Not seen Episodes 1 to 13? This will contain spoilers. Already seen Episode 14? Read on at the bottom for some additional, spoiler-filled analysis.
After Jamie was held at gunpoint, last week gave us another cliffhanger involving Jamie in peril: this time, it’s the English Redcoats who have got him held in Wentworth Prison. And so Claire and Jenny do the only thing they can: team up for a rescue mission.
Or at least, that’s how it starts.
Laura Donnelly has been a highlight of recent episodes as Jamie’s sister, Jenny. She’s tough and stubborn, like her brother, but also sees the world through the eyes of a new mother. It’s great to witness the pair riding off, pistols tucked in the back of their dresses. Jenny even enters Legolas mode, revealing unexplained tracking powers to find traces of Jamie’s party through bird patterns.
When they come across a soldier, though, the thorny question arises of whether Claire’s willing to go far enough to help her husband. “I won’t be judged by you, Claire. There’s no room for sentiment like that here,” insists the borderline blood-thirsty Jenny. Then she stops and relieves her milk load before they move on.
It’s a fantastic double act, one that blends comedy and moral dilemmas with a gung-ho feeling of excitement. So it’s a shame, then, that halfway through the episode, Jenny is subbed off for another partner waiting on the bench: Murtagh Fraser. Together, they wind up employing song-and-dance methods to unearth Jamie, something that Claire presumably didn’t have in mind when Jenny warned her she would have to do things she never imagined. Caitriona Balfe has a nice enough singing voice to pull it off, but it’s a bizarre detour from the quest at hand: even with Duncan Lacroix sporting his best frown, the idea of her whispering to people about a “strapping, red-haired man” while telling fortunes and strutting about to lewd songs on stage feels way off kilter.
The uneven tone even begins to seep into conversations with Jenny, who blindly accepts any talk of the future with a catch-all piece of dialogue. “Jamie said you might tell me things…” she adds, apropos of nothing.
The slow pace of Outlander has usually been justified by its ability to pay attention to small details, fleshing out the Scottish community and strengthening relationships. Personal and political revelations certainly make an appearance, as the series unveils both sympathetic and machiavellian motivations, but the return of one previous character in illogical secrecy only adds to what feels like an ill-thought-through chapter in the run-up to the finale. Claire ostensibly maintains control over the narrative throughout, which remains Outlander’s greatest strength, but when events feel like they’re not what she, a forthright, intelligent woman, would do, Outlander takes a wee stumble in its traditionally engrossing fling.
Season 1 of Outlander is out now on DVD and available to own from iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and Google Play. You can also watch it online on Amazon Prime Instant Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription – or, if you would also like unlimited UK delivery and 350,000 eBooks available to borrow, as part of a £79 annual Amazon Prime membership.
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Additional notes (contains spoilers)
– The voice-over returns once more, when Claire looks at the dead body of a soldier, once again summing up exactly what we can tell from Caitriona Balfe’s facial expressions. The effect may feel truer to the novel, but you wish that the writers would trust in their excellent cast more often.
– With no Sam Heughan on-screen this week, it’s testament to just how good Laura and Caitriona are, not just together but apart: their smart, sassy women are as much a reason to tune in to the programme as Sam’s strapping body.
– “You think you’re the only one who loves Jamie? He’s a son to me.” Murtagh, it turns out, was in love with Jamie’s mother for years, which explains his motivations for wanting to save Jamie so much. Duncan sells it well, bringing a stoic sympathy to his growling, hairy warrior.
– Dougal MacKenzie, we discover at the end, wants Claire to marry him: forget Jamie, he insists. It’s all been part of the plan so he can have control of the Lallybroch land. It’s a neat twist delivered in an unfortunately clunky scene. We should probably rename Dougal Evil Captain Exposition.
– Claire basically gives him the finger and marches on to rescue Jamie anyway with the help of Murtagh and a handful of other MacKenzie supporters. Wentworth Prison’s going to be in trouble next week – and, hopefully, the pace will pick up once more.