We gave it an A-
Talking about Outlander means talking, at least in part, about sex. But the sex is not all swoonworthy as the saga continues, and sexual desire can lead to menace as well as euphoria.
Coming back from hiatus this Saturday, the series doesn’t pick up right at its tantalizing cliffhanger. That’s not to say the episode makes eager fans wait very long to see what happens when noble and attractive Scot Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) appears at a window aiming a gun at the villainous Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies), about to harm time-traveling heroine Claire (Caitriona Balfe). No; before giving fans that resolution, the show takes some time to switch to Jamie’s viewpoint, then follows him as he learns that his wife Claire was nabbed by the English, fixes his tartan, and goes off to her rescue.
Executive producer Ronald D. Moore has touted the fact that the first episode back belongs to Jamie—but seeing through Jamie’s eyes isn’t as compelling as seeing through Claire’s. Having Jamie tell this story removes an element of the “female gaze” for which the show had been so praised. (For more on that gaze see wonderful essays by Jenny Trout, Maureen Ryan, and our own Melissa Maerz.) And while the sex he and Claire finally have in the return episode is, yes, hot, it’s also muddied by the differing perspectives at work. The couple’s chemistry is still there, but the fact that these lovers’ gender roles have been shaped by different periods of history makes for some interesting friction—mental and physical. Later episodes, more divorced from POV, don’t lose this tension, but also don’t skimp on showing the boyish Jamie as a man eager to please his wife.
The show still displays much of what made it appealing in the first half of its freshman season: gorgeous scenery, a hint of magic, Jacobite politics, and, yes, of course, romance. Because the show’s heart really is in its entanglements—and not just Claire and Jamie’s. When mixed up with convention and machinations, love, in the world of Outlander, makes people commit acts at turns stupid, cruel, and selfless. But either way, we’ll be watching.