Tuesday, 7 April 2015

OUTLANDER, 1.9 – 'The Reckoning'

Tuesday, 7 April 2015


It's been an unreasonably long six months since the last episode of Outlander, so this might as well have been the premiere of the second season, not a resumption of the first—although, on that score, it would be seen as a big disappointment. As a mid-season episode, I guess this was fine—but forgive me if my memory of Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish) financing a Jacobite rebellion has since gone stale, but I managed to cling to the enjoyable relationship drama at the heart of this show. A fantasy romance lives or dies on the strength of its lovers, and it's here that Outlander resonates thanks to English time-traveller Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Scottish clansman Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) being one of television's most beguiling matches.

Indeed, much of "The Reckoning" worked when it was simply exploring their unique relationship—as a married couple from different backgrounds and, unbeknownst to Jamie, centuries. Highlights of the hour revolved around Jamie being perturbed by Claire's reluctance to accept a level of blame when it came to being kidnapped by British soldiers, which required his one-man assault on Fort William to rescue her from rape by her future-husband's ancestor 'Black Jack' Randall (Tobias Menzies). In 17th-century Scotland, the battles of the sexes is firmly tipped in the male's favour, and it was great to see Outlander tackle this without falsifying history to make the heroic Jamie even more noble and "modern". I mean, he's still the man of your dreams (if red-haired hunks in kilts with mutilated backs are your thing), but he's also a product of his time: a proud young Scot who's been brought up to believe women are the lesser sex, and should swear fealty to their husbands, When Claire was just a visiting 'sassenach' to Castle Leoch, her unusual 'English ways' were exotic and enticing because of their uniqueness, but now she's married they're slightly bothersome and a genuine concern.

I've been told the sequence where Jamie beats Claire with his trouser belt, as punishment for risking the clan's lives during their adventure, is seen as very controversial. I didn't feel the controversy. It was actually refreshing to see a show like this tackle an old way like that, without making Jamie feel like a terrible brute. There was actually a dark humour to the moment, with Claire wide-eyed and scrambling around their bedroom to avoid Jamie's leather, while he treated the event in a weirdly matter-of-fact way she's unreasonable not to tolerate. It would only have felt controversial if they were 21st-century lovers, surely.

And besides, by the end of "The Reckoning", Jamie's sworn to never raise his hand to his spouse ever again, and Claire ensured he's telling the truth by pressing a blade to his gullet whilst riding him in the dominant cowgirl position. So, presumably we have less to worry about as an overly fretful modern audience. But I genuinely hope Outlander won't completely erase this cultural tension between Claire and Jamie, which rears its head occasionally, because it feels so honest and different to anything else on television. Indeed, certainly in terms of genre programming right now, there's an honesty and intense sexuality to their scenes that really thrums with energy—helped, it has to be said, by Starz's open-mindedness when it comes to nudity, and Balfe's willingness to oblige their voyeuristic cameras.

The rest of this episode didn't really grab me—although it was fun to see Jamie playing an advisory role to his laird Colum (Gary Lewis) with his thoughts on Dougal's rebelliousness, and Dougal's reveal he's the father of Colum's successor Hamish (Roderick Gilkison) confirms an awkward mistake Claire made in "Castle Leoch" . And while Tobias Menzies only had one scene as scoundrel Randall, he continues to have found his calling as one of fiction's most despicable characters—someone I will audibly cheer to see get his just deserts.

Not the best episode as mid-season premieres go (hopefully season 2 will avoid the so-called #Droughtlander scenario that's sucked the wind out of season 1's sails), but I'm hoping to get back into this show in the coming weeks. I wonder if the entire second-half will feature a narration from Jamie, mirroring the first half's focus on Claire's perspective? I doubt it, but it would be interesting.

written by Matthew B. Roberts • directed by Richard Clark • 4 April 2015 • Starz