’t feel he truly got his due, but it does suggest that Claire is truly on her way back to Jamie. Our reunion cannot be too far off.