Outlander’s second season showed viewers a bit of everything: plotting, murder, loss, grief, time travel, and potatoes. Now that Season Two is over, it seems that Outlander is casting off its cloak of preamble and getting into the meat of Diana Gabaldon’s book series. With eight books in the series and a ninth on the way (not including novellas, short stories, nor the Lord John spinoff series) there’s a great deal of material to cover. The novel Dragonfly in Amber is Gabaldon’s second book in the series but it’s not clear whether or not Season Three will cover events from the third book, Voyager.
As an episode, “Dragonfly in Amber” was a big one both literally and figuratively. Clocking in at just under an hour and a half, “Dragonfly in Amber” is the longest episode of Outlander yet. Figuratively, so much is going on in this episode that I’d best get on with …
Dragonfly in Amber – My Recap
Dragonfly in Amber – The Wake
“Dragonfly in Amber” opens with a grainy black-and-white image of a buzzer with the name “Emma Peel” on it. And, as the camera zooms out, we see a young man watching TV with a group of children; a caption informs us that this is 1968 and we are in Scotland. A mousey looking woman, Fiona, walks in and tells the young man that his guests are asking after him.
The camera cuts to a different room and we see the same young man give a eulogy to his father whom he and others refer to as “the reverend”. There is one familiar face in the crowd of funeral-goers, the sassenach herself Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser with a wisp of grey in her hair. After the eulogy, the young man, whose name we learn is Roger Wakefield (that makes his late father Reverend Reginald Wakefield), notices an attractive redhead looking around. Having never met the young woman, Roger attempts an introduction. But, before he learns the young woman’s name, Claire appears and inserts herself in the conversation, saying it’s so good to see him again.
Claire tells Roger that the last time she saw him was when he was 7 or 8 years old, and that she and her husband Frank were great friends of Roger’s father. The attractive redhead turns out to be Claire’s daughter who introduces herself as “Brianna, the daughter”. When Claire tells Roger that his father and Frank were great friends, Roger remembers the name. Claire reveals that she’s now a surgeon and that she and Brianna are visiting from Boston. Claire asks after Mrs. Graham but it turns out the superstitious housekeeper has, like the reverend, kicked the bucket.
Dragonfly in Amber – Whisky Time
After the other guests have left, Claire and Brianna say their goodbyes to Roger. Roger insists that the two women spend the night rather than drive until they find lodgings. Claire and Brianna agree, stipulating that it must not be an imposition.
Unfortunately, Claire can’t sleep. Roger finds her in front of the fire drinking whisky, and sits down to have a dram. He notes that he can’t seem to part with his father’s old books, especially some volumes concerning Charles Stuart and the Battle of Culloden. This piques Claire’s interest and Roger reveals that some of his ancestors died at Culloden: their names were MacKenzie. Roger explains that Reverend Wakefield adopted him after WWII. Claire wistfully remarks that she used to know a lot of MacKenzies once upon a time.
The topic of conversation changes to dealing with the loss of a loved one. Roger asks how to go about it but Claire tells him that she’s never been good with goodbyes. She says that it’s the duty of the living to go on without their loved ones because that’s what they would want. Claire says goodnight and returns to her and Brianna’s room. As she looks at her daughter’s sleeping form, she thinks about how much Brianna looks like her father.
Dragonfly in Amber – Mark Me!
Cue flashback and a fade in on Jamie. We’re back in 1746 and things look grim. Jamie once again tries to reason with his prince Charles Stuart. He tells the bewigged Pretender to the throne that his army is unready to fight today. Using his typical religious flair, Stuart calls Jamie a doubting Thomas and compares himself to Christ. Stuart tells Jamie that he will make a believer out of him yet. Jamie’s not so sure.
Jamie, Murtagh, and Claire have a quick chat. Murtagh tells the others that Cumberland (the English duke) and his army are on the move. He suggests that they retreat to a better position. After Murtagh has left, Claire tells Jamie there’s only one option left to them but won’t discuss it in the open.
