Amazon Prime UK TV review: Outlander Episode 11
Lack of unanswered questions6
Ivan Radford | On 25, Apr 2015
Warning: This contains spoilers.
“It’s not what you are. It’s what you think they are.”
That’s Ned Gowen to Claire and Geillis in Episode 11 of Outlander, as they face a court of witch-burning, devil-fearing Scotsfolk. It’s a welcome threat to our heroine, who, until last week, had mostly faced bloke-driven, sex-related peril.
What follows is an equally welcome shift away from the usual formula, as most of the hour takes place in the courtroom: a setting that gives events a tension that recalls The Crucible, even if it never reaches those heights. Sure enough, a string of witnesses line up to incriminate the accused – including, best of all, Tim McInnerny returning as the earnest Father Bain.
After last week’s return of Claire’s voice over, though, Outlander continues to undermine its visual story-telling with her running commentary of events. Episode 11 is far better when it relies upon the trial’s claustrophobic structure to drum up suspense. Within that arena, Bill Paterson’s legal counsel raises the first interesting question: if only one of them can survive, who should it be?
It’s a welcome chance for Lotte Verbeek’s husband-killer to take centre stage: she’s a feisty, smart presence on-screen, one with more wits than perhaps we suspected. So when Jamie turns up, ready to the do the usual reductive male-rescuing act, it’s testament to the script’s faith in its female characters that it lets Geillis get Claire out of trouble, regardless of his manly heroics. She unveils Satan’s mark on her arm, but Claire recognises it for something else: a scar from a smallpox vaccine. The realisation that Claire is not the only one of her kind (“1968”, says Geillis, before being whisked away) is a huge step for the story – one that, if it weren’t for Geillis’ fiery fate, could take the programme in all kinds of interesting directions.
But, it turns out, Tony Graphia’s script has other plans in mind: as soon as Geillis unveils her secret, Claire spills her time travel beans all over Jamie.
Sam Heughan’s reaction is priceless, all gormless, gaping mouth and messy red hair. It’s a shame, then, that we don’t get to enjoy this landmark in their relationship through their interactions: their conversation swiftly becomes a montage, complete with – yes – a voice over. “I told him everything,” she tells us, “I didn’t realise how badly I needed to tell someone.” The fact that both are obvious from Caitriona Balfe’s facial expression only emphasises how unnecessary her voice over is. “He listened,” she adds, between snatches of him asking her to repeat bits. “He didn’t understand it all,” she explains, redundantly, “but he listened.”
Regardless of the way it’s presented, though, it remains a compelling shift in the balance of their bond, which has always been defined by the temporal boundary between them. After all, the last time she tried to escape home, he beat her for it. The moment he realises this is hugely cathartic, as Heughan’s sincere guilt redeems the awkwardness that went before – and reinforces the show’s smart decision to embrace both of their perspectives. But with him apparently on board with her chrono-hopping, the biggest question of all is raised: where next for them? And, as a result, where next for the whole series?
The original novel Outlander spans a whopping 640 pages, which creator Ron D. Moore has done well to compress into 16 episodes. For this unexpected revelation to occur with five more instalments to go, though, leaves you wondering whether the programme can sustain your interest until its conclusion. “Sorry. I’m not ready yet,” says Jamie as he tries to stop her going. Her return at the end of the episode makes sure that she (and we) take their romance seriously – if Claire merely dismissed her period fella to return to her post-war husband, it would feel like a cheat – but with the couple now equal both in terms of knowledge and authority, where can they go next? And, with the hurdle of getting back to Craigh na Dun and concealing her roots seemingly overcome, will Claire’s struggle descend into a standard torn-between-two-men love story? Outlander’s strength lies in dabbling in more genres than romance, in not just being Goodnight, Sweet. You hope, if not suspect, then, that another surprise is on the way.
Season 1 of Outlander is out now on DVD and available to own from iTunes, Amazon Instant Video and Google Play. You can also watch it online on Amazon Prime Instant Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription – or, if you would also like unlimited UK delivery and 350,000 eBooks available to borrow, as part of a £79 annual Amazon Prime membership.