Spoiler Warning: The following discusses detailed plot points from the Season 3 premiere of Outlander, “The Battle Joined.” If you haven’t had a chance to watch the episode yet, go back through the stones and return once you have.
Greetings, sassenachs! Tonight heralds the beginning of the third season of Outlander, and I don’t know about you, but I have been dying to pick up where we left off last year with Claire, Jamie, Brianna, and Roger -- and the wait is finally over. I’ll be recapping this season for SYFY Wire, and I’m super excited to get started.
(For the record: I am fully read up on the books by Diana Gabaldon that inspired the TV show, but won’t be including any spoilers for the series in my recaps -- so if you’ve only been following the characters on the small screen, dinna fash about getting spoiled for stuff that happens down the line.)
This week: Season 2 ended with a much older Claire making the decision that it was finally time to go back through the stones in an attempt to return to Jamie, but “The Battle Joined” is a bit of a rewind episode, taking us back to fill in the gaps on what happened in between. The grisly Battle of Culloden plays out, but an old promise proves to be the difference between life and death for Jamie.
History has told us that the battle on Culloden moor was a brutal one -- a decisive victory for the Duke of Cumberland and the final quelling of the Jacobite uprising. We saw Claire and Jamie’s doomed attempts to stop it from ever taking place last season, but if there’s one thing we can take away from time travel it’s that some events are always meant to take place -- no matter how many wrenches one tries to throw into the cosmic machine.
The episode kicks off with Jamie coming to amidst a sea of bodies, bloodied Scots and loyalists intermingled. His days may be numbered, however; there are British soldiers walking amidst the piles of dead men, finishing off anyone who may still be alive somehow with their bayonets. Jamie closely escapes detection thanks to the body of a British army officer pinning him down, allowing him to go unnoticed by the other soldiers.
As Jamie drifts in and out of consciousness, his recounting of the battle is our way in -- from the British firing cannons and guns at a sea of Highlanders merely armed with swords and shields to Jamie’s inevitable clash with Captain Jonathan Randall. You read that right: Black Jack Randall enters the fray, and given his long, complicated and oft-disturbing relationship with Jamie, it seems fitting that their final war would play out on one of the bloodiest battlefields in Scottish history.
Through a series of intercuts between past and present we discover that the body pinning Jamie to the ground, helping him to stay hidden from British detection, is Black Jack. Ding dong, the bastard is dead -- and for good this time. The reveal doesn’t take away from the intensity of their confrontation, or the fact that by the end they’re both struggling to stand, nearly leaning on each other in a twisted and intimate way. It’s merely a question of who’s going to bleed out first -- and in this instance, it looks like Jamie has emerged the victor.
A vision of Claire all in white (perhaps a callback to all the “La Dame Blanche” references in Season 2?) gives Jamie the fortitude to stay conscious long enough for his second cousin Rupert to come to his rescue. Good ol’ Rupert is rockin’ that eyepatch, but definitely not short on the grousing as he hauls Jamie away to safety, putting him up along with several other survivors and wounded men in an abandoned barn.
Unfortunately, they’re only able to get so far away before the British catch up with them -- and, on order of the Duke of Cumberland, begin executing the remaining rebels by firing squad one at a time. While Jamie lies helpless and perhaps mortally wounded, each of the men -- including Rupert -- is led out to be shot on grounds of treason. Pour one out for Rupert. He goes out like a badass, at least.
By the time the recording officer asks for any more volunteers, Jamie is ready to die -- but when he gives his name, it’s recognized immediately by the captain in charge. His brother is John Grey, and if that name rings a bell for you it belongs to the young man whose life Jamie spared last season. Because of this, Grey -- and his brother, who now has Jamie in captivity -- consider it a debt of honor, and thus Grey’s brother spares Jamie’s life, sending him away on the back of a wagon to avoid the firing squad. When Jamie wakes up, he’s back at home in Lallybroch with his family -- but now he’s officially a wanted man, so just how safe can he really be?
