Warning: This contains spoilers.
Time and tide wait for no man – and that’s clearer than ever as Outlander Season 2 nears its big, battled-filled finale.
Diana Gabaldon’s story has always been one titled against the odds – romance against the grain of history, fuelling a fight for survival in the face of ill-fated destiny. With the doom-laden Culloden looming, then, it’s only natural that Episode 12 should delve into the waters of death, with a double-bill of farewells that sees Jamie and Claire take a welcome back-seat. Let’s face it: there are only so many times we can see them talk in melodramatic terms about the end of the world as they know it.
The drama, instead, comes from two very different relationships, as Outlander delivers a study of brotherly bonds.
First up is Colum and Dougal, who have long been at odds. When we catch up with the duo, the already weak Colum is on his way to checking out. Claire does her best to help ease his suffering, an act that only helps to exacerbate that divide: when it comes to Colum passing on his powers, he charges Jamie will looking after his son, Hamish. We say “his son”, but of course, he’s really Dougal’s son – but Colum knows his brother only too well: Dougal would lead the Scottish clan to death like Bernard Hill at the end of the Lord of the Rings, but Jamie, as we’ve seen through his attempts to fight the tide of the text books, would put individual lives above the Jacobite cause.
Perhaps it helps that Jamie knows that Culloden is bad news; it’s easier for him to compromise and accept an inevitable defeat. Compromise, though, is crucial to staying alive: Claire, who has easily annoyed enough people to warrant her own execution in these two seasons, is all too willing to put aside any old grudges to be kind with her nursing skills. As well as Colum, she also agrees to help ease the pain of Alex Randall.
Yes, Alex is back, after Mary (Rosie Day) fled to be with him in Episode 11. And, while she’s now pregnant, his medical condition hasn’t changed a jot: he’s still on the way out too. Claire’s offer of help doesn’t just extend to medical treatment: she’s also big enough to apologise to Mary for trying to split her and Alex up before now, so that Mary can get hitched to Jack and the family line can continue all the way to Frank in the future.
Who should enter, of course, but Black Jack himself? With Alex about to pop his clogs, he comes up with a final, parting surprise: an ultimatum for Jack to marry Mary and look after her. Claire, naturally, fears for Mary, but knows it’s the only solution – the poorer, unsuitable Murtagh, bless him, offers to get hitched to Mary too, but Claire turns him down.
The result is a contrasting, complex tableau of family inheritance and sibling loyalty – and it’s credit to Outlander’s cast that these supporting characters carry enough weight for the emotional moments to land.
Graham McTavish is marvellous as Dougal, relishing the chance to play the opposite of the loud, proud Scotsman we saw on the battlefield recently. Here, he pours out his inner sadness and resentment of his brother, who he feels never accepted him – a monologue that’s even more affecting because Colum passes away before he’s finished.
Menzies is even better, thanks to Jack’s consistently calm mask, which hides all kinds of nastiness. Just the sight of him touching Claire’s arm when he enters the room is enough to get your blood boiling. The two have marvellous chemistry, as he confesses to her that he has no regrets for what he has done to them, and to Jamie. (“I know what he sounds like at the last,” he crows, triumphantly.) And so he has little qualms with bridging the gap between them by offering up information on the English army’s location in exchange for Claire’s promise to help Alex; he’s pragmatic, cruel and trustworthy enough to always be despicable.
Neither brotherly farewell ends happily, but there’s a key difference between them: Alex gives Jack a chance to redeem his dark im[ulses, but Colum doesn’t give that chance to Dougal. While Dougal hugs his way through the pain, Jack does something far more revealing. After grimacing through his brother’s death, and Alex’s request of him marrying Mary, his mask slips, and suddenly, he’s punching Alex’s body – a shocking eruption that Menzies handles with a composed conviction. Everyone in the room at the point understands exactly what Jack is: a sadist, who can only communicate his feelings by inflicting pain upon others.
You could almost accuse Prince Charles of the same, as he recklessly continues to push his men forward for the battle of Culloden. Jamie tries to convince them not to fight on a flat, exposed plain, but of course, they don’t listen. Instead, Jamie uses Claire’s intel to launch a surprise nocturnal attack – even then, though, Charles gets lost in the dark (although you could probably find him anywhere with your eyes closed just by listening for someone saying “mark me” over and over), sealing the group’s fate in the morning.
It’s the perfect cliffhanger for the show’s finale, as Outlander pauses before the chaos to remind us that no matter what, history continues regardless: time moves on and people are sacrificed. By reorganising the book’s structure, the show builds up to the climactic bloodshed by showing us how the hurt of those consequences are felt outside of Claire and Jamie’s bubble (the episode’s title, The Hail Mary, hints at the characters’ ensuing conflicts of guilt and repentance). Whether compromising or not, things and people are being pushed to the edge. The question, then, is who will break next? Because history ain’t about to.
Outlander Season 2 concludes with a 90-minute finale on Sunday 10th July, exclusively on Amazon Prime Video.
Outlander Season 2 is available to watch in the UK exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive every Sunday, within 24 hours of their US broadcast.