As Outlander season 3 ends, a look back at what we loved best about these 13 episodes
Outlander's season 3 came to a close on Sunday night. Here's a look back at what we appreciated most over its 13-episode run Sam Heughan | Caitriona Balfe | Outlander | Starz | Netflix
December 11 and 12 marked important days for Outlander fans. On Sunday night, the Starz/Netflix show's season 3 reached its finale, and on Monday, lead actress Caitriona Balfe received her third Golden Globes nomination for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series — Drama. The show itself, and its lead actor Sam Heughan received no nominations, in what fans felt was a huge snub.
While the show missing out on a nomination may be explained away by this third season being somewhat patchy, the snub for Heughan seems startling, especially in the light of him turning in performances that were consistently brilliant (especially in the first half of Outlander's latest 13-episode run). And in the season finale on Sunday night, Heughan's considerable histrionic range was in full evidence.
For those who're not up-to-speed with the show, a quick recap: Outlander stars Caitriona Balfe as Claire, an English time-travelling nurse (later, doctor). She visits a mysterious stone circle in Scotland while on a second honeymoon with her historian husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) after World War II, and is transported through them back to the 18th century. There, she must deal with the mores of the 1700s, a new relationship with a Highlander called Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), and the doomed Jacobite rebellion against English rule in Scotland. At the end of season 2, we see Jamie persuading Claire to return through the stones to the present, to save their unborn child, while he himself prepares for (what seems like) certain death on the battlefield.
Covering the same ground as book three in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series — Voyager — this third season traverses a vast distance, both in terms of time and place. Starting with Scotland in 1746, with Jamie lying wounded on the battlefield of Culloden, the season flits to 1948 Boston, where Claire has relocated with Frank in search of a fresh start. An old debt of honour sees Jamie being miraculously saved from the post-Culloden massacre of all Scottish rebels; he spends the next six years hiding in the wilderness by his family home. Captured by the English and incarcerated at Ardsmuir prison, he strikes up an unlikely friendship with the jail warden, John Grey, and is finally paroled as an indentured servant at the country estate of an English lord.
Claire meanwhile, is raising her daughter Brianna, and dealing with the cracks in her marriage with Frank. After Frank passes away, Claire revisits Scotland in 1968, tells Brianna of her true parentage, and chances upon information that shows Jamie didn't die at Culloden after all. Some careful research later, she then returns through the stones and makes her way to Edinburgh circa 1776, where Jamie now owns a print-shop (and runs a brisk smuggling business on the side).
Her reappearance after 20 years causes all kinds of complications. Apart from Jamie, no one knows of her time-travelling abilities, and have long assumed her dead. How to explain her two-decade absence, however, turns out to be the least of Jamie and Claire's concerns, as they embark on an adventure to find his kidnapped nephew Ian. First they go to Paris where Jamie's cousin helps set them up with a ship, then they begin a long and perilous sea voyage to Kingston, Jamaica, where they have reason to believe Ian's being taken, to be sold as a slave.
And because no journey from Point A to Point B can be simple in the Outlander world, they have more than their fair share of travails along the way — including bad weather, Claire being pressed into service on a British navy vessel whose crew is in the grips of a typhoid outbreak, Jamie's own attempts at finding her, and the couple trying to dodge the possibility of Jamie being arrested (for printing seditious pamphlets at his Edinburgh print-shop, and the alleged murder of an excise-man who's sniffed out his smuggling business). All this before they even reach Kingston, where the real challenge — of extricating Ian — still awaits.
Through seasons one and two, Claire and Jamie had a substantial adversary in Captain Jack Randall (a sadistic ancestor of Frank's, with a fixation for Jamie), but season three has been more about circumstances than any one nemesis. You could see it in the finale episode — 'Eye of the Storm' — where the greatest opposition Claire and Jamie come up against isn't the unhinged Geillis Duncan, but a monster storm at sea. It's a truly frightening spectacle, and its aftermath provides an emotionally resonant ending to an eventful, epic season. It also sets up what will be Claire and Jamie's next great adventure (in Outlander season 4) — making a home in America.
