If I can judge by comments made so far, episode 308 is making things happy and settled in the Outlander Universe. Episode 307, unfortunately, will have to be relegated to my least favorites; but this week’s episode, First Wife, takes a well-deserved place in my top 5. New writer Joy Blake (and I realize that a good part of the scriptwriting is a collective effort) truly seems to understand the relationship and the history. She sees the simmering anger on all sides, tempered with the pure joy of reunion, and the confusion, disruption, longing, and adjustments that come with Claire returning to Jamie, in a way that 307 just didn’t get. We’ll have to see how the rest of this season goes – while the first half of the season was written by Outlander veterans, the second half, except for the season finale, is all new writing staff.
This episode stuck closer to the original material, but that by itself doesn’t account for the huge difference in tone. In 307, nearly everything in the episode had been written in Voyager, but not at all the way it was shown on TV. The differences were jarring – Claire killing the intruder, Young Ian’s “deflowering,” lying to Ian, Sr. In 308, the writers stuck fairly close – making necessary changes to fit the requirements of a one-hour episode, which is expected. Until one moment, which didn’t seem to fit, and we’ll discuss that in a bit. (Oh! And Jamie’s hair looked terrific throughout the episode.)
Moment #1 – Jenny
Ian told Claire in the last episode – they’ve mourned for her for 20 years. So how is Jenny supposed to react upon seeing this ghost walk through her gates? Laura Donnelly was fantastic here – you could see the initial rush of joy, immediately followed by shock and disbelief – and anger, and guilt.
I loved all the moments with Jenny. I know there are a lot of readers who have never really warmed up to her – I’ve always found her to be an uncompromising anchor. Her focus is family. She’s practical, warm-hearted, courageous – but no-nonsense, and fiercely protective. She loves Jamie intensely, and has proven that she’ll run into fire for him. She may cross lines, but with the best of intentions. However, that all can make her irritating, demanding, and self-righteous. As Ian told her in this episode, “You’re the only one being foolish. There’s a pot of shite on to boil, you stir like it’s God’s work.” He’s a great complement to her, keeping her grounded in reality, and smoothing over her rough bumps.
I’m sure Jamie never told Jenny anything about Laoghaire’s history. How could she know – and believing Claire dead, why would she care – that this was the one woman that would send Claire ballistic? She only knew that for the first time in years, her brother seemed alive again, and had a chance for happiness. Of course she’s going to push him to marry again – she tried even while he was living in the cave! And even though she must have known that the marriage hadn’t been successful, it was likely she had hopes that it would turn around. But who would have anticipated Claire’s return?
The episode did a great job of showing Jenny’s feelings of betrayal – “Family writes letters, telling one another they’re alive. What, did you suppose we were all frozen in time, waiting for you to return?” How close to the truth she was! She couldn’t even tell her children that this was their Auntie Claire, instead telling Young Jamie that Claire “used to live here at Lallybroch.” You can see that she wants to forgive, she wants that sister relationship back again. But she’s worried that Claire’s leaving (well, supposed death) nearly killed her brother once, and if Claire leaves again, that would be impossible for her beloved brother to handle.
Jamie finally tells her something about what happened – they can’t tell her the truth about the circumstances, but at least he says, “I barely wanted to breathe, let alone speak of it.” And that, Jenny understands. But when she insists he tell her what happened, now that Claire is back, he makes up an outright lie about their separation – that he gave Claire money to go the Colonies, but the town she was hiding in was raided and everyone killed, yet somehow she escaped. This is a little ridiculous, and unbelievable, and Jenny calls him on it – she loves him, but she knows there’s something going on here and she’s not being told the truth. “I sat on these steps watching this very road with Claire when you were taken by the Redcoats. When ye didna come home, we rode together to find you. The Claire I kent would never have stopped looking for you,” she tells him.
Jenny and Jamie’s discussion of Young Ian was wonderful, as well. “So now you’re an authority on raising bairns, are you?” she asks. You can see in Sam’s amazingly expressive face that Jenny has no idea how much regret and pain that not being able to raise the children she doesn’t know about has caused him. So he fights it down, knowing it’s not the discussion he wants to have. “No, but I am an authority on being a 16 year old boy living on a farm.” And he tells her that she must give Young Ian his freedom, “while he still thinks it’s yours to give.” After all, his older brothers and sisters were married, and parents, when they were not much older than he is (Young Jamie can’t be more than 24, and he has four children already!). I love how this came back, when Jamie proposes going to get the Silkie Island treasure, and wants to take Young Ian with him to France to cash it in. Jenny reluctantly gives in, parroting Jamie’s words back to him, finally seeing their wisdom.
