This Outlander review contains spoilers.
Outlander Season 2, Episode 8
After an emotionally harrowing end to Claire and Jamie’s visit to France in last week’s season-highlight episode, the Frasers return to Scotland for the first time in season 2 and, while it might not reach the esquisite highlights of last week’s “Faith,” “The Fox’s Lair” does an admirable job shouldering what is essentially a premise reset in the middle of the season.
On any other show, “The Fox’s Lair” would probably be a season premiere. It has all of the markings of the kind of move TV show’s generally make for new seasons: new setting (or, in this case, new again setting), new goals for our central characters, and a feeling of freshness after the devastating events of what is generally a game-changing season finale.
Of course, Outlanderis like no other show on television. It does what it wants. And what it wants is to completely mess with the typical season pacing of a TV show. This isn’t a simple task, but, as Outlanderis wont to do, it makes it look easy.
Claire and Jamie have decided to return to Scotland in the wake of losing baby Faith and the homecoming brings about a cozy feeling of nostalgia for both the Frasers and the viewers. Season 1 was not always a pleasant affair, but it was the roller coaster of a story that cemented this show as one of the best on TV. Besides, Scotland is home.
We get a chance to check in with Jamie’s sister Jenny and her husband Ian, who have had another child since Claire and Jamie have been away. For one, lovely, potato-growing moment, it seems like this could be Claire and Jamie’s life now: living off the land for as long as they can, with their family (including Murtagh and Fergus) safe by their side. Here, Jamie and Claire have the space to continue to grieve for their daughter, characterized in one of the best scenes of the episode, which sees Claire and Jenny discussing babies as they watch Jamie talking to his newborn nephew in the middle of the night.
But Jamie and Claire are burdened with the foreknowledge of history. They know that, with the way things currently stand, the Highlander way of life will not last. This would probably be enough to spur them into action even if Charles didn’t forge Jamie’s signature on a pledge to join the Jacobite cause that he then sends out all over the Scottish countryside. Basically, Jamie is now a traitor who would be executed for this treason if he were caught.
This seals the deal: Claire and Jamie are back on Team Jacobite — but for real this time. Personally, I’m glad to see them using their machinations to support a cause they believe in rather than to try to sabotage the same cause as part of a roundabout way to save Highlander culture. Of course, winning the war would be a lot easier if Claire and Jamie hadn’t been actively sabotaging Charles’ efforts while he was in France. Now, they must work doubly as hard to make up for the finances and support Charlse might have secured overseas.
This leads Jamie and Claire to make a trip to visit Jamie’s grandfather, Lord Lovat, who is a sexist pig, not only known for raping the maids of his house (Jamie’s own father was technically a bastard, conceived when Lovat raped a kitchen maid), but also for trying to kidnap Jamie’s mom so Jamie’s dad wouldn’t marry her. Nice guy. Unfortunately, Charles has asked Jamie to convince his grandfather to give men to the Jacobite cause.
The Scottish setting isn’t the only cause for nostalgia in “The Fox’s Lair.” We also run into some familiar faces from Castle Leoch — namely, Collum MacKenzie and Laoghaire. Jamie is mostly glad to see Collum, even though he is visiting Lovat to try to convince him not to join the Jacobite rebellion. Claire is mostly not glad to see Laoghaire, given that time she was almost successful in getting a court to burn Claire as a witch.
Speaking of the witch thing, Claire is totally embracing her reputation as La Dame Blanche. Last episode, it came in handy when King Louis put Maester Raymond and St. Germain’s lives in her hands. This episode, Jamie uses it to convince his grandfather not to add raping Claire to a list of demands (yeah, he’s the best grandfather ever) and Claire uses it to try to convince Lovat that she has seen a premonition of the future in which the Jacobites win.
At first, it seems that Lovat doesn’t believe Claire’s (awesomely acted, on Caitriona Balfe’s part) fake vision, signing Collum’s neutrality treaty, but, ultimately, the treaty is just a way to cover his butt should the other side win. He is secrely supporting the Jacobite rebellion by supporting his usually weakwilled son, who has shown a vertebrae of spine (mostly, for Laoghaire’s benefit) in declaring himself as a part of the Jacobite rebellion. Jamie know has a sizable group of fighters to bring to Charles.
It’s nice to see our heroes get some wins after last week’s devastating episode. The return to Scotland and the Fraser’s ability to recruit men for the Jacobite cause are like a one-two punch of optimism. Of course, we viewers are also cursed with the burden of future knowledge and we know from the flashbacks that the Jacobites will not change history. When Claire returns to the future, nothing major will have changed.
It’s an impressive storytelling feat that Outlanderstill manages to keep us in such suspense over the fate of the Jacobite rebellion, given what we know, but they do. “The Fox’s Lair” was a return to the Scottish-variety political machinations we got so much of in season 1, and — though both French and Scottish characters would probably protest otherwise — are not that far removed from the French-variety machinations the Frasers have been crafting all season.
No, when it comes down to it, these political machinations — at least as depicted on Outlander— are all about interpersonal relationships. They are about Laoghaire flirting Lovat’s son into joining the Jacobite cause. They are about Lovat wanting to see part of himself in Jamie, even if he never approved of the union that made him. They are about Claire and Jamie throwing their sincere weight behind the Jacobite cause because of the people they care about, their family who is depending on them.
This focus on interpersonal drama as the catalyst, method, and result of political intrigue is what makes Outlandersuch a uniquely great show. It’s something Game of Thronesused to do very well, but has lost sight of in recent seasons. It is also why, more than halfway through season 2, I don’t see this show losing narrative steam any time soon. Long live Scotland and, in the event of the failure of the Jacobite rebellion, long live this genre-mashing, feminist narrative that is unlike anything else on television.