This Outlander review contains spoilers.
Outlander Season 3, Episode 3
This is the third episode in a row that sees Claire and Jamie living lives apart, but it is the first that truly captures just how much life they will live and endure without one another.
It is Claire’s storyline that especially hammers home this point, as we see her life churn monotonously along for much longer than Jamie’s (at least thus far in the storytelling). Yes, there are points of happiness — Brianna, as well as Claire’s job as a surgeon — but, at least in this episode, her time away from Jamie is mostly characterized by her sad, frustrating relationship with Frank.
The end of last week’s episode saw Frank and Claire sleeping in different beds, but eight years later, their romantic lives are entirely separate. When Claire invites Frank to go see a movie, he tells her he’s already seen it — with someone else.
Frank has moved on — not from his partnership with Claire as Brianna’s parent, but from their partnership as husband and wife. When Frank’s girlfriend shows up at Claire’s graduation party (in a dick move from Frank), things come to a head. Claire offers Frank a divorce, but he rejects the idea. He doesn’t trust Claire to keep her promise that he will remain an equal parent in Brianna’s life, which is pretty damn cruel. Claire has never lied to Frank, even when he wished that she would.
While Bree is only a character on the periphery for this episode, it’s clear that she favors her father to her mother. She wants to stay with Frank instead of attend Claire’s graduation dinner and, later, after Bree’s graduated and Frank announces he wants a divorce, he is confident that Brianna will want to move with him to England. Frank implies it is because Claire was always “away,” which is dude code for “dared to have ambitions outside of your role as wife and/or mother.”
This family may have love, bound together by Frank and Claire’s adoration for their daughter, but, by the end of Claire and Frank’s marriage, the two are bitter, drained, and far from their best selves. It’s a shame they were never able to work out a more lasting friendship after their romance failed, but I suppose those are the breaks in a love story as complicated as this one. Claire was never able to let go of Jamie, especially with Brianna there as a constant reminder, and Frank was never willing to live with only part of Claire’s love and affection.
Still, when Frank unexpectedly dies in a car accident, it is a tragedy in many ways. It is a tragedy for Frank, who was just about to break away from his loveless marriage and try to live life to its fullest. It’s a tragedy for Claire, who was in love with Frank once and loved him in some way long after that. It’s a tragedy for Brianna, though we don’t see her reaction here, who loses the father she adored far sooner than she should have.
It’s also a tragedy for us viewers. Though Frank may be back, given the timey-wimeyness of this narrative, his role in this story is largely over, and it’s tough to see him go. He’s been with us from the beginning. He, too, has loved Claire. He fought for her, even if she didn’t choose him in the end.
I’m not saying Frank wasn’t sometimes a frustrating character, but he was, all in all, a good man. I love that Outlander never made the lazy choice to make him into the villain, like his ancestor. This feels like a much more realistic, interesing story. Frank was a good father, even if he wasn’t always a good husband, and he didn’t deserve to die before he had a chance to truly be happy.
Meanwhile, in 18th century Scotland…
For the third week in a row, Jamie’s storyline is much more temporally confined than Claire’s. This week, we follow him during his incarceration in Ardsmuir Prison, where he has been for six years, following the events of last week’s episode.
Ardsmuir is rough, but Jamie has it easier than most of the other prisoners (who include an ailing, but alive Murtagh!). The others look to him for leadership and he is always negotiating on their behalf. When Major John Grey, the Englishman whose life Jamie spared when he was only 16, takes over stewardship of the prison, the two strike up a fragile friendship.
It’s hard to get too behind the relationship between Jamie and Grey. After all, there is a terrible imbalance in power. Grey may be a good man, but that doesn’t erase the fact that he is also a Redcoat presiding over men who are essentially prisoners-of-war. This is no doubt why, when Grey asks Jamie to translate the Gaelic/French ramblings of a dying man who might know the location of some hidden gold, Jamie at first refuses. He is a prisoner, not a translator.
When Grey insists, Jamie negotiates medicine for Murtagh, and listens to the dying man’s ramblings about gold and a White Witch who is connected to the Mackenzies. Jamie begins to wonder if the White Witch in question is Claire, and arranges an escape to check the location the dying man gave him. He finds one jewel, which he gladly surrenders to Grey to confirm his story. After all, it wasn’t what he was looking for. After all this time, he hadn’t given up on Claire. Until now, it seems.
The off-campus escapades and subsequent return mark a turning point in the Jamie/Grey relationship. They bond over dinner and their lost loves. For Jamie, that is Claire, of course, a woman who Grey not only once met, but who he surrendered his upper hand for when he thought Jamie might kill or rape her. This has always endeared Jamie to Grey.
For Grey, the lost love in question was the man he loved and died. He tells Jamie that he wasn’t even able to say a proper goodbye, as his brother was there and dragged him away. It’s a sad, defeated story and, in that way, feels like a parallel theme to the Claire/Frank dynamic in the episode. Like Claire, Jamie’s partner-in-conversation deserves better.
Unfortunately, the on-screen relationship between Jamie and Grey feels rushed, especially in comparison to Claire’s main relationship in this episode — the one between herself and Frank, which has been so meticulously built, since Season 1. They have a few dinners together, display some serious sexual tension (the scene where Jamie holds Grey at swordpoint?!), and, eventually, have a falling out over Grey’s advances.
Though it’s not explicitly stated in the episode, Jamie’s threatening reaction to Grey’s attempt at physical intimacy (he grasps his hand) are not a homophobic response, but rather a result of Jamie’s unresolved trauma. Let us never forget that Jamie was raped by a Redcoat officer, Black Jack Randall, who used his position of power over prisoner Jamie to rape him. It’s unfortunate, though understandable that Jamie is not able to articulate any of this to Grey. As an idealistic soldier-type, Grey is no doubt ignorant to the messed up ramifications of their power imbalance.
Sadly (though, again, not unpredictably), Grey seems to internalize Jamie’s reaction in all the wrong ways, calling his attempt at intimacy a moment of weakness. He doesn’t hold Jamie’s reaction against him, instead giving him a chance to choose his own fate (well, from a few options) when Ardsmuir Prison is disbanded. Murtagh and the other prisoners get sent to the colonies, but Jamie’s fate lies at the Dunsany estate, where Grey has secured Jamie a job. Well, if he chooses it for himself. He could take off across the Scottish highlands… though Jamie has seemingly had enough of running.
Three episodes in, I’m enjoying these episodes of Claire and Jamie apart more than I thought I would. That being said, I find Claire’s storyline both underutilized and much more interesting. Though Jamie is an important part of this story, for me, this story have always belonged to Claire.
I think their eventual reunion and complicated reconciliation would be missing something if we didn’t get some of Jamie’s perspective, but their equal billing is not doing any favors to Jamie’s journey. Thematically, Jamie and Claire’s storylines in this episode had very little in common other than the missing of the other — after two previous episodes that also took this as theme, it’s just not enough.
While watching this episode, I kept wondering if there might have been a better way to structure these episodes. Perhaps, instead of splitting each episode between two perspectives, the show could have alternated Claire and Jamie-centric episodes. Or, perhaps, we could have gotten one flashback episode for Jamie and the rest for Claire.
Book readers may no doubt have foreknowledge that clarifies the importance of including all of this plot, and in this way. For this TV watcher, however, it doesn’t seem like the best decision.