After months and months of waiting, I almost forgot Outlander was set to return. With Game of Thrones’ fifth season premiering next week and slew of other new shows in between Season One – Volume One and Season One – Volume Two (what a mouthful), I’m not surprised many others forgot about the show. Hopefully, Starz will take all this commentary to heart and eschew the mid-season break next year.
All that being said, Outlander did return on a good note, making sure to hit every emotional string possible. I have expressed my concern several times about how the writers would handle the story in “The Reckoning” but to be honest, I think it went rather well. Jamie started the episode with his narration this time around and while I’m still not a fan of narration, it was at least nice to have inner monologue about anything other than to “get home, or die trying.”
I want to take a moment here to discuss an overlooked character thus far on the show, and that’s Scotland itself. The Reckoning is rife with gorgeous shots of the Highlands, rushing rivers, rolling hills, rustic structures; I don’t think any show right now comes close to the natural scenery and fantastic cinematography of Outlander. That’s right, even you, Game of Thrones. There’s also something to be said for the amazing costumes each episode. Bonus! Today I learned how men (or maybe just Jamie) put on kilts.
After Jamie’s introduction into how he became a man, we retrace our steps through Jamie’s eyes, up until the moment he rescues Claire at Fort William from the clutches of Black Jack Randall. Tobias Menzies has taken Black Jack’s already sadistic persona and upped the ante. Much like Joffrey, you cannot help but love to hate him, wishing for his demise at every turn. It’s all made worse by the fact that in the show, I actually like Frank Randall. The entire scene at Fort William was beautifully laid out, exciting and emotionally intense, complete with a large explosion to sate action fans. Claire and Jamie’s leap into the dark water below was a beautiful metaphor for what’s to come for them.
Far and away the best part of the episode was the fight between Jamie and Claire after the rescue. Jamie expects and apology for not obeying his orders and Claire is having none of his bullshit. It was a raw glimpse into the shift from living for yourself to living for another person. As Jamie slumped to the ground, defeated by Claire’s stubbornness, I felt an empathy toward the character I never felt while reading the books. Stricken, he looked at his hands and choked out, “I went to you at Fort William, armed with an empty pistol and my bare hands.” And then the heartfelt, “The way you screamed.” Like Claire I went from furious that he would dare claim her as property to a gentle understanding that Jamie only acted the way he did out of fear.
Next came the scene, the one we’ve all been dreading. This was one of those situations where I wish I wasn’t a book reader and had no idea what was coming. Reading about Jamie’s “punishment” of Claire was difficult and at times, gruesome. History or not, I could not understand any of the reasoning. After, it was hard to care much about the romance between the two. However, in the show, it was almost comical. With light-hearted music matching the intensity of the couple’s fight, I found myself laughing as Claire threw objects at a smirking Jamie. The scene, while staying true to what was written and clansman rule, only solidified the warring forces that are Jamie and Claire. I still didn’t like it, but I understood it.
Their coming together is not an easy romance. Jamie is trying to live up to what the other clansmen expect of him, what they have always expected of men. Meanwhile, Claire, a modern and ferocious woman, fights back at every turn. Catriona Balfe is nothing short of phenomenal as Claire. Every look has meaning, every action laced with her strength.
While Jamie and Claire’s relationship is the sole focus of the episode (and get used to it because it’s the purpose of the entire series), there is some political dealing going on at Castle Leoch. In the books, many of these political scenes were a chore to read, as they were simply drenched in filler. However, Starz and its writers have streamlined the process and made it a joy to watch. Colum and Dougal’s familial relationship continues to spiral downhill, even with Jamie’s peacekeeping efforts.
It is the MacKenzie brothers’ compromise that spurns an idea within Jamie, making him realize that things not need be the way they’ve always been, and maybe when it comes to his relationship with Claire, tradition shouldn’t become a factor. It was a strong turning point for the character as he cast aside the values he’s also known and pledges his life and love to the woman before him. Claire accepts his change but ensures his loyalty with a knife at his throat in the midst of their romp on the floor. Not going to lie, I cheered a bit at her badassery. The episode ends with Claire finding an ill omen from the spurned Laoghaire and from the previews for episodes to come, it seems the young woman isn’t going away soon.
Overall, I am happy with Outlander’s returning episode. I don’t want to say it was worth the wait because I’ll be damned if I’m going to encourage this mid-season break nonsense, but it definitely pushed the show back into the my list of top shows for the year. Outlander continues to take what I would consider are mediocre books and turn them into something worth watching. That is a large part a credit to the two leads and the beautiful scenery highlighting their love.
Outlander airs Saturdays on Starz at 9pm EST.