Part of Claire’s journey in Season 2 involved the aftermath of her return through the stones -- pregnant, confused and more than a little distanced from her husband-in-the-present, Frank. While the two have miles to go in attempting to repair their relationship, one condition Claire agrees to is leaving the past behind them -- and putting Scotland in their rear view is one way to do it, at least.
The two are in Boston now, having bought a big new home to raise their growing family in, but Claire is having more than a little difficulty adjusting to domestic life, and not just because she’s spent a significant amount of time living two centuries earlier. Puttering around the house barefoot and pregnant, so to speak, is starting to wear at her nerves -- and the fact that she can’t successfully light the gas stove isn’t helping.
She finds ways of getting around troubles related to modern appliances, however -- like cooking dinner over an open flame in the fireplace instead. But there are other outside circumstances beyond her control, like the neighborly housewife who insists that Claire is fortunate to have an understanding and open-minded husband, or Frank’s misogynist jerk boss at the university, who tells Claire that she must be happy to be getting on with some of her more “fitting domestic concerns” after having worked as a combat nurse during the war.
All of this is serving to make Claire chafe in her current situation. Frank asks her if she’s all right, but she lies and we know better, and her decision to rein in her feelings only builds up to their fight later on. They’re having an innocuous conversation over breakfast, but when Frank reaches out to touch Claire’s belly she shrinks away and the tension is palpable -- and it doesn’t help that Claire’s just brought up the subject of applying for American citizenship. He doesn’t know why she won’t let him near her, and in his mind it’s proof that she hasn’t fully moved on from Jamie. Claire, perhaps incorrectly so, interprets Frank’s stance as a man who’s asking for more physical intimacy -- but Frank reminds her that he wasn’t the one in their marriage who had an affair with someone else. In response, Claire lobs an ashtray at his head -- and that night, Frank’s banished to the couch. Unable to sleep, he decides to draft a letter to his friend Reverend Wakefield in Scotland in the hopes of securing any information on the history of one James Fraser. Before he can finish writing, Claire appears. Her water has just broken, and the baby is on the way.
In case you needed to feel more distressed about the state of medicine in the 20th century, what happens to Claire in the hospital is, in a word, infuriating. Not only does the doctor on call talk over her to Frank about her contractions, but she’s put under anesthesia against her will during labor. Given that her first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage that happened while she was unconscious, it’s heartbreaking to see her wake up in a hospital bed clutching at her own belly before desperately calling out for her child. The good news is: Her baby girl is fine, perfectly healthy -- and sporting a crop of unmistakable red hair. Claire and Frank proceed to literally kiss and make up, and at first it appears that this is the start of a new beginning for the couple … until the nurse asks where their baby’s hair color came from. Awk-ward.
- Was I the only one exceedingly happy to see Murtagh getting his stab on during Culloden? We didn’t see him in the aftermath, which leads me to wonder if he made it out the other side since he seems to have simply gone MIA. Fingers crossed.
- When Jamie’s rescued, he drops something he’d been clinging to: the dragonfly in amber Claire had left in his possession. It serves as a way for the episode to transition to Claire’s story, but could it also mean that he’s already giving up the hope that Claire could return?
- That entire “Claire meeting the boss” scene made me fume, but it was also a reminder that two centuries have passed and men are still underestimating her. When Frank’s boss questions a woman’s ability to succeed as a physician, the knowledge of Claire's eventual destination in her medical career is a small comfort.
- Claire and Frank have been heading towards their big fight for a long time, but I was surprised to find I sided more with Frank in the moment. The show definitely paints him more sympathetically than the books ever did, but there’s no doubt in my mind that he really loves Claire after everything that happened.
- “Good lord. No man in the King’s custody shall be shot lying down on my watch. Not even traitors.” Nice to know the British army has standards for execution.
- Hats off to Tobias Menzies who played Black Jack Randall, one of the best villains-you-love-to-hate, all the way to the thrilling, bitter end.
That’s it for now, Outlander fans! Feel free to sound off in the comments about your favorite moments this episode, as well as your predictions for season three, or tweet at us over at @Syfyfangrrls. When do you think Claire will finally be going back through the stones? Are you as inexplicably sympathetic towards Frank as I am? Will Jamie ever be able to stand upright again? So many questions!