Outlander, a Starz-original TV show based on a series of novels of the same name written by Diana Gabaldon, is back with a second season. Although Outlander might not technically qualify as science fiction from a genre perspective–it doesn’t allude to a fictional scientific breakthrough or a speculative future either utopian or dystopian–, the name of the person who developed Outlander for TV, Ronald D. Moore, may set off a few science fiction red alerts. Moore was integral in fleshing out both the Klingon and Ferengi cultures in Star Trek: The Next Generation. And, Moore wrote or co-wrote some of the most popular Berman-era Star Trek episodes, including Star Trek: The Next Generation’s fan-favourite series finale All Good Things …
Moore was also responsible in large part for the successful re-imagining of Battlestar Galactica in 2004, working as the show’s developer and as one of its writers. So, I was pretty excited when I heard about this unique show that was developed for TV by the godfather of the Klingon culture and would feature a time-traveling World War II combat nurse portrayed well by Caitriona Balfe.
I won’t summarize the first season here but I will say that Outlander‘s first season surprised me. I had expected a lot more discussion about time travel and the nature of altering history from a show that was developed by Ronald D. Moore and involves sending its main character 200 years back in time. This lack of speculation on altering history, especially the main character’s own personal history, made the first season of Outlander seem more like a historical Soap Opera than a Science Fiction show. That being said, it was a well done historical Soap Opera that touched on issues like spousal abuse, psychological torture, rape, and the nature of love. And, although the first episode, “Through a Glass, Darkly,” doesn’t represent a total departure from Outlander’s first season, it does seem to promise an approach more rooted in science fiction or fantasy than its first season was. But, enough pontificating, first a recap of “Through A Glass, Darkly” …
Outlander Season 2 “Through A Glass, Darkly” – The Recap
If you watched Outlander last season you were probably, like me, surprised by the way Outlander Season 2 started. The audience sees Claire in a familiar stone circle frantically searching for something. She finds a ring in the dirt. A visibly upset Claire stumbles down a road until she comes upon a car–this definitely isn’t the 18th century where the audience left Claire last season. As the driver of the vehicle tells Claire while she holds him up by his collar, it’s the year 1948 and the English won the Battle of Culloden.
It’s a difficult reunion for Claire and her 20th century husband Frank made even worse by the fact that Claire, picturing Frank’s ancestor Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall, recoils in disgust whenever Frank touches her. Showing an exceptional level of understanding, Frank first tells Claire that he doesn’t care where she’s been and is only happy that she’s back. He even takes in Claire’s wild tale of time travel and marriage to another man with relative understanding. It’s not until Claire reveals that she’s pregnant with Jamie’s child that Frank loses his cool and nearly strikes his time-traveling wife, the reality of their predicament setting in.
After a discussion with his host and friend Reverend Wakefield, though, Frank decides to raise the baby as his own rather than dwelling on the fact that the child’s true father is a long-dead Scottish Highlander. Claire agrees that the child should be raised as Frank’s son and that she will stop researching the fate of her 18th century husband Jamie Fraser. Frank in turn swears never to use the word “flogged” in Claire’s presence.
Their terms discussed, the two talk about the future. Frank has decided to accept a posting at Harvard, and the two must move to Boston. So, after a symbolic burning of Claire’s 18th century get-up the two fly to America. As Claire steps out of the plane she has a flashback to the day she landed in Le Havre, France more than 200 years ago in the company of her other husband, Jamie Fraser.
So, after the relatively surprising beginning to Outlander Season 2, the audience is taken back to where it left Claire and Jamie at the end of the first season. Jamie is recovering from injuries suffered during his rape and torture by “Black Jack” Randall. And, because of one of the only bits of discussion about changing history from Outlander’s first season, Claire and Jamie have sailed to France in an attempt to stop the Jacobite rebellion before it can be wiped out at the Battle of Culloden. Claire feels that this is the best way to ensure that the Highland culture that Jamie is a part of isn’t destroyed.
The rest of “Through a Glass, Darkly” was similar to Outlander’s first season in that it was a relatively straight-ahead period melodrama aside from the fact that Claire knows vague information about some future events, including the fact that the Jacobite rebellion ends with their brutal defeat at the Battle of Culloden. In a productive meeting with Jamie’s Jacobite uncle Jared Fraser, publicly a successful wine merchant, Jamie convinces Jared that he and Claire are loyal to the Jacobite cause. Jared also gives Jamie a 35 percent cut in all profits that come from his wine business if Jamie will oversee it while Jared is away.
In the final scenes of “Through a Glass, Darkly,” Claire’s authority as a healer is once again challenged by an idiotic man with selfish interests: Le Comte St. Germain vows to get revenge on Claire, Jamie, and Jared when Claire exposes a smallpox outbreak that’s traced back to St. Germain’s ship. The authorities seize and burn the ship with all its cargo. Claire doesn’t waste any time making new friends, does she?
Outlander Season 2 “Through a Glass, Darkly” – My Critique
Like I said above, it was good to start the season off with some mention of Claire’s temporal duality. Without any mention of time travel, Outlander may as well be Game of Thrones. This first episode of Outlander Season 2 reminded me of Tobias Menzies‘s (Frank/Jonathan Randall) emotive range. Menzies’s portrayal of Jack Randall last season left my skin crawling, and his portrayal of Jack Randall’s descendant Frank is as touching as his portrayal of Jack is unsettling.
Although I enjoyed the half and half approach taken in the Outlander Season 2 premiere, I don’t imagine that Outlander will continue using this format. One wonders what kind of drama could be cooked up in post-WWII Boston that would compare to the inevitable betrayal and violence involved in attempting to suppress the Jacobite rebellion from the inside. Having never read the series of novels by Diana Gabaldon, I can’t claim any insight into the outcome or structure that the show will take but I’m happy to wait and see where this story of 20th-century feminism in the 18th century goes.