Outlander’s main setting for once wasn’t Scotland, America, or France. The action centered around the Helwater Estate and the decade or so Jamie spent there.
Claire(Caitriona Balfe), Bree (Sophie Skelton), and Roger (Richard Rankin), our plucky band of historical mystery hunters, are still hot on Jamie’s trail post Culloden. They were able to track him to Ardsmuir Prison, but that’s where the trail runs cold. As they grow frustrated that they’ll never find him, the scene shifts to the aptly named Hellwater Estate where Jamie trades one prison for another, as well as one hell for another.
Hello Geneva and Isobel
Geneva (Hannah James) and Isobel Dunsany (Tanya Reynolds) are two sisters who couldn’t be more different. Geneva comes off as nothing more than a stereotypical upper class manipulator with an eye for making servants’ lives hell. Jamie is the latest in a long line of targets.
On the other hand, Isobel seems to be the most well-rounded and likable woman we’ve met since Claire’s departure. She is both her sister’s confidant and confessor, while at the same time being keenly aware of her sister’s shortcomings. It makes one wonder how they came to be so diametrically opposed in temperament.
No alternative for Jamie
Outlander has done a fairly decent job this season in adapting a massive book to TV, and smoothing over some bumpier parts of the book narrative. That being said, if there is a minor quibble in this episode, it’s that the script could have made clearer that Jamie (Sam Heughan) sleeps with Geneva against his will, not because he fears prison, but rather because he fears she will target his family in Scotland. Jamie Fraser is many things, but a coward in the face of adversity isn’t one of them.
The unforeseen price
Jamie’s time in Helwater ends up complicated by the fact that his one night with Geneva has produced a son. He can watch his son grow up, but he can never acknowledge him. He leaves, only because he realizes staying will endanger the child who has come to look like him. Culloden and Ardsmuir were one kind of hell, this is another. It’s a psychological hell more than a physical one.
As much as the decade in Helwater is not the life Jamie would have chosen, some good comes out of it. For starters, Willie has had Jamie as a positive male role model. Willie doesn’t seem to be growing up quite as spoiled as his mother did with no regard for servants. Time will tell how this progresses now that Jamie is no longer there to affect his upbringing albeit in a second-hand manner.
Jamie also grows from his experience in Helwater. Jamie went from being a rich laird’s son, to a mercenary, to an outlaw, to a convict. He hasn’t had much of a chance to really understand first-hand how the common man lives, and what those struggles are. Helwater was eye-opening to him. Perhaps it will give him better insight into those who look to a leader to better their lives. There is no teacher like first-hand experience.
Jamie’s journey with Lord John Grey (David Berry) has now come full-circle. They are no long combatants or unequals, they now have a deep friendship. They have each pushed aside prejudice and stereotypes to see the best qualities in each other. They have shaped each others lives in the best of ways.
It was revolutionary for Gabaldon to write a character like Lord John almost twenty years ago. It’s shame we haven’t seen more like him on screen. Fingers crossed that a Lord John spin-off series gets developed as Diana Gabaldon has a whole cadre of Lord John novels and novellas to tap into for source material.
Next week, our wait is finally over. Our history hunters will track Jamie down. The drama of separation will change to the drama of reunion. Can two people separated for twenty years pick up the pieces? Neither of them is the same person the other remembers. Can they adapt?