Warning: This contains spoilers.
“How did she forgive you?” goads Black Jack in Episode 6 of Outlander Season 2 – and it’s telling that this isn’t the question any of us have been thinking during this second run. If anything, it’s been the opposite: how could Jamie (Sam Heughan) forgive Claire (Caitriona Balfe), after she made him promise not to kill Jack, so that her future husband, Frank, could be safe?
These are difficult waters that Ron D. Moore’s adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s book are now navigating – and equally difficult ones for our lead couple. One is pregnant and out of time, the other a survivor of abuse, both are attempting to stem the tide of history and rewrite the past. And they have a vindictive Frenchman seeking to get his own back against them. Their marriage is, unsurprisingly, but commendably, a rocky one – Outlander’s strength is partly that it dares to explore such thorny relationship issues, rather than gloss over them.
When we rejoin our couple after Episode 5’s argument, then, it’s something of a shock to see that Jamie apparently has glossed over it – he tells Murtagh the duel with Jack has been called off, only explaining later the real reason why. (Bless Murtagh’s cotton socks, he’s so loyal, he’ll happily believe even the strangest of truths.)
Claire, meanwhile, is playing the saintly nurse at the hospital, only to receive a graphic warning from the executioner that the king is trying to rid Paris of the dark arts and those who practice it. And so she heads to our friendly neighbourhood apothecary to warn her friend, Master Raymond. That Claire, she’s so selfless.
Except, of course, she isn’t. After demanding that her current husband’s abuser be kept alive so that her future husband can keep breathing too, it’s clearer than ever that Claire is hugely selfish – and more mind-boggling than ever that Jamie should be still by her side, gladly giving her a foot-rub, after her day at the hospital. But then, Jamie asks her to promise that, should anything happen to him, she’ll return to the magic stones and go back to the future to Frank, so she has someone to look after her – and it becomes clear that the force holding together their relationship isn’t just love, sex and Claire’s hot-headed selfishness, but Jamie’s sheer selflessness.
Sam Heughan has never been better than in Best Laid Plans, speaking French, speaking English with a Scottish accent, looking hot – and, most of all, completely selling Jamie’s pure devotion to his partner (and her child). He’s a nice guy, so nice that it’s not too difficult to forget the barn-storming row that’s brushed under the narrative carpet, and instead get caught up in the couple’s heist-like scheme to sabotage Prince Charlie’s latest effort to instigate the Jacobite rebellion.
The plan? Fake a smallpox outbreak and stop the transportation of St. Germain’s wine, which would be sold for profits to fund the uprising. Claire jumps on the chance to manufacture the disease – “Pay attention,” she snaps at good old assistant Fergus – and, some fun glowering from St. Germain later, Jamie is transporting the wine in a carriage, only for Murtagh to stage a hold-up and seize the cargo. Sounds ridiculous? Jamie throws himself in front of St. German seemingly to save his life, only to get knocked out by Murtagh in the process – exactly the kind of generous act that everyone believes he would do.
The show does well to find the time to contrast that burst of action with more sedate costume drama scenes, as Claire complains at the socialites around her that something should be done about the poverty in the city – only for them to laugh and dismiss any such concerns from their lightweight brains. Typical Claire, not happy with just having both her men protected forever, but also wanting to cure poverty too.
Between these moments and the hugely enjoyable encounters with Master Raymond in the shadowy apothecary, the production team have done a brilliant job of bringing period France to life. Part of that world-building, though, has relied upon ickle Fergus, the Artful Dodger-like urchin who helps the Frasers in matters both honest and dishonest. Here, as he joins Jamie on more sabotaging escapades, he finds himself snooping around empty rooms, only to discover the red coat of the English cavalry in a boudoir – and turn around in horror as its owner enters. We don’t see what happens (a smart, and extremely effective, decision from the director), but we do see its aftermath: Jamie and Jack, yes, having a duel.
When Claire finds out, is she a. Scared for her lover’s life, b. Annoyed he broke his promise to her or c. Concerned about what it could mean for her other husband?
Bonus points if you guessed b and c. Before you can get annoyed at her self-centred woes once again, though, Outlander continues its deft positioning of us in relation to our lead couple: the focus is almost entirely on Jamie this episode, so the surprising discovery of his battle leaves us genuinely fearing for his safety. After all, he’s such a kind, selfless hubby.
“How did she forgive you?” taunts Jack, who knows exactly the kind of buttons to press to torment Jamie’s conscience. Which makes Jamie skewering Randall’s groin all the more satisfying. And when Claire appears to miscarriage, after experiencing pains and signs of blood earlier, it’s that emotional attachment to Jamie – rather than her own self-centred attempts to control events – that really leaves us scared for the future of their child and their relationship, which has never seemed further apart. Six episodes into Season 2 and it’s a testament to their determination that they continue to struggle for survival – but it’s equal testament to the series’ writing and, particularly, performances that we still care.
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.