Ep. Review: Outlander 2.1 “Through the Glass, Darkly”

Outlander is baaaaack! And that means the internet is rife with opinions about it! I’ve had several reactions after seeing it, and have let those feelings percolate over the week, and also read various reaction pieces about it, and talked to some of you about it. Here, now, are a collection of my thoughts, other peoples’ thoughts, and screen shots from the second season premiere! All in all, I’d say that it was engaging and thought-provoking for me, but not necessarily pleasurable or entertaining—which, perhaps, might account for disparate reviews of it? Idk. Let’s continue.

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“Through the Glass, Darkly” opens with Claire on the ground in the stone circle and the scene is sort of washed out and bluish in color tone, which sets the stage for Claire’s emotional state. (Just contrast it with the same area but back in the 1700s last season; it seems fairly different in tone.)

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Despite her clothing, we still don’t know when Claire is, but we do know she is distraught.

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This seemed like an effort to have the viewer feel as Claire did. We, too, are simply dropped into a time unknown in an intentionally jarring manner. It’s a bold season opening because it both trusts the viewer to know and remember what happened last season, but also wants to unsettle the viewer (even the book-reading viewer who knows the story) by creating a scenario in which we mirror some of Claire’s uncertainty.

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So, yes, she appears ragged and slightly deranged. (But, tbh, how great would it be to encounter a woman dressed like that on the road?? What a great anecdote to share with acquaintances at a party!) So, she’s feeling lost and she immediately accosts this stranger, inquiring about the outcome of the Battle of Culloden. She breaks down further after hearing that the British trounced the Scottish.

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Cut to her in a hospital. She appears isolated and protective of herself (and her unborn child). Frank in anxious to see her.

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Let’s just say their first meeting don’t go great. She first sees his visage as a reflection in the window and she is startled. We have to remember the last time she saw that face, it wasn’t her Frank, but his ancestor, Black Jack Randall. She is understandably jarred simply seeing his face.

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They return to Rev. Reginald Wakefield’s place from Season 1 to recuperate. Immediately, Claire is able to bond with his housekeeper, Mrs. Graham, because she knew and believed in the power of the stones. At one point, when Mrs. Graham is discussing the political climate and foreign affairs of 1948 (aka possibility of war with the USSR) and Claire has this outburst, cutting her off, yelling “There’s always another fucking war!” I loved this explosion. Claire lived through and worked through the Second World War as a nurse, and while recovering and reconnecting with her husband, she is transported back in time to another period rife with violence and the near-constant threat of battle and the looming specter of war. Then, bam, she’s back in the late 1940s and, despite WWII having ended, the world is once more divided with the threat of war. No shit, there’s always another fucking war. Preach, Claire, preach.

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Despite this, Mrs. Graham is all kindness and understanding. There’s a great moment when, almost immediately after Claire’s outburst, Claire switches her train of thought, merely because the word “fucking” triggered her to think about Jamie and how she first taught him that word. Her reminiscing transforms Claire’s face into a softer visage for the first time this episode. It’s only thinking about Jamie that she fully relaxes, if only momentarily. Mrs. Graham has lovely advice for Claire that she must simply “treasure” her memories, keep them safe, but keep them tucked away. It’s healthy advice, but I’m not sure it’s applicable this early on in Claire’s grieving process. I mean, it’s only been a week? (I’ll come back to this point later on as I feel it is relevant.)

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After a week, she finally asks Frank to come to her room so she can tell him her story of what happened to her during the two years she was gone. One of my girl Christina’s critiques for this episode was that it didn’t follow the adage to “show, not tell.” I think this is a valid observation as much of the episode concerned one party telling another party something, yet I was not entirely swayed by it, nor did I feel like there was too much exposition. For the purposes of setting the stage and laying emotional and action-related groundwork, it simply had to do some of it—and, for me, what it did, it did well.

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Another point here, which Bri made when we watched this, was that she had the urge to tell Claire that she should be relieved that she was back in her modern day, her husband still loved/wanted her, and he actually does not want to know the nitty gritty details about what she has been doing over the past years. And I absolutely get that reaction. But it’s just not going to happen that way for Claire, especially not right away. I think that’s what I keep coming back to—she is just not emotionally ready to accept this great, understanding, supportive man who she had a relationship with years ago before all of these life-changing experiences. So, even before Claire decides to tell him everything, he is basically pleading with her not to unburden herself. He repeats over and over that all that matters is that she is back, and he doesn’t care about anything else. For me, I think you can read this two ways: yes, it’s this great example of unconditional love, but, in another way, it simply sounds really dismissive. Like, she’s been through serious shit (as has he). He says he loves her and is glad she’s back. Well, then, he has to take all of her, and, in my opinion, that means respecting the fact that she’s dealing with some epic drama that can’t easily be swept under the rug (though, yes, it should be eventually). If I’m feeling cynical, then I interpret Frank’s response like this: if he doesn’t care what happened to her, then does he truly care about her as a complicated, wonderful, fucked up individual?

