Outlander Episode 201, “Through a Glass, Darkly”

A conversation among three friends about extraordinary television drama

Reviewing can be a lonely affair, so I’ve recruited the woman who introduced me to the Outlander series, as well as the woman who introduced her to the series, to join me this season.

Hope: Is there any other show on television that does poetic, cinematic, or theatrical better than Outlander? We don’t get an episode each week; we get a movie. The production has set the bar so high that it’s hard to keep my expectations in the stratosphere. So, putting any of my… let’s call them “constructive observations” instead of criticisms, in context, can we talk about the many achievements of this episode and the *very* few occasions that the “look at me” symbolism, parallelism, and foreshadowing felt a little heavy-handed (pun intended, read on)?

Successful, understated elements:

  • Claire’s scream at the stones—it sounded *just* like Jamie’s wail in Wentworth Prison. On a related note, how masterful is it to see Claire fall apart twice within the first four minutes of the show without her devolving to histrionics? Catriona Balfe never ceases to amaze.
  • Claire’s “hello” to Frank. It sounds so forced and rehearsed, like something she’s coached herself to say because it’s the appropriate thing to do—something she’s told herself she should say should she ever see him again.
  • The relationship between Frank and Reverend Wakefield. Without ever saying as much, their familiarity tells us that the two of them have maintained their relationship over the years.
  • Frank. Geez, Frank. Everything Frank. All the time Frank (at least in 1948 — we’ll see as time goes on). Is there a moment of his performance that feels anything less than perfectly real, even in the face of some absurdly mad, completely implausible circumstances? I flinched for a microsecond when he responds to Claire’s pregnancy news with joy, but remember that he’s been up for hours hearing the love of his life expound on her time travel adventures, how much she loves another man, and how horrible his prized ancestor turned out to be. Multiply that by just how baby-eager he’s been all these years. Rough night for Frank = glass face. #AlmostTeamFrank
  • Claire’s balance of emotions the morning after They Talk. I feel like she’s trying to push him away with her barely/not really concealed antagonism. Surely, he’s gotten on with his life, she must think. She doesn’t want to be anybody’s burden, and she certainly doesn’t want to return to the power dynamics of her previous relationship after having experienced a life with a husband who treats her as an equal. I feel like she delivers the news of her pregnancy like a threat or a test. “Oh yeah—wanna stay with me? Well, how about this?”
  • The practical interpersonal dynamic between Jamie and Claire. Jamie’s not all “look at me trying to recover from unimaginable torture,” but he’s clearly not whole. Jamie and Claire are affectionate, but there’s a shift in the natural way they usually have with one another. And that’s right and true to what he’s been through.

Those are my highlights. Now for my begrudging miffs:

  • Enough with the windows already. Somebody sure thought they were clever working that in. Again.And.Again. “OH, it’s ‘Through a Glass, Darkly’— and everybody’s looking through glass, darkly… GET IT?”
  • And the hands. Season 1 was enough with the hands. Done and done, y’all.
  • Don’t smell the petticoat. Just don’t. Ever. *shudders*
  • The change that Frank accepts Claire’s story. Tobias Menzies is so remarkable that I buy the lines he’s delivering while I’m watching, but I’m not sure I buy it after some reflection. It just seems too incongruous with his character, even apart from the Frank book readers know.
  • All “The Future” mentions. Gee. The future. The future, you say? We’re trying to do what again? Change it? *eye roll* Exposition dump, anyone? For as poetic as the language usually is on this show, the scene at the inn feels clumsy and expeditious—out of step with the other ways that the production usually trusts in the intelligence of the audience.
  • All the spoilers. Case in point: It’s two years later and Claire’s pregnant. Where’s the baby from the end of Season 1? She either lost the baby she was pregnant with before, or she left her child behind in the 18th Century. Either way—yikes. Be prepared, those who haven’t read the book. Cue the feels.

What do you think?

Mary: A resounding and emphatic “No” to your initial question, Hope. There is no other television show that does poetic, cinematic, or theatrical better than Outlander. Admittedly, I am completely biased and am in love with the story and characters, and I have been since the early 1990s.

