Episode 308: First Wife

(low whistle)

That was pretty good! Let’s discuss.

Warning- Contains spoilers from Outlander, Episode 308: First Wife

“It’s the current that’s the worst part of it. Ye must surrender to it. But as ye come nearer the island ye must break free of it or be carried away to the New World.”

Break away or be lost forever.

Everyone this hour is in danger of being swept away by their emotions. For Jamie, Claire, Jenny, and Laoghaire we have a whole spectrum of currents in this episode– anger, jealousy, guilt, betrayal, resentment, and loneliness.

But, as this episode reminds us, the best relationships are the ones worth fighting for. If they didn’t care they wouldn’t fight, and that goes for Laoghaire as well. Would it be more romantic (and easier for us viewers) if this reunion and homecoming had gone more smoothly? Possibly, but it wouldn’t be honest. If we are meant to suspend our disbelief for the fantasy of the time travel premise, then we need to really believe in the authenticity of these characters as actual people. And real people are jealous and angry and hurt and resentful and lonely. When we break free from our currents we are the stronger for it, and in that way our flaws make us worthy of love.

Jamie, Claire, and Young Ian return home to Lallybroch with obvious anxiety. How will they be received?

…not well. Laura Donnelly does an amazing job here of conveying Jenny’s mixture of absolute shock and hurt, with an obvious explosion of feelings simmering just below the surface. A Fraser About To Go Off With A Bang, as Claire commonly phrases it in the novels. Indeed.

Caitriona Balfe, for her part, tells a whole story with her body language. She’s repressing an urge to hug Jenny; she is both overjoyed and nervous to be back. Her quick glance to Elder Ian, looking for help or solidarity but finding none, was a nice touch.

And why wouldn’t Jenny and Ian be angry? These two people loved and trusted Claire and mourned her disappearance. They are clearly not ready to reopen a healed wound.

Sam Heughan taps his fingers quite a bit in this episode, a nervous tic that Jamie is known for in the novels. I haven’t noticed it before in previous episodes but it’s a nice detail they’ve kept.

It seems that a Lallybroch homecoming is never complete without a fight, and it’s easy to see both sides of this one. Parents should be rightfully worried and angered about a runaway teenage child. But Jamie knows that parenting a teenager is like holding a bar of soap- the tighter your grip the more likely they are to slip away.

Young Ian somewhat embellishes the whole ordeal with the exciseman, showing his penchant for adventure.

Instead of being flogged for running away (a change I wholeheartedly embrace, despite its historical accuracy) Young Ian is instead tasked with the unpleasant ordeal of making dall (not to be confused with making dal, which is delicious). This is arguably a more humiliating punishment as it is a chore typically reserved for the younger children; it’s easier to retain some dignity while being flogged, not so much while handling muck.

Young Janet and Young Ian are very much mini-me versions of their namesake parents, both in appearance and personality. In the way common to the youngest siblings of large families they seem pretty close in a lovingly antagonistic way.

Just as Jamie later describes returning home to Lallybroch only to feel like an outsider so, too, does Claire. The people have changed, the family has expanded, and those that remember her do so with wariness and deference to Jenny. Like Jamie, Claire is on the outside looking in. An outlander once again.

We are reintroduced to Young Jamie, who is now a grown man with a family of his own. And, wow, major kudos to casting again. Every one of the Murray children are believable genetic offspring of Steven Cree and Laura Donnelly.

Also, remember how I said a few weeks ago that Geneva resembled Claire? Well…

There you go. This is undoubtedly very intentional costuming. The white shirts, the fitted shape and silhouette of the vest, the buttons, the exaggerated peplum, the colors– they are dressed almost identically. They are both secrets that Jamie keeps from Jenny; they are the mothers of his children and they belong to him.

Jamie and Jenny have a moment of reckoning and Jenny, as always, deals some serious blows- both intentional and unintentional. She demands answers regarding Claire and, for a moment, we think Jamie might just tell her the truth. Instead he makes up some story about British soldiers and burned villages and sailing to the Colonies and Jenny is there to call him on his obvious half-story.

“The Claire I kent would never have stopped looking for you.” And perhaps that begins to eat at Jamie a little bit, knowing the fight that’s coming. Maybe he does, subconsciously or otherwise, believe that Claire gave up on him for twenty years.

While Jamie muses aloud the possibility of returning permanently to Lallybroch, Claire quite rightly points out that she’s not welcome. She wonders if they should just tell Ian and Jenny the truth. YES. PLEASE. FOR THE LOVE OF ST. BRIDE. TELL THEM.

I’ve read the novels so I know of Future Important Conversations but I’ve honestly never understood why they just don’t tell Ian and Jenny now. Jamie’s excuse that Jenny wouldn’t believe them since she’s never left the farm seems a bit flimsy. The Highlands are rife with superstition, Jenny herself has a bit of the sight, and Claire has already proven herself as a reliable prophet. Telling the truth would explain so much. It would explain everything.