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So, yes, we cut to the early morning and Claire’s story is over. We see frank grappling with everything. Because I’m a wishy-washy person, I want to take back everything I just said about Frank since it sounds too harsh. I do feel that way, but I also think Frank is a wonderful man and Tobias Menzies is a goddamn treasure  (and really pulls off those 1940s-style suits).

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I could watch his facial expressions for hours. And we get a lot of close-ups of him this episode! The nuanced feelings and thoughts he conveys with the slightest change on his face or body is just amazing.

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Basically, he is, once more, really nice and understanding.

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Claire acknowledges that she sounds craycray and all Frank really does is sigh, rub his face, and say that he is “prepared” to make that “leap of faith” with/for her and accept her tale. This starts an argument between them as she feels he is patronizing her and she pushes and prods him. I think she does this to get a reaction out of him. His ready acceptance felt wrong to her, or insincere. Honestly, part of this whole thing reminded somewhat of the “nice guy” trope, and, for some reason, of a particular scene in Apatow’s Netflix series “Love” this year. In the first episode of “Love,” the main (nice?) guy is dumped by, or tricked into dumping, his girlfriend. Basically she freaks out because she says that he says “I love you” too much and she explains that it’s not really affection, it’s pressure and control. Blanket acceptance and love feels, and sometimes is, somewhat superficial and not really addressing the real issues that any relationship, however strong, might have.

Furthermore, and relating it back to Claire and Frank, I think that certain extenuating circumstances (like, say, returning after two years claiming to have traveled through time and married and fallen in love with some other guy) require a strong (not even necessarily angry) response. So, while I’m sort of in love with Frank as a character (and especially Tobias’ performance), and think his acceptance would be amazing down the road, I also empathize with Claire. Yes, she definitely comes off crazy, and upset, mad, volatile, selfish, etc., but it also felt like a reasonable reaction to what happened to her and where/when she is now. It’s going to be an adjustment. I also think she keeps pushing him in order to get things out in the open and not let him hide from whatever anger/doubt/etc. he might be feeling. So she keeps reiterating that she was with Jamie and loved him deeply, and Frank finally shows a bit of his frustration, snapping that her love of Jamie is a point that she made several times. But, and he explains this nicely, he said that of course he wanted to hate her and believe that she ran off as others suggested. He wanted to fill the void with rage, but, ultimately, he couldn’t because he simply couldn’t believe she left him of her own will. And he concludes that despite everything she has said, this basic fact holds true. She didn’t choose to leave that first time. She kept her wedding ring. So, again, I’ve circled back to the fact that Frank is sort of amazing in his seeming ability to accept everything and try to move forward.

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So, again, he kneels on the floor, reminding her that he once told her she couldn’t do or say anything to change how he felt about her. Sure, that’s a lovely sentiment. Unconditional love is grand! But a small part of me doesn’t really buy into the whole unconditional love thing within the confines of a monogamous sexual romantic relationship. I think that too often the “unconditional” aspect suggests that the other person in question is not as important, as an individual human being. But I suppose those are issues I should explore at a latter date with a shrink? Moving on.

The moment she confesses, and he realizes the import of her statement, that she is having Jamie’s baby… damn. Again, his reactions were perfectly emotive.

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After the pregnancy bomb (and, we find out soon, Frank’s sterility issues), Frank displays his only real physically angry outburst and he is able to direct it safely toward inanimate objects. Despite her visceral, if unfounded, fear of his visage due to his ancestor Black Jack, he doesn’t take out his violence on her.

 

 

After a few come to Jesus moments with the wise (and surprisingly charming) Rev, Frank realizes that, yes, he can accept this baby and raise it as his own. He has conditions, naturally; namely, that she let the past go and not research Jamie or anything while he still lives, and, also, that their child won’t know he or she had a different biological father. Claire queries him about the plan, wanting to confirm that they would be raising their child in a lie. Frank responds: “No. Raised with a father. A living, breathing father. Not the echo of a memory they can never catch.” Again, solid point, Frank! This is why you’re my hero, despite my criticisms earlier. My love is unconditional, but not uncritical, as it should be.

