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As Outlander continues to race through time, some characters never find their footing

Illustration for article titled As Outlander continues to race through time, some characters never find their footing
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Outlander’s moving so quickly through years and years of story that it’s difficult for the character development, especially for the new characters and new relationships, to really sink in and carry emotional weight. But at the same time, Outlander has to move forward quickly. Because it has to get to the point of merging the separate timelines. Claire and Jamie’s separation across time and space has not been as detrimental to the show as I initially thought it would be. The bond that still exists between them without being in each other’s physical presence is powerful, and the story is still turning in moving, exciting character drama.

Establishing new character dynamics has to happen within tight confines, demanding brilliant performances from the actors to elevate what they’re given. The writing is so focused on plot, so focused on moving the story forward as efficiently as possible that there isn’t much time for character development. Still, in many cases, the writers and actors impress in their abilities to convey a lot of emotion and motivation with very little. Joe Abernathy, for example, has been a surprisingly rich character despite having very little screen time. He isn’t necessarily essential to the plot, but his friendship with Claire is meaningful. Claire’s existence seems to revolve around the people and things she has lost (loss is the central theme of this episode). But she does have Joe, a real friend, someone who has had to work his way up in an industry where people constantly doubt and dismiss him. Just the simple exchange in this episode, when Claire knows exactly what he’s eating because of the day of the week it is—and he knows she’ll know it, too—conveys intimacy simply. Outlander has a lot of characters, especially as it races through so many years, but the writers are great at imbuing all of them with specificity and emotion. Joe wonders when Claire will be back, and it’s presumably his concern that makes her realize she’s chasing a ghost. After spending the episode chasing down what few leads she, Brianna, and Roger have managed to dig up about Jamie, she concedes.

Roger and Brianna, both individually and as a pair, suffer from the rushed storytelling. I actually liked Roger and Brianna when we first met them at the end of last season. Roger’s awkwardness and kindness are endearing, and there’s something about the way Sophie Skelton plays Brianna that really does evoke Sam Heughan’s Jamie, connecting the characters despite the fact that we’ve never seen them on screen together. Roger and Brianna are becoming a more significant part of the story, but it’s happening so fast that we haven’t really had time to get to know them at all, making their motivations a little hazy. Outlander excels in the character development department. We know Jamie and Claire so well, and we’ve spent a lot of time with them, seen them through challenges, adventures, victories, violence, grief. Everything about Roger and Brianna, on the other hand, is simply doled out as exposition. We know Brianna and Claire had a strained relationship, and we know that they’re becoming closer...because Brianna tells us these things. Characters explicitly stating how they feel isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, Outlander does a wonderful job of checking in on its characters emotional states. But so much of Brianna’s arc right now is forced and inorganic.

We ultimately end up spending a lot more time with Jamie this week, and there’s a lot more going on in his storyline. The problem of the rushed timeline, however, also has some ramifications in his parts of the episode, particularly when it comes to Geneva Dunsany. Jamie, going by the name Mackenzie, is working as a groomsman for the Dunsany estate in England as part of the arrangements made by Grey last episode. The Dunsany sisters, Isabel and Geneva, are introduced to the story, and Isabel just really loves horses, while Geneva is...kind of evil? The rest of the groomsmen hate her so much that they draw straws to determine whose turn it is to accompany her on her rides. She takes interest in Jamie, requests that he ride with her one day, and then aggressively hits on him. When her flirtations are met with sternness from Jamie, she pretends to fall of her horse so that he’ll save her. When he realizes it was an act, he drops her in the mud. Geneva’s cackle as she’s covered in mud and her overall sinister presence makes her seem like an over-the-top villain. When Milton shows up, she senses tension between him, Grey, and Jamie, and you can see the wheels turning in her head. Eventually, she finds out the truth about his identity and blackmails him into having sex with her a few days before her wedding to the much older Earl of Ellismuir. She’s unnerving in the scene where she threatens and blackmails him, calling him Red Jamie and making it clear that she also knows about his family in Lallybroch.

