Outlander season 3 episode 1 review: A wonderful showcase of past meets present

Outlander season 3 episode 1Sunday marked the premiere of Outlander season 3 episode 1, and in the aftermath of “The Battle Joined” the next question we have here at CarterMatt is this: How can Claire and Jamie Fraser ever move forward?

This is effectively a story about the past at its core. In a literal sense, this is about Claire’s journey back in time, and the love and the self-sovereignty that she finds there. Yet, in a metaphorical sense it is about the impact that the past has on us all, and how heartbreak can drive us to think, move, and even live differently than we otherwise would. It’s an inescapable part of our reality, and for a person who has already experienced the impossible, it’s even harder to fathom a different paradigm.

For Claire (throughout the episode), she was the shell of her former self. Her paradigm was so different, so special, that of course she viewed Jamie and that world upon a different plane. She showed a willingness to wear a mask around Frank simply as a means for survival. She loved Jamie. She missed him. Frank, (at least at times in 1940’s Boston) was a reasonable man. He wanted to start anew with Claire in a new city, and while he clearly had his problems, also showed degrees of patience. Claire was not treating him badly by being sheepish around his touch and growing distant from him. She just loved who she loved and couldn’t find another way around it. She tried to give him some of what he needed, while in turn, he tried to find a way to move forward, knowing that some of her feelings were buried centuries before in Scotland. Caitriona Balfe played this beautifully, showing care and attention for Frank at times while also an undercurrent of frustration over her status as a woman in the 1940’s. Her skills were not viewed as anything, and she was relegated sometimes to being bombarded by misogynistic comments courtesy of Frank’s Harvard colleagues.

She also did find a way to keep the memory of Jamie alive, using some of what she learned in Scotland in her cooking. This one act, simple as it may be, was her choosing to sidestep present-day conventions and allow herself to still be Claire Fraser. In this world, and without any confidants, this was her only way to do so.

Jamie was more explicitly kept alive in the closing minutes of the episode, due mostly to the comments in the hospital about Brianna’s red hair. Frank and Claire had done their best to proclaim that this child was their new starting-off point, and for a split second, perhaps you wondered if they could end up happy? Yet, this one comment to close off the hour seemed to jettison them back to where they were in “Dragonfly in Amber,” in addition to where they were during their epic fight when Claire wouldn’t allow Frank to touch her stomach and feel the child.

For these two characters, Outlander season 3 episode 1 offered up the rare combination of a jumping-off point as well as a significant roadblock. The dichotomy between the two paired extremely well.

Now for the literal past…

Jamie Fraser spent a good part of the premiere episode wanting nothing more than to die. Claire was gone, as were Rupert and so many of his friends and fellow Scots. The Battle of Culloden, (showed briefly through violent glimpses) led to devastation in the grandest sense. While he may have been able to dispatch the physical form of Black Jack Randall, how much of that ghost will still remain? He found himself basically on the 18th-century version of Death Row, waiting to be shot for treason like so many of his fellow men. Jamie found himself haunted by Claire, and anxiously awaiting a chance to see her in whatever sort of afterlife he may be able to perceive.

Yet, Jamie found himself a savior in the most unusual form: John Grey, or at least the brother of John Grey. The debt that he owed to him was enough to have a bleeding and barely-alive Jamie shipped off via carriage to Lallybroch, and it is here that we were reminded just how much the actions of the past in this world still matter. Were it not for a decision made during season 2, Jamie would have died alongside Rupert and his journey would have ended. As it is though, he is now still breathing and alongside many familiar faces once more. Is he himself? Hardly. He survived a battle he never expected to live through, and must now comes to terms with an unexpected reality and the same sense of hopelessness that Claire already feels.

Sam Heughan has always excelled in the physicality of this performance, and yet again in “The Battle Joined” he succeeds. You saw the brutality of his final battle with Black Jack, coupled then with the pain and the helplessness of being at the mercy of his rivals. Through the actions of others in the present, he finds his past back to Lallybroch. Much like with Claire, his story this week ends at a creative crossroads.

Did this premiere live up to the hype?

Absolutely! “The Battle Joined” brought us incredible performances, sharp writing from Ronald D. Moore, and a powerful sense of the distance between Jamie and Claire. Emotionally they were still so close, but physically they couldn’t be more at polar extremes. This show is an epic romance, and the table is set now for a reunion like no other. Cheers to the writers for keeping to a steady pace; even though we already saw the culmination of Claire’s story back in “Dragonfly in Amber” and this story exists mostly to bring us back to that point, we never found ourselves bored for a second. This was a wonderful reintroduction to the Outlander world, and one that boiled down so many complex situations and characters to a few universal emotions that so many of us feel and understand. Premiere Grade: A.

What is your personal Outlander season 3 episode 1 review?

Let us at CarterMatt know what you thought in the attached comments!

Even more Outlander coverage

We’ve got two more stories worth checking out now! If you head over here, you can read more of our reflections of Tobias Menzies as Black Jack Randall. Meanwhile, be sure to also visit this link if you want to preview what lies ahead on Outlander season 3 episode 2. (Photo: Starz.)

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