It only seems fair that Outlander season 3 was based on the Diana Gabaldon novel Voyager — after all, the bulk of this season was a voyage like no other. The series began in 20th-century America with Claire expecting her daughter Brianna while Jamie fought at the Battle of Culloden. In between the premiere and the finale, we traveled decades, continents, and met a wide array of new faces. The show went from a war epic to a journey at sea to a passionate romance to an intimate character drama. Outlander executes many things and executes them really well, but does that make it a perfect show? Is there such a thing?
For today’s full season 3 review, there are a number of things worth focusing on. There were many positives that this season in particular brought to the small screen, and elements that helped to separate it even from the two seasons that came on the air beforehand. Below are some of the standouts that caught CarterMatt’s attention when covering the Starz drama all season.
The casting – While the first two seasons did a good job getting actors on board as iconic book characters, season 3 hit this out of the park. We already knew Sophie Skelton and Richard Rankin from the end of season 2, but this season brought Brianna and Roger to life more than ever before. John Bell was magnificent as Young Ian Murray, Lauren Lyle was a fantastic Marsali, and Cesar Domboy did a wonderful job picking up the torch from Romann Berrux.
One new actor worthy of almost more praise than any other was Gary Young, who utterly transformed the character of Mr. Willoughby / Yi Tien Cho from what he was in the books. He arguably had one of the greatest character challenges of all but handled bringing Willoughby to life with passion and grace. His monologue aboard the Artemis remains one of the season’s finest moments.
The cinematography – The sequence surrounding Young Ian’s capture was a visual marvel, as was seeing Claire Fraser stranded in the episode “Uncharted.” The location scouts deserve a large helping of praise for turning some of these South African locations into the Caribbean and never making us question where they were or how they managed to replicate the locations.
With the locations in place the photography served as the x-factor, the visual component that lifted the stellar writing to another level. We’ve come so accustomed to beautiful TV imagery that we rarely ever praise it like we should. This was worthy of mention.
Fantastic individual episodes – Several installments this season, whether it be “Of Lost Things,” “A. Malcolm,” and “First Wife,” are such stellar stories-within-stories that we could go back and watch them out of order and be thoroughly entertained. Outlander this season really did feel as though we were watching a series of movies and these episodes succeeded in implanting us as viewers into different worlds — they set the table and allowed the performances of Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan to shine. They’re the on-screen conductors of the show and, to continue this analogy, they orchestrated beautiful music.
Is there anything we’d change?
It’s a tough question to ponder over a few days after the finale, but we also don’t want a love of the show to blind us from elements of it that could be improved.
Both the biggest blessing and curse of Outlander season 3 is that the writers attempted to tell the story of the incredibly-dense Voyager in thirteen episodes. The beneficiary of this was the show’s pacing, since the show never felt slow and we constantly were moving forward. Yet, we do wish that we stayed in some places longer than an episode, including Helwater. It also would have been nice to have more time with Joe Abernathy and see some of Brianna’s life beyond just her relationship with Frank and Claire. Yet, the challenge there is that so much happens after the Jamie – Claire reunion that you don’t want to push that off too late in the season. We almost wish that there was five or ten minutes more per episode, recognizing that doing so would put even more work on the cast and could’ve made filming longer. It’s a challenging trade-off asking for more when you already have so much and you want filming to be done in a reasonable amount of time.
One way to get more of some of what we mentioned without adding more per episode could’ve been to combine “Heaven & Earth” and “Uncharted” into a single episode. By the time “Heaven & Earth” and “Uncharted” came along, everyone really wanted to just see Jamie and Claire together. Did you need to keep them apart at that point in the story for almost two episodes? (Of course, we know that some viewers would hate the idea of waiting another episode for the Print Shop scene if this were to happen — everyone will have their own opinion and that’s what makes fandom great.)
As a non-reader, the only other thing that stood out comes in terms of through-lines from one episode to the next. By the time we rolled around to “The Bakra” the story of Geillis Duncan was fairly far in the past. The emotional momentum could have benefited from having some element of either her, her relationship with Claire, or the prophecy implanted earlier on. That’s difficult to do when just following the books, but the amount of time you invest in and remember characters is different between film and TV. More of a reference of what was coming could’ve built momentum beyond just the final two episodes.
Outlander season 3 is our favorite overall season of the show. While we may still say that “Dragonfly in Amber” is still our favorite overall episode of the series, this was the most consistently entertaining and remarkable batch of episodes to date. The performances were outstanding, the writing superb, and there was never a moment where you started to feel like the story wasn’t heading in the right direction. The worst thing about it is that it’s over and fall 2018 is still so far away.
Where would you rank Outlander season 3 in comparison to the two that aired before it? Be sure to share below!