Outlander Season 2 Review

  • Series Title: Outlander
  • Season: 2
  • Episodes:  13
  • Discs:  5
  • Network:  Starz/BBC
  • Cast:  Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Duncan Lacroix, Tobias Menzies, Romann Berrux, Andrew Gower
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC)

I enjoyed Season 2 of Outlander even more than Season 1. The first episode actually takes place in 1948, with Claire returning to Frank in her present. Frank proves to be a very understanding and loving man, even vowing to care for Claire’s yet to be born child as his own. Thus the rest of the season is a flashback. Episode two opens this flashback in 18th Century France. Claire and Jamie go to see his cousin – noting that “I seem to remember you have a head for figures,” the cousin heads off on a wine-buying trip, leaving Jamie in charge of his wine shop, as well as giving he and Claire the run of his household. Thus the two have their needs met, and are placed to quickly to move in circles of the French court. Claire, determined to prevent the disaster of Culloden, talks Jamie into sabotaging Bonnie Prince Charlie’s attempts at raising money (later in the season this seems to suggest Claire and Jamie may have caused the disaster they are desperate to prevent). Jamie spends his days running the wine shop and his nights hanging out with Prince Charles and the Jacobite supporters in a brothel. Claire, meanwhile, makes friends in the aristocracy, including Louise and her ward, Mary. Claire, however, being a practical and modern woman, is bored. She has nothing to do, not even housework as the servants in her household do everything for her. Claire ends up working as a nurse at a charity hospital run by nuns, and befriending a local apothecary. This first half of the season is brilliant, the clothes, and the opulence of the French court are beautifully rendered, and Claire gets a beautiful wardrobe. Jamie is no slouch in the clothes department, as he manages to make 18th Century men’s fashion look good. Though, fortunately, he never dons a powdered wig – even in the most formal circumstances. Though some of their plans succeed, Claire and Jamie also make enemies in France. In the end, a friend gets the price removed from Jamie’s head and he and Claire return to Scotland (in part because they are no longer welcome in France – Jamie is arrested for dueling with Jack Randall; Claire is, yet again, accused of being a witch; and Claire also has a miscarriage and her first child with Jamie is stillborn.)

In Scotland, Claire and Jamie, now in much more practical, but still gorgeous clothes, travel first to Lollybroach to visit with the Murrays. They then travel to the castle of Clan MacKenzie to try to rouse as many troops as possible for the Jacobite rebellion. Yes, after half a season of Claire and Jamie trying to crush the rebellion by diverting it’s finances – the plan now is to see that the Scots win. Sigh. But the story draws you in, despite the shadow of disaster that hangs over the entire situation. By the end of the season, Claire reveals she is, once again, pregnant. Enjoyable is not the best word to describe the second half of the season – the “fish out of water” humor of part one is gone. However, it is very good, and addictive. Several characters from the first season return, played by the same actors. The scenery is gorgeous and wild. The costumes are really good, and authentic-looking. And it’s the middle of a war – there’s dirt, blood, mud, and death. But remember how the season started? Yeah, even more than part 1, we feel the inevitable coming – Culloden and Claire’s return to 1948.

The last episode of the season, takes a time jump forward for Claire. It’s now 1968, and she and her daughter, Brianna, visit Scotland for the funeral of Rev. Wakefield. Claire’s daughter begins to fall for the grown-up, Roger. We find out Frank is dead. Claire is now a surgeon. Brianna is an angry girl, having recently lost her father. She discovers that Claire went missing for three years – and that during that time she had an affair with her real (biological) father. Claire tries to explain the truth, but no one believes her. By chance, Brianna sees a lecture by a Scottish nationalist. This nationalist turns out to be Geillis, the “witch” burned at the stake in season 1, but not before revealing she’s from 1968. Claire finds her notebooks, and discovers she’s been taking “courses” at the local university. Unlike Claire who accidentally traveled through the stones; Geillis is obsessed – with Scottish nationalism, with Bonnie Prince Charlie and the rebellion, and with learning what she needs to know to live in 18th century Scotland. However, she’s also extremely dedicated to her cause, and a bit mistaken in her beliefs as to how the stones work. The season ends with Claire, Brianna, and Roger seeing Geillis disappear through the stones, and Claire learning that Jamie survived the rebellion. And thus we will have a Season 3.

Outlander is a gorgeous show. The costumes are beautiful. The settings are beautiful. The characters and their motivations are clear and make sense. What Claire and Jamie do, even when they are swept up in events beyond their control, makes sense. The story is from Claire’s point of view, though we see Jamie on his own dealing with Prince Charles in France, and the Scottish generals and Clan leaders in Scotland (rather than disappearing and reporting back to Claire). The acting is always top notch. I enjoyed Season 2 very much and I highly, highly recommend it.