“Murtagh understood,” Claire points out, reminding everyone of Murtagh’s awesomeness. Where are you, Murtagh? Please come back and fix everyone for us!

But perhaps Jamie thinks Jenny wouldn’t believe Claire’s story because he can scarcely believe it himself. He admits her return still seems surreal, especially since he went seeking her once before. Through flashbacks we see Jamie’s escape from Ardsmuir to Silkie Island, when he desperately went searching for Claire– his White Witch.

This was a pretty good reminder that Jamie’s twenty years apart from Claire were pretty crappy. He lived in a cave. He went to prison. He was an indentured servant. He was cold and hungry and hunted. Claire did not suffer as much by comparison. She was lonely, yes, but she was also fed and warm and safe. And she had a family. It’s easy to see why Jamie made certain decisions when we remember how hopeless he felt.

Claire says of Jenny, “If I don’t tell the truth there will always be this wall between us.” That’s your cue, Jamie! Tell Claire the truth and break down your own wall.

Claire and Jamie have some really lovely moments of emotional intimacy here. And just when we see Jamie finally begin unburdening himself…

Here comes a Bunny Boiler telegram.

Laoghaire busts in and shatters Claire’s world. In Claire’s absence Jamie went and married one Laoghaire MacKimmie (née MacKenzie), Framer of Witchcraft and Foe of Claire. Caitriona Balfe is wonderful here. She looks as if someone sucked the breath right out of her.

Laoghaire has an expansive vocabulary of swear words which she rattles off with spectacular finesse before Jamie kicks her and her daughters (Marsali and Joan) out of the room.

Gah, little Joan is so adorable. And it’s pretty clear that she is meant to be a stand-in for Brianna in Jamie’s heart. Jamie gives her a sad and sweet explanation for why he cannot live with them anymore- a conversation familiar to many, many people and pretty much unchanged in the last 250 years. Hang on, I think there’s something in my eye.

Bang. The real gunfire is yet to come but there are shots being fired all over this scene. Jamie and Claire accuse each other of behaving badly. They are jealous of the life lived by the other while apart, and there’s no easy fix for that. Again, only two people who love each other could fight with this much intensity.

I believe this is what kids these days call a hate f*&%. Jenny comes in and literally throws some cold water on the whole situation.

To me Jenny is basically the Miranda Hobbes of the eighteenth century, minus the designer clothes and chocolate cake. She views the world in mostly black and white with very few shades of grey. A person is either family or a stranger, honest or a liar, right or wrong. And we all have friends like this, right? They are often our best friends because they hold us accountable, are fiercely loyal, and don’t tolerate bullshit.

But it’s a tough personality to crack and grudges are held for a long time. It’s clear that Jenny mourned Claire’s loss as much as anyone. Moreover, she mourned for Jamie and his suffering. Claire (seemingly) betrayed them both, which is almost unforgivable.

This ends now, Jenny. No, he doesn’t say that. But it’s pretty clear to Ian that this whole thing is getting out of hand, and Jenny knows it. The current is threatening to carry everyone off.

The next morning Jamie attempts to right things with Claire, only to have Crazy Eyes MacKimmie show up brandishing a pistol, taking aim at Claire, and instead shooting Jamie in the arm.


RAWR!! Claire delivering a sacking to Laoghaire like a defensive lineman on the blitz was unintentionally hilarious.

Jenny feels pretty guilty about this whole mess and Claire lets her feel that way. The table is cleared for some emergency surgery and, I must say, the accuracy with which Caitriona Balfe holds her surgical instruments is really impressive. I know the show has a medical advisor but Balfe really does hold and use those instruments like she’s used them her whole life.

Young Ian, you are a gem we don’t deserve you. He is so sweet to Claire here, having obviously inherited his father’s ready kindheartedness.

Claire asks Jamie for an explanation and he gives a pretty reasonable one. He was lonely after returning home from Helwater, watching everyone have fun during Hogmanay but feeling like an outsider in his own home. For once Jamie was the outlander.

But, what-ho! What have we here?

Listen, if these adorable children came up to me and offered figs I would also probably marry their mother. I am quite vulnerable to cute kids, especially ones that give me food and want to dance. Honestly, who can blame Jamie? It was just the right (or wrong) combination of loneliness, fate, and good old-fashioned holiday blues that led to this unfortunate marriage.

A word about Laoghaire. I don’t hate her. I actually find it fairly easy to empathize with her. She was a teenager when Jamie married Claire and teenagers tend to view themselves as star-crossed. Claire came out of nowhere and stole what Laoghaire probably assumed what was rightfully hers. Since pretty much everyone in the Outlander universe is in love with Jamie Fraser we can hardly blame her. And here Claire is again, seemingly out of nowhere, and she takes Jamie back. It might drive me crazy, too.

