Not seen Episodes 1 to 12? This will contain spoilers. Already seen Episode 13? Read on at the bottom for some additional, spoiler-filled analysis.
After last week’s gunpoint cliffhanger, things continue to take a turn for the violent in Episode 13 of Outlander. It’s all courtesy of The Watch, a group who might sound like they’re from Game of Thrones, but have their own style of brutal cruelty.
Roaming the land to fend off the Redcoats, they’re a band of scallywags who latch onto households and leech their supplies. “The Watch should be turned over to the redcoats,” argues Claire, but Jenny, who has been intimated by them for ages, argues they should be fed. After all, if the family causes trouble and MacQuarrie (the hairy gun-pointer) and his men realise that Jamie has a price on his head, Laird Fraser could find himself in a spot of bother.
After weeks of Claire having to conceal her identity, it’s another sign of how versatile Outlander can be by moving the pressure onto her red-headed fella instead. What follows is a tense domestic thriller, as Jamie (pretending to be Jenny’s cousin, “MacTavish”) and his sister bicker, while trying to keep his real name hidden. The men put their patience to the test, not least Horrocks, the deserter from several weeks back, who pops up halfway through knows all too well who Jamie is. (Snivelling and grinning, Lochlann O’Mearáin’s villain is a wonderful polar opposite to Steven Cree’s Ian, with his single leg and simpering smile.)
The balance between politeness and conflict erupts into tiny skirmishes throughout the episode: one fight outside a barn, involving little more than a horseshoe, is a delightful demonstration of fisticuffs (Sam Heughan fans will be pleased). The loudest screams, though, arrive from Jenny, who, inevitably, goes into labour.
While sharp tools and fire escalate outside, the dramatics in the bedroom give Caitriona Balfe a moving chance to talk children with her sister-in-law: she, of course, can’t have any, which adds a sensitive pang to what would otherwise be a giggle-inducing description of childbirth from Jenny. “It’s like when he comes deep inside you and the throbbing begins…” Laura Donnelly’s fantastically sparky female explains, trying her damnedest to make placentas and amniotic fluid sound as arousing as possible.
Downstairs, meanwhile, MacQuarrie is putting a similar amount of effort into recruiting the baby’s dad (and Jamie) to The Watch. “I could use a man like you,” he growls, explaining that they’re “planning something big”. It’s a smart move from the series: the more time we spend with these grubby warriors, the more believable the Scottish setting becomes. Far from a land of pleasant fields and nosy locals, it’s a place of danger for both halves of our couple. That feeds right back into the unpredictable nature of the show’s source material: if Outlander began as a romance, the ever-genre-switching script has now firmly entered action gear. You wonder how many times Jamie can be held at gunpoint before it gets repetitive, but as the end of the season arrives, there’s a growing sense that as new life enters the world, old life could well leave it…
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Additional notes (contains spoilers)
– “With Frank,” grumbles Jamie, when Claire tells him that she probably can’t have kids. Sam Heughan’s physical prowess is what immediately impresses in this episode, but his verbal delivery those two words is equally intimidating.
– “I should’ve told you before we were married, but never counted on loving you,” replies Claire. It’s another wedge to drive between our couple, who should (in theory) be closer now than ever, thanks to her revealing of her time-traveling past. That constant unsettling of their equilibrium only helps to make us more invested in their relationship.
– Jenny’s breached pregnancy proves as much a source of tension as the manly brawling in the garden – proof of how much we’ve also become engaged with her and Ian. That nighttime chat last week between Claire and Ian about putting up with the drink-loving Frasers? That’s paying off in dividends now…
– … not least because Ian is the one who runs Horrocks through with his sword: he’s disabled, yes, but he’s also fiercely loyal. That willingness to go the extra mile for Jamie only adds to the suspicion that he’s going to get it.
– Sure enough, both Jamie and Ian wind up in The Watch’s escapade to raid a part of Redcoats. And, sure enough, it turns out to be a set-up for the Scotsmen. (Horrocks!) For Ian to be the one who comes hobbling back, rather than Jamie, is an excellent bait-and-switch by the writing team. Fraser is captured by the Redcoats once more – a neat reversal of the end of Season 1 Part 1. His safety, rather than Claire’s safety, has become a growing concern. If Ian can make it out alive, does that mean Jamie easily stands a chance? Or does it mean that, if the script can be unpredictable enough to keep the brother-in-law alive, they could easily do something surprising to our ginger hunk? Either way, you can bet that Claire isn’t go to let him get away easily. And that Randall is about to make a repeat appearance.