Outlander series 2 episode 1 review: a bittersweet start to a series of surprises

The episode's topsy-turvey time travel left us as distraught as Claire, says Ellie Walker-Arnott

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“He was gone. They were all gone. The world I’d left only moments ago was now dust,” says Claire in the opening scene of Outlander’s second series.

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It’s a rude awakening for fans expecting to meet back up with our time-travelling healer and her red-headed Highlander on a boat headed for Paris. We’d almost forgotten Outlander was a show about time travel, so caught up were we in the Frasers’ passionate love story. But this first episode was all about surprises and compromises.

If you’re a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels, you won’t have been shocked by the sudden change in time period. But you were probably expecting this first episode to kick off in the 1960s. Instead Claire was in 1948, sobbing into the grass at Craigh na Dun, staggering down a road in her period garb, mourning the world she’d left behind. Because, for reasons unknown, she was back “living a life [she] no longer wanted.” Jamie was a ghost, the battle of Culloden had been fought and lost – and we were as distraught and disappointed as she was.

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The papers reported that Claire had been “kidnapped by fairies” but she was too busy researching the Jacobite rebellion – praying for an elusive glimpse of Jamie’s name – to correct anyone. 

“He’s dead. Dead and buried for the last two centuries,” she wailed.

Only Jamie wasn’t quite as confined to history as we initially thought. The dashing laird lives on in Claire, who is in early pregnancy, expecting his child.

It’s a fact that came as a shock to her 20th century husband Frank. Relieved to have his wife returned to him – but reminding her (and us) too keenly of Black Jack Randall to be charming as he once was – Frank took a leap of faith when Claire finally admitted where she’d been. He thoughtfully accepted her marriage to Jamie, but Jamie’s baby was another matter.

What followed was much heated discussion in Reverend Wakefield’s home. Tightly-wound emotions, quiet anger, admissions of his own infertility – and ultimately a compromise.

“We will raise this child as our own. Ours. Yours and Mine,” said Frank, but first Claire must let Jamie go. “I know,” she replied. “He made me promise that I would let him go. So I will.”

She stepped onto a transatlantic flight to Boston and into her new life, but it felt like a half-life, a half-love. Outlander was out of kilter and we were certainly not ready to let the past go. 

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Thankfully, we didn’t have to stay in Frank’s world much longer. As Claire stepped off her flight, the narrative jumped back to 1745 France and to bonnie Jamie, for the end of the episode. It was an almighty relief to be around those soothing Scottish accents again. (And he’s pretty much the reason we’re all watching, right?)

But, of course, the flash forward proves all too plainly that we won’t be in France with Claire and Jamie forever. We know sadness and despair lie ahead. We know their plans to change the course of history are doomed to failure. And what of the child Claire’s pregnant with in 1745?

That’s the trouble with time travel. It’s a bittersweet start to a series which looks poised to keep pulling the rug from under us. 

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Outlander continues on Sundays on Amazon Prime