[Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” plays]
Not actually in the show, where our musical accompaniment is a variant of our beloved theme song, which is the same as the old theme song, but with a minor Blue Ridge kick. I do not like it yet, but it will no doubt grow on me. SPIRITUALLY, though, let me tell you: The boys are back in town.
Things are good so far! “America the Beautiful” is a very good episode, even if it does telegraph its punches a bit too clearly: The nice man that we know will eventually betray Claire and Jamie does, no one is going back to Scotland even though the plan is for everyone to go back to Scotland, and an 18th-century Highlander, when told about the American Dream, will say, “Sounds like a nightmare for some.”
But we do not watch Outlander to be surprised, so it’s absolutely fine. It’s all very beautiful and tight and the pacing is superb and the climax was done so well that I was more emotionally compromised than I was prepared to be.
The opening sequence, which takes us back to 2000 BCE, has an extremely goofy voice over from Claire about how everyone through the history of humans has always been obsessed with circles (?), a talking point which immediately bleeds into a HANGMAN’S NOOSE in 1767 North Carolina. I have seen more people getting graphically hanged by the neck in my lifetime due to prestige television dramas than my grandmother met in her entire life.
The victim of this particular noose is, sadly, our own Gavin Hayes, a man I honestly did not remember at all and will be fine not seeing again, but bless his immortal soul nonetheless. I did not have captioning turned on and much of his final speech was an incomprehensible blur, but it sounds as though everyone will miss him a great deal!
Hayes’ death does set us up to meet the man I sense may become the season’s Big Bad, one Steven Bonnet (you may recognize him from Downton Abbey, in which he was the footman Jimmy Kent). I hate him. He drips insincerity—and, in my opinion, clear evil—and the entire time Jamie and Claire were helping him, I was like “No good will come of this!”
Something I was really impressed by—partly because the acting performances were strong and partly because it’s just relatively rare on television—was the conversation between Jamie and Young Ian, as Ian begins the process of dealing with what appears to be a really solid case of PTSD dating from his sexual assault at the hands of Geillis. Men! Processing their emotions while coping with physical and sexual trauma! Sharing words of comfort and solidarity and advice! I was extremely moved!
Let us now talk briefly about something very important: the enduring sexual attractiveness of our protagonists. You’ll remember the half-assed stab at “aging” that both Claire and Jamie underwent during their literal decades of painful separation? Well, even that amount of aging was apparently too much for the production team to accept, so Claire’s ten strands of grey are now more like two strands of gray, and the lines they put around her eyes and mouth are just … gone? Jamie is now FIERY dark red again (also he has bangs and a small ponytail now) and his bifocals are long gone. They are once more indistinguishable from their first-season selves, and I kind of love it. I do also appreciate it that this show, as opposed to most, is more upfront about how shockingly gorgeous their star is. Whenever Claire meets a new person, they bug out like a cartoon wolf and are like, “What cloud did you just fall off of, angel?” which is what I would expect of anyone who encountered Caitriona Balfe in reality.
Jamie, not to be outdone, is shirtless at the 29-minute mark, and he and Claire have great, sweaty, athletic sex outdoors to completion to thank us for our patience all these long months. She then tries to briefly explain the laws of thermodynamics to him and it’s like, Claire. He’s perfect the way he is! Don’t confuse him with stuff!
Something we’ve been gearing up for since the tail end of last season is “how badly will the show handle race issues?” and so far it’s just been “Claire repeatedly tries to invent equality and messes up a lot.” We also get to hear her mansplain slavery to a free black man, which is … precious. I am sure we’ll be deep in the weeds on this soon enough, but this episode is mostly a freebie. We also got Jamie being like,, “But when America spreads to the Pacific, what happens to all the people already living here? The natives?” which feels extremely grafted-on, but, you know, fair question, son!
Okay, let’s knock the lingering plot. Our crew of intrepids buries their friend Hayes in consecrated ground, sneakily; are nice to Stephen Bonnet and help him out (mistake!); and begin journeying to Jamie’s aunt’s place in Riverrun in the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s next to Cape Fear! My geography is non-existent, I am not from this country. During the whole dinner sequence where Jamie was telling the British officers about his aunt, I had assumed that she was totally made-up and he was trying to grift them, so about 20 minutes from the end when Claire was like, “What’s Aunt Jocasta like?” I nearly fell off my couch. CANNOT WAIT TO MEET AUNT JOCASTA! Also, Fergus and Marsali are having a baby.
Anyway, everyone is extremely happy and in love and has plenty of money and no one has a price on their head and it lasts for 15 minutes and then Stephen Bonnet comes in with a bunch of pirates and is like “hahahahaahha I am a psychopath!” and slits a minor character’s throat and rips off Claire’s weddings rings (she manages to keep Frank’s) and takes all their money and leaves them broken and bleeding. I AM EMOTIONALLY COMPROMISED, and we have barely started.