If you’re still reeling from that Walking Dead finale or maybe just suffering from a lack of The People vs. OJ, then don’t feel too bad, because STARZ has got your back, bringing us back to the Scottish Highlands and giving us the long-awaited season two of one of its hit period pieces. Hide your kilts and your Sassenachs, because bonnie ole Outlander is back, and this time, she’s taking us to France.
Based on Diana Gabaldon’s popular book series, the show documents the adventures of ex-British Army nurse Claire Randall Fraser (Caitriona Balfe), who travels back in time to 1743 while vacationing in Scotland with her husband, Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies). Last season was filled with the wonders and many missteps in Claire’s journey, from nearly being raped and killed by her husband’s ancestor, Captain “Black Jack” Randall (also played by Menzies), to being kidnapped by the Highlanders, whereupon she marries the red-headed stud Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), securing her safety.
Still dealing with the fallout of his rape and torture at the hands of Jack Randall in last season’s finale, Jamie is now at a crossroads, faced with intimacy issues and he and Claire’s impending parenthood. But he will have little time to deal with his physical and emotional wounds, as the current political landscape of the 1740s, particularly the Jacobite Rebellion, takes the Fraser family away from the Scottish Highlands and transports them to glittering France. In an effort to rewrite history, Claire is now determined to meet with the Jacobite leaders and undermine the Scottish uprising, which she knows will result in the British Empire wiping out thousands of Highlanders in the Battle of Culloden.
Since its inception, Outlander has consistently set itself apart by becoming one of the most ambitious and astonishing television shows on air. From Balfe and Menzies pulling double duty, acting in both in the 1940s and the 1740s settings, to Heughan’s utter believability as the vulnerable, yet heroic Jamie, their sheer acting prowess alone warrants much praise and accolades — few of which the show has been awarded, to critical disappointment. They have slipped into these roles as if their careers thus far have been mere stepping-stones to greatness.
And if there ever were a time the Emmys should take note of Outlander, it would be now that we’ve had our first look at the second season, with “Through a Glass, Darkly.”
Within the first few minutes we are just as disoriented as Claire is, who finds herself back in 1948, staring up at the standing stones of Craigh na Dun, the site where she first traveled back in time. That initial scene where she grapples with her “present” reality and the loss of her Highland family is absolutely guttural, setting the tone for the entire episode and, arguably, the entire season. In a risky move on the writer’s part, Claire soon learns that the Jacobite Rebellion was not thwarted and that the Battle of Culloden did, in deed, take place.
In perhaps the most difficult episode yet for Balfe, Claire must reunite with her former husband Jack, who not only must deal with her incredible story but must also accept her pregnancy, something that he does not take to lightly. Half of Claire’s time is spent convincing herself that the man she is looking at is not the same man who tormented her and Jamie, despite the almost same appearance. Although a slight diversion from the book, the writers’ decision to place Frank’s story more at the forefront is a nice touch, making his own trials more sympathetic and relevant.
From here on out it should feel like we’re wasting time, since we already know that Claire deliberately traveled back to the 1900s at Jamie’s behest, following their failed attempt to stop the uprising. The entire season then virtually exists as one giant flashback, as we return to the 18th century nearly half of the way into the premiere.
But Outlander exceeds all expectations, skipping no beats and throwing us right in the middle of Claire and Jamie’s frustrating mission in France.The new cultural landscape changes the rules in the political game we glimpsed in season one, and they just might be in over their heads when they make an enemy out of Le Comte St. Germain (Stanley Weber).
Jamie puts it best: “Another country, another enemy. Life with you is certainly never dull, Sassenach.”
Although the impact of this new enemy is somewhat dulled by his current lack of background, there’s no mistaking the strength of this season opener. Now there’s just the question of how soon we’ll get that well-documented sex scene with Claire’s baby bump.
Outlander airs Saturday nights on STARZ at 8 p.m. CDT.
Follow Sara Snoddy on Twitter at @Sara_Snoddy.
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