Our Outlander perspectives series is about reflection. It’s about looking back behind the curtain one more time at what defined the previous season.
Within this particular article, it is also about defining the cumulative work of one Sam Heughan. The series’ leading man is coming off of a commanding, powerful season of stories, and within this piece, the goal is simple: Offering up a guide to what he did best. These are the definitive Heughan performances in our mind, the ones that will reverberate through your heart and into the small moments you consider the show in your day-to-day life. These are the episodes to be remembered, and the ones that help to state his case as one of television’s finest performers.
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Episode 2, “Do No Harm” – Actors at times thrive within a world of uncertainty, and it was seeing Jamie amidst the chaos that brought out the best of Heughan’s performance. He was a man wrestling between two different worlds, the perspective of his wife Claire and the world surrounding him in River Run. Uncertainty takes nuance, and it allows you to tap into unexplored places. This was an episode that accented Jamie the rebel, but also Jamie the leader. This was a man who recognized that he would need to forge his own way in the world, and not pattern himself off of the actions of Aunt Jocasta.
Episode 6, “Blood of My Blood” – Jamie as a father had, at this point, been a rare occurrence within the Outlander world. You can look back at season 3’s “Of Lost Things” for the sole example; it is no coincidence that this is also one of his greatest episodes as an actor. It allows Sam to dive into a nurturing side of himself, one that shows Jamie’s capacity to care for another too vulnerable to care for themselves. With William in this episode, there were frustrations — including the pain and repression he was forced to keep inside. He had to maintain a charade, as this boy was under the care of Lord John Grey. Yet, despite social and even ideological issues between himself and his true son, Jamie pushed all of that to the side when it mattered the most — when he felt he could save the boy’s life. A remarkable, memorable performance.
Episode 8, “Wilmington” – Across the board, this episode could be on the Emmy reel for just about every series regular. It was a devastating hour for Brianna, an emotionally challenging one for Roger, and also one where Claire needed to show her sense of urgency and defiance of cultural norms. For Jamie, this episode felt at times like a callback to season 2 — a man of action being forced to operate in the shadows to achieve his desired result. This was a political episode in many ways, and a personal one in others — Heughan delivered a sense of vast urgency through Jamie, as he realized the limited amount of time he had to save Murtagh from extreme suffering.
Episode 9, “The Birds & the Bees” – Bar none, this was the most anticipated episode of the season: The reunion between Jamie and Brianna. It is an iconic moment within the source material and equally, an iconic moment now within the show. The scene had the perfect mixture of humor and heart, allowing these two characters to come together for the first time while also showcasing the differences that defined them. You saw Heughan make Jamie into a parent on the fly, one that could practice these skills in a different way than he ever could with Willie. There was joy in this episode, but there was also a struggle. The foundation was set for the vast 18th-century roller-coaster that would inform the rest of the season.
Episode 13, “Man of Worth” – What defines a man? What makes you who you are? There was such a lovely juxtaposition within this finale, with Heughan presenting Jamie as an in-the-moment man of worth and John Bell bringing you his own, evolved version of this character. The chemistry between the two actors created such an emotional punch around Ian’s decision. Combine this with the physicality of the Roger – Jamie fight and the love he maintains for Claire, and you see a full picture within this episode of the man Jamie Fraser is. You understand his view of manhood, of being able to sacrifice but also being able to admit flaws and take on consequences.
To us, there is little doubt that Heughan delivered fantastic performances throughout Outlander season 4 — whether or not these performances choose to be recognized by awards shows is supplemental to that. Maybe this is a guide to possible voters as to proper starting-off points; or, maybe these episodes just illuminate further the challenges Sam took on and the victories that he had across the season.
Want more Outlander discussion?
Then view our recent Outlander perspectives piece here all about the storylines in season 4 that we could have used more of?
What is your favorite Sam Heughan performance in Outlander season 4? Either leave a comment or vote in the poll below. We’ll share the official reader results on March 2 at 1:00 p.m. Pacific time. (Photo: Starz.)