I wasn't anticipating much from "The Search", because Outlander's perhaps leaned too much on the derring-do thrills of people being kidnapped or arrested, and requiring their loved-ones to rescue them. However, this hour actually surprised me by taking some unexpected turns, and setup what promises to be a rousing end to the season—even if it's determined to find drama in innocent people falling foul of the English redcoats.
The first part of "The Search" was more evidence of his this series works as a brilliant stealth feminist adventure, with Claire (Caitriona Balfe) venturing out into the Highlands with sister-in-law Jenny (Laura Donnelly) to find Jamie (Sam Heughan)—following maps, tracking horses, torturing an ambushed English courier, um, lactating. The two women were an enjoyable pairing, with Claire's 20th-century sense of civility again clashing with the much harsher 17th-century world Jenny's accustomed to—best exemplified when Claire rushed to tend to their torture victim's wounds after their woodland interrogation, when Jenny matter-of-factly informed her the man will be killed to prevent him blabbing to his comrades. I also liked how this episode remembered Claire's from the future, which hasn't come into play as often as you'd expect, with her advice to Jenny about planting potatoes in preparation for the coming war in two-year's time. Oh, and the amusing use of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" to entertain villagers...
That sequence was definitely something I raised eyebrows over, but it worked well enough. I guess it was just hard to rationalise a plan that involved Claire becoming an itinerant entertainer ("The Sassenach Sensation"), in the vague hope her exploits and palm readings will reach the fleeing Jamie's ear. As plans go, it was pretty unconvincing and desperate to me, but perhaps it's a more feasible idea than it seemed to a modern mind. I certainly can't think of an alternative, in an era when there was no clear way of broadcasting anything beyond word-of-mouth. Luckily, this whole sequence was amusing to watch, if a little protracted, and I liked the second pairing of Claire with Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix). In particular, their beach heart-to-heart about Jamie was lovely.
And just when it felt like the episode was going to be plod along with Claire and Murtagh's travelling song-and-dance adventure, thinks took a welcome twist with Dougal (Graham McTavish) accepting their bait and drawing to his smuggler's cave with news of Jamie's fate (an imminent hanging) and a literal proposal of future marriage to get his hands on the Fraser land. Dougal's one of the show's most fascinating characters to me, because he has a mix of good and bad qualities. One minute he can be playing saviour to Claire, the next he's nothing but a problem, or a grievance.
Things end with Claire, Dougal and Murtagh agreeing to break Jamie out of Wentworth Prison before he's hung, and asking the Fraser men to help them in their task. Inevitably, the gang are all in favour after a pep talk from Claire (just mention anything involving family blood running through veins, and Scotsmen are like putty in your hands), although given that failure could mean Dougal's fortunes spike and he gets his hands on the formidable Claire, I wonder if his heart's really in this task. Or am I painting Dougal too bleakly, as it's perhaps unfair to believe he's let his nephew die just to bed his widow?
Overall, despite some pacing issues in the middle, "The Search" was a fine episode—strengthening the relationship between Claire and Jamie, by removing Jamie's presence and making the audience feel the emptiness Claire was hoping to fill. It was also very memorable for the Claire/Jenny interactions early on, as part of me was disappointed Jenny rode home and her position taken by Murtagh.
written by Matthew B. Roberts • directed by Metin Hüseyin • 19 May 2015 • Starz