I still can’t quite believe that Outlanderthe TV show exists. It has all of the money, production values, and marketing of a prestige drama — it is a prestige drama. But, unlike any other prestige drama on TV, it is completely committed to the romance genre. I’m not talking about the love story at its center — plenty of prestige dramas have love stories — but rather the narrative conventions that have come up through the literary romance tradition: a commitment to the female experience, an unabashed foregrounding of emotions, and an interest in the domestic sphere.
That’s not to say Outlander isn’t a mixture of many, many things — from time travel narrative to raw historical drama — but, by and large, it follows the structure and interests of a romance. It is so completely refreshing because — again, unlike most prestige dramas on TV — the romance is a genre that has been completely shaped by the narrative interests of women. That novelty hasn’t worn off in season 2.
This commitment to romance, to the inner emotional lives of its characters, and to depicting aspects of the female experience that hardly ever get depicted on TV defines the books on which Outlanderis based (the events of season 2 are drawn from the second book in the series: Dragonfly in Amber) and so welcomingly defined the first season. It is, thankfully, still front and center in season 2. Other prestige dramas have the same level of excellent casting, meticulous direction, and consistent writing as Outlander,but Outlanderis alone amongst its prestige cable drama peer group in its intense interest in sentiment.
Claire and Jamie may be in France when the action in season 2 picks up, but they haven’t left Scotland behind — at least not in their hearts. Claire is more commited than ever to saving the Highlander culture by stopping the Jacobite rebellion in its tracks. And Jamie is understandably still working through the trauma of the sexual assault and torture he suffered at Jack Randall’s hands at the end of season 1.
No, this show hasn’t forgotten Scotland. The country is in everything that the little Scottish family Claire, Jamie, and the ever hilarious Murtagh do when they arrive on French shores. That being said, Outlanderdoesn’t skimp on its immediate infatuation with France and Parisian court culture. This show has always been beautiful, but what was once a lush, sweeping natural beauty has been replaced with the ornate, manmade candy of Paris. “Don’t you miss it, lad? The smell of fresh, Scottish mud,” Murtagh asks Jamie in the second episode. It’s hard to when this rich, gorgeous French setting provides such an admirable distraction.
After a relatively slow start in the season’s first episode, Outlanderquicklypicks up the pace, wasting no time integratiating Jamie and Claire into French society through a series of time hops in the first few episodes. Outlanderis at its best when it is exploring characters’ stumblings through a new, unfamiliar world. It acts as a narrative device bonding the character(s) and the viewer together. This time, it’s not just Claire who is learning the rules of a new world. In fact, she seems much more comfortable acclimating this society than she did the Scottish clan culture. It is Jamie and Murtagh who have slightly more trouble, though Jamie at least is game for the challenge.
The early episodes of Outlanderseason 2 particular excel in their moments of brevity. I forgot how funny Outlandercan be — not just in its wit, but in its willingness to sometimes take a break from its more serious, high-stakes plots and embrace the absurdity of subjects like the aristocracy, propriety, and the gender divide. Not many shows are comfortable with — or particularly good at — mixing up narrative tones, but Outlander often gets it right, shifting from heartbreaking to hilarious within the span of an episode or sometimes even the span of a single scene.
If you liked Outlanderseason 1, you’re going to love Outlanderseason 2. And if you’ve stayed away from this show because you’re busy watching Game of Thrones,you should give it a try. There’s political intrigue, time travel shenanigans, wonderful acting, gorgeous costuming and settings, and a commitment to romance you won’t find anywhere else on TV. In the age of peak TV, Outlanderreally is one-of-a-kind.