Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 11 of Outlander Season 3. Not caught up? Read our reviews here.
After three seasons, the rules of the Outlander universe are getting clearer than ever. The first, naturally, is that no matter where Claire Randall Fraser is, she’s not meant to be there. She’s a perennial fish out of water, in the wrong timeline, on the wrong ship, or, in the case of Episode 11 of Season 3, on the wrong desert island. Yes, Outlander has gotten so desperate to find hostile alien environments for its female protagonist to survive in that it’s gone full Bear Grylls and dumped her in a Robinson Crusoe situation.
That, lest we forget, is because she jumped overboard last episode in the hope of miraculously finding Jamie before he arrives in Jamaica and gets arrested by the authorities. And so, she stumbles up the shore of the island, before attempting the usual island survival montage tricks, such as start a fire or find water. It’s unusual territory for Outlander, partly because we’re a long way from Scotland, but mostly because it’s so clunkingly unsubtle; this just feels like the writers ran out of obstacles for Claire to overcome, but still needed something to delay her reunion with Jamie just half an hour longer.
It’s no surprise, of course, that they do reunite – and, as always, Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe’s superb performances sell the hell out of their dash across the beach into each other’s arms. It’s a reunion that happens thanks to Claire’s resourcefulness with a mirror, as she catches the sunlight and luckily shines it directly into Jamie’s face offshore, at which point he promptly orders his ship to head to land. Oh yes, Jamie is now captain on his boat, because the plot is now racing at almost illogical speed (the captain died) to move its plot to match its central cycle of separation and reunion.
Equally daft is the introduction of Father Fogden, a priest who now lives on the island with only the mother of his dead wife and a coconut for company. He likes the idea of making Claire his wife so she can stay there with him forever – and also happens to tie Claire to a bed when she first wakes up after blacking out. (Don’t worry: for once, Outlander, isn’t heading in that direction.) His mother, meanwhile, hates Claire, because who doesn’t love a comedy mother-in-law subplot?
Outlander’s strength has always started with its writing, as it balances Mills & Boon-worthy coupling with nuanced romantic drama. This season, though, the scripts have leaned more towards Mills & Boon and it’s fallen to the cast to make it work. That, thankfully, also extends to the ensemble’s younger elements, as Father Fogden has one positive impact upon the story: he allows the marriage of Fergus and Marsali, who really do become an endearing part of Outlander’s universe, not least because of a rare scene where Claire and Marsali talk about birth control. But, of course, that understated sweetness doesn’t last for long, as Claire and Jamie celebrate their reunion with a session of heavy bedroom romping – all while Mr. Willoughby waits outside, asking if they want some turtle soup. It’s an amusing moment, which delivers the kind of action (ahem) that has largely been missing from this run of the show. But Outlander is going to need more than just turtles and sex jokes to disguise its repetitive formula for much longer.
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.