Calling Outlander a romance risks the wrath of fans who rightly see this historical fiction as so much more. I made that mistake with my rave of season 1. Even though I praised the transcendent qualities of the series about a time-traveling heroine marooned in 18th-century Scotland and surviving, thriving, and finding love, I got flamed for using the R-word. But I’m not apologizing anymore: Outlander remains a broad-minded entertainment, but what gets me the most hot is the romance — and how everything else the show does well makes the romance more ravishing.
The first six eps work to sweep away the obstacles preventing Claire (Caitriona Balfe) from reconnecting fully — mind, heart, and yes, body — with her Highlander hunk Jamie (Sam Heughan) and to position the series for the future. The complications played by Tobias Menzies — Frank, Claire’s 20th-century husband, and “Black Jack” Randall, his sadistic ancestor — are thoroughly processed, with that tortured marriage getting needed attention. A definitive arc makes Claire feel the cost of her divided heart. Frank’s wrecked life deserves our tears. Balfe and Menzies earn them.
But it’s Jamie who owns these episodes. A series of thematically rich stories flush rapist Randall from his life, and a friendship with a British captor (David Berry) finishes off the healing. Their belief that higher ideals should trump differences makes for resonant wish fulfillment. The story ages Jamie and Claire, so when they reunite after a deliciously agonizing buildup (marked by some inspired humor), the rapture is both emotional and spiritual. In season 3, Outlander, TV’s best romance, soars by making you fall in love with it all over again. A–