While a small teaser for the new season has already got fans conjecturing over what's in store for the Frasers (a reading of Diana Gabaldon's Drums of Autumn gives you a pretty fair idea; we're especially excited about one possible departure from the book — Jamie's reunion with his godfather Murtagh), here's a look back at what we appreciated most in season 3:
That print-shop scene
For a reunion two decades in the making — and imagined a thousand times over by fans — the expectations from 'the print-shop scene' (from the episode 'A. Malcom', where Claire finally meets Jamie at his Edinburgh shop after travelling back through the stones) were sky high. And while there were minor quibbles over how certain aspects of the episode could have stayed truer to the book, on the whole, the scene managed to make fans happy. Claire and Jamie were awkward and adorable, and all the callbacks to 'The Wedding' from season 1 made this an emotionally satisfying episode. Of course, there were several other emotional/unpleasant reunions as well over the course of this season, as both Claire and Jamie confronted ghosts from the past, but none could have the heft of this pivotal one.
The scale, the sets
The scale of Outlander has always been ambitious — it does involve a woman travelling 200 years back in time after all. But this season felt particularly epic in scope, as mentioned earlier, because of the amount of time and distance it hopped. In contrast, season 1 looks fairly intimate, considering it was restricted to the Scottish Highlands in terms of the action. Season 2 travelled some way — to France — but then it returned to Scotland again. Season three by contrast, goes from Boston to Scotland to France to the Caribbean, before finally ending at America. The canvas of the story suddenly seems to have widened immensely (although season 4 will see it shrink once again to the mountainside homestead that Jamie and Claire will try to establish, called Fraser's Ridge). A note here too about the sets: Outlander season 3 set the benchmark for painstaking detailing — whether it was that print-shop in Edinburgh or the flashback to the Hogmanay (New Year) celebrations at Lallybroch. The visually rich look of the series this season was one of its major pay-offs.
Bear McCreary's score
We have to admit, there were points during this season that we were a little disappointed McCreary had chosen to use music from seasons 1 and 2 to underscore key moments. Yes, they brought in a nice touch of nostalgia ('Comin' Thro The Rye' playing when Jamie walks to the print-shop in the episode 'A.Malcolm'), and there was that interesting Caribbean addition to the theme — 'Skye Boat Song' — for the latter end of the season. But on the whole, the music didn't exactly leap out at you. Until season 3's finale that is. The climactic sequence in 'Eye of the Storm', with Claire and Jaime hanging on to a piece of wood and drifting in the open sea while the camera zooms upwards, is set to a truly breathtaking score by McCreary. It starts off with bars from season 2's 'Faith', and then builds as an operatic crescendo into something exultant and free. And at the very end, it floats — just as our gaze does — over the vast expanse of Georgia, America, where Jamie and Claire will begin a new chapter of their story. Fans are definitely going to be waiting for the official release of the season 3 soundtrack by McCreary.
All the women writers and directors
At a time when a big-ticket show like Game of Thrones comes under fire for having seasons that feature not a single woman on the directors' roll, Outlander season three showed that it was fully committed to its feminist stance by having three female directors — Norma Bailey, Charlotte Brändström and Jennifer Getzinger — helming around six of its 13 episodes. Apart from Gabaldon herself, there are five other female writers on the Outlander team: Toni Graphia, Anne Kenney, Karen Campbell, Shannon Goss and Joy Blake. The perspectives these writers and directors bring to the show cannot be understated. It's one of the reasons why there's a female heroine with a rich inner life in a big fantasy/action/historical/romance adventure. It's one of the reasons the nudity and sex depicted on the show doesn't feel icky or exploitative.
Emphasis on consent
In a post-Weinstein world, where we're grappling with how best to frame conversations around consent, Outlander forges the way forward. Set in an age when sexual violence seemed all too common, Outlander side-steps the contentious depictions of Game of Thrones, in the way it has shot scenes depicting rape, and in the scenes depicting consensual intimacy. In season three too, the show makes a point it has in the past — that establishing consent needn't be an embarrassing or problematic thing, and that asking for permission is actually sexy. Case in point, scenes from episodes like 'Of Lost Things' (Geneva and Jamie), 'A. Malcolm' (Claire and Jamie) and 'Uncharted'.
And, saving the best for last — Sam Heughan
Heughan's tour de force act on Outlander will always be episodes 15 and 16 of season 1, but the first five episodes of season 3 made clear why he's among the more gifted actors on the small screen today. In depicting how Jamie has spent 20 years away from Claire, Heughan has spoken about how he based his performance around the five stages of grief. Moments like him having to leave his illegitimate son behind, the disbelief that Claire's return is reality — he shines in them even more than he did with the battle sequences of season 2. The ageing the story requires of him now (Jamie's in his mid-40s now, when we catch up with him) is more than evident in his body language and mannerisms. The Golden Globes omission is sad of course, but there's always season 4 — whenever the #droughtlander ends.
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