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After a middling start, “Uncharted” sets Outlander back on course

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After slogging through Claire vs. wild for its first few acts, Outlander gets back to what it does best in “Uncharted.” Outlander is as much a romance as it is an adventure story, and the show has settled into a predictable but nonetheless satisfying pattern: The universe pulls Jamie and Claire apart, but they always find their way back to one another. There’s no will-they/won’t-they element to Outlander. At this point, we know that despite the usual relationship drama, Claire and Jamie are together for the long haul. That much is certain. So the show finds ways to rip them apart without breaking them up or falling into some tedious love triangle trap. They remain forever bound to one another, an invisible thread connecting them so that they are never truly apart and always find their way back.


After landing on the wrong island after her little raft stint (the direction of the opening scene in the water is gorgeous), Claire has to rely on her survival skills to navigate dehydration, the relentless sun, ants, and even a snake. She gradually sheds her clothing, repurposing pieces of it to serve as shelter, protection, bandages. The dress Claire made for herself before her journey back in time has become a very significant costume piece and prop for the show. Claire’s solo journey through the wilderness and her eventual rescue from two strangers don’t end up being the most exciting parts of the episode by a long shot. It’s the reunion and the little character moments in the episode’s final act that play to the show’s strengths. After the big reunion that the first half of the season built to, it’s a bit repetitive to do yet another big reunion story, but it works. Emotional reunions have become Outlander’s forte, and Jamie and Claire are always more compelling characters when they’re together versus when they’re apart.

This reunion of course relies on a lot of fortunate coincidences—like the fact that Jamie’s ship crashes onto the same island where Claire is. But is it luck or is it fate? Outlander doesn’t force you to think about the logistics of time-travel too much, and that’s a good thing. But the time-travel element does raise certain questions about destiny. Claire and Jamie tried to alter history, and they could not. Sometimes, there’s a sense that events have happened before. Some of the show’s more mystical leanings resurface in “Uncharted” when Father Fogden offhandedly references Abandawe cave, a storied place of great power on Jamaica where people have been rumored to disappear. Charlotte Brändström’s direction imbues the scene with a sense of doom, and we also flashback to the fortuneteller in Edinburgh who warned Claire that she would be devoured by Abandawe. And let’s not forget that Claire correctly intuited details of the cause of death for a centuries-old corpse by merely touching the bones and that those bones were, according to Joe Abernathy, found in the Caribbean. Some strange time-travel ripple effects are afoot.

The parts of “Uncharted” before Jamie and Claire reunite aren’t all bad, but they do continue some of the weaker threads of last episode. Mamacita is as underdeveloped and rooted in tired tropes as the goat lady from last episode. And Father Fogden is one of the most bizarre characters to drop into the Outlander universe. Outlander sometimes has a strange sense of humor, relying on eccentric characters. Father Fogden talks to a coconut he has named Coco, a trait that’s never really explained and is uncomfortably played for laughs. He has a temper and becomes controlling of Claire, presumably because she reminds him of his dead wife. He also becomes fixated on Fergus’ missing hand during the wedding ceremony he leads between Fergus and Marsali, and none of it makes much sense.

Outlander’s humor is much more effective when it relies on the easy chemistry between Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan. Shortly after their reunion, Claire becomes a little tipsy on sherry-filled turtle soup, and she and Jamie engage in some playful banter that reiterates just how fun these two can be together. It has been a while since they have entered that teasing, flirtatious mode with each other, and it’s a welcome change of tone from all the high-stakes drama of their seafaring adventures. It goes down easy like a cool glass of water after being stranded in the unforgiving wilderness. And it wouldn’t be an Outlander wedding without a steamy sex scene. Though they aren’t the newlyweds, Jamie and Claire act like it, their banter escalating into heated sex that might just top their reunion sex from earlier in the season. After having to play very serious for much of the episode, Balfe seizes the opportunity to quite literally let her hair down, and she’s as magnetic as ever.


But the other gem at the end of “Uncharted” is the scene between Claire and Marsali. Marsali’s fears of inheriting her mother’s trauma, her determination to maintain control over her reproductive choices, and her desire for a fulfilling sex life like that of Claire and Jamie give much needed depth and dimension to the character. And it’s a believable bonding moment for the two women, who up to this point have not been particularly fond of each other. Marsali sees the love between Jamie and Claire, and she wants that for herself and Fergus. But she doesn’t want to be pregnant, at least not yet. So she basically asks Claire how to have good sex without getting pregnant, and Claire promises to give her contraception tips. Outlander centers female pleasure in its sex scenes, but it also centers women’s bodily autonomy and sexual agency with scenes like these. Outlander’s incorporation of feminist thought in its narrative has always set the show apart from other period dramas.

Stray observations

  • I always love how squeamish Jamie can be. He can’t even stick Claire with a syringe!
  • Yi Tien Cho being forced to apologize for his ignorance re:Arabella is...an unnecessarily and uncomfortable scene.
  • Jamie giving Fergus his surname is so dang adorable. Their relationship has been a highlight of the season.
  • I suddenly remembered that Claire is supposed to be 50-years-old this season.

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