Outlander

Of course it was only a matter of time before Jamie and Claire’s grand reunion took a turn into trouble. Chaos always finds these two. “Creme De Menthe” combines some of Outlander’s more exciting genres: a rushed surgery in the first act has all the thrills and moral quandaries of a medical drama, and an action-adventure central storyline sees Jamie outrunning a crooked agent of the crown. The time-travel element also has interesting consequences rooted in character. It’s a fast-paced, high-stakes episode from the start, but it doesn’t skip over the relationship drama. Unfortunately, some of that drama reinforces some of the narrative’s persistent flaws, especially when it comes to Claire and Jamie’s weirdly jealous attitudes about their time apart.

“Creme De Menthe” opens on last week’s terrifying cliffhanger. An intruder looking through Jamie’s ledgers threatens to rape and kill Claire, but she fights him back with a blade and then he trips and slams his head on the hard floor. Jamie finally shows up and suggests that they just let the man die, but Claire can’t. She has spent the past 14 years training to be a doctor, and her mission has always been to save lives. In her work as a surgeon, she has never let philosophical questions about who’s worth saving get the way of that mission, and she’s not going to start now. Jamie balks at all this, but he also knows that there’s not stopping Claire once she has set her mind on something. Claire’s determination to save her attacker is compelling, and she’s genuinely shaken when she fails to keep him alive. Plot-wise, it’s certainly convenient that the man dies. He was an excise man hired by Perceval, the government official Jamie pays off who thinks he’s being shorted. But Outlander makes his death more meaningful than just a plot development by attaching Claire’s calling to it. Claire is compelled to heal, no matter the patient. When Fergus reflects on Claire to Young Ian, his descriptions make her sound powerful, almost supernatural in her ability to heal.

Claire’s arc in the episode hints at her struggle to readjust back to the past. “If I’d been in Boston,” she trails off after losing the patient, and Jamie reminds her firmly that she isn’t. Away from her time, Claire has lost many of the resources to save lives. The apothecary and her quick thinking when it comes to substitutes for modern-day tools and medicines can only provide but so much. It’s the first time we see a flicker of doubt about her decision to return to the past, and it’s telling that that doubt is spurred by a failed surgery. Claire also forgets where she is when it comes to laws and justice, insisting that Jamie can just call the police after she’s done treating the man’s brain injury. Jamie reminds her that the law is not on her side: She’s a woman who was alone in a brothel without her husband, and she’ll be accused of attacking him. Claire has always had difficulty navigating the overtly patriarchal rules and regulations of Jamie’s time.

Jamie reminds her that even though she lost a patient, she’s still positioned to do a lot of good here. She visits a patient in town suffering from a mental disorder. She and her brother work as fortune tellers, and Claire doesn’t have quite enough time to fully treat her as they’re bound for the West Indies. Claire realizes how she can better adjust to her new time and place: She goes to Jamie with the idea of starting her own healing practice in town so that she can continue to practice medicine and they can make enough money to move out of the brothel. Her words envision a promising future for the couple: a happy, simple life in Edinburgh. But, of course, zooming out from this touching moment in the episode reveals just how difficult it would be for Claire and Jamie to simply settle down. They’re both in the business of stirring the pot—Jamie with his smuggling business and treasonous pamphlets and Claire with her 20th-century-doctor ways. Claire’s hope for a quaint life here goes up in literal flames at episode’s end, the print shop burning down after another employee of Perceval trespasses.

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Before Claire leaves to see the ailing woman in town, Jamie has a quick moment of separation anxiety, asking her if she’ll be coming back. Of course, she’s coming back to you; she came back from the future to find you after 20 years! Jamie says he was living in the shadows for the past two decades, that hearing her voice again in the print shop was like the sun finally coming out. It’s a big and beautiful romantic scene, one that reasserts Jamie and Claire’s timeless love. Sam Heughan’s best acting usually happens in these scenes; he’s very good at big, sincere displays of affection, and even when the script is cloying, it’s so easy to get swept up in it all.

But some of my frustrations about last episode persist in “Creme De Menthe.” After Jamie explains to Claire why he can’t tell Ian that Young Ian has been with him, she’s appalled. Jamie’s reasoning for lying to his sister and brother-in-law is indeed shaky; he argues that the boy will just keep running away from home and that he would rather him be here than somewhere else. Claire says that he isn’t the boy’s father and shouldn’t be making decisions like that, and it shifts abruptly into an argument about Brianna. Jamie throws it in Claire’s face that he wasn’t able to be there as Brianna’s father, and while I do buy that Jamie would have complicated feelings about Brianna, his sudden anger here is confusing. First of all, he was the one who insisted that Claire go back to her time to raise their child. Second of all, he didn’t even have confirmation that Brianna existed until very recently, so it’s not like he spent these past 20 years thinking about his daughter who he’d never met. Claire and Jamie are both revisionists when it comes to their own emotions and the emotions of others, which is to say that the writing on this show is often inconsistent in terms of what the characters feel.

Jamie’s outburst seems like forced drama. He’s still mad about the dang bikini, and sure, that’s just indicative of the fact that he’s from a different time, but it still seems so silly! Especially because what he’s really trying to say is that he’s jealous of Frank. Claire insists that Frank was a good father to Brianna (I’m not totally sure if I agree with her about that one, but fine), and Jamie asks pointedly if Frank was also a good husband to her. Can these two cool it with their insecure, immature jealousy? Between this episode and last week’s, they both seem obsessed about knowing each other’s entire sexual and romantic histories from the past 20 years. Little do they know that they were both pining endlessly over each other, neither one seemingly interested in opening themselves up to love again (although a conversation between Fergus and Jamie does reveal that he has another wife, which is a twist I could sense coming). Claire was miserable with Frank, and all of Jamie’s jealousy is stupid and just simply wrong. Claire gave up her life and her family to come back to him—isn’t that enough? Even if they had fallen in love with other people (which they seemingly did not!), could either really hold that against the other? They were separated by time and space! For 20 years! In some ways, both characters are still acting like it wasn’t that long, like it’s easy to just press play on a romance that has been paused for two decades.

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Again, Outlander’s acknowledgement of the passing of time is inconsistent. In some ways, “Creme De Menthe” compellingly considers the consequences of Claire’s journey from the future, but Jamie’s jealous outburst and their subsequent fight are out of place. These are the emotional ramifications of their long separation? Angry jealousy? This isn’t particularly convincing or well developed character work, and the more Claire and Jamie ignore the passing of time, the weaker their romance seems, which sounds contradictory, but the characters almost seem emotionally stunted in their hasty attempts to pretend everything is the same as it was. Claire’s medical arc in the episode at least acknowledges that there’s a lot more to her life than her relationship with Jamie, but both characters are still acting like their time apart was just that: an inconvenient little break. Outlander needs to more thoroughly consider the past in order to make the present more believable.

Stray observations

  • I do like the buddy-comedy vibe of Fergus and Young Ian’s adventures.
  • Also, even Young Ian’s funny first foray into sexual relations reiterates Outlander’s emphasis on women’s pleasure. He tells her he’ll do it however she likes, and she eagerly tops him.
  • Since Jamie’s treasonous pamphlets were discovered, I’m guessing the two will have to move somewhere new?
  • This show does a good job of infusing scenes with suspense even when there isn’t much happening, as is the case with the scene where Claire visits the fortune teller siblings. Norma Bailey is a fantastic director.

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