Something about both the writing and Hannah James’ heavy performance just doesn’t really click. On the night that Jamie comes to her room, Geneva transforms from hardened, cackling villain to a frightened and nervous young woman who doesn’t know how sex works, which seems to be a weird attempt to downplay the sexual assault connotations of the scene. Jamie reminds her that it isn’t too late to call the whole thing off, but she still doesn’t back down, saying that she doesn’t want to lose her virginity to her older, unkind husband-to-be. We’re perhaps meant to feel sorry for her in this moment, but given the context of how she got Jamie to come here and her behavior in the rest of the episode, the moment doesn’t really give the character depth so much as seem inconsistent. It’s a complicated scene to unravel. There are elements of Outlander’s subversiveness when it comes to sex and pleasure, but those elements are obscured by the fact that Jamie was blackmailed into this position. Jamie asks if he can touch her, giving Geneva the ability to consent, which she did not allow him. Later though, she does ask if she can touch him, and he says yes. He guides her through the motions, making sure her first time is pleasurable and painless. But it all seems to play into some of the tropes that Outlander once subverted in season one, when Claire was the one teaching Jamie how to have good sex. Geneva’s conniving and perceptive throughout the episode, and then she suddenly appears childish here. To group this scene in with Outlander’s other subversive sex scenes that center female pleasure is to ignore the fact that Jamie was stripped of his consent when Geneva blackmailed him.

After sex, Geneva says she loves Jamie. Again, she comes off as silly and naive when she has been shown previously to be anything but. This character just doesn’t feel real. But this moment leads to a radiant, if obvious, Jamie monologue about the differences between lust and love. He doesn’t say anything earth-shatteringly profound, but Jamie’s words about what love is, what it feels like, evoke Outlander’s bold belief in true love. “Love is when you give your heart and soul to another, and they give theirs in return,” he says. Jamie and Claire’s love has always been the most believable, the most powerful force on this show. Time and time again, we’re reminded of how much they love each other, how much that love has withstood the test of time, grief, loss. When this show talks of love, it doesn’t sound like platitudes. Jamie captures his history with Claire, unearths raw emotions in this vulnerable and resonant scene.


Then Geneva dies, which really just underscores how one-dimensional and disposable the character is. She dies after giving birth to Jamie’s illegitimate son, who her husband knows is not his because they never actually slept together. Jamie quells a heated argument between the earl and Geneva’s father, ultimately killing the earl and saving the baby. Over the years, Jamie is a loving dad to Willie, even though the child, and everyone except Grey and Isabel, has no idea that he’s the father. Jamie and Grey’s friendship continues to be a strong part of the season, too. The moment when Jamie asks Grey to watch after Willie after he has returned to Lallybroch and offers his body as payment is devastating. Jamie has been conditioned by his abusers, which includes Geneva, to believe that his body is currency. Grey balks at the notion, disturbed that Jamie thinks so little of his honor. He admits that he’ll be attracted to Jamie until the day he dies but that he would never agree to such an arrangement. He already intends to marry Isabel, which confuses Jamie at first, but Grey says he’s genuinely fond of her, suggesting that he’s bisexual. Queer characters on Outlander up to this point have been portrayed as predatory, but in Grey, the show finally has a likable queer character. Queer characters in historical dramas tend to get tragic storylines, and while Grey is mostly closeted, he isn’t a tragic character, and he’s out to his close friend Jamie. It’s easy to forget that Grey (as an adult) was just introduced one episode ago, because the development of their relationship has been strong, an example of Outlander accomplishing a lot through small details.

On a similar note, Jamie and Willie’s bond ends up being the highlight of “Of Lost Things.” Jamie’s love for his son is palpable in all of their interactions. Their scenes together are both playful and sad. There’s a sense that Willie knows he is connected to Jamie in some way. He’s devastated when Jamie announces he is going home to Lallybroch, and he asks for Jamie to baptize him. Again, the writers establish their relationship efficiently and effectively, making the weight of Jamie and Willie’s eventual separation sink in.


“Of Lost Things” ends on a sequence unlike anything Outlander has ever done before. Jamie leaving Helwater, and young Willie, behind is intercut with Claire and Brianna packing up and abandoning their search. The sequence is scored by a lovely duet of “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” which is the only instance I can recall of the show ever fully employing a modern song. Even though the song fits in with Claire’s time, it sounds out of place, especially over Jamie’s scenes, which is fitting. The dissonance between Jamie and Claire’s separate storylines is staggering. They almost seem to be on two different shows entirely. But that contrast makes the weight of their loss all the heavier. They’re so far away from each other, but they also can’t escape one another.

Stray observations

  • Claire and Brianna attract a lot of attention by sitting at the bar at a pub. Leave it to Claire to defy gender roles in any country or century.
  • Jamie’s “I’ll remember you” is crushing. Sam Heughan really commands this episode, especially in scenes with Willie.
  • I long for an episode where both Jamie and Claire’s storylines are equally compelling. Last week, Claire’s was the strongest, and this week, Jamie’s is by a lot.
  • Both Jamie and Claire have bad hair at the moment.