The problem is Laoghaire never grew up. And just as most of us have a friend like Jenny, almost all of us know someone like Laoghaire as well. She’s that emotionally immature friend that you can never shake, the one who causes unnecessary drama. Were she alive today she’d be Vaguebooking all over your newsfeed.

So, there’s the story. Claire understands because she knows what it is to be an outlander and want a home. She hasn’t forgiven him, necessarily, but she understands. And that’s an important first step.

Jamie pretty much has the same look on his face as my kids do when they go the doctor’s and realize something is amiss and there’s a reason they were promised toys. This was quite hilarious and, I have to say, glass syringes are kind of scary. Sometimes I come across one buried in the back of some drawer at a veterinary office and they are quite impressive.

This scene was very touching. I, too, feel like I haven’t seen Ned Gowan in twenty years. Adorable. It must be fairly exhausting to Claire, however, to be constantly reintroducing herself and never quite anticipating how the reaction of the other person will be. So far she’s been met with joy, love, anger, and sorrow. Happily, Ned is very glad to see her.

Ned Gowan shows up to legally straighten out this whole mess. Rather than punishing Laoghaire for shooting Jamie with an illegal weapon, they instead decide to concede to her wishes for alimony. Yes, she will essentially get paid for having shot a man.  Laoghaire might possibly be the smartest person ever.

Everyone makes plans to fetch the treasure box off Silkie Island and then go to Paris to sell the items to pay for Laoghaire’s alimony. Jamie also wants to take Young Ian with him and promises Jenny and Ian he will be safe. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? It’s not like Claire and Jamie never run into any danger, right? Since Jamie has never seen a movie I will forgive him for uttering what are clearly famous last words. He might as well have promised them a three hour tour.

Alone on a seaside cliff, away from the maddening crowd, Jamie and Claire lay their souls on the line. Claire wonders if she’s made the right decision in coming back. Did she let herself be carried away, giving up a life that “wasn’t so bad?” That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for her life in the twentieth century. Claire perhaps forgets how desperately lonely she really was without Jamie, which is a very human thing to do. It’s a survival technique. Very often we look back on hard times during our life and they don’t seem quite as bad as when we were actually going through them. It’s why we repeatedly agree to go camping.

Jamie, for his part, says what novel readers have been waiting for him to say: “Will you risk the man I am for the sake of the one you once knew?” Claire doesn’t answer. But they’re together, swimming this current side by side. I have faith they will break free and be stronger on the other end.

Also, a spyglass really completes an outfit and I will be venturing to purchase one post-haste.

Well, we got trouble folks. Right here in River City. With a capital T that rhymes with P that stands for Pirates.

(Side note- Robert Preston was such a gem)

So Ian has been kidnapped, swept away on the tide. We are off and running to parts and places unknown. But adventure is one thing we know these two do very well. Go get ’em, kids.


16 thoughts on “Episode 308: First Wife”

  1. I also really enjoy your episode reviews. You’ve got some great insight into these characters and your comments are quite funny. Thank you!


  2. Love this! Very funny and you make excellent points, the parallel between Claire’s and Geneva’s appearances and them as the secret Jamie keeps from Jenny, brilliant! I didn’t connect that but you are so right!! I just discovered this blog, I’ll have to go back and read your other posts. Claire’s blocking was on point, I want to recruit her for my NFL team!


  3. Your 308 review was excellent–written in a straightforward style that makes sense,
    but I need to keep an Urban Dictionary handy.
    I still wonder why the photographs didn’t appear. The truth would have been more appropriate. How can you write a letter from Boston to Scotland and postmark it 200 years in the past?
    The writers are compressing the story, but this is understandable to cover the book.
    The suspense equals BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK.


    1. Thank you so much. And thank you for your previous message- it was very much appreciated.

      I wasn’t aware some pictures aren’t downloading. Is that a recurring problem?


  4. Hello Again,
    The pictures from the episode are fine, but I confused the issue. I meant to say I
    kept expecting Claire to produce the film photographs of Bree along with an explanation that she was pregnant when she returned to Boston. This never happened, of course, but they already think she is a witch and this bit of visual magic (from the 20th Century) might have confirmed why she left. It sure would
    have added another twist to the complicated plot.
    308 was on track until the three-master dropped anchor when Ian walked out with
    the box of jewels than he recovered on Silkie Island. This was too much of a coincidence.


    1. Oh, I see. Yes, the pictures would have been great supporting evidence! But knowing what’s coming showing them the pictures now probably would have ruined too many future plot lines. And, yes. It’s WAY too much of a coincidence that the jewels sat alone on an island all this time until Ian and the pirates BOTH arrived at the same time! But, hey, it’s Outlander. 🙂


  5. Maybe during the next Droughtlander, you could go back and analyze episodes from the first two seasons. I would love to read those!


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