Moment #2 – The Beginning and End of a Marriage
This was one of the rare times Outlander has used a flashback (the others I remember were all in Season 1, with Jamie’s flogging and his father’s collapse, and some Frank/Claire scenes). I thought it was effective, if a trifle over the top. It was lovely to see such a joyous party after what they had all been through in the past many years, but I didn’t get that sense of disconnection that Jamie would have felt at that point. It more seemed like he was just a little hesitant, as a man who was returning from being away for years might feel. The heartbreak at Helwater of leaving Willie behind set him so far back emotionally that it was possible he’d never return, but because the narrative was so condensed, and we never saw any of those couple of years after his return except for this party, that depth of emotion wasn’t illustrated.
Nonetheless, Jamie was frozen, and this party was the beginning of his emotional thaw. He wasn’t thinking about finding a new wife, but children? That was the only thing that could have pulled him back. “When I came back from Helwater, everything was different. Jenny’s bairns didn’t recognize me. I was a ghost. I was here, I wasn’t home. I suppose I was lonely…I wanted to be a father, a husband,” he tells Claire. “All of the things I thought the future held when I was with you. All the things I had to forget when I sent you through the stones. I thought if I married Laoghaire, I could have all those things.” He knew Laoghaire, they had a history – for good or bad – and it probably seemed to him that when they met up with her at his grandfather’s estate, that Claire had forgiven her. If so, he could too.
But she hadn’t changed from the desperately insecure, jealous and vindictive little hellcat she was at 16. Such language, girlie! That reminded me of Dougal and Rupert’s shock at hearing Claire speak in the very first episode. She may not have wanted him any more, but the woman who took her place 20-some years ago wasn’t going to do it again, no sir!
And desperate times call for reckless measures. Didn’t you think it was perfectly in character for Laoghaire to show up with a (contraband) gun? Whether she actually meant to shoot Claire, or just meant to threaten her into leaving, one thing is clear, she didn’t mean to shoot Jamie. I thought the show handled this well, as a change from the books.
Trying to make it like the scene in the book, where Claire has run away (and boy, I’ve never liked this part of Claire’s character – when the going gets tough, Claire gets going), and Laoghaire DOES shoot Jamie, and much more seriously than in the show – would have taken too much time on screen. Jamie’s recovery here, since he’s a big tough Highlander, didn’t keep him from taking Young Ian off to the cliff, but it did allow us the “shot of penicillin” scene. I might have liked this with just a little bit more oomph, a little more humor, but at least we got it.
Ned Gowan returns! We knew it was coming, because Jamie mentions it in both of the past two episodes, but what a tough, sweet old bird he is! This is one scene from the book that I would have loved to have had more of in the show – if you’re not a book reader, Ned is hired on Laoghaire’s behalf, not Jamie’s, and the interplay is wonderful. ” But when asked what Laoghaire wants in compensation, he replies, “I believe her chief desier is to have you castrated and your bollocks mounted on her wall, but I suspect she may be amenable to alimony.” Another example of Joy Blake “getting” the character and adapting a similar line from the book. The amount of alimony, and dowries for the girls, though, is a subject that follows the Frasers through the rest of the books, and I hope that this won’t be dropped.
Moment #3 – Love, and War
Some of the most satisfying pieces of this episode, though, were Jamie and Claire’s interactions. Before the whole “kebbie lebbie,” as young Janet calls it, Jamie and Claire have a chance to talk, about how they’ll manage this part of their lives, how much to tell Jenny, about… well, Jamie was ready to tell Claire his secret. He tells Claire about Duncan Kerr, and the idea that he put in Jamie’s head, that Claire had returned and was waiting for him at Silkie Island. As odd as that must have sounded, at that point, Jamie was willing to cling to anything, any possibility. And in another flashback, he tells her of swimming out to the island, calling desperately for her, and finding the Mackenzie treasure. “I wasn’t on an island,” she responds, but I was out there, wishing you would come and find me.” She clears up a mystery we’ve all be wondering about since the beginning of this season. “Sounds silly, but whenever I would hear birdsong, I would pretend it was you talking to me.”