Dragonfly in Amber – Day Trippers
A relatively awkward cut later, we’re back in 1968 watching Brianna and Roger drive through the Scottish countryside. The two arrive at Fort William and Brianna asks Roger if he remembers her father at all. He only remembers vague details but says he remembers that Frank was a very kind man. When the conversation turns to Claire, though, Brianna says her mother is in a different world. Standing in front of a replica of the stocks at Fort William, Brianna says that the place gives her the chills.
Claire’s day trip isn’t going so well. On a trip to a dilapidated Lallybroch, she remembers her past as she sits on the porch thinking of her and Jamie’s wedding vows. As she gets into her car and drives away, we once again return to 1746.
Dragonfly in Amber – Charles Stuart Must Die
In an empty room, Claire tells Jamie that the whole battle hinges on Charles Stuart, no Stuart no battle. So, Claire says, let’s kill him! She tells Jamie that she has some poison, the same poison that Colum took to end his life. Jamie briefly becomes concerned for Colum’s immortal soul but Claire assures him that it was for the best. Jamie considers poisoning Stuart, and Claire utters those fateful words, “No one will ever know,” just before we see Dougal‘s concerned face listening at the door.
Dragonfly in Amber – The Grubby Bedroom
Another jarring cut and we’re back in 1968 with Brianna and Roger. Brianna asks Roger if he remembers an incident involving her mother that may have occurred 20 years ago. The only thing that comes to Roger’s mind is finding Mrs. Graham crying in the shed after Frank, in a fit of rage, had apparently smashed everything. Roger’s certain, though, that Mrs. Graham was crying about something else, not the state of the tool shed. Brianna tells Roger about a lock box of her father’s she found years ago. She recalls finding a disturbing letter to Reverend Wakefield inside the box in which Frank mentioned some incident involving Claire.
Roger then remembers that the reverend kept a journal religiously (pardon the pun), and that any incident that occurred is likely to be mentioned in one of his entries. He suggests to Brianna that they look through the journals, so long as Brianna doesn’t mind getting a bit grubby: she doesn’t.
Dragonfly in Amber – Free Scotland!
Back to Claire who parks outside the County Records Office. Some graffiti that reads “Free Scotland” welcomes her as she makes her way inside. A friendly civil servant presents Claire with the deed to Lallybroch, noting the various signatures that belong to Jamie, Murtagh, Jamie’s nephew James Murray, and Claire. The civil servant informs Claire that the property stayed in Murray hands after that, and presents her with a copy of the deed. Claire’s final request is for a genealogical search on the name Roger MacKenzie.
Brianna returns to the guest room at the Wakefield residence and finds Claire still up. After some mother-daughter fencing about whether or not Brianna went on a date with Roger, Brianna asks what Claire got up to while Brianna wasn’t on a date. Brianna asks Claire if she went to places she used to go with “daddy”. Claire responds that she went to some of those places. Brianna then asks if Claire ever loved Frank. Claire evades the question but eventually says she did.
Dragonfly in Amber – A Witch and the Son of a Bastard
Claire sits on her bed and fiddles with a bag of letters and vials and we cut back to 1746. Jamie and Claire are still debating whether or not to kill Stuart: Jamie reminds her that they’ll be committing cold-blooded murder. Claire argues that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few. Ross barges in and tells Jamie that Lord Murray is calling for him. Ross leaves and just before Jamie heads to the front, Claire says that she could put the poison in Stuart’s tea right now. Unfortunately, Dougal, who overheard the entire exchange, pushes his way into the room hurling some handpicked insults at Jamie and Claire.
Dragonfly in Amber – Gaellis Returns
Back to 1968: Roger and Brianna drop by “the college,” and Brianna happens upon a familiar face reciting Scottish nationalist slogans to a crowd. Viewers who watched Outlander Season One should recognize the young woman as Gaellis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek). Viewers may also remember that in the 18th century Gaellis was burnt at the stake for practicing witchcraft. This, unless she really is a witch, is Gaellis Duncan before she traveled back in time then (the keenest of viewers should remember that Gaellis told Claire she was from 1968 before she was executed).
