UK TV review: Outlander: Season 2, Episode 13 (Dragonfly in Amber)
James R | On 10, Jul 2016
Warning: This contains spoilers.
Right, this is it, folks. The Outlander Season 2 finale has arrived. And all the signs are there for an ambitious climax – after all, you don’t name an episode after the very book you’re adapting (Dragonfly in Amber) without thinking you can back it up. And back it up, Outlander certainly does. This is as good as the show gets. Which, for the record, is very, very good.
There should, of course, be no doubt going into this last chapter of the show’s ability to realise its ambitions. This is a season that has hopped between continents, giving us sex, nice costumes, sex, political intrigue, sex, a serious exploration of trauma and abuse, sex, a magical medicine dog helping in a hospital, and did we mention the sex? There was French sex, Scottish sex, madly sex, marital sex. Amid all the fornication, you could almost forget that this is a show about time travel, in which we’re watching a couple thrust against the tide of history as much as anything else. After 12 episodes of consistently entertaining and engaging historical fantasy romance, fans really couldn’t ask for more – literally, in the case of this episode, because it lasts an epic 90 minutes. Rest assured: it earns every second.
We begin our episode not where we left off, but much later – the 1960s, to be exact, as we join Roger Wakefield (Richard Rankin) as he mourns the passing of his father, Reverend Wakefield. Attending the wake are Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) and her daughter, Brianna (Sophie Skelton). The two youngsters immediately take a shine to each other, as they tour the local sites, trade historical facts and both look almost implausibly good-looking.
The fact that almost the whole of this episode is a conversation between two descendants of our main characters might sound like an anti-climax, but it’s exactly what the show is great at: turning the outlandish into something intimate and immediate; portraying time travel through the medium of human relationships.
Sophie Skelton may only be in the season for one outing, but she practically steals the whole thing: she’s superb as Brianna, picking up the stubbornness and dress sense from Claire and the passion, sensitivity and dashing motivation from her father. You actually believe she’s the child of a Scotsman conceived in another century. Which, if you take a step back for a minute, is really quite an achievement.
She has good chemistry with Rankin, whose Roger is that classic Outlander blend of love interest and exposition; while Jamie and Claire’s relationship has been about trying to dismantle history, Roger and Brianna spend their time together trying to assemble it, as Brianna digs into the past to find out what she suspects her mum isn’t telling her.
After spying a newspaper cutting detailing Claire’s post-war disappearance, when she might as well have been off with the fairies, she confronts her mum, accusing her of having an affair. It’s enough for Claire to leap into the full account of events and Caitriona Balfe, who could be relegated to Basil Exposition here, visibly lights up as she recalls her love for Jamie – a reminder of how good she has been all season, and not just in terms of her strong hair game (hello to The Avengers’ Emma Peel).
Brianna’s reaction is to presume her mother is cray cray – and it’s a pleasure to have another character dismiss this all as ridiculous. Combined with a sweet tour of Lallybroch and Culloden Moor, which anchors the whole yarn in recognisable landmarks, Outlander has a real knack for grounding its fantasy in reality.
While she and Roger do the only rational thing and head to the pub, we jump back to the 1800s.
Bree confronted Claire about the guy she had an affair with, and got a story she definitely wasn’t expecting about a 6’3″ redheaded soldier in a kilt from the 1800s.
– drinks with Roger
There, the Frasers have landed upon the only solution left: bump off the Bonnie Prince in the hope that the Battle of Culloden never takes place. But Dougal, alas, overhears and, in a patriotic frenzy, he attacks Jamie. When we could have hard another huge confrontation, it’s telling that Outlander (partly for budget reasons, you presume) opts for a more private skirmish and the resulting violence is all the more shocking for it, as Jamie and Claire plunge a knife into his chest – something that takes an unsettling amount of effort to crack through his rib cage.
Rumbled, Jamie is smart and clear-headed, signing Lallybroch over to his nephew and ordering Claire to go back to Craigh Na Dun and save herself and their child. Oh, yes. She’s pregnant – and Jamie has worked it out by counting the gaps between her periods, surely one of the creepiest romantic gestures ever seen on screen. Their parting at the stones is equally heartfelt, as Sam Heughan sells the heck out of his devotion and determination to bid goodbye. And yes, they even manage some farewell sex to boot. (We weren’t kidding about the sex.)
As we wave off Dougal in the past, though, the present (well, the 1960s) sees an old face say hello: Gillian Edgars, a passionate campaigner for Scottish nationalism who turns out to be Geillis Duncan, about to go through the stones to “further the cause” (and, if you recall Season 1, ultimately die for being a witch). It’s par for the course for an episode full of ghosts, as Brianna and Roger hunt through photos in the dead Reverend’s attic (real respectful, guys).
At Claire’s behest, they race to Craigh Na Dun to stop Gillian going back in time, hoping to spare her life. But Claire suddenly remembers they can’t, because Geillis and Dougal’s child is Roger, so saving her might stop him from ever existing. The others, though, are less bothered: they secretly hope to prove Claire is cray cray and make her mind confront and process the whole delusion.
Alas, they can’t stop her anyway, because she disappears just as they get to the stones – leaving behind her burned corpse of a husband, because she thought she needed a human sacrifice. (She might have been wrong about that, but hey, she did actually try to do some research into time travel, so fair play to her.) With Brianna and Roger now believing what Claire was saying, they reveal one last secret: that Jamie Fraser didn’t die at Culloden after all (something they worked out from his Lallybroch deed – a nice reminder that it always pays to do your paperwork properly).
Claire’s reaction? Time travel once again to find him. The final moments are completely overdone, complete with shining rays of sunlight, but it’s testament to just how good Outlander’s second season has been that we’re happy to go with it. Managing to write an epic, generations-spanning story with small-scale emotions, Season 2 has seen Outlander get better at what makes it so different to the other TV shows out there. Wormholes, military battles, outrageous French accents, beards and magical rocks? In Season 1, it was a treat to have a show so driven by a complex female lead. Now, it’s just a treat to see her interacting with everyone else in the ensemble, as each new character gives added weight to the consequences of her actions, both past and present. Plot a course for reunion sex. Season 3 can’t come soon enough.
Outlander Season 2 is available to watch in the UK exclusively on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.