Monday, 22 September 2014

OUTLANDER, 1.7 – 'The Wedding' • happily ever after?

Monday, 22 September 2014

★★½ (out of four)
JAMIE (to Claire): I'll never forget when I came out of the church and saw you for the first time. It was as if I stepped outside on a cloudy day and suddenly the sun came out.
It couldn't hope to compete with the imagery and shocks of "The Garrison Commander", but "The Wedding" had warmth and charm... and heaven knows we really needed our spirits lifting after last week's harrowing hour. Considering this was a fundamentally slower, character-driven instalment, writer Anne Kenney did a good job keeping your attention. It cleverly subverted expectations by opening with Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) already getting married, so Claire doesn't have to be handed back to the English, and filled the rest of the hour with some nice Claire/Jamie scenes and occasional flashbacks to their hurried wedding preparations...

I didn't expect Claire and Jamie to be married this early in OUTLANDER's lifespan, and certainly not before the very first season has ended. It may be a marriage of convenience, but this hour did everything it could to make you believe "The Wedding" marked a fundamental change in the Claire/Jamie relationship—which, until now, was one of mutual admiration and physical attraction... not deep love, per se.

Claire still has feelings for her husband in the 1940s, but marrying the handsome and respectable Jamie isn't the worst predicament in the world—and it will keep her safe from the English and trusted by the Scottish, with the potential for genuine love to blossom.

And blossom is most certainly did. "The Wedding" had the difficult task of giving these two characters a depth of feeling the show has only really touched on, and a lot of that was down to genre convention of the beautiful girl being naturally drawn to the most chivalrous male of a misogynistic bunch. Outlander practically demands that Claire and Jamie become a hot couple, in everything we've been taught to assume in romantic fiction. So while this episode was ticking a box everyone's imaginary pen has been hovering over from the beginning, the fact it's been dealt with will clear the path for less predictable storytelling.
DOUGAL: I commend you for doing your duty but it needn't stop you from sampling other pleasures. I find you to be the most singular woman, Claire.
CLAIRE: I'm Jamie's wife.
I hear this episode has been highly-anticipated by the millions of book fans; most likely because it was a scintillating read and they're keen to see if the live-action show managed to outdo their own imaginations. I can't speak to that, but everything we saw worked for me. Balfe and Heughan have obvious chemistry, and both are desirably beautiful, so their sex scenes certain quickened the blood flow to certain areas of the anatomy.

Just beyond the chance to gaze at Heughan's sculpted pectorals and Balfe's toned buttocks, the actors generated a lot of heat and rich emotion. I loved how they first had slightly awkward and brief sex (with Jamie losing his virginity), before eventually making love after getting to know each other better, physically and socially.

There was also an intriguing glimpse at a source of conflict from Dougal (Graham McTavis), who arranged this marriage to keep Claire safe, but perhaps didn't expect her to fall in love with Jamie. The scene where he approached her in the kitchen, and made it clear he's interested in her sexually, was a good reminder that Dougal has a creepy side. I don't doubt he cares for Claire and he's certainly a noble man, but he's also prone to making badly-judged approaches to women he fancies. Maybe he's just a product of his time, and compelled towards Claire because she's just so different to 18th-century women and, consequently, a more satisfying conquest to be had. Once he realises Jamie and Claire have genuine feelings for each other, and they're not behaving like they're in a sham marriage, it'll be interesting to see how he copes.

Overall, considering the limitations of the episode in terms of locations and characters, this dialogue-heavy instalment was a definite success. Claire and Jamie are characters to care about, which is incredible considering Outlander's only been on-air seven weeks, and it feels like a wise decision to get them together so quickly. A wedding ceremony could easily have been the focus of a series finale, after years of 'will-they-won't-they?' teasing, but Outlander's embraced this predictability early, and given it a little twist. Too early, perhaps? Time will tell.

Oh, and the costumes were stunning—especially Claire's beautiful wedding dress.

written by Anne Kenney • directed by Anna Foerster • 20 September 2014 • Starz