In honor of the supersize Outlander finale, it’s a supersize review for ABOPublic. I’ll try to move briskly but we have a lot of ground (and time) to cover. While watching the final two episodes, “The Hail Mary” and “Dragonfly in Amber,” I was actually reminded of Episode 5 “Untimely Resurrection,” where Jack Randall marvels at seeing Claire and Jamie again: “The fates are toying with us now, setting our feet on seemingly divergent paths that still somehow converge in the most unlikely of places.” The second season of Outlander has been preoccupied with this idea of fate: the way it dramatically brings people in and out of contact with one another, the question of its mutability. We’ve spent the entirety of Season 2 watching Claire and Jamie fight against fate yet we’ve already known the fate awaiting the Frasers since Episode 1: a pregnant Claire returns to the future and Frank, and the Battle of Culloden remains a tragic loss for the Scots. That foreknowledge lends these final two episodes a sense of foreboding, though like fate itself, they also have a few more tricks up their sleeves.
Episode 12, “The Hail Mary,” is set three days before the Battle of Culloden and centers around everyone’s desperate last efforts to change the future: Jamie continues to try to thwart the battle, a dying Colum Mackenzie attempts to safeguard his son and clan, Alex Randall similarly looks to protect Mary Hawkins and their unborn child after his death, and Claire seeks to preserve the lives of Frank in the twentieth century and Jamie in the eighteenth. The deaths of Colum and Alex nicely mirror one another, as both men ask more of their brothers than they may be capable of giving. Dougal is both angered and bereft when Colum asks Jamie to be his son Hamish’s guardian. Not only is Dougal actually Hamish’s biological father, he’s also furious that Jamie will become the de facto leader of Clan Mackenzie until the boy comes of age. However, Dougal’s anger gives way to a flood of grief, and in an incredibly tender moment, the gruff warrior lays his head on his dead brother’s chest and sobs for his loss. Meanwhile, Alex asks his brother Jack Randall to marry the pregnant Mary Hawkins. Though Murtagh and Jack are equally appalled by this idea (perhaps the one glimpse of decency we ever see from Black Jack), Claire agrees with Alex: marriage to Jack protects Mary’s reputation, ensures the child’s legitimacy, and financially provides for both mother and baby through Jack’s military pension when he dies—which is apparently at the Battle of Culloden. Claire uses this information to make her own arguments to Jack, who finally acquiesces to Alex’s final wishes in what might be one of the most grim marriage ceremonies ever. In a moment that grotesquely parallels Dougal’s reaction to Colum’s death, Jack viciously beats his brother’s dead body. Alex’s death marks both the loss of the only person Jack may have actually loved and the only person to believe he is capable of any goodness. As for whether Jack will actually die at Culloden, I think I can speak for everyone who both hates Jack and loves Tobias Menzies when I say that I hope his plotline gets revisited in Season 3.
“The Hail Mary” was a strong, well-acted episode, but at times it also felt like we were just tying up loose ends before the finale. For that reason, “Dragonfly in Amber” delivered on some emotionally fulfilling moments, but it also suffered from cramming far too much plot development—set in two different centuries nonetheless—into a single episode. The Season 2 finale toggled back and forth between 1748 and 1968, but for the sake of recap clarity, I’m going to discuss the two plotlines separately.
In 1748, it’s the morning of the Battle of Culloden, and Claire suggests a final desperate plan: to poison Bonnie Prince Charlie and stop the entire rebellion in its tracks. Murtagh’s priceless reaction: why didn’t we do this before now? It’s a legitimate question, though perhaps it’s more realistic that Claire and Jamie’s plans have increased in intensity and moral ambiguity over time. In this episode, they reminded me of Lord and Lady Macbeth plotting to kill the king, a comparison all the more fitting considering what follows: Dougal overhears their plans and, Jacobite to the core, initiates a fight that is as desperately sad as it is violent. His bitter struggle to the death with his nephew Jamie is horrible to watch, especially as both men appear sickened by what they have to do. However, as Jamie holds the knife to Dougal’s heart, he is unable to actually kill him; Claire is the one who must force his hand, literally, as she places her hand over his and drives home the knife.
