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‘Outlander’ Review: “Through a Glass, Darkly”

Nora Dominick ‘17/ Emertainment Monthly Co-Executive Stage Editor

Droughtlander is over! After almost a year long hiatus, Outlander returned this past weekend with one of its best episodes to date. When fans last left Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe), the duo were sailing towards France filled with possibilities and hoping to leave the past behind them. Outlander showcased how vastly different season two of the beloved show will be with the premiere episode entitled “Through a Glass, Darkly.”

Adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s beloved book Dragonfly in Amber, season two of Outlander is an entirely different beast from season one. Almost every aspect of the show has been reinvented for an even bigger season two. From the first episode alone, the acting has reached new heights, the costumes are to die for and let’s not forget, there’s even more at stake for Jamie and Claire.

Caitriona Balfe in the Outlander episode "Through a Glass Darkly." Photo Credit: STARZ
Caitriona Balfe in the Outlander episode “Through a Glass, Darkly.” Photo Credit: STARZ

For fans of Gabaldon’s beloved book series, Dragonfly in Amber presents some challenges for the TV adaptation, a struggle executive producer Ronald D. Moore voiced to Entertainment Weekly. For starters, there are multiple time periods to deal with. Not only are Claire and Jamie in Paris in 1745, but Claire has returned to Inverness in 1948 (and book fans know another time period is sure to appear at some point this season). With multiple time periods and points of view presented in Dragonfly in Amber, the organization of season two of Outlander was up in the air. The premiere episode of season two establishes each time periods very nicely. The episode kicks off with Claire landing near Craigh Na Dun having travelled back to the future. Moore does an incredible job at launchings fans into the Paris storyline through Claire’s recollection in 1948. Outlander is about time travelling and dealing with those repercussions and season two gets back to this basic theme.

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. Even before the opening credits role in this episode, Balfe has showcased her incomparable talent. After landing near Craigh Na Dun in 1948, Claire wanders down the road and comes across an older gentleman in a car. A frantic Claire asks what year it is and who won the Battle of Culloden. After learning that it’s 1948 and that the British won Culloden, Claire drops to her knees and lets out an ear piercing wail. This small moment in this episode of Outlander is one of Balfe’s best. The utter heartbreak on Claire’s face says it all and fans can’t help but cry with her for the life she left behind. Balfe has fully immersed herself in the character of Claire and brings her to life flawlessly. If anyone doubted Balfe’s casting last year, they have been silenced.

Tobias Menzies in the Outlander episode "Through a Glass, Darkly." Photo Credit: STARZ
Tobias Menzies in the Outlander episode “Through a Glass, Darkly.” Photo Credit: STARZ

Tobias Menzies continues to be Outlander’s secret weapon. His work as Black Jack and Frank Randall is extraordinary and from the first episode alone, he has stepped up his game, if that was even possible. Menzies does an incredible job of making viewers feel for Frank and the position he’s in. With Jamie and Claire’s romance so beloved by fans, it could be hard to like Frank, however Menzies humanizes him and makes him a character fans will have to try hard to dislike. Frank’s utter loyalty and compassion for Claire is prevalent from the moment the duo share a scene together. His love for her is plastered on his face, even though it’s obvious that the Claire that has returned to him is vastly different from the woman he fell in love with. Menzies scenes opposite Balfe are the best in this episode of Outlander as Claire and Frank both adjust to her return to present day.

One of the best scenes between Frank and Claire happens after Claire has been back for several weeks. While staying with Reverend Wakefield (James Fleet) and Mrs. Graham (Tracey Wilkinson), Claire begins to come to terms with all that has happened, while Frank struggles to get through to her. In an emotional scene, Claire finally sits Frank down and tells him all about her adventure, especially about her life with Jamie. Menzies and Balfe both exceed in different ways in this scene. Balfe portrays a woman who is desperately trying to keep it together, while Menzies plays a man eager to help his wife. The duo’s contrasting performance elevate this important scene to new heights and it’s no wonder they were both nominated for Golden Globe Awards this past year.

