Nora Dominick ‘17/ Emertainment Monthly Co-Executive Stage Editor
From the upscale halls of Parisian royalty to the blood stained battlefield on Culloden Moor, Outlander brings fans on a life-altering journey with season two. The monumental season two finale, “Dragonfly in Amber” effortlessly weaves together the 1745 and 1968 storylines, introduces two, fan favorite book characters and leaves fans with an emotional pit in their stomachs.
When season two of Outlander began, fans learned that Claire (Caitriona Balfe) had been sent back through the stones to 1948 leaving Jamie (Sam Heughan) behind. Not only had Claire returned to Frank (Tobias Menzies), but she was also pregnant with Jamie’s child. Now after twelve, emotionally charged episodes, fans return to the future storyline, this time in 1968. Writers Toni Graphia and Matthew B. Roberts do a beautiful job at bringing Diana Gabaldon’s book to life as they effortlessly intertwine the 1745 Battle of Culloden with Claire’s 1968 storyline. With the 1745 storyline feeling claustrophobic and rushed, the 1968 storyline breathes and lets the weight of Claire’s decisions fully sink in. More than any other episode the repercussions of time travel are at the forefront. Outlander is about time traveling and dealing with those consequences and the season two finale gets back to that basic theme.
After an entire season of waiting, fans were finally introduced to Roger Wakefield MacKenzie and Brianna Randall Fraser in an epic 90-minute finale. Following so much secrecy surrounding Brianna and Roger’s introduction into Outlander, Sophie Skelton and Richard Rankin were formally ushered into the Outlander family. Rankin brings his A-game and brings Roger to life with as much heart and charisma as his character has on the page. One of his first outstanding scenes in finale comes between him and Balfe. After Claire and Brianna arrive in Inverness after the passing of Roger’s adoptive father, Reverend Wakefield, Claire begins to relive the mistakes of the past. One night when she can’t sleep, Roger and Claire have a heart to heart about saying goodbye to those you love. It’s a small scene in the grand scheme of the episode, however it introduces Rankin as a formidable scene partner for Balfe. Rankin’s ability to be the calming voice amongst a sea of chaos in this episode of Outlander proves he’s the right man to bring Roger to life.
When it was first announced that Outlander would come to life on TV, the first thing fans did was dream cast their favorite characters. Of course, Jamie and Claire were at the top of the list, but next came their daughter, Brianna. The actress stepping into the role had to embody characteristics from Heughan and Balfe and be able to bring this eloquently crafted character to life. Seeing British actress Sophie Skelton bring the role to life in the finale is something truly special to witness. From the moment she walks the halls of Roger’s house, Brianna Randall Fraser has leapt off the page in the most perfect way. Skelton has several key moments in the season two finale. Between her chemistry with Rankin to going toe-to-toe with Balfe, Skelton proves herself in this episode.
With more storylines going on than ever before, each actor on Outlander steps up their game and delivers truly remarkable performances. First off, Caitriona Balfe leads the cast with such fierceness and heart that it’s hard to separate Balfe from her character. Only leaving the screen a few times in the finale, Balfe gives her second best performance this season. Between Claire’s life in 1745 to her new world in 1968, Balfe effortlessly separates the two versions of Claire, while still maintaining a common thread: a constant love for Jamie. Balfe has several Emmy award worthy moments in the finale and for some of them she doesn’t even have a scene partner.
With Roger showing Brianna around Scotland, Claire decides to visit a very special place: Lallybroch. In one of the most emotional moments, Claire pulls into the abandoned estate and it’s hard not to shed a tear for the place that housed so much life and promise in the 18th century. As Claire exits her car, voice overs from past episodes come flooding back reminding her of everyone and everything she left behind. With no dialogue uttered, Balfe delivers a remarkable performance. With a beautiful score by Bear McCreary, coupled with a silent, sobbing Balfe, Outlander proves it can thrive in the quiet moments as much as the big ones. What really brings this scene home is when Claire is seated on the steps of Lallybroch and envisions a strapping Jamie standing in the entrance. As Heughan voiceovers a beautiful poem, Balfe weeps. Any fan will surely remember this scene and it’s all thanks to an utterly speechless performance by Balfe.
The next cry-inducing moment for Claire comes in 1968 when she visits the Clan Fraser memorial on Culloden Moor. Again, a scene that only consists of the beautiful Scottish scenery and a perfectly executed monologue by Balfe. “Here I am,” Claire utters to Jamie’s grave. Claire says she isn’t going to cry, but I never promised anything. In a heartfelt moment, Claire tells Jamie all about Brianna. How she is named after his father, how she was raised and every detail she can possibly remember. This small moment is where Balfe truly shines and proves she can own a scene even when her scene partner is a rock.
Although the actual Battle of Culloden doesn’t take place in this episode, tensions are high as the Clans prepare to march into battle. Tensions seem to be the highest between Claire and Jamie as the duo decide whether or not to kill Prince Charles Edward Stuart (Andrew Gower) before the battle commences. Of course, nothing can go as planned for the duo as Dougal (Graham McTavish) overhears their entire plan. In one of the most intense scenes in the episode, Jamie and Dougal fight in closed quarters. Heughan and McTavish bring a monumental book scene to life as Dougal’s world comes crashing down in front of him. With one last struggle, Jamie turns Dougal’s knife on him. A great addition to the TV show from the books, Claire assists Jamie as the great Dougal MacKenzie takes his last breath. Between seasons one and two, McTavish brought Dougal to life with equal parts intensity and heart. Dougal’s death and McTavish’s absence will loom large on Outlander going forward.