After her rousing speech, during which she tells everyone that they’re all “bonny Prince Charlie,” Gaellis and Brianna engage in a bit of history nerd sparring. And, when Roger finds Brianna and introduces himself to Gaellis, Gaellis introduces herself as Gillian Edgars. “Gillian” hands Brianna a pamphlet and invites the young couple to another rally.
Dragonfly in Amber – Culloden 1968/1746
In a nostalgic mood, Claire visits the Culloden Visitor Centre & Museum. She’s greeted by a much-too-tall wax sculpture of Charles Stuart. Her firsthand experience gets the better of her and she rants at a stranger that they’ve turned a fool into a hero. Having ruined one tourist’s day, Claire checks out some more knick-knacks and overhears a couple at another display case discussing one of the artifacts, a dragonfly. This piques Claire’s interest and as the couple head to the gift shop Claire takes their place at the display case and sees a dragonfly in amber, Claire and Jamie’s wedding gift from Hugh Munro.
A quick cut later and we’re back in 1746. Claire, Jamie, and Dougal are right where we left them. Jamie tries to reason with his uncle but this becomes very difficult, especially because Dougal keeps hurling out the insults. In a fit of patriotic rage, Dougal grabs his sword and attacks his treasonous nephew. Jamie does his best to avoid hurting Dougal but after being bitten and headbutted he eventually gives in to self preservation.
Dougal and Jamie grapple with a dagger, the dagger is pointed at Jamie, they grapple, and Claire smashes a crate over Dougal’s head. Jamie pins Dougal and turns the dagger on him. Jamie tries to drive the dagger into Dougal’s chest but can’t overpower him. Claire rushes to Jamie’s side and presses down on his shoulders, providing the final bit of strength needed to drive the dagger into Dougal’s chest. Jamie apologizes but since Dougal’s dead I don’t think he’s likely to forgive him.
Dragonfly in Amber – Atticted to Love
1968 again! Brianna and Roger search through Roger’s attic looking for the reverend’s journals. Roger woos Brianna by singing a “rat satire” and eventually they find a box labeled “Randall”. They riffle through the heirlooms and agree that the box’s contents warrant some investigation. They take it to the dining room to go through it properly.
We return to 1746 and the scene of the murder of Dougal MacKenzie. Rupert walks in and finds Jamie and Claire standing over Dougal’s freshly murdered corpse. Jamie asks Rupert for two hours to tend to certain matters after which he will return to face justice. Rupert allows Jamie this reprieve but promises to send him to the fiery pit himself.
Back to 1968: Claire is walking on Culloden Moor thinking of how Frank described the battle to her, “very quick and very bloody”. Claire finds a headstone marked “Clan Fraser” and sees a woman laying flowers. The woman asks Claire if she’s a Fraser, and Claire replies that she is. The woman leaves Claire to her thoughts.
Claire does the classic talking to a headstone thing and tells Jamie that they have a daughter named Brianna. Claire tells him that she used to blame him for her unhappiness and, by way of a very brief cut away, she tells him everything about their daughter. She mentions their parting of ways at Craigh na Dun and says that she never said goodbye but has come to do it now.
Dragonfly in Amber – Kidnapped by the Faeries
While going through Reverend Wakefield’s “Randall” box, Brianna finds a newspaper clipping from 1948 with the headline “Kidnapped by the Faeries”. The article concerns Claire’s 3-year absence and return. As Brianna looks through the reverend’s journal entries for more information, Roger suggests that Brianna may not like what she finds but Brianna says she wants the truth, no matter what.
After Claire returns to the Wakefield residence, she’s set upon by her daughter who demands to know if she has been secretly seeing the man who fathered Brianna. Brianna, not understanding the nature of Claire’s 3-year absence believes that she was having an affair. Roger walks in on the tense conversation with another interesting item from his father’s journal, but he cedes the floor to Claire who asks Brianna and Roger to sit while she explains herself (this should be good).
