Warning: This contains spoilers.
“They say insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result,” opines Claire in Episode 8 of Outlander Season 2. Which is partly why she and Jamie fled France to head for the bonnie lands of Scotland once again.
And what a homecoming it is. The show excels at sharing the same emotional perspective as its leads, something that’s evident from director Mike (Broadchurch) Barker’s gorgeous establishing shots flying over the countryside at the start – revelling in the freedom of the open air after the interiors of France and, in particular, Episode 7’s trauma. Even the opening credits have reverted back to Season 1’s Scottish version – a nice touch that makes it clear Outlander is pleased to be back on its home territory, just in case you hadn’t guessed.
Some time has passed since our last episode and Jamie and Claire now finally seem to be back on the same page – something that’s evident in the way they tackle the plot together. The obstacle this time around? Well, that’s part of the problem: we can’t seem to go an episode without a threat to Jamie’s life, Claire’s life or Frank’s life; whatever happened to just plain old drama? After Episode 7’s relentless onslaught of tragedy, it’s almost as if the writers are afraid to lighten the mood, instead cramming as much as they can into what ends up an overstuffed, uneven episode.
Things go from good to bad almost immediately, as the Frasers receive a letter from Charles declaring his rightful claim to the English throne and listing Jamie as one of his supporters – forged signature or no, he’s officially part of the Jacobite rebellion. Trust Charles to be annoyingly petulant even when he’s not on screen, let alone in the same country. Jamie’s mission, then, is to rally support, as he always claimed he would, starting with Lord Lovat over at Beaufort Castle.
Lovat, we discover, is a bastard with a habit of carrying that chip on his shoulder for all to see. As a result, he’s bitter, he’s rude to Claire and he’s bit of dick – in short, a perfect opportunity for Clive Russell to ham it up as a villain.
Speaking of villains, up pops Colum Mackenzie for good measure, arguing that not taking sides in the rebellion will lead the Brits to keep their noses out of Scotland’s business in return. There’s a nice bit of politics in here, but it feels rushed, as a dinner takes place and everyone bickers intensely – and Lovat, all the while, schemes for a way to get Lallybroch off Jamie.
Why is it rushed? Because we also have a subplot involving Claire, who – surprising nobody – decides to take it upon herself to fix matters too. Her plan? Get Lovat’s son, Simon Jr., to fall for young maid Laoghaire Mackenzie, and get her to convince him to stand up to his father and side with Jamie. Why would Laoghaire help Jamie and Claire? Here’s the episode’s biggest misstep.
If alarm bells aren’t ringing in your head already, remember that episode in Season 1, when Claire was put on trial for being a witch? Laoghaire was the woman who accused her, because she loved Jamie and wanted him all for herself. Here, she’s turned over a new leaf and seems keen to make amends with Jamie (and, sort of, with Claire). But a whispered vow of love for Mr. Fraser makes it clear that Laoghaire hasn’t changed her spots at all – and reinforces her character as one of the most two-dimensional things in Outlander. Which is saying something, because the show is normally really good at fleshing out both supporting and female characters.
Amid all this unnecessarily contrived plotting, it’s no surprise that the best moment comes courtesy of a quiet scene in Jenny’s house, as Claire and Jenny walk in on Jamie cuddling Jenny’s new baby. (That reminds us: did we mention that Jenny has had a baby?)
One of the most impactful scenes in the episode involved the linger effect of their loss, with Claire looking on as Jamie cuddled and spoke to Jenny’s newest child. “It’s the way we talk to them before they’re born,” says Jenny, as Jamie gently pours his heart out to the wee bairn. It’s a moving moment that highlights Jamie’s ongoing PTSD, the show’s understanding of gender and parenthood – and its ability to create tender scenes with almost no dialogue or exposition. If only the same could be said of the rest of the episode. By the end, Jamie’s saddled up with Lovat (going nowhere just yet) and Simon Jr. to go and fight the battle of Culloden anyway – because who knows? Maybe history can be changed this way? Their failings in France, and the foreshadowing that’s gone before, make it clear that the couple’s efforts remain doomed. Trying to do the same thing over and over again? Outlander remains an engrossing study of love, history and insanity. But sometimes, its structure could do with a little less madness.
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.