Monday, July 11, 2016

Outlander 2x13 Review: “Dragonfly in Amber” (A Love Story for the Ages) [Contributor: Rae Nudson]

“Dragonfly in Amber”
July 9, 2016

There were a lot of surprises in this season finale of Outlander: the year the show flashed forward to, the return of Geillis, and the circumstances of Jamie and Claire’s goodbye, to name a few. But the show grounded each moment in emotions, and every surprise was deeply felt, rather than played for shock.

The first surprise was a flash forward to 1968. Claire is a surgeon now, and her and Jamie’s daughter is 20 years old. Brianna is beautiful and stubborn, just like her mother and father, and to see Claire remember Jamie when she looked at her daughter was a lovely understated moment that showed how much Jamie is still a part of her life.

Jamie and Brianna came to Scotland for the wake of the Reverend, who helped Claire and Frank merge past and present. He does this again in death, as Claire and Brianna stay in his house once more, and Brianna researches her parents. Bree learns of her mother’s missing three years when she finds the newspaper article of Claire rescued by fairies. Because she’s as smart as her mother, she does the math and realizes that Claire was three months pregnant when she returned to Frank. So she asks Claire for the truth, and Claire tells her.

Only Bree isn’t as trusting at first as Jamie was when he learned of Claire’s time travel — and I don’t blame her. She’s never felt particularly close to her mother because Claire has always has her head in another world, and when she hears of Claire’s time travel for the first time, Bree assumes it’s a way for Claire to avoid taking responsibility for an affair.

But as the flashbacks show, Claire has never run away from what she views as her responsibility, even when she probably should.

The flashbacks all take place on the day of the battle of Culloden — what this whole season has been building toward. Only that’s not exactly right. The show revealed the outcome of the battle early on, and the battle has never seemed like the lynchpin for the season it was meant to be. This episode shows that the season has really been building toward Claire and Jamie’s goodbye, and that their relationship is the backbone of the series and what it is constantly moving toward.

The flashbacks take place hour by hour and minute by minute to show the fraught, tense moments that lead to Claire going back through the stones. This tense pace is a good match to the languid pace in 1968. The contrast allows each time period to shine on its own, and it makes sense that Claire and Jamie’s goodbye is too rushed and comes too quickly, while her memories of him linger on slowly in her life without him.

The circumstances of Claire and Jamie’s goodbye hadn’t been revealed before, and I had assumed that Claire had to find the stones on her own, after the battle started and she had to make an escape. I never would have assumed the reason they were running away was because she and Jamie murdered Dougal.

Dougal overhears Jamie and Claire talking of killing Prince Charles in a last-ditch effort to stop the rebellion. Dougal doesn’t want to hear explanations of Jamie’s betrayal and starts to fight Jamie as Claire looks on. The fight ends with Jamie and Dougal in a horrible embrace, with a dagger between them, each trying to push the dagger toward the other. Claire sees Jamie struggling for his life and does what she always does — she jumps in to save him, even if it means murder. If their bond wasn’t clear before, they sure are bonded now after they murdered together.

With this act, everything changes for Jamie. Dougal’s death by Jamie’s hand is immediately discovered, so Jamie and Claire make some quick moves to ensure that the Frasers won’t lose Lallybroch, and that Claire and her unborn baby are safe.

Jamie pleads for Claire to take his child and go back to the future, where they could be safe. Claire and Jamie know that they each would die for the other, and it was harder in some ways for Claire to choose life because that meant a life without Jamie. But she honors his request and agrees to go live in the future where she can raise their child.

Their goodbye was the most powerful scene in an intense, extended episode. Claire and Jamie’s love is the most powerful force in a world that includes time travel and fate. Their love is more powerful than any act of history, and Caitriona Balfe’s and Sam Heughan’s performances absolutely sell it. In their goodbye, you could feel the sadness, the deep love, and the fear and anxiousness that came with wartime decision making. Just like real life goodbyes, it was beautiful and horrible, it came much too quickly, and it would never last long enough.

One particularly great aspect of Balfe’s performance came in 1968 when she was remembering Jamie. When she finally told Bree the truth about her father, you could see Claire’s desperation to speak about Jamie. She had been alone with her grief and memories for so long that when she finally was able to talk to talk to her daughter about her past, she was bursting with the desire to speak about Jamie and share the memories of him.

This is in stark contrast with how she speaks about Frank. In 1968, Claire announced that Frank had died in an offhand way when she was speaking to Roger. After two seasons of going back and forth between him and Jamie, after torment about cheating on him and then going back to him, after a whole season that moved toward her life with Frank, he died off screen and is barely mentioned. It seems odd to me that Frank wasn’t more incorporated into the season, or into the entire show. I wish their relationship was built up a little more, even though I know her love for Frank doesn’t compare to her love for Jamie. They still had a life together, he still raised her child, and he still took up a lot of her emotions, especially in season one, when Claire felt so conflicted between the two. The show never really made a case for her and Frank’s relationship, so it never seemed like a fair fight for her attention between the two.

To flash forward to Frank in the first episode of the season and then largely ignore him throughout the rest of the season felt unsatisfying to me. Frank has always felt like a footnote instead of a proper chapter in Claire’s life, and I wish more time was spent with him, if only to see more of Tobias Menzies doing his thing. I guess in a show about time travel I shouldn’t count him out completely, but I do wish that Claire’s life with him was more incorporated into the season, instead of using it as bookends in the season opener and closer. Developing Claire’s relationship with Frank could have added depth to the show and emphasized the themes of parenthood and family, different senses of self, and fate and choices.

On the other hand, I have to commend the show for its tight focus on what works: Claire and Jamie. After all the genres it’s dabbled in, Outlander made it clear in this finale that it’s first and foremost a love story.

Aon rud eile:
  • I didn’t get to this in the review, but Geillis is back! We got to see her younger self before she traveled back to the past. It turns out she is a husband killer no matter what time period she’s in. It’s interesting to see Geillis study and prepare so much for her trip — I hope Claire learns something about time travel by using Geillis’ notes.
  • It looks like next season Bree and Claire may travel back to the past to find Jamie once again. It also looks like a sweet romance was brewing between the Reverend’s son and Bree. 
  • I think Bree will be a brilliant character to add to the story — and she seemed so like Jamie in her personality — but everything she said sounded like a line to me, rather than natural conversation. I hope the writing for her loosens up a bit and that her acting skills match that of her on screen parents.
  • I am thrilled to learn that Fergus survived his trip to Lallybroch — which we know because the deed he was carrying was successfully delivered.
  • Murtagh on learning Jamie killed Dougal: "I can't say I'm surprised. I'm only surprised it took you this long."
  • It’s been a fantastic season, and thanks for reading along with me!


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