When I was out of town last, my mother texted me a picture of a bridge my son had built between two concrete blocks. He likes bridges; at almost five years old, they make sense to him. You take two things and you connect them with whatever’s handy. They’re a means to an end, a way of getting from one place to another, bringing together two disparate places to continue a journey. While I was watching this last episode of Outlander’s second season, I saw the bridge from what the show has been to what it will become.
Like the Golden Gate in San Francisco and Tower Bridge in London, “Dragonfly in Amber” is a beautiful bridge that is as lovely as it is strong and does the thing it needed most to do: whet your appetite for more.
“There’s a Lot of History Here”
This last episode for season two clocked in at a rare 90 minutes, literally the length of most Disney movies so a play-by –play synopsis is nearly a post unto itself. The episodes goes between 1968, twenty years after Claire’s return in episode 2.01, and where episode 2.12 left off, April 16, 1746, the day the Battle of Culloden is to take place. The 1968 action is set around the funeral of Reverend Wakefield, the Randalls’ friend and wee Roger’s adoptive father; Claire and her adult daughter Brianna, who we met briefly at the open of 2.07, attend the funeral and meet an adult Roger. He invites them to stay in the Wakefield house after the funeral and thus the action of this last episode is set in motion.
The episode vascillates between brief scenes in 1746 and longer, more involved action in 1968:
- 1746: Jamie and Claire, still trying to avoid the disaster to come, discuss poisoning Prince Charles Edward Stuart. Jamie is understandably reticent, but Claire is desperate to avoid what she knows will happen.
- 1968: While Brianna and Roger go exploring the Scottish Highlands, Claire visits places from her time with Jamie. Her memories of that life clearly eat at her during this first trip back to Scotland in nearly twenty years.
- 1746: Dougal overhears Jamie and Claire plotting. He confronts them and attacks Jamie as he tries to defend Claire. The ensuing scuffle ends with Jamie, with some help from Claire, killing Dougal, which Rupert happens upon. Jamie asks Rupert for time to tie things up before returning to face the consequences of Dougal’s death.
- 1968: Brianna, seeking answers about the nature of the relationship between her mother Claire and her father Frank, goes exploring an incident hinted at in letters between Reverend Wakefield and her father. Roger agrees to help her, offering up an attic full of the Reverend’s journals and other documents to explore.
- 1746: Jamie signs a deed of sasine for Lallybroch, giving the property to his nephew, Jenny’s son Jamie, so that the British can’t take it from them after the Rising is over. He sends Fergus to Lallybroch to deliver the deed and then asks Murtagh to take the Fraser men away from the battle and back on the road to Lallybroch while Jamie takes Claire to safety. Murtagh promises to do that and then meet Jamie back at the field to fight alongside him.
- 1968: Brianna discovers clippings from her mother’s disappearance and then accuses her of having an affair while married to her father Frank. Claire reveals Brianna’s true parentage and they argue over the revelations. Brianna doesn’t believe Claire’s story. Roger tries to get Bree to listen so she can get the truth she’s been looking for.
- 1746: Jamie takes Claire to the stones to send her back to the 20th century and safety after revealing that he knows she’s pregnant again. Claire doesn’t want to leave him; Jamie begs her to go, knowing he’s a dead man already and wanting to have a piece of him survive this day. He can’t keep her safe if he’s dead. After a quickie, he dances her toward the stone and says goodbye.
- 1968: Having met Gillian Edgars, a.k.a. Geillis Duncan, Roger and Brianna tell Claire that Gillian was planning to leave ‘to further the cause’ very soon, causing Claire to suspect that Gillian will visit the stones soon to travel back to the time where Claire first meets her. Brianna resists when Claire suggests they try to stop her, not wanting to further her mother’s ‘delusion.’ Roger persuades her to try it, to give her a chance to see what happens.
- 1968: The three arrive at Craigh Na Dun just as Gillian vanishes. Brianna and Roger both hear the buzzing as does Claire. She moves out of the circle, pulling the two young people with her. Roger goes to get help as Gillian has sacrificed her husband in her attempt to go through the stones. Brianna tells Claire that she believes her now.
- 1968: Roger reveals something that he and Brianna found while searching for information on what happened between Claire and Frank all those years ago. A document found in the Reverend’s collection shows that a Fraser officer survived Culloden. His name? James Fraser. He survived. “I can go back,” Claire says.
Whew! As you can see, quite a bit happened in that 90 minutes, concluding with a Scarlett O’Hara-esque moment of Claire’s realization about what happened to Jamie and what it means for her. The entire episode is a literal bridge between what has happened in the first two seasons and what’s to come in the next two. The introduction of adult Brianna and Roger, the questions about time travel, and the Battle of Culloden – which we actually haven’t seen yet, by the way – drive us forward on our journey to the end of the Outlander series. Whether or not the show gets as many seasons as books remains to be seen.
“Can You Hear That?”
Truly, this season has done more in thirteen episodes than I ever expected. The first season had the luxury of storytelling with sixteen episodes, which is apparently an extraordinary number for a premium cable channel like Starz. Season two, with its dual locations in France and then Scotland, could have used the extra three episodes. This episode, though, because it was supersized, did cover so much ground and build that bridge that is necessary to push the series forward to its next two seasons, which have already been confirmed. “Dragonfly in Amber” shines its strongest in three areas:
- The introduction of Brianna and Roger – we’ve met both characters as children already, but the adult versions were exactly as I had hoped they would be. I had forgotten how much I couldn’t stand adult Bree when we first meet her, but Sophie Skelton played the bratty, stubborn version of her to the hilt (though the American accent could use some work). Richard Rankin had been the fan choice to play Roger Wakefield for nearly a year before he was finally cast in the role; the choice was clearly the right one. His Roger is the smitten, caring, and kind academic that we first meet in the book Dragonfly in Amber. The ‘rat satire’ that he bursts into while the two are excavating the Reverend’s attic is charming to the point that I want to hug him each time I hear it.
- The cuts between 1746 and 1968 – The episode spends a great deal of time in the present, but, as the episode wears on, it is clear why: everything that happens between Claire and Jamie on April 16th occurs over a very short span of time. Since the story is from Claire’s point of view, we end at their parting, which is at mid-morning on that fateful day. In the three hours or so we do see, a number of things happen, including Dougal’s death and Fergus’s departure. We can’t go forward without knowing what happened in the past, which makes those scenes necessary to the story told here. However, equally dividing the time between 1746 and 1968 would have taken too much away from the bridge. It needs its pillars – adult Roger and Bree’s meeting, the time travel questions, and the Battle of Culloden and its aftermath – because those are foundation that will move us from Jamie and Claire’s early years to what’s next for both of them now that we know Jamie survived the battle.
- Claire’s despair – Mix sadness and despair with twenty years and you get Claire Beauchamp Fraser Randall (or Randall Fraser, take your pick) in this episode. Balfe’s Claire is aged gracefully; she seems to have moved between the worlds of the 20th century and the 18th century and back with little more than a few grey streaks and the heavy weight of her separation from Jamie. As Bree says, Claire lives in her own world, her heart locked away in a quiet place that she only voices in this case when Bree sleeps or when no one is within earshot. Claire’s sadness is palpable, but Balfe avoids the maudlin and infuses her despair with strength. It was a life she didn’t want, but she lived it because Jamie asked her to, his final gift to her. What more could she do than step forward, albeit reluctantly? When Roger reveals Jamie’s ultimate fate, the despair lifts from her shoulders and Claire and the world around her literally lights up. In that moment, Balfe is incandescent in her happiness, despite the hokeyness of the light behind the stones.
One of the best things about Outlander, the show and the series, is its richness in both story and character. It would be quite easy to go on longer about the series and this episode in particular, especially since this was the first episode of any television show that surprised me in how fast it went from open to close. This episode owned me from the get-go; everything felt familiar and new at the same time, an adaptation borders on the same absorption the book itself gives me.
Seasons Three and Four
Starz has renewed Outlander for two more seasons, with the next season set to begin filming later this year. Ron Moore and company reportedly are working on scripts for the new season with a minimum of thirteen episodes slated, though more may be possible as the story dictates. Thankfully, Starz realizes the juggernaut they have on their hands and gave the show two seasons, which promises to put us through both Voyager, the third book, and Drums of Autumn, the fourth book. We will be able to see where this bridge they have built leads us and, for that, I am grateful and excited.
Next week: final thoughts on Outlander’s second season and a preview of what’s to come in season three.