Claire admits that Brianna was fathered by another man whom Claire loved very much. She explains that Frank wanted to raise Brianna as his own. Brianna asks if the reason they came to Scotland was so that she could introduce herself to her real father. Claire explains that would be impossible since her real father is dead. Claire tells Brianna that she will tell her everything about him but Brianna doesn’t want to hear it. She gets up to leave but Roger reminds her that she had said she wanted the truth, no matter what, and Brianna sits again. Claire says that Jamie loved Brianna without even meeting her and that he would’ve raised her had it not been for the Battle of Culloden.
Dragonfly in Amber – The Deed to Lallybroch
Back to 1746: Jamie explains to Murtagh that he’s killed Dougal who replies that he’s surprised it took this long. Murtagh asks what’s to be done and Jamie pulls out the deed to Lallybroch, which he had made up a year ago for just such an occasion. The deed will keep Lallybroch in the family. Jamie employs Fergus to courier the deed to his sister Jenny at Lallybroch. Fergus gives some resistance at first but eventually follows his master’s command.
Once again we return to 1968 and the Wakefield residence. It’s obvious that Brianna isn’t convinced that the story she’s being told is true. Claire insists that she’s not feeding her daughter a story. Claire, her voice faltering with anguish, describes how similar Brianna is to Jamie. Claire shows Brianna her copy of the deed to Lallybroch with her own signature on it but Brianna still doesn’t buy it. She demands that Claire own up to being a bored housewife who slept around, but Claire won’t. She defends their time together by shouting that Jamie was the love of her life. But, Brianna won’t budge. She wants to know why Claire is making all of this up. Claire responds that she’s telling her because it’s the truth. Brianna twists the knife, saying she wishes Claire had died rather than Frank, and leaves.
Back in 1746 again and we see Claire finish signing her name on the deed to Lallybroch. Claire and Jamie embrace Fergus and tell him they think of him as their son.
Dragonfly in Amber – Ghosts Everywhere
Back to 1968: Brianna and Roger are in a pub drinking whisky. Brianna tells Roger that her mother is insane but Roger suggests that Claire is trying to open up and share something with her. Roger says the only thing that’s important is that Claire believes what she’s saying. He says they should keep open minds.
We see Claire looking through the newspaper clippings that Brianna and Roger have gone through. She drops the clippings suddenly as she sees Gaellis Duncan’s picture on the White Roses of Scotland pamphlet that Brianna brought back to the house. Claire remembers that Gaellis told her she came through the stones from 1968, and she decides to visit Gaellis, er–Gillian Edgars’s house.
Claire is greeted at the house by a relatively surly drunk claiming to be Gillian’s husband. Claire introduces herself as an old friend and Mr. Edgars invites Claire in for a whisky. Claire says she won’t be in town long and asks how best to get in touch with Gillian. Her husband says that Gilllian is likely with the White Roses of Scotland, describing them as bloody nationalists. He says that Gillian has been taking folklore classes at the college, filling notebooks with her research, and that he hasn’t seen her in weeks. He asks Claire to tell Gillian, if she sees her, to come home, and to tell her he loves her. He passes out. Claire grabs some of Gillian’s notebooks, jams them in her purse, and makes a hasty exit.
Dragonfly in Amber – My Mother’s Insane
Claire and Roger, well into the whisky, are greeted by who else but Gillian Edgars who walks up to their table and laments their absence at the latest White Roses rally. They apologize for missing the event: Roger says it’s been a tricky day. Brianna says they’ll likely see her at the next rally but Gillian replies that she’s leaving tonight to further the cause.
Claire is back at the Wakefield residence reading Gillian’s journals. She notes that, unlike Claire, Gillian studied the science of folklore-based time travel thoroughly. Claire also finds that Gillian believes one needs a human sacrifice to travel through the stones, and that certain gemstones can help guide and protect the time traveler. Claire resolves to stop Gillian from going through the stones to prevent her from being burnt at the stake.
