Well, here we are- shipwrecked in the Droughtlander before Season 4 and wondering how we will survive the next five months. It is truly an agonizing waiting process and so I am here to offer some retrospective recaps to satiate our appetites.
Let me begin by saying that these retrospective recaps are somewhat difficult to write— it’s really hard to write objectively about characters when we know their eventual fates. Even though I’ve read the novels, the level of expectation is different for the series when I am seeing an episode for the first time and I’m not privy to the events of later episodes.
Additionally, we have likely all seen these early episodes many, many times. This late in the game it is almost impossible to offer a fresh take on an episode and a season that’s already been discussed ad nauseam. But I promise I will still try and hopefully keep you somewhat entertained in the process.
Let me further posit that this episode- the series premiere- remains one of my favorites of all time. Easily top five. This was an exquisitely beautiful episode and they had so much to cover in terms of character introduction, exposition, and plot; we, as viewers, never really feel as if the creators are checking off the boxes or taking shortcuts with the story.
On that note, let’s dive in to this magnificent story together…again.
Forewarning: this episode is long and so is this recap. Take breaks and thanks in advance for your patience with the lengthy read.
And, WOW. What an opening. This is Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands. There are so many gorgeously beautiful panoramic shots of Scotland in this one episode alone that it is little surprise that this series helped reinvigorate Scottish tourism.
So this season actually had two season premieres due to the extended break between episodes 108 and 109. They open similarly but with marked differences. This episode begins with Claire’s first-person narration, while 109 (The Reckoning) begins with Jamie’s (his only one of the series to date). While these opening shots are shown from a height, exaggerating the potential risk and the craggy mysticism of the Highlands, The Reckoning begins down in the valley with river imagery— suggesting that Jamie, like the river, carves a way through these dangerous Highland mountains. Claire and Jamie’s monologues echo each other: Strange, the things you remember.
In that one line (which is not included in the novel) the series creators have laid down one of their most overarching themes– our identities are shaped by our past and our past is determined by the memories we select to remember. For each critical juncture in the series, our characters’ fates and forward momentum hinge on their abilities to sort through their own historical narratives. It’s arguably the force behind Claire choosing Jamie over Frank, over Jamie choosing his life over losing it to Blackjack Randall, and of Claire eventually returning back to Jamie in 1968. Episode 305 (Freedom & Whisky) deals almost exclusively with the theme of shifting narratives and personal history.
Claire, you were saying?
People disappear all the time. Young girls run away from home. Children stray from their parents and are never seen again. Housewives take the grocery money and taxi to the train station. Most are found eventually. Disappearances, after all, have explanations. Usually. Strange, the things you remember.
And here’s our girl. Even though we only see her for half an episode, 1945 Claire might be my favorite Claire of all. Caitriona Balfe is just so beautiful in this episode and she does her job- that of making us fall in love with Claire- so effectively. Also, this blue coat with its classic 1940s silhouette, is gorgeous. Noteworthy: our first shot of Claire is in blue, looking at a blue porcelain vase. She recalls this moment later in Episode 112 (Lallybroch) when a tenant gives Claire a vase, symbolic of her first real home:
It’s not the same vase (I’ve watched and rewatched to double check), for which I’m glad; that would have been a bit too on-the-nose. But it’s a really nice call-back.
Not surprisingly, blue becomes somewhat of Claire’s signature color– the same color as the forget-me-nots, and of the Madonna and motherhood, and of her aura (according to Master Raymond). To wit:
So. Much. Blue. I’ll be really interested to see if Terry Dresbach carries that theme into Season 4.
So, things to know about Claire…
1. She’s a badass combat nurse and just got off the front lines of WWII:
2. She is married to Franklin (Frank) Wolverton Randall, a historian. They’ve been mostly separated during the war and are now having a sort of second honeymoon while Frank is on a research trip. Because nothing says sexy-time honeymoon fun like researching your husband’s genealogy, amirite ladies?
3. She is used to a sort of rootless life, having been orphaned and raised on archeological digs by her uncle:
4. She stands up for herself. Are you sure that’s blood, Frank asks?
…and this is the face she gives him:
That’s also pretty much my face when my husband expresses doubt about my pumpkin-carving abilities every Halloween.
Anyway, they check into a B&B where Frank sort of man-splains Highland folklore to Claire and the actual Scottish Highlander. I kid because I love.
Then upstairs for some honeymoon time! Claire and Frank clearly have a very good marriage, even if they are in the process of re-establishing its rhythms. I do think they would have continued to have a great marriage had the whole time-travel thing not mucked it up (as it so often will).
