Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 5 of Outlander Season 3. Not caught up? Read our reviews here.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a time-travelling nurse and a Scottish warrior from the 1800s, who are separated by several decades and some magic stones, must be in want of a reunion. And after only four episodes of Outlander Season 3, that reunion can’t come soon enough – except, of course, that it can: bringing our star-crossed couple back together so quickly after their separation would rob the whole thing of its emotional weight and meaning. And so, after an hour spent mostly with Jamie in an English costume drama, Outlander serves up an episode focused primarily on Claire in 1950s Boston.
It turns out that in her own solo series, Claire’s life mainly resembles ER, as she performs surgery and takes the risks that, damn it, a sensible doctor (who isn’t pining after her red-haired lover from another century) just wouldn’t take. It’s enough maverick medicine action to make her firm friends with Joe, her fellow member of the Progressive Historical Characters Alliance, and, now they’re both fully-fledged surgeons, they hang out together more than ever. They even do a bit of CSI work, as Claire deduces the cause of death of some bones that land on her desk.
So close have they become that, like all good work mates, Claire decides to share her personal problems – and she admits that she’s hung up on a Scotsman from her past (and everyone else’s). She doesn’t mention time travel or Culloden, but Joe can tell something’s not quite right. And so she adds that this mysterious man is Brianna’s real father, rather than Frank – the first time that’s really been acknowledged outside of the family in Claire’s American life. Joe’s sympathetic – good old Joe – and advises her not to skip a second chance, if it comes along. It’s such a nice little scene of two friends being supportive that you almost wish we could have a whole spin-off programme, OutlandER. Or Quincy: Time Traveller.
All things considered, though, Claire is doing well in her new life, pushing ahead and not dwelling too much on the past. Brianna, on the other hand, is the one who’s struggling. With their first Christmas without Frank coming around, she’s so distracted that she barely even pays attention to her history lecturer, as he explains to the class that sometimes, names get lost in history, depending on who’s writing the books. Thematic klaxon alert.
But who should come to the rescue but Roger? (Good old Roger.) Turning up on their doorstep without telling them in advance, it’s testament to just how cute the chemistry is between Brianna and Roger that we don’t just write the whole incident off as creepy and obsessive. It helps that both women are also a little preoccupied with an argument about Brianna flunking out of Harvard.
Roger, though, has some comfort to bring – and we’re not just talking his soft jumpers and fuzzy facial hair. He’s discovered a poem by Robert Burns from 1765 that quotes a distinctive phrase Claire once said to him – and given that Burns would have barely been born at that time, and that the book is under the name of one Alexander Malcolm, the conclusion is pretty obvious: Jamie must have published it.
You could be forgiven for expecting Outlander to race straight back to the stones as soon as that discovery is made, but the show still knows not to rush – and so we get one more interlude in Boston, featuring some sweet Brianna and Roger time, and, more importantly, Frank’s memorial service. Sandy scalds Claire for not letting Frank run away to her, and, to Outlander’s credit, rather than turn that into a cat fight, the show agrees, resulting in a fabulously mature discussion between three women – an honest moment of respect, affection and commiseration that reminds you just how welcome the show is as an antidote to the many male-driven series on our screens.
This brings us to the crux of Outlander’s clever pacing, which doesn’t delay Claire and Jamie’s reunion for pure narrative reasons, but because it understands one crucial thing: Claire herself isn’t ready yet. After years of trying to close off her memories and get on with existing, its not time that’s the biggest obstacle to their reunion, but Claire’s fear that he might have moved on, he might have found someone else, and – the moving question that underpins this whole show – they might have both changed into different people.
She’s still a “skinny, white broad with too much hair and a great ass”, assures Joe – good old Joe – and so, an emboldened Claire makes for the past. She takes with her some nice mementoes from Brianna and Roger, plus some outfits that are whipped up in a cracking sewing montage (more TV shows should have sewing montages), and bids farewell to Brianna in a delightfully well acted scene that proves just how smart this whole time-jump segment of the show was in the first place.
Cut to: Scotland, and Claire is immediately told by a handy person in the street where to find Alexander Malcolm. She enters the publishing house and Jamie turns around… and promptly faints on the floor before the end credits land. There’s carefully withholding a reunion for character, thematic and narrative reasons. Then there’s just being cheeky with a cliffhanger.
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?