Outlander tackled its biggest season 3 hurdle by nailing the long awaited Jamie and Claire reunion.
Any series has its ups and downs, particularly series that are adapted from best-selling novels. There’s always the complaint that the characters are out-of-character, or something critical from the novels is missing. Those critiques aside, what’s important is that a series gets it right way more often than the series gets it wrong. Outlander, now in its third season, seems to be over its growing pains.
Showrunner Ron Moore has had, and will continue to have, various high-points of the Diana Gabaldon Outlander novels that his team have to get right. In season 1, he delivered admirably with two episodes that couldn’t be more different on every level if they tried: Jamie and Claire’s wedding, and the rape of Jamie by Jack. In season 2, the loss of Faith and Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire’s (Caitriona Balfe) reconciliation hit all the right notes, and left viewers baffled by how Caitriona Balfe’s work didn’t qualify for an Emmy nomination.
This isn’t to say there haven’t also been downsides. Over long narration in various episodes, seasons 1 and 2 frequently break the “show don’t tell” mantra. Additionally in season 2, Claire’s meddling in the Mary Hawkins and Alex Randall romance made us ask, “Who are you, and what have you done with Claire?”
Fortunately, when looking at season 3, Outlander seems to have avoided major missteps. Up until this week, we’ve had an in-depth look at Jamie and Claire’s lives over the past 20 years of their separation. Life tossed them a raw deal. Sometimes they made the best of their circumstances, other times their actions made their lives worse.
What we were faced with as we led up to the reunion was the ultimate question that anyone who has ever tried to rekindle a romance after years apart asks. “Have we changed so much that we no longer have any semblance of the bond that was there?” In short, “Is this reunion doomed?” It doesn’t matter if that question is asked aloud or to yourself. When said reunion involves time traveling 200 years into the past, leaving your daughter behind, the stakes are considerably higher.
Ask an Outlander fan what their favorite scene in any of the novels is, and the print shop reunion is in the top three. The Outlander team nailed it on several levels.
Kudos to Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan. Trying to toe the line of disbelief, longing, reunion, trepidation, and ultimately rekindled passion is a tall order. They managed it without wallowing in sappy sentimentality. Balfe and Heughan have developed a rich chemistry over the past three seasons. It’s reflected in the nuances in their scenes together.
With an episode that’s over the usual hour, it’s easy to talk about pacing issues. At times, the episode seemed a little slow, but in the end it reflected what Jamie and Claire ironically needed after so much time apart — time to get to know each other again. The episode began as a Viennese Waltz and climaxed in a passionate Tango. It worked because Balfe and Hueghan have all the intricate footwork down. It’s second nature to them.
The humorous highlights that made the novel’s Jamie and Claire reunion work were all there this episode. Whether this was Geordy being scandalized that sex could happen before noon, Jamie’s fears that he’d pissed himself, or head cracking during sex, it all served to make the reunion more real. Life is humorous. Things never go the fairy tale way. Outlander made romance awkward and imperfect the way it often is.
Like every reunion, the next, obvious question is “now what?” With the cliffhanger ending of the mysterious man in Jamie’s bedroom, the fact that Jamie lives in a brothel because of his dubious business, and that we haven’t quite gotten our footing on what it’s like to be in Scotland twenty years after the rising, it all leads to us wanting immediate answers. In short, it’s what drives episodic television in the era when people marathon series instead of tuning in each week. Having viewers ask “now what?” at the end of a long awaited episode is the kind of tension that showrunners want.
Outlander continues this Sunday at 8:00 on Starz.