In this same scene, Menzies showcases the complexity of Frank with just a singular moment. With Claire trying to get through to Frank about her sheer love and devotion for another man, she lets slip the biggest bombshell of all. Claire is pregnant with Jamie’s child. This moment sets up the best performance Menzies gives this episode. In a split second, he impeccably shows Frank’s range of emotion. He goes from utter joy to the unbearable realization that the child isn’t his in a matter of seconds. Very few words are exchanged here, it’s simply Balfe and Menzies reacting to each other’s performance and it’s breathtaking. As Claire tells Frank, “I’m carrying another man’s child, Frank. And you need to think about that and what that means. For all of us,” Frank snaps and raises a fist to Claire. This moment shows the complex nature of Menzie’s performance. He has managed to blend Frank’s lineage (specifically Black Jack Randall) into his performance as present day Frank and it’s astonishing. Menzies ability to play Frank and Black Jack, two polar opposite characters, is genuinely impressive. Coupled with this performance is Balfe’s reaction. As Claire sits there motionless as Frank towers over her, fans can see Claire’s hardened exterior beginning to crack. When Frank storms out, Claire breaks down and begins crying for the first time in this heartbreaking scene. Balfe amazes in this small moment as the weight of Claire’s problems begins to take its toll. Menzies astounds and Balfe triumphs in the Outlander season two premiere.

Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan in the Outlander episode "Through a Glass, Darkly." Photo Credit: STARZ
Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan in the Outlander episode “Through a Glass, Darkly.” Photo Credit: STARZ

Of course what would Outlander be without the whirlwind romance of Jamie and Claire. Although not in a majority of the episode, Sam Heughan reaffirms why fans fell in love with the character of Jamie last season. Jamie continues to be a new kind of leading male character. Unlike other male leads, Jamie’s manliness and strength is never at the forefront. Although he outwardly appears strong and intimidating, his inward appearance is all heart. Heughan continues to portray Jamie in this way going into season two. Although he is still struggling with his rape by Black Jack Randall last season, Jamie’s heart and love of Claire looms large even in this first episode. Heughan proves why he is one of the breakthrough actors on Outlander with his continued devotion to creating a different kind of male lead.  

From the moment this episode of Outlander shifts to Claire and Jamie’s arrival in France, everything seems right again. Heughan and Balfe barely need to utter any words. Their natural chemistry and pure love for their characters shines through in every moment they take part in. Although Outlander is known for its sex scenes between Claire and Jamie, this episode of Outlander didn’t need one. The duo’s small, adorable moments whether it be Jamie’s hand on the small of Claire’s back or Claire’s look of pride at Jamie, further prove why they are one of the best couples on TV right now.

Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan in the Outlander episode "Through a Glass, Darkly." Photo Credit: STARZ
Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan in the Outlander episode “Through a Glass, Darkly.” Photo Credit: STARZ

Although these intimate moments seemed to dominate Claire and Jamie’s storyline this episode, season two will prove to be a struggle for the couple. The future is looming large in this season of Outlander especially with the impending Battle of Culloden and Jacobite rising set to happen in Scotland. More than ever Claire must take her knowledge of the future and put it to good use as her and Jamie try to prevent the upcoming rebellion. Their first run in with Comte St. Germain (Stanley Weber) gives fans a glimpse at Claire and Jamie’s new rivals in France. Outlander sets this up perfectly and leaves fans wanting more of Claire and Jamie’s adventures in France come the end of the episode.

The acting in Outlander this week remains the main focus, however the music by Bear McCreary acts as an extra character in most scenes. McCreary once again proves why he was nominated for an Emmy Award this past year for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series for his work on Outlander. His music goes far beyond just a score and is intricately woven into the story. One moment in the episode that stands out in particular in terms of score is when Claire grabs Frank’s hand after getting off the plane. With a swell in music, Claire reaches for Frank’s hand and fans are instantaneously transported back to Paris with Claire and Jamie. The shift in music coupled with the shift in storytelling works flawlessly and reminds fans why they fell in love with McCreary’s score in season one of Outlander.

With the season two premiere, Outlander further proves why it’s the breakout show to be watching this season. With even more storylines, higher stakes and an impressive score, Outlander returns on top. For anyone looking for a replacement to Downton Abbey following it’s final season, Outlander is that show. With fiercely, well-written characters, stunning wardrobe and a love story that spans time, Outlander triumphs in its season two premiere.

Outlander airs Saturdays at 9/8c on STARZ

Overall Grade: A

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