Dragonfly in Amber – Bring the Boys Back Home
Back in 1746 again and Jamie instructs Murtagh to order the men to withdraw from the Battle of Culloden before it starts. He tells Murtagh to set them on the road to Lallybroch. Jamie tells Murtagh that the battle, doomed from the start, is already lost. He also tells Murtagh his plans are to ensure Claire’s safety, and turn back to fight in the hopeless battle. Murtagh agrees to send the men back to Lallybroch but promises to return and join Jamie in battle. Jamie resists, saying that he doesn’t want Murtagh to die for nothing, but Murtagh replies that he’ll be dying for Jamie.
Cut to Claire in 1968 sitting in her room at the Wakefield house. Brianna walks in and says she doesn’t want to argue: she doesn’t want to discuss the time travel but she does want to know about Jamie. Claire describes him to her without describing his 18th-century roots, and says she’ll tell Brianna everything about him over time. Claire describes how she didn’t mean to fall in love with Jamie, but eventually couldn’t deny her feelings.
Dragonfly in Amber – Time Paradox 101
Strange cut, and in a different room Claire asks Roger if he knows Gillian Edgars. Brianna walks in and says that she’s met her and likes her, even if she’s a crazy nationalist. Claire tells Roger and Brianna that it’s important she find Gillian tonight. Roger reports that they saw her at the pub and that she said she was leaving tonight. Claire believes Gillian will go through the stones shortly. This annoys Brianna who believes Claire’s delusional. Claire says that Gillian is Gaellis Duncan and that she owes Gaellis for saving her life. Looking at Roger, though, Claire says that she can’t.
The results of the genealogical test Claire ran on Roger show that he is a descendant of Gaellis’s child, delivered before Gaellis was executed. Roger insists that if it’s all true, they have to stop Gillian from going back in time. Claire, though, postulates that if they stop Gillian then Roger will never be born. Roger asks how it could be possible that he not be born, saying he can’t evaporate. Claire replies that she doesn’t understand how time travel works. Brianna is incredulous: she can’t understand how Roger could believe Claire’s story. Roger says that warning Gillian couldn’t hurt and Claire agrees, saying she’ll warn her not to attract attention to herself in the past.
Brianna once again storms out, telling Roger he’s feeding Claire’s delusions. Roger goes after Brianna and suggests that if they find Gillian, Claire will have to face reality. Brianna suggests Gillian may also be crazy but Roger says it’ll be interesting to see her smash her head against a stone, and either way this will put an end to it.
Dragonfly in Amber – “I Thought Somebody Was Barbecuin’!”
We’re back in 1746, and Jamie insists that Claire travel back through the stones to prevent herself from being killed in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden. Claire refuses but eventually yields when Jamie reveals that he knows Claire is pregnant. He demands that Claire keep her and their unborn child safe, so she must go back through the stones. As Jamie says, their child will be all that’s left of him once he’s gone.
Back to 1968 and we see Gillian pouring gasoline on a body. Roger’s car pulls up and Claire recognizes Gillian’s husband’s car. We see the body ignite and Roger says something smells like a barbecue. Gillian watches the body burn for a bit, runs toward the stone, and disappears. Brianna notices a buzzing sound, and then they find the blazing corpse of Gillian’s husband. Claire tells Roger to get help, and, left alone with her mother, Brianna realizes what a snotty brat she’s been. She gazes at the stones in disbelief.
Dragonfly in Amber – The Buzzing
We return to 1746 and see Jamie and Claire riding hard to Craigh na Dun. Once they arrive, Claire asks Jamie how she’ll explain everything to Frank. Jamie says he’ll leave that to Claire but asks her to tell Frank he’s grateful and that he hates him deeply. Claire notices a buzzing noise but Jamie can’t hear it. She begs Jamie to come with her through the stones but, even though he touches the stone, he can’t. His destiny, he says, is on Culloden Moor. Jamie gets romantic and says that he’ll find his wife somehow, even if he has to wait in purgatory for 200 years. He says it will all be worth it because God gave him a rare woman, and he loved her well. Then, the Frasers do what they do best, but after a quickie among the time stones Jamie hears cannon fire in the distance.
