Outlander

There’s a fine line between being a lot of different things at once and simply doing too much. Outlander has long blended genres and woven a narratively complex, centuries-spanning drama. But this season has been an unfocused and overloaded mess. So much has happened and yet nothing at all. The finale tears through story with little regard for the show’s past, intent on laying the groundwork for its future no doubt. It climaxes too early and then just keeps on going.

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In what is increasingly becoming their thing, Jamie and Claire start the episode separated, but that gets resolved pretty quickly and easily with the help of Lord John Grey, Jamie fanboy and conveniently powerful British Royal Army officer. But until they reunite for the umpteenth time this season, Claire finds herself in the evil lair of Geillis Duncan, whose characterization last episode was nothing short of a campy cartoon villain, which contradicted a lot of previous character development. The early scenes between Geillis and Claire in the finale, however, are much more in line with what their relationship used to be, and her characterization is much more nuanced and consistent. Lotte Verbeek is a damn good actor, and last episode sold her short. This one allows Verbeek and Caitriona Balfe to play off each other brilliantly. Geillis talks about how she and Claire share a special connection as time travelers, a bond that not even Jamie can understand. Suddenly, their relationship is more complicated than last episode allowed, and it works much better.

Geillis suspicious of Claire and the way she keeps dropping back into her life, convinced that Claire is trying to undo the work she has devoted herself to since learning about her ability to travel through time. The difference between Geillis and Claire ultimately boils down to the way they view their time-travel abilities. Geillis thinks they are chosen ones, that they have an obligation to change history. Claire doesn’t seem to really think she has a destiny or even view her ability to time-travel as something like a superpower. For her, it’s more about Jamie, about allowing her to find and be with the love of her life. Geillis has a zealous compulsion to alter history, to ensure that a Scottish king rises, and she’s willing to do whatever it takes to get it done. That includes killing young boys, because she’s for some reason convinced that a sacrifice is required to travel through time, even though Claire has never had to do one. And the show just sort of throws that out there without any real clarification. Does the sacrifice really mean something? Or is Geillis mistaken?

Outlander has been intentionally ambiguous about a lot of its mythology, because it’s not really a part of the story. Or, at least, it didn’t used to be. Even when Jamie and Claire were working to change history, the show didn’t delve too deeply into the logistics of time-travel, and it worked, because time-travel logistics quickly become tedious and headache-inducing. Geillis and Claire talking about a special connection that she share because of their gifts is, indeed, much more compelling than either of them talking about what’s required or not required in order to pass through time and why. But at a certain point, it just starts to feel lazy, as if the mythology hasn’t been thought out at all. Margaret, the fortune-telling woman who Yi Tien Cho intends to marry, is a very poorly written character, and the scene of her reading Jamie and Claire is tedious and unnecessary. What does it really add to the story?

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The moments that immediately follow Claire killing Geillis are especially elusive. Claire’s forced to kill her in order to save Brianna, who Geillis becomes convinced is the 200-year-old baby that Margaret’s prophecy foretold would have to die for a Scottish king to rise. Traumatized by the fact that she just nearly beheaded her old friend, Claire flashes back to the time she intuitively identified bones with Joe Abernathy. There’s no doubt that those bones belonged to Geillis, that she was the person who tried to cut her head clean off, as Joe puts it. The implications are huge. Claire knew subconsciously about something that happened in the past before she even lived through it (in the past-present), suggesting that there’s some complicated time loop at play. It’s a lot to wrap your mind around, but Outlander breezes through it swiftly, doesn’t land on any real conclusions about it and what it could mean for Claire and her actions. Seconds after the very climatic and intense scene of Geillis’ death, we’re suddenly on a ship back to Scotland, Claire and Jamie wasting no time before getting down to business (fucking).

And look, it’s a great sex scene, mostly for the reason that we don’t even get to the sex. It’s an entire scene of dirty talk and playful kissing and touching, as Jamie details exactly how he wants to fuck Claire. Television usually skips over foreplay, and here Outlander delivers an entire scene of just foreplay. It’s intoxicating. And it’s almost captivating enough to make you forget that we literally just watched Claire murder Geillis mere seconds ago. But alas, “Eye Of The Storm” induces a whiplash not unlike the suddenly storm that strikes their ship. It’s dizzying, and it’s hard to find anything to really latch onto.

“Eye Of The Storm” also continues some of the worst aspects of last episode when Claire and Jamie stumble upon some sort of ceremony being performed around a fire in the jungle. The ceremony and the people participating in it are unspecific and exoticized, Claire and Jamie looking on as white spectators to something they don’t understand and don’t really care to. The ceremony turns violent when Yi Tien Cho kills Margaret’s brother, and the whole thing just reeks of racism and stereotype. Outlander has zero interest in exploring these people or what they’re doing—only in establishing a certain mood. It’s gross and completely unnecessary.

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“Eye Of The Storm” packs in too much and spends way too long on scenes that offer little. It rips through the story without letting the full impact of any new development land. Its mythology expands (hey, there’s another portal through time!), and yet that has no real implications for the larger story. The seasons that precede it have all had clear throughlines and an overarching story. What was season three’s? At first, it’s Claire and Jamie finding each other again, but after that, the show has wobbled, struggling to tell any one story coherently or convincingly, continuously relying on splitting Jamie and Claire apart physically for any real sense of stakes.

The final scenes of the episode bestow Claire and Jamie with perhaps the most luck they’ve ever had. After a very lengthy storm sequence, Claire is knocked overboard, and we return to the finale’s opening scene, a swirling underwater shot of Claire as she muses in voiceover about how she felt at peace in those minutes when she was pretty much dead. That’s some dark shit that goes relatively unacknowledged the second she’s back to life again. And exactly how does she survive? Jamie jumps in the water and pulls her to the surface, but not before pausing to kiss her under water as she dies slowly? I’m a sucker for a gorgeously shot underwater scene, but Jamie kissing Claire is so stupid that I actually laughed in disbelief. He at last brings her above water, grabs onto a piece of the wrecked ship, and begs her not to die. Claire probably should have taught him CPR at some point. But it doesn’t matter really. Even though they’re only in the calm eye of the storm and not actually in the clear, they somehow wash up on the shores of America alive and in love. I can suspend my disbelief a lot with this show, but this ending pushes it and for very little payoff. Despite a lot of action in the episode, it’s surprisingly stagnant—not the wild ride it thinks it is.


Stray observations

  • Well, folks, we made it to the end of another season of Outlander. Even though I’ve been very critical of this season, I really do love the show and want it to get back on course. I’m devastated that Geillis is gone once and for all but am even more upset about the way the character was handled in these last two episodes. I’m excited to see what happens to Claire and Jamie next on their new adventure in America. Season four is slated for 2018.
  • That being said, Geillis saying that she and Claire share a special connection that not even Jamie can share with her made my little Geillis/Claire shipper heart sing.
  • Controversial perhaps, but I love Jamie’s bangs. This is my favorite hairdo of his.
  • As flawed as this episode is, Balfe still turns in a killer performance.

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