From the gleaming courts of France to the body-strewn battlefields of Britain, we’ve been on quite the journey during Outlander’s second season. Yet we end, essentially, where we began: with Claire in the future and without love-of-her-life Jamie.
The epic, 90-minute “Dragonfly in Amber” weaves the narrative’s two timelines, with a heavy emphasis on the 20th century, where we meet the grown-up versions of Claire and Jamie’s daughter Brianna (played by Sophie Skelton) and Reverend Wakefield’s adopted son Roger (played by Richard Rankin).
For the sake of clarity (and to avoid space-time-continuum whiplash), I’ll be dividing this recap into past and present.
Past: Scotland, 1746
“Today is the day, James. And mark me: Before this day is over, I will make a believer of you.”
And that, indeed, is Jamie’s worst fear realized: Bonnie Prince Charlie forcing a woefully unprepared Jacobite army into battle simply to appease his own ego.
When Jamie informs Claire that the Battle of Culloden will, in fact, take place, she offers one more (traitorous) solution: offing Charles. After all, if there’s no figurehead to fight for, the fight simply won’t happen. She proposes they slip some yellow jasmine (Colum’s suicide weapon) into the Prince’s tea.
“No one would ever know,” Claire reassures Jamie.
But someone does know. Dougal, unbeknownst to the couple, has been eavesdropping on their scheming and he is, to put it mildly, nonplussed. Dougal pulls his sword on Jamie. “Come to me,” he beckons to his nephew. “I’ll kill you quick for your mother’s sake.”
And so the master and student take up arms against one another, but Jamie has an advantage. And that advantage is Claire. She hits Dougal over the head with a chair, and while he’s down, Jamie pulls a dirk on him. It’s a battle of the two men’s wills, until Claire kneels down and helps push the knife into Dougal’s chest.
Dougal’s hardly taken his final breath when Rupert stumbles upon the bloody tableau, ready to seek vengeance. Jamie begs for two hours to sort his affairs before Rupert avenges his war chieftain. He begrudgingly agrees.
Long prepared for the worst (remember: Jamie’s no stranger to being a fugitive), he has the deed for Lallybroch on hand, and signs the property over to his nephew, with Claire and Murtagh serving as witnesses. And in a moment both tender and telling, Jamie entrusts young Fergus — the boy who has become like a son to the couple — with safely dispatching the document. Fergus is nervous about the task, but with Jamie’s reassurance, bravely agrees.
Next, Jamie instructs Murtagh to help see all the Lallybroch men back home. There’s no need for them to fight in a losing battle. Murtagh agrees — partially. He’ll see the men off, but he will not see them home. He will fight side by side with Jamie and die, if necessary. (I get a lump in my throat just typing out this sentence…)
Jamie’s final bit of business? Ensure Claire’s safe return home. And by home, he means the 20th century. Claire being Claire, she resists mightily. But Jamie has an ace up his sleeve: He knows Claire is pregnant. He’s not just protecting his wife, but his unborn baby too. “This child will be all that’s left of me, ever,” he insists, before reminding Claire of her promise to go back through the stones and back to Frank if anything ever happened to him. And it’s all just so heartbreaking. When they finally arrive at Craigh na Dun, Claire begs Jamie to come with her. “Even if I could go back through the stones, it’s not my place,” Jamie tells her. “My destiny lies on Culloden Moor. I’ll find you. I promise.”
Knowing these will be the final moments they ever share, Jamie pulls her close and they have sex one final time at the foot of the stones.
As cannon fire begins to sound, they exchange their parting gifts: Claire gives Jamie the dragonfly in amber (a wedding gift from Hugh Munro), while Jamie gives Claire a ring. She promises she’ll name their child Brian after Jamie’s father.
“I love you,” Claire says.
“And I you,” Jamie replies.
And with that, she is gone. To the future. To Frank. To a life without her heart’s true desire.
NEXT: Back to the future [pagebreak]
Present: Scotland, 1968
More than 20 years after her Inverness retreat with Frank, Claire returns to Reverend Wakefield’s home — this time, to mourn the clergyman’s passing. We see that the years have been kind to Claire, who’s now a surgeon. She sports a cropped bob with silver streaks framing her face, but otherwise she shows few signs of aging. And then there’s her daughter, Brianna, a statuesque red-headed history major, who catches the eye of the reverend’s grown son, Roger.