Claire gives Jamie the dragonfly in amber and tells Jamie to keep it with him. Jamie helps Claire up off the ground and gives her a ring. He tells her it belonged to his father and that Claire should give it to their child. Claire tells Jamie she’ll name the child “Brian” after his father. Then, facing each other, Jamie walks Claire back to the stone. They say their “I love you’s,” kiss, and after saying goodbye Jamie presses Claire’s hand into the stone.
Dragonfly in Amber – Time Has Come Today
We’re back at Craigh na Dun in 1968. Claire and Brianna walk away from the stones. Brianna asks Claire if someone has to be sacrificed any time someone travels through the stones. Claire tells her daughter that no one died when she went through. Brianna tells Claire she believes her and demands that they both be honest with each other. Claire once more remarks how similar Brianna is to Jamie and promises only the truth from now on.
Roger returns and tells them that he’s notified the police about the body anonymously. Brianna tells Roger to give Claire what they found. It turns out to be some research that Reverend Wakefield did at Frank’s request. The research shows that some Scots escaped after the Battle of Culloden, one named Fraser. Claire replies that there were a lot of Frasers at Culloden but Roger tells her that there were only five Fraser officers. Four of those five have their names engraved on a monument and none of the names is “James Fraser,” the fifth Fraser officer. Claire realizes that Jamie didn’t die at the Battle of Culloden, and since he survived she decides to return to the 18th century. We see a closeup of Claire’s face and the sun coming up over the stones. Roll credits to “Time Has Come Today” by The Chambers Brothers.
Dragonfly in Amber – My Critique
Too Many Cuts
As anyone who’s looked over the above recap can see, there were a lot of cuts back and forth between the 18th and 20th centuries. These sometimes awkward cuts were so frequent they made “Dragonfly in Amber” somewhat disconnected and choppy. Cuts like these should involve some kind of thematic break in the action of the episode or a thematic link between the scenes featured.
But, although the choppy narrative distracted me, what was more distracting was Sophie Skelton‘s weak acting in the role of Brianna Randall. Skelton’s weak portrayal of Brianna weighed down her scene partners’ performances and gave the episode a Movie of the Week feel. Skelton’s poor performance in “Dragonfly in Amber” may be the result of her trying to act like an American (Skelton was born and raised in the UK), but whatever the reason her performance didn’t live up to the level of acting talent that Outlander has shown us in the past.
I Dinna’ Ken the Rrreason!
As I’ve said in previous critiques, I don’t understand the writers’ reasons for starting Season Two with the revelation that Claire and Jamie were unsuccessful in stopping the Battle of Culloden. Although “Dragonfly in Amber” managed to still be an interesting episode to watch, this revelation slowed down the rest of the season. I suppose that the target demographic for Outlander is people who have read Gabaldon’s novel series, but for those who haven’t (me) the revelation about the unchanged outcome of the Battle of Culloden at the beginning of the season gave too much away.
“Dragonfly in Amber” finally featured a discussion of the potential side effects of time travel. This was a welcome discussion for me, although other viewers may not have liked it. I was glad Claire discussed Roger’s tenuous grasp on existence in “Dragonfly in Amber”. Time travel paradoxes haven’t been mentioned much in the series so far. A problem with Claire’s time-travel logic in “Dragonfly in Amber,” though, is that Claire may also cease to exist. After all, Gaellis/Gillian is one of the many people who saved Claire’s life in the 18th century.
Seasons Three and Four
I’m looking forward to the next season of Outlander. With the novels Outlander and Dragonfly in Amber taken care of, viewers will get a chance to see where the show goes now that everything is out in the open and the Battle of Culloden is over. Outlander has been renewed for two more seasons, and if the show keeps to its current framework it’ll need a few more to cover all of Gabaldon’s novels.
It’ll also be interesting to see whether or not the writers weave events from the Outlander novel series’ spinoff Lord John into the show (Lord John Grey appeared for the first time in Outlander when he interrupted Jamie taking a leak in the episode “Je Suis Prest“).