Outlander Season 1 Vol. 2 Review (Spoilers)

  • Series Title: Outlander
  • Season: 1 Vol 2.
  • Episodes:  8
  • Discs:  2
  • Network:  Starz/BBC
  • Cast:  Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies, Bill Paterson, Graham McTavish, Douglas Henshall, Laura Donnelly
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC)

This second DVD set for Outlander picks-up where the first set cliff-hanger left off. Jaime manages to rescue Claire from the clutches of Black Jack Randall. They return to the MacKenzie’s castle but all is not well. The MacKenzie discovers that Dougal has been raising money for a rebellion against the English king and in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobite cause. The MacKenzie is not happy about it. Dougal is banished, and Jaime’s ordered to see to it that Dougal leaves MacKenzie lands. Jaime warns Claire to stay out of trouble – and to stay away from Geillis the local healer and Dougal’s secret mistress. Claire, however, is tricked to visit Geillis and the two are accused of witchcraft. Ned Gowen attempts to legally get Geillis and Claire free, but the trial turns against them. Claire learns that Geillis is also a time-traveler – from 1968. As Claire is from 1945 or ’46 – Geillis is from her future. Ned urges Claire to turn on Geillis but she refuses. Jaime arrives to rescue Claire, and Geillis sacrifices herself so the two can leave. Knowing that they cannot return to the MacKenzie clan castle, Jaime and Claire head to Lallybrook – the Fraser clan castle. Jaime finds his sister, Jenny, married and pregnant with her second child. Everything is going fine at the Fraser castle when the Watch arrive. Even with the brigands in the castle, things seem fine, until Jaime is forced into a position to agree to help with their raid. The raid is a trap – Jaime is captured by the British, and most of the gang are killed. First Claire and Jenny try to find Jaime, then Jenny returns to her castle and her new-born baby daughter, and Claire works with the MacKenzies to rescue her husband. Although they save him from being hanged, it isn’t before Jack Randall finds him first and tortures him. Once Jaime begins to recover from his ordeal, he and Claire head to France on a ship.

Although disc one of this set was a bit slow, I flew through disc two. I sat down to watch one episode this morning – and ended up finishing the entire disc (between a few short breaks for meals and such). “Wentworth Prison” and “To Ransom a Man’s Soul” the last two episodes of the set, are intense and definitely R-rated. Captain Black Jack Randall not only tortures Jaime physically – but mentally, not simply raping him, but using his power to get Jaime to submit to sex that isn’t exactly forced – though it is, because Jaime is a prisoner, and his submission to everything Jack wants is the price for Claire’s safety and freedom. Jack expertly moves from harming Jaime to caring for him, but it isn’t a surprise that a bit of Stockholm Syndrome sets in. (As Claire’s from the mid-1940s I’m not sure she would know the term. She seems confused by her husband’s suicidal depression even after he’s rescued and she cares for his worst physical injuries.) Claire is determined to rescue her husband from his melancholy, however, and her determination eventually wins the day.

Outlander is a series where the women, though few and far between (other than Claire who’s the pov character) are very strong. Jenny Fraser Murray is extremely strong – not only strong-willed in dealing with her brother and her husband, but running the Fraser estate, and even riding off with Claire to find Jaime within days of giving birth. Jenny’s an admirable character – and she’s a realistic look at how women needed to be strong in such hard times as 1700s Scotland. Geillis is also strong, knowing she’s going to die anyway, she sacrifices herself so Claire can escape. Geillis chooses her own fate, knowing she has no way out. By her sacrifice, Claire is allowed to escape with Jaime. And Claire, now fully in love with Jaime, purposely chooses to be with him, when he takes her to the standing stones. Claire is also a bit more free with her story – telling Jaime who she is and more importantly when she’s from. Jaime, in turn, tells his sister that Claire might “tell her things, things that seem impossible – listen to her”. Claire discovers this, when she tells Jenny to “Plant potatoes, sell off excess land for gold, and that famine is coming.” Claire even tells her entire story to a Franciscan brother. And she uses her reputation as a witch to threaten Black Jack Randall – cursing him, and telling him the date of his death. These slips Claire makes seem very dangerous – we’ll see if they catch up with her.

Overall, Outlander is an excellent show. It’s beautifully shot, with excellent music, and a fine cast (many familiar Scottish actors make appearances such as Bill Paterson and Douglas Henshall.) I will keep an eye out for future seasons on DVD. I don’t get Starz on my satellite system, so I can’t watch the show as it airs – but I do intend to buy season 2 whenever it becomes available.

Outlander Season 1 Vol. 1 (Spoilers)

  • Series Title: Outlander
  • Season: 1 (DVD set is Vol. 1)
  • Episodes:  8
  • Discs:  2
  • Network:  Starz/BBC
  • Cast:  Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies, Bill Paterson, Graham McTavish, Gary Lewis, Annette Badland
  • DVD: Widescreen DVD (R1, NTSC)

I read the book Outlander in the late 80s/early 90s sometime, and although I liked it – I didn’t love it. So much so, that, though I had gotten the first three or four books as a set from a book club (I don’t remember which one – it was either Book of the Month Club, Ladies Literary Guild, or the SF & Fantasy Bookclub). Anyway, I read the first book but not the rest in the set.  Diana Gabaldon’s book series has now swelled to eight books.