  • I loved that the story began in 1948 so we could see Claire’s return and the resultant chaos fleshed out in full detail.
  • Claire’s screams at the beginning of the episode were just the start. Her grief was unleashed there, but later—at both the hospital and the manse—it was still evident even though she was attempting to rein it in. Thank goodness she received both compassion and gentle guidance from Mrs. Graham. Through her conversations with Mrs. Graham, she was able to share her great love for Jamie as well as to begin to safely grieve.
  • When she tells Frank that she promised Jamie she would move on, her face was such a beautiful mix of sadness and resolve.
  • As for Frank… wow. Just wow. He was put through the wringer in ways we can’t even begin to imagine. From his nervous wait in the hospital hallway (Taking off his hat and attempting to smooth his hair? Obeying Claire’s bark to turn off the radio? You could actually feel the tension in him coming through the screen), until he reaches for Claire’s hand as they exit the plane, every facial expression and piece of dialogue was perfect, painfully so. I am and will always be #TeamJamie, but this episode has me also cheering for #AlmostTeamFrank.
  • I fell in love with Reverend Wakefield in this episode. What a kind, caring soul. In particular, his smile for his nephew, Roger was so very endearing. And by kindly telling Frank he was not the first man to deal with infidelity, etc., and wisely pointing out “Hmm, you’re a fatherless man who so wants a child and your wife is going to have a child?” nudged him to make peace with Claire and set them upon the path to Boston.
  • As for Claire and Jamie? It was glorious to see them together again after an almost 11-month absence. However, it was painful to be reminded that Jamie is still reeling and healing from his torturous time in Wentworth Prison. I agree with you, Hope, that there’s been a shift in Jamie and Claire’s relationship. I’m sure I’m not the only viewer looking forward to them regaining their ease with and passion for one another.
  • And I love Murtagh. That is all.

In response to your “miffs”…

  • I kind of liked the windows. Maybe I only noticed it because it was so obvious, but each time I noticed another window scene, I had an “Aha!” moment.
  • The “future” mentions were over the top for me as well. Even said with Jamie’s sexy accent and adorable grin, they were just too much.
  • As for the petticoat? We can never un-see that. And that is very unfortunate.

Joanie: Well ladies, your comments are all fine and hit the mark nicely, but I think you are overlooking the very obvious omission in this episode. THERE WAS NO SEX! Nothing. Nada. A few stilted hugs and, finally, at the very end, a kiss between Jamie and Claire was all we got after 11 looonnnggg months of Droughtlander. And the kiss came off as an inappropriate celebration of the Count St. Germain’s ship burning in the harbor.

Thankfully we get a brief glimpse of Jamie’s very fine torso, but even that was unsatisfying. We see his scarred back, and we’re eager for him to turn around—on the edge of our couches waiting to see what 11 months of My Peak Challenge has done for Sam’s physique—we are still trying to forget about the scars to fully appreciate the view!

I know, I know… this episode was filled with too much sadness and tension for a gratuitous sex scene. The first part of the show with Frank and Claire is not in the book. Perhaps if the writers had not included this departure from the novels they could have moved the story along faster and we would have been treated to some Jamie and Claire recovering-from-prison sex—tender and passionate or rough and broken — something… anything.

Given all of that, I am glad that they didn’t after all. I thought the scenes written for Frank and Claire’s reunion were absolutely amazing and some of the most intense and moving of the series. Tobias Menzies did a terrific job of portraying a lot of emotions. Starting Season 2 this way will probably make more sense for non-readers as well.

What I didn’t buy is the way Claire treated Frank. Yes, she is emotionally shattered, but she’s a smart girl and still has her wits about her. After spending so much of Season 1 trying to return to Frank and torn about not returning when she had the chance, and deciding to continue to wear his ring, I felt that her reunion with Frank needed to be a wee bit warmer.

Though we see very little passion between Frank and Claire in Season 1, we do see friendship and mutual respect. I expected more of that and less Frank loathing. Poor Frank! He’s all she’s got in 1948, right? I think Claire would have clung to that one anchor she had in 1948.

Then we move along to France. Was anyone suspecting Frank’s hand to morph into Jamie’s? Kind of a bit creepy actually… but as Hope points out, there is a bit of a “hand” theme to this show.

Speaking of themes, I am either the densest person watching Outlander or I was too wrapped up waiting for Jamie eye candy to notice the window theme! Once Mary pointed it out, I felt this to be a clever bit of cinematography.

Like the return of something lost, I was so happy to have Outlander back on my screen, and though this was a great episode, I *can’t wait* for more! I can’t wait for the sexy Paris scenes, the parties, the costumes… and the sex.

Hope: So much covered, and yet so much we could have tackled! The Title Screen with Roger’s falling airplane (a super-inside book-reader-only reference), the Comte de Saint Germain (who I didn’t realize was a real person, which makes him 100 times creepier than we’ll come to realize during the season), the blindingly brilliant technical achievements (music and CGI being just two)… but this is where we invite readers to share their thoughts. What did you think about the start to the season?

All images courtesy of Starz, via Outlander-Online

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