Outlander season 3 premiere analysis: The turning point for Caitriona Balfe’s Claire


Outlander season 3 premiere analysisWelcome to our Outlander season 3 premiere analysis piece! This is actually the first in an ongoing series that we’ll be doing at CarterMatt for the entirety of the season. Every Monday, we’re going to reflect on a key moment in the episode that aired the night prior, and discuss its merits from either a performing or a storytelling standpoint.

With this first Outlander season 3 premiere analysis, we’re going to focus on a story that seems to be very much a significant turning point for Claire’s professional future, and one that will be increasingly important as time goes on. It’s the sort of scene you can look back on with significance. We’re speaking here, of course, of Claire’s discussion with the Dean back in the 1940’s.

When she and Frank Randall attended the event, the implication was for the two of them to make a clear impression on some of the other Harvard elite. What we ended up seeing was a microcosm of gender roles in the time, and also a motivating factor for Claire in continuing to pursue a career in medicine.

There were so many little moments in this scene that echo the sort of people Claire and Frank are, and the position that they’re going to be in over the course of their lives. For Claire, she refuses to accept the Dean’s callous notion that she should spend the rest of her days as a Housewife, caring for Frank and never developing any more skills of her own. She, as a result of this, bristles at the proclamation that she’d be thrilled to continue to hone her abilities in the home, and that women are any less qualified to pursue careers in medicine than men. It’s an offensive statement to her, and this is one of the many reasons why in turn she wants to fight back against the notion — with her own drive and her history helping people as others. What she chooses to in the moment is fight back in a way that is more about subtlety, about questions, and about understanding that actions mean more than words.

In so many ways, we would’ve understood if Claire were to blow up on the Dean within this moment for his misogynistic behavior. Yet, not doing so here showed that Claire is a woman playing the long game. She recognizes that were she to cause a scene at the party, it would jeopardize Frank’s standing and likely be used as even more fuel against her. Instead, this moment will be used to inspire her more to become a doctor and prove to the Dean and others just how wrong they are. Once she is working in that field, there’s no other counterargument that can be made. She’s made it, and they’re out of their minds for suggesting it would never happen.

It is also worth noting some of Frank’s reactions within the scene. Could he have done more to stand alongside Claire? Absolutely so, but he also did not explicitly put her down repeatedly, either. He recognized her status as a strong, independent woman, and respected her enough to allow her to engage in such discussions in the first place. That sounds like a ridiculous thing to say in 2017, but the sexism in the 1940’s was such that not every woman would’ve even been able to engage in such discussions. As a husband, what Frank should do is to love his wife for who she is, and there were many moments in the premiere where he tried to do that. He certainly wasn’t always successful, but Frank isn’t inherently intent on setting limits for her. He does want the two of them to have a happy coexistence, but there are many stumbling blocks ahead.

Ultimately, though, this scene was not about Jamie, nor was it about the problems within the Frank – Claire relationship. Instead, it was an opportunity for Caitriona Balfe to mirror Claire’s strength and restraint as one particular “man” (we don’t really perceive him to be much of a man at all) attempted to belittle her in a crowded room. She’ll use this to show just how much of a force she truly is.

Want more Outlander season 3 premiere analysis?

Well, you can get some of it in the form of our premiere review over at the link here! (Photo: Starz.)


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