This week, Outlander endeavours to tie lots of things up while driving this particular Sassenach nuts with its absence of something so dear to the story. My review of episode 2.12, “The Hail Mary” starts now…
“It’s Time We Turned, Showed Them Our Faces.”
Several months after the events of the last episode, including the lopping off of the head of one Duke of Sandringham, the men of Lallybroch and the Frasers who lead them return to the army camp outside of Inverness. They are all weary and starving, the army short on supplies and the many months of retreat taking quite a bit out of all of them. It’s April 13th, three days before Culloden. Murtagh, Jamie, and Claire are well aware of what happens next if Jamie can’t stall Prince Charles and his war council.
Jamie tries to convince the generals to wait for the French gold they know is on its way from the Continent. Split the army up to make it more difficult for the British to find them and confront them. Rest the men until the gold arrives and then use it to purchase more weapons and food for all of them. The Bonnie Prince considers them, compliments Jamie on his unswerving devotion to his prince, and then proceeds to do the exact opposite. He wants to fight rather than wait. Culloden Moor is the ground that General O’Sullivan recommends.
Claire goes into Inverness to replenish her supplies. She finds Mary Hawkins there; Mary is living with Alex Randall, despite all of Claire’s machinations, and they are to be married. However, Alex’s illness means that they are dependent upon Alex’s brother, the infamous Black Jack Randall, for their very livelihood. BJR asks Claire to care for Alex, but Claire refuses unless he provides something in exchange: information. He tells Claire where the British Army is, opening up an opportunity for the Jacobite army to gain somewhat of an upper hand despite their sad state.
Meanwhile, Colum visits from Castle Leoch, ready to settle the affairs of Clan Mackenzie before he dies. He wants Jamie to act as regent for Hamish, Colum’s heir, while the boy grows into adulthood. Dougal is incensed at being passed over; clearly unfinished business lies between the brothers. Colum asks Claire to help him end his life, after sharing with her the news that Geillis Duncan, Claire’s friend and savior at Cranesmuir, had her baby before she was burned. That baby, a boy, is in the care of another Mackenzie family.
Alex Randall realizes that his coughing grows worse and he brings his brother BJR and his love Mary together to ask them something: marry so that Alex can die knowing that his and Mary’s child will be taken care of when he’s gone. BJR rejects this idea, taking off and leaving his brother heartbroken. Claire goes after him to convince him to marry Mary, even though Murtagh offers to do the same to help Mary and prevent her from an unmarried mother destitute on the streets. BJR, though, offers more for Mary. His darkness makes him wary of doing this, but Claire knows that he’s to die the 16th of April – as she had told BJR himself – and she knows how important it would be for Mary to be safe as his widow, even with the danger of his dark side. Despite BJR’s attempts to goad Claire, he acquiesces to Alex’s wishes and marries Mary Hawkins to protect Mary and Alex’s unborn child.
With the information from BJR, Jamie convinces the generals to attempt a surprise attack, splitting the army into two and surprising them from either side during the birthday party for General Cumberland. Jamie is desperately trying to avoid Culloden Moor and the fate of the Jacobite Army that Claire has told him about. However, General O’Sullivan and the Bonnie Prince don’t show with their portion of the army and the surprise attack turns instead into the very thing that Claire and Jamie have been trying to avoid for all of these months: the final battle at Culloden.
The Hail Mary has fallen short.
“But We Could Learn to Get Along.”
This episode illustrates something that the writers on Outlander do well: tying up storylines. Rarely, if ever, is anything left hanging. Here, in this one episode, a number of stories reach conclusions: 1) the fate of Geillis Duncan and her unborn child; 2) how Frank Randall came to be the child of BJR and Mary Hawkins; 3) the fate of Colum and clan Mackenzie; and 4) how all of Jamie and Claire’s attempts to head off the disaster at Culloden come to naught as shown in the season’s first episode. Jamie Fraser even mentions something here that sets up a major story arc further down the road in the Outlander saga. Storytelling is definitely something that Ron Moore and company have down pat.
What they’ve omitted in the face of all of this storytelling is the very thing that makes so much of it compelling: the intimacy between Jamie and Claire. I realize that the thirteen episodes they have this season makes it difficult to encompass everything that happens to the couple in this second book, but that format has meant that something had to go. Unfortunately for us, it seems to be the intimacy between our two main characters. True, the season has seen Jamie evolve from the broken man who was trying to recover from his trauma at Wentworth to the general that is trying to stop the dismantling of Scotland as he knows. True, Claire has gone from the woman who wants to save her broken husband to a mother who has lost a child to a wife trying to help her husband through a war. In between all that, though, Gabaldon writes moments of tenderness for the couple, moments which Moore omits. Certainly, any reasonable viewer understands time constraints, but, when the show hinges on the relationship between its two main characters, why are they not doing more to protect it? It seems that Moore and company have gotten lost in trying to tell the story and assume that we’ll know what’s going on behind the scenes. We’ve seen no moments of secret intimacy on the ground while out with the troops. We’ve seen few of the conversations between the two that create the tension that will make what’s to come in the season finale so gut-wrenching.
Next week, rather than have a new episode, Starz will air a marathon of season two’s twelve episodes, leaving the last one for July 9th. Sure, if I watched the episodes together in one sitting, I might see what I think is missing, but I truly think that even a marathon of the moments from this season is not going to show that intimacy in action beyond a few necessary scenes that drive the action forward. The first season had sixteen episodes to tell its story and perhaps we were spoiled by that, but writers can only imply so much between characters. Implying the intimacy rather than showing it means you leave it to your viewers to fill in the gaps. If your viewers have read the books, they won’t be happy about the absence of Jamie and Claire’s conversations on screen, but they will know it’s there even if it’s not onscreen. If they’re just viewers, though, and not familiar with the story from its other incarnation, then that absence of what drew them in can lose them quite easily. This is an area where Ron Moore and company have fallen short and it’s a shame since Dragonfly in Amber is so rich with sweet moments between Jamie and Claire.
Next Week: A Marathon
Starz will air all twelve episodes of Outlander’s second season starting at 11 am CT on Saturday, July 2nd. The season finale, titled “Dragonfly in Amber,” will air at the show’s usual time, 8 pm CT, on Saturday, July 9th. This last episode will be 90 minutes.
Here is the Starz preview of episode 2.13: