Outlander S02E01 “Through A Glass, Darkly” REVIEW

Outlander S02E01 “Through A Glass, Darkly” REVIEW

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stars 3.5

 

Airing in the UK on Amazon Prime Instant Video, new episodes every Sunday
Writer: Ronald D Moore
Director: Metin Hüseyin

 

Essential Plot Points:

  • Claire wakes up in the stone circle of Craigh na Dun in 1948.
  • She is very distressed and wanders onto a road. When a car driver slows down to ask if she’s okay, she demands to know whether the Scots won Culloden. She’s not happy with the answer: no, they were trounced by the English.
  • She reunites with Frank, but is still obsessed with Jamie. She wants to know if he died at Culloden.
  • Eventually she tells Frank everything. Even more than we know, presumably (after all there’s a whole season’s worth of story we haven’t seen yet).
  • He’s remarkably understanding (or maybe just a bit stalkerish) until she says she’s pregnant with Jamie’s baby.
  • This briefly brings out the “Black Jack” Randall in him but then, because he can’t have kids himself, he “nobly” agrees to bring up the child as their own, if Claire stops obsessing about Jamie.
  • She agrees and they fly off to Boston where Frank has a new job at Harvard university (researching a personality, maybe).

Outlander_2.01_Through_a_glass_darkly_jamie_claire

  • Back in 1745, Claire, Jamie and Murtagh arrive in Le Harve where Claire infodumps their mission for season two: prevent the Jacobite rebellion that leads to the Scots’ disastrous defeat at Culloden (which gave the English the excuse to crush the highland way of life).
  • Jamie contacts his cousin Jared who’s well in with the Jacobite leaders.
  • Jared agrees to make introductions of Jamie looks after his wine business while Jared pops off to the New World. This will also give Jamie a base in Paris and inroad to posh French society.
  • While walking along the docks Claire sees some sailors trying to sneak a sick man off a ship.
  • She immediately diagnoses small pox, loudly enough for all and sundry to hear.
  • This means the port authorities are legally obliged to torch the ship and its cargo.
  • The owner of the ship is not happy. Claire has been in France five seconds and she’s already made a new enemy – the Comte St Germain.

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Review:

Outlander fans who’ve read the books were probably smugly thinking, “Hah, those non-readers don’t know what’s going to hit them!” As it turns out, they didn’t know what was going to hit them either.

After the end of season one, you might reasonably have expected season two to begin with Claire and Jamie in France plotting to prevent the Jacobite uprising. We do get there eventually; two thirds of the way through the episode, just when Jamie fans must have been worried they’ll never get to see their red-headed highland hunk ever again. In the meantime, the show takes an unexpected detour back to 1948. And it’s just as unexpected for anyone who’s read the second book, Dragonfly In Amber, as anybody who hasn’t.

That sequel novel did have “20th century” sequences featuring Claire, but set in the 1960s – 20 years after she returned to her “present”. We won’t go into too any details here about what’s going on in her life at this point in case it gives things away that’ll be dealt with in future episodes (or even seasons) but the main crucial difference this change makes is that it allows the series to explore how Claire reunited with Frank.

So season two opens by throwing everyone off their guard and it’s a clever move which stops you thinking you know where the show is going. The mystery for season two is not whether Claire and Jamie will succeed in their mission (after all, we know they won’t) but instead it’s: WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO MAKE CLAIRE LEAVE JAMIE AT SUCH A CRUCIAL MOMENT? Was it her choice (which seems to be implied) or was she forced?

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It’s also a brave move for a show which must know nine-tenths of its audience are watching primarily for Jamie, or the Jamie/Claire relationship at least. It’s almost cheeky in the way it keeps teasing Jamie without showing him (even in flashbacks, which must have been tempting) for nigh-on 35 minutes. When he does finally appear it’s almost like when the screen bursts into colour when Dorothy arrives in Oz. There’s something almost self-consciously fairy tale to the French scenes that mirrors Mrs Graham’s laughably gushing assertion to Claire that, “You’ve had a wonderful adventure, the kind of adventure most people couldn’t even imagine!” The problem is, having seen season one, you know that’s rose-tinted nostalgia and things could turn grim and harrowing at any moment. But for the moment, writer Ronald D Moore seems to be saying, we’ll let you experience the romantic, idealised dream for a while before we wreck it all. Blimey, Claire and Jamie don’t even argue!

The contrast with Claire’s 20th century life is extreme. There she’s ready to put up with life with a man who’s either noble and understanding beyond belief or so convinced he’ll never find another woman he’ll kid himself Claire isn’t thinking about another man every time they have sex. Frank seems so hopelessly obsessed with Claire he’ll shelve his pride to stay with her, even though it would probably kinder to let her go (and find another ripped, red-headed hunk with something approaching a personality). It’s really unclear what the show wants us to think of Frank: saint or stalker? Maybe that’s the point, but ultimately it means it’s difficult to care whether Claire stays with him or not. Notably her first thought on arriving in America with him is a flashback to arriving in another country with another man entirely.

Outlander_2.01_Through_a_glass_darkly_america

“Through A Glass, Darkly” is a pleasantly unexpected way to start the season, and the shock of Claire unexpectedly turning up in 1948 nicely offsets the fact that – plot-wise – not an awful lot actually happens (Claire makes an enemy out of a guy who looks like he makes enemies as a hobby). It’s a re-affirmation that this is a time travel show and not just a historical romance, and makes sure that we don’t get comfortable thinking we know what to expect.

 

The Good:

  • Great performances all round.
  • A surprising twist to the format that’s a surprise for both fans of the books and those who’ve never read the books.

Outlander_2.01_Through_a_glass_darkly_handing_over_to_Jamie

  • The jump cut from Boston to Le Harve (though the reference to Boston in the subsequent scene is rather hamfistedly inserted).
  • The contrast in tone between the “drab” 1940s and the colourful 1740s, gives  the French scenes a joie de vivre that matches your feeling of relief that we’re back in the “fun” bit of the series (well, “fun” when there are no sadistic, rapey psychos around).
  • Murtagh’s not-very-casual racism shows a prejudice towards the French that matches any prejudice the English have against the Scots.
  • Best line: “I am not Joseph. She is not Mary. And I am fairly certain that the father is not God Almighty. He was a man. A man who f**ked my wife.”

 

The Bad:

Outlander_2.01_Through_a_glass_darkly_infodump

  • Claire’s infodump to Jamie about their plan for season two is one of those embrassingly clunky “let’s tell each other things we already know for the sake of the audience” scenes.
  • It’s impossible to work out if we’re supposed to like Frank or not. He’s so bland there’s no real tension about whether Claire can learn to love him (or even bear him) – you want her back with Jamie as soon as possible.
  • Frank’s blandness also means you think less of Claire for agreeing to stay with him. About the only thing Frank really has going for him is what Mrs Graham points out: he’s alive.
  • Claire might be sure she won’t catch small pox but nobody else in 1745 would believe that. After tending to the guy with small pox she’d be quarantined for sure!
  • Jamie’s rise to MD of a wine business seems remarkably rapid. The interview process was basically, “I know you can count. I know you can drink. Wanna run my company for a while and have a fancy pad in Paris while you’re at it?”

 

And The Random:

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  • Did you spot that the words to “The Skye Boat Song” during the opening credits swap to being sung in French half-way through?
  • So did Claire tell Frank all the events of season two as well as season one? Does she care nothing for spoilers?

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  • For some reason, the news of Claire’s return has been squeezed onto the local entertainment page of the newspaper. All the films listed, though, are real films from the period – Trail To San Antone (1947), Moon Over Her Shoulder (1941), Souls At Sea (1937), I Walk Alone (1948), The Tresspasser (1947).
  • While the TV series opens very differently from the second novel (as detailed above in the review) showrunner Ronald D Moore has told The Hollywood Reporter, “Yes. We’re going to do the whole book,” referring to Dragonfly In Amber. However, he then goes on to say, “We’re not going to really keep going back to [Frank and Claire’s 20th century] story in season two. We told that part of the story in the premier and now we’re going to go back to the 18th century and stay with that for the rest of the season. You’ll see Frank again in some flashbacks like we did in the first season when Claire had memories and moments with Frank, but we’re not going to continue to track that structure.”
  • The phrase “Through a glass, darkly” comes from the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13:12. It’s been used for the title of numerous novels, non-fiction works and TV episode tiles (including on shows such as Lois and Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman, Millennium, Andromeda, Haunted, Flashpoint and The Musketeers).

Review by Dave Golder


 

 

 

 

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