Claire Randall is a World War II combat nurse who returns home after VE Day to her husband, Frank, who had worked for the OSS during the War, and thus stayed home in London. They head for Scotland for their second honeymoon – and Claire disappears. Claire has been transported by the standing stone ring back to Scotland in 1743.  In, Scotland Claire has to use her wits as well as her knowledge of herbal medicine and botany to survive.

When Claire first arrives in 18th-century Scotland she is attacked and nearly raped by an English Redcoat, named Capt. John Randall – known as Black Jack. He looks exactly like her husband, Frank, and Claire knows he’s one of Frank’s ancestors. However, he’s also a sadistic bastard, basically. His attempts to capture and rape Claire become a re-occurring theme in the first eight episodes.

Claire is rescued by a Highlander named, Jaime, who takes her to the MacKenzie castle. Claire uses her skills as a nurse, and knowledge of botany and herbal medicines to become the clan’s new healer. She hopes to escape and return to the standing stones and return to her own time and husband. But in the meantime she becomes involved in the Jacobite (supporters of the Catholic Stuart King of England – the one who lost) intrigue, castle life, and feels a connection to Jaime, though, at first, there is very little romance.

After the first four episodes, which set up the basic plot and setting, Claire is taken by Dougal to help collect the rents on MacKenzie lands. She meets Ned Gowen, a lawyer, who keeps the books and writes receipts for the taxes. She witnesses the Scottish people paying not just in coin but in kind (chickens, grain, goats, pigs, etc – all live). She also witnesses Dougal raising additional “unofficial” cash, using Jaime’s horribly-scarred back to shock the locals into giving. Jaime had been flogged, twice, by Black Jack Randall. Initially, Claire is outraged – thinking Dougal is lining his own pockets. She eventually learns they are raising money in support of the Stuart king and Jacobite rebellion. Once she learns this, Claire tries to convince Dougal his cause is doomed. He takes that to mean she’s a loyal British spy.

Claire is then captured, interrogated, and nearly raped (again) by British Redcoats, and Black Jack. Since she keeps her mouth shut about what she knows, the MacKenzies trust her more. To protect her from the British, Dougal decides to “make her Scottish”and has her marry Jaime – who reveals his last name is Fraser. (We’d known from the beginning that “MacTavish” was a nom de guerre that he was using because he was a wanted man.) Shortly thereafter, Black Jack Randall kidnaps her again (just as she had approached the standing stones) – she manages to do all right in her interrogation, until Jack brings up “the Duchess” – which is a mistake, as the Duke was never married (she’d correctly guessed, from her husband’s Frank Randall’s discussion of his work and research, that a certain Duke protected Black Jack), then he’s attacking her, again, rips her dress off, again, and attempts to rape her. Claire’s situation seems dire – when Jaime appears in the window.

Outlander looks gorgeous! Scotland is beautiful. The costumes are wonderful, yet very realistic. I liked that Claire is not a Hollywood-styled beauty either. She’s somewhat plain-looking. Not unattractive, but very normal. I also really liked that Outlander doesn’t portray history in black-and-white. Both the Scots and the English do horrible things to each other. Claire is suitably appalled at the brutality of the time. She’s also drawn to Jaime, but in volume 1 she also wants to return to her husband in 1945. And Claire is something of a historical artifact herself. One gets the feeling that if she stepped through her standing stones and arrived in 2015 – she’d feel just as confused and out of place as she does in 1743. Even her nursing skills would be out of date.

Outlander is, in many ways, built like a bodice-ripping romance novel. However, rather than having a character from 1743 acting and thinking like a modern woman, Claire Randall (Beauchamp) Fraser is a modern woman who accidentally wanders in to the past. Also, the past isn’t romanticised (that much), and the author treats history as something that is full of grey, not a simple “we’re right/they’re wrong” duality. In Outlander, it’s people who are good, bad, or in between – not the sides of the battlefield they represent.

This series started a bit slow, but, like a good “page-turner” novel, the pacing picks up more and more – and I watched the last four episodes over a weekend. It definitely has the feel of a novel for the screen. I highly recommended it, and I definitely plan on buying Volume 2.

Trivia:  Yes, Diana Gabaldon based her Scottish Highlander, Jaime, on the Second Doctor’s Companion, Jaime, on Doctor Who. She even mentions it in the behind-the-scenes extra feature on disc 1.

Additional Trivia:  Annette Badland and Bill Paterson both appeared in Doctor Who – in Boom Town and Victory of the Daleks, respectively. Bill Paterson also appeared in Law and Order: UK as a Crown Prosecutor (lawyer).