From years of reading Tom and Lorenzo I know to look for costuming clues to help tell a story. Observe how the colors of Frank and Claire’s clothing (blue, brown, and maroon) match and complement the wallpaper of the room and each other; everything is harmonious in this scene and they’re more or less in sync.
The color scheme is again reflected when they go exploring a decrepit Castle Leoch:
Again, they match. The message here is that theirs is a good, compatible relationship– it’s playful and sexy and intellectual. We are meant to understand why Claire is so desperate to get back to Frank in these early episodes.
I also love the look on Claire’s face here as she enters the room in this castle— creeped out but probably in a way she can’t quite explain. As we know, she’s been here in the past- or the future, depending on how you look at it.
Later Frank and his fellow history buff Reverend Wakefield get really super excited discussing Frank’s ancestor- Jonathan “Blackjack” Randall- and the Jacobite rebellion and the Duke of Sandringham. My goal in life is to find a friend who will also geek out with me about my own genealogy.
The way they introduced this material was very smart- almost like background noise to Claire (and to us). We are paying attention but only halfway, which is how most of life is. Usually there is no glaring neon sign telling us LISTEN UP BECAUSE THIS WILL SAVE YOU ONCE YOU TIME TRAVEL.
Mrs. Graham astutely deduces that all the genealogy talk is a little dry for Claire so she offers her some refreshment along with a tea leaf and palm reading.
Everyone knows that the purpose of a crystal ball is to tell people things they want to hear, but Mrs. Graham is the real deal so instead she gives Claire some unsettling news: her life is going to be fairly complicated. And that’s…a huge understatement.
I wish I looked this beautiful when I was distressed and contemplative. Anyway, Claire bails on the genealogy and fortune-telling to have some time to herself. Two marriages, she’s thinking, I hope the second one is with a super hot Scottish laird.
Okay, this famous scene. It’s Samhain so everyone is on alert for ghosts and Frank actually sees one while walking home in the spooky rain. This particular ghost seems puzzled as to why Claire is dry-brushing her curly hair.
So, YES. This ghost is Jamie watching Claire and Diana Gabaldon has confirmed this multiple times. We are promised to know more about this particular moment in upcoming novels.
Frank tells Claire he has seen a ghost.
Claire: Was it a super hot ghost?
Frank: Yes, I believe it was. Very handsome, indeed. Also, did you cheat on me in the war? Because if you did I totally forgive you and also I might be projecting my own transgressions (past or future) into this conversation.
NO! I can’t believe you would ask me that. But back to the ghost- you say he was very handsome and had a twitchy smile and thick red hair through which I could run my fingers?
Yes, quite right.
Later they have more second honeymoon fun but Frank sets an alarm so they can wake up early to go see the druids at the standing stones at sunrise.
I do develop a lot of sympathy for Frank over the course of this series but, honestly, had he planned a better honeymoon in a tropical location where there were no ghosts and no genealogy and no waking up at dawn things might have turned out very different. Honeymoons: you’re doing them wrong.
So they trek up the hill at dawn to watch dancing at the standing stones and Claire has an eerie premonition that perhaps they shouldn’t be voyeaurs on a tradition that people take very seriously.
Please, Claire, do not watch Jersey Shore in sixty years.
Frank wants to look around with an academic eye and Claire wants to look at the flowers but they are interrupted by a young dancer who wants a moment of quiet reflection and has no idea she’s contriving the plot in another woman’s time-travel journey. WE NEVER KNOW.
Frank encourages Claire to go back to Craigh na Dun to take samples of what she believes are forget-me-nots.
And this is how most of our goodbyes in life happen— inconsequentially. We usually never know when something will be “the last time,” and often our realization that something has happened for the last time takes place much later, making our memories that much sadder and tinged with nostalgia.
I love how how the blue of the forget-me-nots is like a bright shot of color against the duller greens and browns of her costuming and the countryside- perhaps symbolically suggesting that Claire’s relatively predictable life is about to get a burst of excitement.
So how do we think the forget-me-nots got there? Planted by someone in the past (maybe even Claire herself) to lure her back to this spot in the future? Or just an amazing symbolic coincidence? Hmmm…
Boom, and then here we are. No car in sight. Roads?
Costuming-wise Terry did something similar here to what she did in Episode 311 (Uncharted): Claire loses pieces of her outfit a little at a time until she is left with the minimal essentials, suggesting a gradual loss of her previous life. First the wrap is left behind at the stones (we see it again when she attempts to escape in Episode 108). Then her belt is gone and her button comes undone. Finally, she uses pieces of her dress for clean bandaging for Jamie. By the end of the episode there is hardly anything left.