After reintroducing herself to Roger (he was but a child the last time she saw him), Claire asks after Mrs. Graham (who you’ll recall helped Claire after she returned to the future through the stones). Sadly, she passed a few years before. But that doesn’t stop Claire from digging into the past — especially with Roger’s offer of overnight lodging so she and Brianna don’t have to drive back to London in the wee hours.
Later that night, unable to sleep, Claire sets up in the sitting room, sipping a dram, where Roger finds her. The two begin talking about Roger’s true parentage — he’s a MacKenzie by birth.
“I used to know quite a few MacKenzies…once upon a time,” Claire says.
The next day, Roger takes Brianna sight-seeing, stopping at Fort William. Brianna begins opening up to him, namely about an “incident” she believes happened between her parents (as in Claire and Frank) years ago. She asks what Roger remembers about Frank, and he relays a hazy recollection from his childhood in which Frank smashed up the reverend’s garage. They agree to check the reverend’s journal for further details.
Claire, meanwhile, goes on a drive of her own to Lallybroch, which she discovers is now a run-down estate, practically condemned. A sad outcome for Jamie’s beloved home. She searches out the title information, and is presented with the deed that she witnessed so many years (and centuries) before.
When mother and daughter reunite that evening, Brianna starts asking the tough questions. Does Claire miss Frank? Did Claire ever really love Frank?
“What a thing to say,” Claire responds.
But Brianna doesn’t accept the non-answer answer and presses.
Claire finally admits that she did love Frank. (Not a lie, to be sure.)
The Randall women once again split up the next day to explore Scotland: Brianna accompanies Roger to the university where he teaches, while Claire takes a trip to a museum, where she spies a dragonfly frozen in amber. Coincidence?
Brianna also stumbles upon a bit of Claire’s past: Geillis Duncan! But in this life, in this time, she’s known as Gillian Edgars — an ardent supporter of the Scottish restoration, who’s delivering a rousing speech on campus and invites Brianna to a rally.
After her stroll through the museum, Claire makes her way to the moors of Culloden, finding the stone laid in remembrance of Clan Fraser. She begins talking to Jamie — something she hasn’t done in 20 years. She tells him about Brianna. She tells him about how she was angry at him for so long. And she, finally, tells him goodbye.
For her part, Brianna’s snooping finally pays off: She finds the clipping from decades before about her mother being “kidnapped by the fairies.” Brianna does the math and realizes she was conceived while her mother was missing. She confronts Claire with her findings, asking if she has been spending the last two days with Brianna’s real father. Claire is taken aback but seizes the opportunity to tell her about Jamie. Or she at least tries. Brianna doesn’t believe a word of the time-traveling epic.
Brianna goes to the pub with Roger to find solace in a drink, and while there, they run into Gillian/Geillis, who says she’s leaving to help further the cause. At the same time, Claire has found the rally flier with her one-time friend’s photo on it, and pays a visit to her home. But she’s not there; her husband says she’s been gone for weeks. Before leaving the house, Claire swipes Gillian/Geillis’ notebooks, which are full of calculations and theories about the mechanics of time travel and Craigh na Dun. (One takeaway: She believes a human sacrifice is necessary to slip through the stones.)
At first, Claire resolves to stop Gillian/Geillis from going to the past. She knows no good will come of it. But then it dawns on her: If she stops Geillis, Roger may not exist, seeing as she’s his ancestor. Roger encourages Claire to at least try to find the woman, hoping Gillian will help make sense of Claire’s delusions.
Rather ironically (given her fate in the 18th century), when they find Gillian/Geillis, she’s barbecuing her husband’s body for the required human sacrifice. And before they can stop her, she charges toward the stone and is…gone.
And, well, it’s hard now for Brianna to dismiss Claire’s claims, given what she just witnessed. So she shares an important tidbit of research she and Roger uncovered: Jamie did not, in fact, die during the Battle of Culloden. And in that moment, Claire’s choice is clear: She must go back.
What did you think of tonight’s episode? Weigh in below, and be sure to tune in to Outlander Live on SiriusXM 105 on Monday at 2 p.m. ET for a deep dive into “Dragonfly in Amber” with Lynette Rice and me. We’ll also welcome special guest author Diana Gabaldon to the show. Don’t miss it!