Outlander: Season 2 — a review

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The season begins with Claire (Caitriona Balfe) waking up in the center of the standing stones at Craigh na Dun, back in 1948. She discovers that the British won the Battle of Culloden, just the way they had before she journeyed into the 18th century. She is pregnant with Jamie’s child and reunites with her 20th century husband, Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies), who believes her time-travel story and agrees to raise another man’s baby as his and Claire’s natural child.

That’s how it all begins in Season 2 of Outlander. A flashforward both in terms of actual years and in terms of the overall story arc. This becomes our framing device for the season. How did Claire return to her time? What happened in the months leading up to Culloden? What happened to Jamie Fraser?

Then we get a prolonged flashback that attempts to answer some of these questions.

A good portion of this season is set in Paris, France. Claire and Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) become a part of French society with the help of Jamie’s wine merchant cousin. Murtagh Fraser (Duncan Lacroix) joins them. They are there to infiltrate the Jacobite cause and do whatever they can to prevent the Battle of Culloden and the ultimate Scottish defeat.

Smallpox arrives in Paris around the same time as the Frasers, who almost immediately run afoul of local badguy, the Comte St. Germain (Stanley Webber). They also get to know Prince Charles Stuart (Andrew Gower) better, and Bonny Prince Charles doesn’t exactly inspire confidence or loyalty with his entitled, foppish ways. He is no Highlander.

During our stay in France over the course of six episodes, we learn a little bit about French sexual mores, depilatory habits and political chicanery. We are introduced to King Louis XV (Lionel Lingelser) and the boy Fergus (Romann Berrux), who becomes like a son to Claire and Jamie. We find out that Black Jack Randall still lives and that his ailing brother is there in Paris. Ultimately, Black Jack returns to the show and continues on with his usual behavior, which results in a duel with Jamie.

The harshest criticism that I can level at the series while it is set in France is that it’s not set in Scotland. I found myself missing the Highlands until the story eventually wends its way back home, after assorted side missions, sexual hijinks, and, of course, more charges of witchcraft. Claire made another friend who seems to dabble in the mystic arts, Master Raymond (Dominique Pinon), and this time it is he and another who are charged with practicing the black arts, not Claire.

It also didn’t help that the passion seemed to have abandoned Claire and Jamie while they were in France. Since his prison rape by Black Jack, Jamie had been unable to perform. One of the subplots of the season is about Jamie getting his mojo back.

The show is on firmer ground when the story returns to Scotland. We get familiar beautiful scenery and the return of Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish) and the Duke of Sandringham (Simon Callow) to the story. Several main characters die over the course of the back half of the season, deaths caused by war, treachery and natural causes. Claire suddenly exhibits signs of PTSD. Everything is building towards the inevitable Battle of Culloden.

Jamie makes sure that Claire returns to her own time before the battle begins in earnest.

Then we get a flash-forward of a couple of decades. Claire and Jamie’s daughter, Brianna (Sophie Skelton), is all grown up. Claire and Brianna are visiting Scotland. We get to meet Geillis (Lotte Verbeek) before she travels back in time through the standing stones, when she was known as Gillian Edgars. As the season ends, Claire seems to have made up her mind to return to the past as well. It seems—surprise, surprise—that Jamie survived Culloden.

So, the stage is set for Season 3, which is now available to stream in the US on Netflix.

I don’t believe I’m going to watch the next season right away, although I will watch it, of course. I still like this series. But, I have to admit that Season 2 did not keep me as entertained as the first season did. I can attribute some of this to the fact that this is no longer a “new love” story, and there are many tragic, depressing events in this season, as things become more complicated on both the small and large stages. Because of the framing device, with Claire back in the 20th century, the ultimate failure of the Frasers seems inevitable, and, speaking for myself, the viewer shares their frustration with the apparent immutability of the future.

Also, the last portion of the season glosses over two decades of Claire’s life. We know that she and Frank moved to Boston, in America, and that Frank is now deceased. Brianna also doesn’t learn about her mother’s two-year disappearing act or hear the improbable time-travel story until she’s an adult. She never knew Frank wasn’t her biological father. That I missed so much time in Claire’s life makes me feel cheated somewhat. I have to assume that the show will resort to flashbacks to fill in some of that missing time.

This is still a good series. With Culloden behind us now—twice—I have to wonder where the story is headed next.

Firewater’s Back-to-the-Future-Past Report Card: B+

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Maybe next season we’ll actually get the actual Battle of Culloden. Maybe as a flashback within a flashforward.

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