Content and trigger warning: This review discusses sexual assault.
The past haunts Fraser’s Ridge as Outlander begins its sixth season on STARZ and creeps toward the Revolutionary War.
Though Claire (Caitríona Balfe) remains the heart of Outlander, it’s Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) past that lingers at the forefront of “Echoes.” The episode opens in 1753 at Scotland’s Ardsmuir Prison, last seen in Season 3 when Jamie was imprisoned for his involvement in the Jacobite uprising. The prisoners have divided religious loyalties. Jamie leads the Catholics and spars with harsh Protestant Tom Christie (Mark Lewis Jones). Jamie resolves to unite the prisoners, but no solution is perfect.
It’s a lot of backstory for a time in Jamie’s life from 20 years ago, but when the action jumps to 1773, all is made clear. Tom Christie comes to settle on Fraser’s Ridge with his daughter Malva (Jessica Reynolds) and son Allan (Alexander Vlahos). Jamie’s not thrilled to see his old foe but gives him land anyway.
The past also haunts Claire, who was brutally captured and sexually assaulted by outlaw Lionel Brown (Ned Dennehy) and his followers. She deflects all questions about her wellbeing, but Brianna (Sophie Skelton) senses Claire is not as well as she lets on. (Claire’s coping mechanism, only revealed in the episode’s final moments, indicates a departure from Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels.)
Though the past dominates the super-sized season premiere (it runs 20 minutes longer than most episodes), there’s still room for the present and future. New settlers inspire Brianna’s husband Roger (Richard Rankin) to find his place in the 1770s, having left behind the 1960s. Marsali (Lauren Lyle) struggles to connect with Fergus (César Domboy) as they await the arrival of their fourth child.
It’s a lot to cram into 80 minutes, but writer and showrunner Matthew B. Roberts creates a season opener that sets up a season of immense conflict on the Ridge. Balfe and Heughan are strong as ever, while Jones, Reynolds, and Vlahos play the Christie family with leering unease. A new rendition of the series theme song, now sung as a duet by Raya Yarbrough and Griogair Labhruidh, mirrors Jamie and Claire’s dynamic—two souls reliant on one another for beautiful harmony.
Fans of the novels know where the weeks ahead will take viewers, but show-only fans will be satisfied, too. The series has evolved from its early days, become more of an ensemble instead of its Jamie and Claire-focused beginning. Outlander’s title once referred to Claire as a modern Englishwoman among Scots from the past. Now, it captures them all: travelers on the cusp of a new world as the Revolutionary War looms closer.
Outlander drops Sundays on STARZ.