What the what? Caitriona Balfe shows a wonderful range of emotions as she goes from fear and confusion to relieved annoyance with “Frank,” then right back into fear and confusion.
“The speech of a lady, the language of a whore,” quips one Jonathan “Blackjack” Randall, Captain of His Majesty’s Dragoons and sadistic ancestor of Frank. Similarly, BJR has the speech of a gentleman but the actions of a cad.
And here we are introduced to Murtagh, who manages to save Claire and also steal my heart forever in the process. Insert emoji heart eyes.
This whole scene in the cottage was pretty fabulous. I love our first introduction to Dougal; Graham McTavish played him so brilliantly, didn’t he? Dougal is many things but foremost he is very, very smart. He quickly analyzed the Claire situation and orders his men to be respectful. He is somewhat chilvarous but he also knows that an injured and raped woman will be less likely to spill any secrets- should she have any- and he still doesn’t know who or what she is. Also, remember at this point he’s been having an affair with Geillis, so he is believably intrigued by this woman who seems…different.
And here he is, folks! The first time we meet Jamie, ever. Swoon.
Okay, are we all back?
And like our goodbyes in this world are mostly inconsequential so, too, are our hellos. Very rarely are we ever introduced to someone knowing that they will change our life. The first time I ever saw my husband he was strolling in late to a physics lab; I thought he was cute but could never have foreseen that we would be married and have two sons and yadda, yadda, yadda. I’m sure the rest of you have similar stories.
(Btw, if you guys want to tell me those stories in the comments I really love how-we-met stories, just FYI)
Okay, back to Outlander. So Jamie is sitting in the corner with a dislocated shoulder and everyone is about to ram-jam his shoulder back in place and likely break his whole arm until Claire, despite her best judgement, shouts at them to STOP. And then she steps up to help:
GAH. The look these two give each other here is everything. I could watch it a hundred times (I probably have, actually). A silent look that asks, Do you trust me? And a determined, silent assent: Yes, I do. It’s as if the honesty and strength of their marriage is laid down in this moment, in this seemingly simple exchange.
And this is when the reality of Claire’s situation really begins to hit her. There are no lights shining up from the town of Inverness…because there is no electricity. They are mounting horses…because there are no cars. She is sharing a horse with Jamie…because this is very convenient plot-wise (also because Dougal knows he’s probably the most trust-worthy of all his men not to try anything). Also, poor Caitriona Balfe looks freezing through most of these riding scenes.
Jamie wrapping his plaid around Claire is right out of the novel, but I think symbolically it’s also a nice touch, tying into different elements in this episode and future episodes. Claire left behind her own tartan-patterned wrap at the stones so, again, it could represent leaving her old life behind as she is literally being wrapped in this new one. The plaid is really the first symbol of this part of their relationship…and it’s one of the last ones, too:
Hang on, I have something in my eye…
So they ride on for seemingly forever, passing through beautiful Scottish landscapes, and Claire becomes more mysterious as she tips them off that they’re probably about to be ambushed by the British because she was paying attention to one of Frank’s less-than-exciting history lessons.
More on that. Jamie saves Claire’s life a lot during Season 1. But this is one of a few instances where Frank saves Claire’s, too. The knowledge he imparts to her, whether intentionally or not, comes back to help her again and again. It’s a nice way to show that both her husbands, despite approaching it from different angles and tactics, are committed to rescuing Claire when the need arises.
Claire attempts to escape during the ambush but is thwarted by Jamie, who somehow manages to look even more handsome despite being covered in blood and grime. Caitriona Balfe conveys very believable levels of indignation and fear here, this man’s handsome countenance notwithstanding.
Jamie is actually injured after the ambush and passes out off his horse. Claire patches him up again, cursing up a storm in the process. It’s really a great few minutes of acting and we can see Jamie’s intrigue and trust for this woman grow, as well as Claire’s realization that she is mired in a dangerous time and place.
Back on your horse, soldier, one of three times she has said this to Jamie. And for a minute, the costuming and camera angle do give the illusion that Jamie is a WWII soldier. Despite the difference in century, some things never change.
And, finally, they arrive at Castle Leoch. Claire puzzles how she can have memories of this place from the future and I would advise her not to think too hard about the logistics of time travel because it will make your head hurt.
I’ll leave you with this beautiful screenshot, showing Claire at Castle Leoch– the old juxtaposed with the new, which is how it is from here on out.
Until next time,
So what do we think? Can we manage with some retrospective recaps between now and November? Let me know what episodes you would want recapped in the comments and I’ll do my best.
Photo credits: STARZ, Universal Pictures