Outlander isn’t a show that gives its supporting characters much to do, at least not in any sustained manner. This is Jamie and Claire’s story (at least for now), and they get the bulk of the action, context, and emotional journey.
There are a few supporting characters that prove exceptions to that general rule, of course. One of them is the indelible Jenny Fraser Murray (played with fierce emotionality by the perfectly-cast Laura Connelly), who continues to prove herself unwilling to fade into the shadows as a two-dimensional supporting character.
This week’s episode, “First Wife,” was ostensibly about Claire’s doubts following the revelation of Jamie’s marriage to Laoghaire, but its narrative tension was actually equally divided between the relationship between Claire and Jamie and the relationship between Claire and Jenny. In fact, much of the narrative tension actually lay in the former — because, while we all know Claire and Jamie will find a way to forgive one another, a happy resolution is less guaranteed when it comes to Claire and her feisty sister-in-law.
From her initial introduction, Jenny has been a character to be reckoned with. She is just as stubborn as Jamie, if not more so. She is hard to win over, but, once she considers you family, she will do anything for you. This has been proven again and again, especially in her relationship to Jamie. When Jamie is taken by the English in Season 1, a breastfeeding Jenny saddles up with Claire to go looking for her brother. When Jamie sacrifices himself to the English to keep her safe, she screams that she will never forgive him (even though we know she will).
It is Jenny who puts up with Jamie following the “death” of Claire, looking out for him even when he is emotionally incapable of doing the same in return. She is, without a doubt, the strongest character on the show. In a melodrama (and in life), emotional ferocity is a strength, not a weakness. Jenny’s willingness to face her emotions and demand the same of others makes her a god damn superhero, the kind of fictional example we could stand to see more in TV and film.
Jenny demonstrates this superpower yet again in “First Wife,” forcing Claire and Jamie to confront the underlying issues they have been unable or unwilling to confront prior to their return to Lallybroch. While her methods may leave something to be desired, Jenny makes sure Claire finds out about Laoghaire. She is a character who demands emotional honesty from herself and others.
As I mentioned in my review, Jenny is also the only character thus far to call Claire out on her flimsy excuse for leaving behind her family for 20 years. It is a character reaction that straight-up saved this current narrative arc for me, so false did the reactions of Fergus, Ian, and several others fall.
Jenny is a fully-realized character, one who will not be co-opted for the sake of plot convenience. She calls Claire’s explanation bullshit, and honestly tells her that she’s not sure she will ever be able to trust her or consider her family again. Other than Jamie’s more informed, complicated reaction, it is the first reaction that has rung true since Claire’s return to the 18th century. Even characters Claire had never previously met, but who have some kind of relationship to Jamie, deserved, at the very least, a moment of side-eye.
Jenny isn’t just one of Outlander‘s best characters for her own characterization, but for the nuances she brings out in others, most specifically Claire and Jamie. She makes this world richer, even when she’s not on the screen. At one point in “First Wife,” Jamie tells Claire they cannot tell Jenny the whole truth because she would not understand. Unlike Murtagh, she has never been outside the borders of Lallybroch (a slight exaggeration, but the point stands).
While I’m not sure I agree with Jamie — I think Jenny could handle anything — Jenny’s consistency is worth noting. On a TV show constantly switching time periods, genres, and locations, Jenny is a constant. She is a yardstick by which to measure all of Claire and Jamie’s character-changing adventures against. She is a vital part of this narrative, and that’s no small feat on a show that prioritizes its love story above all else.
It’s also a hint that, while this show may be a love story, it’s a love story of many kinds. It’s a story about romance that spans time, sure, but it’s also about the love between brothers and sisters, the love betwen mothers and daughters, and the love between two women who became family for the man they both love.