First look UK TV review: Outlander Season 5
Ivan Radford | On 17, Feb 2020
This spoiler-free review is based on the opening two episodes of Outlander Season 5.
Outlander goes back to its roots for its fifth season, and its opening episodes find a new depth and maturity to the show’s typically rich relationships. STARZ’s epic time-travelling romance has always been at its best when rooting its drama in the bonds between its lead characters, rather than getting distracted by other concerns. Season 4 was therefore a welcome soft reboot, even if Roger and Brianna’s relationship unbalanced the delicate assembly of trust and good old-fashioned animal magnetism.
Season 5 begins, as fans will already know, with the wedding of Roger (Richard Rankin) and Brianna (Sophie Skelton). Both have always been likeable and convincing screen presences, but together, their coupledom hasn’t always been one to stan, as Roger took far too long to decide he did love her and reacted in a highly dubious way to the fact that Brianna became pregnant through sexual assault by Stephen Bonnet. Neither of those have helped us buy into their affection for each other, although the chance to see Roger play guitar and sing to the wee child is certainly endearing.
The series, though, does show signs of learning from past mistakes, as we see Jamie shaving Roger ahead of the big day – a gesture that openly acknowledges and addresses how out-of-place Roger feels and is thought of in this time period, not to mention the gulf between his Protestantism and Jamie’s Catholicism. It also knows not to lean too heavily into Roger and Brianna’s relationship, balancing out their nuptials with the real heart of this season. No, not Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Clare (Caitriona Bale) – although they are as intimate (ahem) with each other as ever – but Jamie and Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix).
Their bond is put front and centre by the prologue, which flashes back to the friends as youngsters, when Murtagh promised to look after Jamie – a bond that is under threat this season by Lord Tryon’s order for Jamie to hunt down Murtagh, who has become a figurehead for the rebellion.
It’s a fantastically difficult dilemma for Jamie, who prizes fidelity above everything else, but has also pledged his obedience to Tryon in exchange for the land of Fraser’s Ridge that will allow Jamie not only to build a community but also to support his family for decades to come. And both men are wonderfully sincere in their fondness for each other, with Heughan looking more tortured than ever and Lacroix a wonderful mixture of tender and honest and disturbingly violent.
Their bromance is a heartfelt anchor for the new season, one that brings a fresh, relatively unexplored emotional tie to test. It also sets us up for some nicely complex themes of legacy and loyalty – a fiery gathering of clan members cements them, as they swear support and kinship.
The result is a rewarding vein of brooding masculinity, concerned with the notion of passing values down through generations. Even when an old face from the past appears to complicate matters, it does so through the lends of men stepping up to assume their presumed rightful role, whether that’s as a father, a friend or a brother.
Claire, too, is thinking about the future and her own legacy, albeit a medical one (she’s never had much of a problem with Roger). And while she feels slightly pushed to one side at the start of this season, it feels like Outlander has discovered fertile (if unusually male-oriented) new ground to delve into. Will Brianna and Roger ever become the next Clare and Jamie? Are they even meant to, or are they intended to be a contrast to our central couple? Either way, we can comfortably ignore that question for at least a few hours, as Jamie and Murtagh prepare to go head-to-head. A tense period conflict centred on one, unwavering relationship? Outlander’s back and it feels back at its best.
Season 5 of Outlander is available on Amazon Prime Video, as part of £5.99 monthly subscription. New episodes arrive on Mondays