 

Claire agrees to his demands, although she kind of delivers him a final burn by saying that she will do as he wishes, because it’s what Jamie demanded of her. So, once again, it’s apparent in her actions/words that Jamie meant more to her (at least in that moment). She either can’t, or won’t, remove Jamie’s ring, but Frank let’s it go and tells her to do it when she’s ready.

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(Including this screen shot simply because I love [the shoes, the carpet, and the suitcase.)

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So, luckily, Frank has a job opportunity at Harvard! Yay! Easy peasy! Sounds hella easy to get jobs in academia during the 1940s.

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Claire disembarks from the plane looking stylish and modern.

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This is another great shot, in my opinion. Color is starting to return to her world (and our screens).

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And, lo and behold, there is a grudging smile! Atta girl, Claire. Recognize the greatness that is Frank. Frank extends his hand, comforting and encouraging her that there’s just “one more step.”

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The show does some nice, fancy footwork, and, bam, it’s Jamie extending is hand to Claire to disembark from their ship in Le Havre, France, 1745.

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We now return to the earlier timeline! Claire is back to her curly hair wild days!

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And they’re in love!

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Though everything is not great in Fraserland. Jamie is still recovering from the extreme physical, sexual, and emotional abuse suffered at the hands of Black Jack. He’s obviously trying to appear upbeat and normal with Claire, but he admits that he sometimes still feels Jack’s touch. Claire immediately goes to him, assuring him that she is the one that is there with him. I thought this nicely echoed how Frank acted toward Claire. Despite the fact that Claire didn’t want to leave Jamie, whereas Jamie desperately wanted to leave Jack, Frank (toward Claire) and Claire (toward Jamie) both seem to struggle with not easily, or immediately, comforting their loved ones. But, it’s never easy to forget—whether they were the best or the worst memories. Movin’ on ain’t easy.

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So, plot-wise, Claire affirms that they need to prevent the Jacobite Rebellion because she doesn’t know enough to win, so the next best option for the Scottish would be to not fight at all, thereby saving lives and cultural traditions.

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They rendezvous with one of Jamie’s cousins, a wine trader who is a Jacobite, to try to get an “in” with the Bonny Prince Charlie and his crew. We get a few moments of feeling like Claire and Jamie are this political power team as they try to convince his cousin that they bleed Jacobite and can be trusted. Then we come to another interesting moment. I was struck by the fact that Jamie’s body was repeatedly used by Dougal MacKenzie to raise money for the rebels against the British in Season 1. Now, it quickly becomes apparent that he and Claire will once more use his body as rationale/motivation for war.

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I find this use of Jamie’s body so fascinating because generally it is women (or children) who are used as rationales or motivations for war. This has a long history, but continues today. Whether it’s something extreme like honor killings, or female genital mutilation, or something not physically harmful, like wearing the hijab, women’s bodies continue to be used as objects in foreign affairs. Thus, here, we have the sort of beefcake-y Jamie Fraser, younger than his intelligent and assertive wife Claire, who is admittedly a great fighter and a respected leader, but nonetheless has been flogged, imprisoned, tortured, raped, and, after all of that, will be used as a rallying point to further a political cause. His scars are his (and thus his allies) political capital. I think this is another example of the wonderfully unexpected and subverted gender dynamics in Outlander.

Back in the CGI-ed eighteenth-century French port, we have just enough time for Claire to make a hash of things, earn a new enemy, ignore her husband Jamie’s sound advice, and stick her nose in things that she probably should just ignore!

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Walking along the docks, she identifies a few cases of smallpox, which stirs up all sorts of trouble for them. Confirmed cases of smallpox mean that the harbor master must order the ship in question and its cargo to be burned. The owner of said ship is understandably not happy about this.

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She just blithely argues for quarantine, etc. Yes, great plan, Claire. But, still, the woman has no tact most of the time! She seem to revel in moments like this, and can come off a bit smug, but I suppose that might be natural given her comparative expertise and her commitment to nursing?

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But, still, remember when you were almost burnt as a fucking witch?!? Maybe cool it. Especially since you just plotted some serious espionage and sabotage. One crisis at a time! Luckily, Jamie just somehow smiles and shakes his head and says life with her is interesting since they make enemies wherever they go. Jesus, she is seriously lucky when it comes to men!! Both Frank and Jamie continue to demonstrate their awesomeness. Can’t wait for episode 2 with all of its bright colors of the Court of Versailles! Until then, here is a burning ship. I think this is the most/brightest color all episode.

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Sorry for how long this was… it’s hard to limit myself when it comes to Outlander!

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