This Outlander Season 3 premiere review contains minor spoilers.
“The Battle Joined” is another impressive addition to Outlander TV show canon, especially the episode’s opening minutes, which I went into detail about here. For a show that plays so gleefully with time, the story picks back up not so long after the 18th century events of the season finale and stays tight on Jamie as he deals with the horrific aftermath of the Battle of Culloden.
While so many shows use plot twists to increase suspense, Outlander uses emotion to do the same to much greater, more consistent effect. We all knew how the Battle of Culloden was going to turn out for the Scots, but that doesn’t keep these opening minutes from being anything less than heart-in-your-throat suspenseful as we watch a broken Jamie remember in flashes the horrific battle. Even after he is rescued from the field of battle, Jamie’s will to live after he has lost Claire and much of his clan is truly shaken.
While Jamie lies hoping to die in the 18th century, Claire begrudgingly continues on with her life in the 20th century. Unlike Jamie, she has a very specific reason to live: their unborn child.
Claire is doing her best to acclimate to life in 1948 Boston, but the rigid gender roles of the time are not making things any easier. Her friendly next door neighbor asks about Claire’s life in the context of her husband. Frank’s boss actively mocks the idea that Claire might have any opinions or ambitions of her own outside of the domestic sphere. When Claire goes into the hospital to have her baby, the doctor speaks only to Frank and makes choices about Claire’s body without her consent. It’s horrific, perhaps especially for a woman who knows so much about medicine herself.
This may be “modern” America, a country obsessed with the new — something Claire appreciates and Frank finds frustrating — but it still has a long way to go in its treatment of women. After literally jumping back and forth through time, it’s frankly insulting that Claire should have to deal with this shit after all that she has see and been through. If that Harvard professor were to be unexpectedly sent back through time he should be so lucky as to handle it half as well as Claire did.
The best parts of these domestic scenes come, of course, in the nuances of the relationship between Claire and Frank, in what is said and what is left unsaid. An affectionate breakfast scenes turn sour when Frank tries to touch Claire’s pregnant stomach. It’s a nearly impossible situation, and Outlander does an impeccable job subtly exploring the perspectives of both Claire and Frank. And, after so little Frank in Season 2, it is good to have the character back. This episode feels as much his story as it does Claire and Jamie’s. After all, this tragedy belongs to him, too.
Thematically, however, this opening episode is about the paths both Jamie and Claire must take in order to want to live without the other. Their love for one another is the thing that has made them both come alive. How does one move forward when that love is then taken from them? How does one maintain that will to live a less-than-passionate life once they have had a taste for it?
For Jamie and Claire, it is about the other people in their life who need them. It is about the family they still have, and there’s something brave about their inevitable decisions to move forward with only half their hearts. These two may have faced armies and plotted to overthrow kings, but this decision to live their day-to-day lives without one another is one of the bravest things they have both done.