Welcome back to our TV coverage of Outlander book three. Click here to read previous coverage of the series.
My favorite episodes of Outlander are the ones that take their time to deliver an emotionally engaging episode. It might not be an episode that furthers the plot or is full of twists. While I do enjoy the excitement of tense battles or new discoveries, these particular episodes that simmer in the characters’ moods and allow us to take a breath to feel with them continue to be a big reason why Outlander is such a special show.
The season 3 opener, titled “The Battle Joined” is no exception. After ending the second season with a 20 year jump into the future, the expectation for this premiere episode was that we were going to start where we last ended. Showrunner Ronald D. Moore, who also wrote tonight’s episode, defied that expectation, taking us to the 1940’s with Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Frank (Tobias Menzies). New to America and almost full term in her pregnancy, Claire is trying her best to adjust to her new life. Society keeps reminding of her place as woman, at home ready to serve her husband as he pleases. We all can’t help but wince in unison with Claire when the patriarchal overtures are presented her way.
As for Jamie (Sam Heughan), we find him in the midst of the doomed Battle of Culloden. It’s visceral in its violence with slow-motion camera work to show us how the Scottish clans fell to the English. Jamie has a final and almost fatal tête-á-tête with Captain “Black Jack” Randall (also Tobias Menzies) and is found by Rupert, who takes him to temporary safety. Unfortunately, for the surviving Scottish men, the English army finds and executes them one by one.
The camera lingers on the faces of Jamie and Claire, both in their own kinds of despair. It’s quiet and unmoving. They are both mourning the loss of each other, and Claire’s is heightened by the fact that she’s all alone, in place where she can never really explain what happened to her. She can’t even connect with Frank, whose resemblance to Black Jack is undoubtedly a trigger. Jamie is in literal hell, watching his friends die one by one, while he lays helpless and severely injured. Saved by a technicality (he once saved the brother of one of the English soldiers), Jamie’s hopeful ending (for this episode at least) happens as he arrives home to Lallybroch to his sister and her family. Family also saves Claire, when she gives birth to her daughter, Brianna, and realizes that she can do more to open her heart to Frank again.
Both Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan give their best performances of the series so far. Moore’s sweepingly emotional teleplay teamed with their haunting and expressive work drove home once again just how much the romance is the greatest part of this series. Romance isn’t something to be disregarded here because it’s just so compelling told. The connection between Jamie and Claire has been so richly developed, and it earns each and every emotion that it imparts. There is also action, mystery, science fiction and other things at play in Outlander, but the romance is its core, and this episode in particular is evidence of its big, strong beating heart.
There is much more to happen on Outlander, including “the reunion of the century.” However, it was refreshing to return to the series with “The Battle Joined,” an episode that allows us to feel along with the characters and to gain a better perspective on who they are and will become without each other.
Some extra thoughts on this week’s Outlander:
- This episode more than anything made me want to see more of Claire’s 20th century life, especially as she deals with sexism, motherhood, and her own career ambitions.
- I didn’t talk about Tobias Menzies so much, but I do find his chemistry with Balfe interesting. Just looking at each other, you see how complicated their relationship has become.
- After such a heavy episode, the nurse’s question about the baby’s red hair was funny. It was very unexpected, especially after the first real intimate moment between Claire and Frank since her return.
Outlander airs Sunday nights at 8/7c on Starz.