In the book, this next little speech was done as a story to the children, but dropped in here, it made perfect sense, and was beautiful and lyrical. “Ye ken the greylag? It mates for life,” Jamie declares to Claire. “Ye kill a grown one, ye must wait, for its mate will return, come to mourn. Ye must kill that one too, or else it will grieve itself to death. Calling through the skies, for the lost one.” He finishes this when they stand at the cliff, and tells her that he and Claire are mated for life.
But Laoghaire and her daughters interrupt before he can tell Claire in a manner he hopes won’t make her jump up screaming and run off. And once she goes, they have it out. All the longing and love, and all the anger at the separation, comes out. “You lied to me. You told me you didn’t fall in love with anyone else. You told me about your son. Why couldn’t you tell me about this? Why?” Claire hisses at Jamie. I loved this scene – here is where I could tell that Joy Blake truly understood this relationship, in a way that I’ve been complaining has been missing for two seasons.
“Why? Because I am a coward. that’s why. I couldna tell you for fear I would lose you. And I couldna bear the thought of losing you again. I wanted you so badly, that nothing else mattered. I would sacrifice our family, life itself, to lie with you again, even though you left me.” “Left you? Left you??? You forced me to go back! I would have died gladly with you.”
“Do you know what it is to live 20 years without a heart? To live half a man and accustom yourself to exist in the bit that’s left,” Jamie tells her. “Do I know? Yes, you bastard, I know. Or did you think I went back to Frank and lived happily ever after?” The anger and jealousy that’s mingled with their passionate declarations is the essence of their love. Everything can’t be happily ever after, even had Laoghaire not shown her face – neither had come to terms with their grief, and suddenly, the gates have opened. Until they can be honest with each other about this, they’ll never find their way back.
The scene at the cliff, though, was a clunker for me. Really, Claire thinks it was a mistake to come back? This, I think, is the result of one of the show’s biggest problems, the compressed timeline. EVERYTHING has moved so quickly, throughout the series. Events that take weeks in the books, time that allows for serious thought, take days in the series. Claire’s final decision to leave the 1960s and return to Jamie takes place over a maximum of two or three days. Their time at the printshop is a day – ONE day – and their time at Lallybroch is probably another SINGLE day. No time to consider what this really means, make a real connection, have some meaningful time. How can you convey time, though, in an hour-long episode? So in a short while (allowing for however long it took them to get from Edinborough to Lallybroch), Claire has killed someone, Jamie’s printshop has burned, they’ve escaped back home, Jamie’s second marriage is exposed, Jamie is shot… no time to process any of these events, no time to understand what it all means, and reconnect. Claire was impetuous, and now she’s contemplating leaving again?
All I can say is you better figure it out fast, girl, because you’re killing Jamie. The man needs a break. If you had any doubts, you should have stayed home. “When has it ever been easy?” he asks her. And finally, we get a line we’ve been waiting for – “Will you risk the man I am for the sake of the one you knew?”
Who can resist Young Ian? The sweetness that John Bell gives him is wonderful. Staying with Claire while she takes care of Jamie’s injuries, calling her “Auntie” – I had hoped that the production would get this one right, and they did. Tomorrow, I’ll have an exclusive interview with this interesting young man – watch for the post!
And I got a major thrill seeing the ship come out from behind the tower, and sail off with our kidnapped Ian – definitely a case of wrong place, wrong time! That final pull out shot, with Jamie and Claire standing on the beach, helpless, was fantastic. And now we head into several more exciting episodes on the high seas!
We got our first glimpse of Lauren Lyle as Marsali, and young Layla Burns as Joanie. When Jamie explains to little Joanie that he and her mother didn’t have the “bond” that keeps people married forever, and she realized that she’s losing another father (and probably the best one she’s had), I felt so awful for her. A lovely, sad, sweet scene.
In all, a very satisfying episode – quick pace, excellent dialogue, and a true understanding of the epic relationship we all have fallen in love with. Keep it up!
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