The mid-season finale of OUTLANDER was satisfying, if guilty of reheating the nasty threat from "The Garrison Commander", only now with added gristle because Claire's (Caitriona Balfe) newly-married to Jamie (Sam Heughan). It'll be interesting to see how Outlander deals with the fact its two love birds have hooked up this early, as they're currently in a honeymoon period where it's fresh seeing them as bonafide couple. I suspect Outlander won't regret doing it, as a number of shows have recently chosen to unite their romantic leads successfully. I recall doing that revitalised later seasons of Chuck, because the 'will-they-won't-they?' cliche of romantic fiction is more overplayed than seeing married couples dealing with life.
What I appreciated about "Both Sides Now" was seeing more focus on the 1945 timeline, where poor Frank's (Tobias Menzies) spent seven weeks pestering the Inverness police about his missing wife, whom everyone believes must have ran away with another man. How right they are! Unfortunately, Frank won't entertain such talk, and thinks even less of an extraordinary theory from a housekeeper that Claire must have been sent backwards in time through the standing stones of Craigh na Dun.
Heaven knows what Frank's longterm future is on Outlander, as he risks becoming a very sad and isolated character. This episode did remind us that Frank saw a mysterious 'highlander' staring up at Claire's window the night before she vanished, which I'd totally forgotten about, so perhaps there's more to explore there? Who was that man? Another time-traveller? Hopefully this isn't a red herring and Frank will uncover more, or the show will just bring his misery to an end—by accepting Claire's disappearance is an insolvable mystery, or by convincing him she ran away with another man.
Slightly bizarre was a scene where Frank viciously attacked two men who'd arranged to mug him in an alleyway, which existed to suggest there's a strain of "Black Jack"-style malevolence in historian Frank, his direct descendant. I'd like to think Outlander is a better show than suggesting "evil" is traceable in family trees like this, but maybe it's more accurate to say the books aren't?
The slightly disappointing thing about this mid-season finale was how writer Ronald D. Moore had to recreate tension from "The Garrison Captain" (with the return of despicable "Black Jack" Randall), and a storyline where Claire was threatened with rape twice. Thankfully, she still had moments to prove she's more than just a damsel-in-distress—but, to be honest, both were flimsy. There was a heinous bit of foreshadowing where Claire was trained how to kill a man with dagger (which, wouldn't you know it, came in handy almost immediately), and another scene where Claire's astonishing memory of Frank's history lessons almost allowed her to give Randall the slip—by correctly theorising he's employed by the Duke of Sandringham, and making him think she's "undercover" in Scotland at the evil Duke's request.
The final shot was of Claire about to be brutally raped over a dinner table by Randall, until Jamie appeared in the window brandishing a firearm. Our hero! It was a rousing moment, sure, but I worry that Outlander's going to lose sight of the fact Claire was a quick-witted woman using her 20th-century smarts and attitude to negotiate this harsh world, and now she's just the plucky wife who needs rescuing by Her Man. (Book readers will inevitable tell me that doesn't prove true, which I hope is so.)
Rather weirdly, this is the last episode of Outlander until 4 April next year, so we have a ridiculous six-month wait for more episodes. Why don't they just accept season 1 was seven episodes long, and season 2 will begin quicker than you'd normally expect an Anglo-American co-production to? Or would fans have preferred waiting until spring, to have an uninterrupted six-week run into the summer? I don't know, but it feels strange to halt the show in this manner. However, more positively, Outlander's done enough to make me miss it. Claire's voice-over still irks me (especially as there are lines now where she's clearly reflecting back on these events, as if narrating her life's story, which means she must survive till the end), but most of the show has worked. I like the characters, the location shooting's gorgeous, the music's lovely, the production's handsome, it has the ability to be tonally comforting and cruel, and it's made a few storytelling decisions I wouldn't have predicted beforehand.
Until next April then!
written by Ronald D. Moore • directed by Anna Foerster • 27 September 2014 • Starz