Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 10 of Outlander Season 3. Not caught up? Read our reviews here.
Oh, Outlander. What are you doing? Starz’s historical fantasy romance has done some daringly nuanced work this season, as it delves into the complicated subtleties of how emotions can change over time – not to mention how people can change too. But as Season 3 continues, Outlander’s drama is increasingly sinking into melodrama – and, for the first time, you worry how much longer the show can sustain its dive without drowning.
We pick up events as Claire finds herself trying to get acclimatised to life aboard the Porpoise, after they kidnapped her last episode. Faced with an outbreak of typhoid, she sets about trying to heal the crew and stem the epidemic – something that she can handily do without risk, as she was inoculated in the future against the disease. And so she spends half her time administering medicine and the other half attempting to teach the crew how to avoid contamination, taking their grog and getting them to dip their hands in it, whenever they enter or exit the sick bay – and not lick their hands afterwards.
A one-hour lecture in hygiene? It’s a sign of just how much Outlander has slipped from its key strengths that such a thing should occupy our time three seasons in. While it’s always a pleasure to see Caitriona Balfe in bossy nurse mode, as she displays both compassion and knowledge ahead of her time, it’s not the kind of plot that we primarily tune in for. Discovering halfway through the episode that her efforts to help these men will not result in her release and reunion with Jamie, we feel her frustration twice over, as we have to wait yet another episode until our couple are possibly drawn back together. In the past, the things keeping them apart have been forces much greater than them, from history itself to fate and love. But since it brought them back together, Season 3 keeps serving up more and more trivial obstacles to their union: men violently assaulting Claire, Jamie selling off illegal booze, and surprise pirates kidnapping members of the cast for no reason.
Against such small fry, it’s hard to have patience for Claire’s heart-heaving melancholy – or, indeed, for Jamie’s attempts to get free from his jail on the ship to Jamaica. He tries to manipulate Fergus into helping him, saying he will give Fergus and Marsali their blessing, but it feels less like an urgent dash to find Claire again and more like the writers killing time until their season finale. When Claire learns that the captain knows who Jamie is and that he will be getting Jamie arrested in Jamaica (using her as bait), her response is to fling herself off the ship and into the water. That’s so she can sneak onto the raft made by Annekje, the ship’s milk lady (she has lots of goats), but it’s done in a way that feels over-the-top rather than a diverting little prison break stunt.
Thankfully, we have young Albie Marber on hand to play Elias Pound, a teenage naval officer who helps Claire as she tends to the equally young crew. He’s an excellent presence, bringing poignancy to the tale – particularly when Claire (who’s still missing Brianna) pretends to be his mother, so he can die of infection peacefully – but this is meant to be Outlander, not Poundlander, and it says a lot that both Balfe and Sam Heughan, who are very good in their roles, pale in comparison to Marber’s briefly seen supporting character.
Where will Claire end up next? Can she survive the waters? Will she get to Jamie in time to save him? Outlander has some compelling questions lined up for the second half of its third season, but after two lacklustre efforts in a row, the concern is now whether the show will ever get around to answering them at all, or whether it’s content to be adrift at sea.
Season 3 of Outlander is available on Amazon Prime Video, as part of £5.99 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive weekly on Mondays, within 24 hours of their US broadcast.