We are always curious as to how television will try to craft an epic battle sequence. This is a world of reality first and foremost, and crafting some of these sort of sequences cannot be even remotely affordable even to premium cable networks.
Yet, somehow “Outlander” this weekend managed to do a brilliant job using some fantastic choreography, in addition to some well-placed fog, to give you the impression that the Battle of Prestonpans was one of the most epic things that you’ve ever seen on television. The use of color and speed was such that it felt almost like a painting in motion, albeit an incredibly garish, grisly one of blood and dirt. For what the show had its arsenal, it was beautifully-constructed and the foundation for one of the season’s best episodes.
In terms of action, much of it can be described rather simply. Our heroes were the victors over the redcoats at Prestonpans, but at the same time there were many physical and emotional consequences. For one, there was a great deal of death, with Angus being perhaps the most prominent member of the deceased (his final scene was especially powerful). Fergus went through trauma far too severe for someone of his age, and were it not for Jamie’s efforts, Dougal would have been sent along his way by Prince Charles. Eventually, he did his part to convince the Prince to promote Dougal, give him a separate team, and allow him to fight onward in his own unique way.
Where this episode shined mostly was in the building of momentum for the fight, the fears leading into it, and then also the complicated mixture of emotions that persisted afterwards. There is of course that feeling of supreme victory, but it is washed away slightly with death and the realization that the danger is far from over. Claire in particular feels a great sense of Culloden weighing over her, knowing what happens there in the history books. Caitriona Balfe plays these historical insights in a remarkable way, given that there is no real benchmark as to how to play something so impossible as trying to change something already set in stone.
Whether it be the sequences themselves, the rise and fall of the music, or even the occasional moments of humor that came from so many different cultures siding together under the same banner (there’s something delightfully magnetic about Charles), “Prestonpans” was “Outlander” at its best. Sure, it didn’t have in every second some of the elements of romance that we have seen in other episodes, but this showed the brutality, light, and shade of this world. Sadly, there are only three episodes left. Grade: A.
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