Before I discuss the gut-wrenching final Jamie and Claire scenes, let’s go back to 1968 for a second. After exploring Scotland with Roger, Brianna begins to piece together her parents past. When she discovers the news article about Claire’s disappearance and realizes Frank couldn’t possibly be her real father, Brianna confronts her mother. Skelton does a great job and combining characteristics of both Jamie and Claire to create Brianna. She has Jamie’s heart and Claire’s scientific mind. So, when Claire begins spewing some “nonsense” about time travel and her real father dying during the Battle of Culloden, Brianna doesn’t believe her at all. This is a scene book fans have been waiting for and both Skelton and Balfe did it justice. It was a rare sight to see Claire step back and be a lesser presence in a scene with another character. If anyone was going to loom larger in a scene, it would be her daughter. Skelton and Balfe do an incredible job at establishing their mother/daughter bond from the beginning. It will be wonderful to see Balfe and Skelton grow that bond going into future seasons.
Outlander may thrive on time travel, war and perilous historical situation, but at its core it’s a story about love. No matter where you place Jamie and Claire, their love story will come bubbling to the surface. Jamie makes the harrowing decision to send Clan Fraser back home to minimize casualties. Before the battle begins, Jamie first must get Claire to safety and then he will come back and die in the battle alongside Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix). With this decision, Outlander delivers a gut-wrenching farewell that should earn the two stars Emmy nominations.
There are two major parts to the Jamie and Claire farewell. Both scenes fans have been dreading since season two began. The first part comes when Jamie tells Claire he has decided to send her back through the stones at Craigh Na Dun. If this scene was a test before the final goodbye, I failed miserably. From the moment the camera pans and you see Claire’s face as she realizes Jamie’s plan, I was a goner. On top of Jamie telling his plan to Claire, he also reveals that he knows Claire is pregnant. In order to save Claire, their child, and to keep his legacy alive long after the sun sets on the Battle of Culloden, Jamie must say goodbye to his love. Heughan and Balfe nail this scene. Heughan brings Jamie’s conflicting emotions to life while Balfe perfectly encapsulates Claire’s grief. The duo continue to amaze audiences and critics alike and it has been an honor and pleasure to watch them work.
Like I said, there are really two major parts to this goodbye. The second part probably qualifies as the scene that fans used the most tissues on all TV season. I should’ve bought stock in Kleenex before this scene because an entire box of tissue met its demise. Claire and Jamie ride to Craig Na Dun and it’s there that Heughan and Balfe deliver one of their best scenes this season. From Balfe’s gut wrenching pleading to Heughan’s stoic moments, Outlander shines the brightest during this scene of total defeat. Balfe and Heughan exceed every expectation and bring this pivotal scene from Dragonfly in Amber to life.
“Lord, ye gave me a rare woman, and God! I loved her well.” Heughan delivers this iconic line from the novel perfectly. I’ve said it before, but I’ll say it again, Heughan is the breakout star of Outlander. He has grown so much as an actor during the first two seasons. Heughan, alongside Balfe, have brought two iconic fictional characters to life with grace, heart and tenacity. This final goodbye between Jamie and Claire showcases Heughan and Balfe at their strongest. With one final kiss, Jamie steadies Claire and walks her towards the stones. A beautiful moment perfectly executed by every department on Outlander. From the synchronized choreography executed by Heughan and Balfe to the incredible location to the writing, Outlander proves it’s a heavy hitter. With one final tear down Jamie and Claire’s cheeks, Claire passes through the stones leaving fans and Jamie utterly heartbroken.
Back to 1968, Roger, Brianna and Claire come across Gillian Edwards (Lotte Verbeek), Geillis Duncan before she travelled back in time through the stones. In the last five minutes of the episode, Claire, Roger and Brianna rush to the stones to stop Geillis from going back in time and ultimately dying. In an unforgettable moment, Roger, Brianna and Claire witness Geillis travel through the stones and in that exact moment a number of things happen. One, Brianna now believes Claire’s journey into the past. Second, if fans pay close attention they can hear Roger and Brianna mention the buzzing near the stones. Only time travelers can hear the buzzing near Craigh Na Dun, which means Roger and Brianna can travel back in time. An important plot point book fans will know a lot about.
Now that Brianna believes Claire about Jamie living in the past, she asks Roger to reveal some pertinent information. In a heart warming moment, Roger tells Claire that five Fraser’s made it out of Culloden and were taken to be executed. One Fraser escaped and survived: James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. With tears in her eyes and her daughter by her side, Claire looks to the stones and decides she needs to go back and find Jamie. A beautiful full-circle moment perfectly executed by Balfe, Skelton, Rankin and the entire crew of Outlander. With this final moment, Outlander season two comes to a heart-breaking, but hopeful conclusion. From high-society Paris to the Battle of Culloden to 1968 Inverness, Outlander accomplished a lot this season and gave fans a hell of a ride.
Looking ahead, for fans that aren’t prepared to go into “Droughtlander” pick up Gabaldon’s third novel Voyager. Start preparing for a season of learning more about Brianna and Roger as well as Claire’s tireless efforts to reunite with Jamie. Until then, this reviewer (and sassenach) raises a glass of whisky to a heart pounding, Emmy-Award worthy season two of Outlander.