As if this isn’t bad enough, Rupert walks in and sees the bloodied Frasers standing over a dead Dougal (Seriously, can no one lock doors in this house? If you’re going to conspire to and then commit murder, be more secretive!). A horrified Rupert agrees to give Jamie two hours to get away, but also swears he will answer for Dougal’s death. It becomes more imperative than ever that Jamie get Claire safely away, and he calls upon the promise she made back in France: that she will return to Frank and the future if needed. Even though we’ve known their separation was coming, it’s no less devastating. Even when Outlander veers into the melodramatic, it’s always grounded by the relationship between Claire and Jamie, which Catriona Balfe and Sam Heughan both sell with every fiber of their beings. As Leigh mentioned in her last recap, the romance between Claire and Jamie has been sidelined as this season has focused more on the struggles in their marriage. However, the finale finally gives a swoon-worthy moment as Jamie tells Claire that when he dies, despite all his sins, he’ll be able to tell God that he was given a good woman and he loved her well. Claire finds it hard to keep her promise, even if it does mean saving their unborn child. This time, it’s Jamie who must force Claire’s hand, pressing it into the stones of Creigh Na Dun, and back to the future.
The second plotline focuses on Claire’s return to the twentieth century, jumping ahead yet again to 1968, where Claire and her daughter Brianna are in Scotland, attending a wake for Rev. Wakefield held by his grown-up adopted son Roger. The 1968 plotline has some great elements: I immediately liked Roger’s quiet and sensible charm, and I loved seeing a pre-time travel Geillis Duncan as her 1968 alter ego Gillian Edgars. I also appreciated seeing Claire (looking unnaturally gorgeous for a woman of her supposed age—the 1960’s may be Balfe’s best look yet) making pilgrimages to Lallybroch and Culloden Moor to make peace with the past. That said, for me, there were two weak links in the 1968 sections of the finale. First, the time jump forces us to cover a ridiculous amount of emotional and narrative ground. The details come fast and furious: we learn Frank Randall has died, Claire has become a surgeon, Brianna has grown up to become a history student like Frank and a hot-tempered red head like Jamie. I’m sorry to say that Brianna was the second weak link for me; one of Outlander’s greatest strengths is that it’s populated by such strong actors. Even minor characters like Geillis/Gillian are typically fantastic (Lotte Verbeek charges every scene she’s in with an element of electric danger—you never know what she’s going to do). Sophie Skelton as Brianna had to do a lot of emotional heavy lifting that I’m not sure this newly introduced character was quite up to yet, though she may have room to grow in Season 3.
As the 1968 plotline continues, it’s clear that Claire took Mrs. Graham’s advice not to live in the past. In order to have any future with Frank, she had to leave Jamie behind. Early in the episode, Brianna tells Roger that her mother “lives in another world”; she finds out how true her words are when she discovers the truth of her parentage, and Claire confesses that she didn’t just abandon Frank for another man—she traveled to another century where she met the real love of her life. Brianna is angry and skeptical, though she agrees to go to Creigh Na Dun with Roger and Claire in an attempt to warn Geillis/Gillian about the future that awaits her in the eighteenth century. Claire now seems at least marginally wary about meddling with fate; she doesn’t want to prevent Geillis/Gillian from going back to 1748 because she doesn’t want to interfere with Roger’s life in the present: his own ancestor is the illegitimate son of Geillis and Dougal. Claire is too late to warn Geillis/Gillian before she travels through the stones (or to prevent her sad sack husband from being offered up as her human sacrifice). However, at least Brianna now believes her mother isn’t a raving lunatic. Roger also has his own bombshell to announce—before his death, Rev. Wakefield had discovered that Jamie survived the Battle of Culloden. Claire’s reaction may also speak for Outlander’s audience: “I have to go back.”
There’s a lot I still want answered in Season 3: how did Jamie survive Culloden? Did Murtagh survive with him (please let Murtagh be safe!)? Did Jack Randall actually die that day? What was Claire’s life with Frank like? Claire’s (and the show’s) future appears to be in the past, and her path is once again on track to converge with Jamie’s. Claire’s 1960’s cat-eye glasses and eyeliner might be killer, but I’m also ready to head back with her to the eighteenth century in Season 3.