Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 3 of Outlander Season 3. Not caught up? Read our reviews here.
“Some people you grieve over forever.” That’s the warden of Ardsmuir prison in Episode 3 of Outlander’s third season, as he and Jamie share in a heart-to-heart. Given the sheer scale of Starz’ adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s epic saga, a decades-spanning romance that blends fantasy and history, this episode is a moving reminder of how much the show hinges upon the simple power of conversation: this chapter is comprised almost solely of two one-to-one exchanges: a double-bill of two-handers.
Our first is back in the 1700s – a welcome chance, after a lot of time spent in Boston with Claire, for Sam Heughan to do more excellent work as the pining Jamie. After giving himself up to the English, he’s become the de facto head of the inmates, meeting up with the warden on a regular basis to voice their interests. The warden? Why, it’s none other than John William Grey, the teenager whose life was spared by Jamie way back in Season 1 – and, as a grown man, whose brother, Lord Melton, sought to save Jamie after the Battle of Culloden two episodes ago.
Jamie eventually reveals that he recognises the man, and their conversations, over dinner and wine, range from the nuanced and melancholic to the witty and standoffish. Along the way, they reminisce about the time that Jamie pretended to take Claire hostage to ward off English troops, and discuss whether they should provide cats for every inmate to help get rid of the rats – but, most of all, they talk of the rumours of a French treasure chest that was headed for Prince Charles Stuart, only to never make it.
So when an old Scotsman says he knows where it is, Jamie is brought in as translator, in exchange for medical treatment for Murtagh (bless Jamie’s selfless heart – and Murtagh’s weary socks, as he just about hangs in there to keep fans happy). The old man’s jibberish about a cruse and a White Witch leads Jamie to pine for his lost love even more – could she really still be somehow with him? A nifty prison escape and nighttime swim to a nearby rock confirms it: there’s no French gold, and there’s no Claire either.
When rejoined, the men’s talk becomes more personal, as Jamie reveals more of his agony and loss – something that Grey recognises all too well, after he lost a very dear male companion at Culloden. “I’m sorry for your loss,” he offers, stroking Jamie’s hand – at which point, Fraser’s temperament snaps.
It’s a delicately handled moment that is testament to just how well the show builds up these two men’s friendship in such a short space of time: so much of it is done in small gestures, as they gradually become more open with other, only for Jamie’s trauma from his rape by Black Jack to come flooding in through that mental gap. Grey’s kindness, though, continues, as the prison is closed and the prisoners are marched off to serve in the colonies – and Jamie is moved privately by Grey to a place called Hellswater, where he will visit his ward in several months. It’s an intriguing cliffhanger at which to leave Fraser, but one that reminds us just how open the future is for the outlaw – the road back to Claire stretches out of sight, and Jamie’s barely even taken a first step.
Claire also finds herself taking an unexpected leap down the path away from, or back to, her love. Back in 1950s Boston, she and Frank are still trying to make a go of their relationship – even several years on, as Brianna turns 10. Claire suggests a trip to the cinema, only for Frank to confess: he’s already seen every film showing, with another women.
“I’m being discreet,” he assures her, reminding that they agreed to have an open relationship. For Claire, though, all avenues are closed save for one that’s not possible: she might agree to see other people, but Frank’s the one actually doing it.
The revelation comes to a head when Claire’s graduation party is in full swing, and Frank’s other woman turns up on the doorstep. Cue awkwardness.
“You humiliated me in front of my colleagues,” snaps Claire. “Welcome to the club,” comes the retort.
Tobias Menzies and Caitriona Balfe continue to be superb as the spitting couple, their bonds fragmenting around them. It’s testament to both that we feel sorry for each in equal measure – and, increasingly, for Frank, who is cuckolded without any way of stopping it.
“I think our bedroom is far too crowded already,” he shoots, after she accuses him of sleeping with his mistress in their bed.
Fast forward to when Brianna is 18 and Frank announces to Claire that he has been offered a position in Cambridge. How nice, replies Claire, but she can’t move to England. That’s when Frank drops his bombshell: that he wants to go back with Brianna and leave Claire behind, marrying his mistress and filing for sole custody. It is, again, a tiny moment with huge consequences, and the series slowly builds to it with a string of little more than excellent acted conversations.
Claire, of course, can’t look at Brianna without seeing Jamie – but that’s precisely what makes raising her so tough for Frank, as Claire is never able to move on, leaving him wanting a wife who actually loves him. And yet Claire, in her way, does love Frank – and we know that, because we’ve seen this couple together before, when they were both happy. Even the way they physically interact with each other has notably changed over the years, speaking volumes of their increasingly distant marriage.
Whether you can fully sympathise with Frank or not, so satisfying is it to see the two acting together – both the cast and the characters putting on the pretence of a happy couple – that when Claire suddenly gets the news at the hospital that he has been hit by a car, the discovery that he has passed away really is sad: not only is it a tragic blow to Brianna and Claire, but it robs us of any chance to see their sublime two-hander scenes. Menzies has been a splendid central member of the show’s cast, delivering the dual sides of Black Jack and Frank with sickening menace and endearingly good intentions. What a shame that we’ll not get to see him in action again.
“If you are still close enough to hear me, I did love you,” she tells his body. “You’re my first love.”
Some people you grieve over forever. As Outlander’s decidedly melancholic third season sets up its separate strands of mourning, for Claire, the grief weighs twice as much.
Season 3 of Outlander is available on Amazon Prime Video, as part of £5.99 monthly subscription.
Where can I watch Outlander Season 3 on pay-per-view VOD?