Warning: This contains spoilers for Episode 6 of Outlander Season 3. Not caught up? Read our reviews here.
Time is only truly appreciated when it’s run out. It’s an unstoppable force that forever pulls us into the future, away from our past selves. It’s what forces us to grow up, move on or fall in love. It can push people apart – and, sometimes, it can bring them back together.
And so it is that after six episodes, Outlander finally reunites its leading couple. It’s a rejoining of a pair who so naturally fit together that it’s one you can’t help want to happen as soon as possible, but Outlander, being Outlander, makes us wait just that little bit longer. After Episode 5’s cliffhanger, that might seem like a cynical way to open Episode 6, but the show’s heart is in the right place: this isn’t a reunion to rush into, but one to approach nervously, cautiously, in exactly the same way Claire does. When she does burst through the door of Jamie’s printing workshop, he’s so unprepared for the speed of it that he straight-up faints.
Jamie, we discover in the show’s enjoyably lengthy prologue, is now living life as Alex Malcolm, a bachelor and a publisher, who trades in rebellious literature – because even in a literary setting, our Jamie’s a warrior. If that much hasn’t changed, though, the problem is that so much else has – or, at least, has the potential to. After two decades apart, Claire being able to travel back through the stones is a rare victory over time: for once, it is on our couple’s side. Even the running time of the episode extends by 20 minutes to give them the room to enjoy spending those extra moments together. But time has left its marks on both of them – literally, in the case of Jamie – and the question Outlander’s third season asks isn’t whether our couple can stay together, but whether they’re even the same people. The fantasy historical epic has always been one for grand, sweeping emotion, but this is Outlander as its most mature and nuanced, taking the time to delicately explore what makes a relationship grow or stay the same.
Sam Heughan is marvellous as the printer operating under another name, as charming and dashing as he is stoic and loyal: we see him flirting with another woman (Madame Jeanne), who even deigns to sort out his clothes for him, but when we discover that he lives in a brothel (and that she runs it), it’s soon made clear that he’s never wavered in his affection for his lost love. Caitriona Balfe is equally brilliant here, because Claire doesn’t know that – and while she does know Jamie, she doesn’t know how much time has changed him, and whether he stills loves her.
Jamie, of course, doesn’t know whether she still loves him, and their initial interaction is painfully, beautifully restrained, as he asks her if he can kiss her – a sign of just how formal and estranged they have become. But once that bond has begun to be healed, we watch them gradually relax back into each other’s company, as she shares photos of Brianna and he tells Claire about wee Willie. It’s vital exposition for each other, but it’s also a reminder that so much of their lives is no longer relevant. That transition is paralleled by the slow rekindling of their physical love – a love that comes with a trust that must be rebuilt, even though their emotional love hasn’t dimmed. (Outlander’s ability to distinguish between the various facets of love and romance leaves it standing alongside The Affair’s opening seasons and Catastrophe in modern depictions of relationships in all their complexity.)
After so long apart, Heughan and Balfe together are a delight to watch: there’s almost literally an extra skip in their step, a readiness to smile that’s particularly noticeable after Claire’s life in the more oppressive context of being a 1950s Boston housewife. Whether Claire can fully fit into Jamie’s new lifestyle, though, is a practical challenge that hasn’t yet been answered – and Outlander addresses that too, three times over. First, by introducing her to an adult Fergus, allowing her to try out her lie about simply going to America for 20 years. Secondly, by having her hang out with the women working at Madame Jeanne’s brothel, who mistake her as a new hire who’s been spending the night with Jamie for money – it’s a joy to see her so unrestrained and talking with real candour and humour.
The third, though, is the only bum note in an otherwise accomplished episode, as Claire returns to Jamie’s chamber, only to find it inhabited by an intruder who is, we presume, connected to the drink that Jamie is smuggling through his printing business. He threatens to rape Claire, if she doesn’t say where Jamie is or where he stores his paperwork, and it’s hard not to cringe at Outlander once again serving up a storyline that revolves around sexual violence and abuse. For a show that has shined in its subtleties, it’s a decidedly unsubtle cliffhanger that leaves a surprisingly sour taste in the mouth. Fortunately, time moves on – and it won’t be long until another 60 minutes comes along to wash that taste away.
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?