Saturday, April 9, 2016

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Claire Takes the First Step in an Exciting and Uncertain New World in 'Through a Glass, Darkly'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 2.01 "Through a Glass, Darkly"

Claire and Jamie enter the lavish world of French society in an effort to infiltrate the Jacobite rebellion led by Prince Charles Stuart and prevent the battle of Culloden.

The first season of Outlander ended with the brutality of Black Jack raping Jamie and the moral devastation that followed. Claire and Jamie had to flee Scotland for refuge in France. They did so with the knowledge that Claire is now pregnant and the determination to use her knowledge of the past to change the future. It was a message of hope that pulled the two of them out of the darkness. This mission was giving purpose to their lives once more. They plan on infiltrating the Jacobite rebellion as it begins in France in the hopes of stopping it before it reaches the battle of Culloden that essentially wipes out the highlander culture. That ending hinted at many great and exciting things to come in the second season. And yet, the new season doesn't pick up on that plot thread right away. Instead, it begins with a very different approach that turns everything on its head.

"Through a Glass, Darkly" begins with Claire once again waking underneath the rocks at Craigh na Dun. It's disorienting not only to Claire but to the audience as well. She finds herself out of place in time yet again. The audience can understand that feeling because the show purposefully jumps ahead in the story. No explanation is given as to why Claire has waken up in 1948 again. It's a devastating reveal to her as well. At the start of the series, she worked so hard to be reunited with her old life with Frank. Instead, she fell in love with Jamie and became a part of the Scottish culture of 1745. But now, she's finally reunited with Frank and it's not the happy occasion both of them were expecting. It's a powerful way to open the season. It does boast pretty early on that Claire and Jamie are unsuccessful in their attempts to change the past. Despite the work they did, the British still won the battle of Culloden. The future hasn't been changed. And yet, Frank is still here waiting for Claire to return and pick up their lives again.

All of this is very emotional powered material. It's the exact same structure as the series premiere was. A great deal of time is spent on Claire picking up her life in 1948 again with Frank. They've changed because of this experience. But the premiere also goes back in time as well to fill in all the gaps for the audience to make this journey even more powerful. And yet, all of the stuff that happens in 1948 is phenomenal. It's a moment that both Claire and Frank never thought they would have again. They never believed that they would one day be reunited with each other. Claire has been on this fantastic journey. One that defies any kind of rational explanation. She knows exactly how crazy this entire story must seem. But the two of them still have to have a conversation about what all of it means and how they can move forward with their lives.

Once again, Claire finds herself out of place in time. She's right back where she came from but doesn't feel like she belongs here anymore. She's still holding onto some hope that her life with Jamie made a difference to the world of the past. From all glances though, it doesn't seem like it has. She's devastated to return to this time period. She's still holding onto her life with Jamie. She had embraced that reality as what her future would be. She was happy with him. Their bond was special. And now, it has been taken away from her - just like it was with Frank at the start of the series. She is forced to pick up the pieces with Frank by her side. She still loves him - even though it's disorientating because of his resemblance to Black Jack. But she still has to get readjusted to this life and this world. 1948 is very different than the world she left behind in 1745. She has to become acquainted with it again. But that also means she has to resign herself to completely forgetting about the past and moving forward with a life with Frank.

This isn't easy on Frank at all. He is finally given answers to the questions he's been asking ever since Claire left. He never stopped looking for her. And now, that search has finally paid off. She has been returned to him. He could not be happier. He wants to understand and accept the reality that happened to her. He wants to be okay with everything because he still has so much love for Claire. And yet, he deserves to know the truth. Claire fell in love with another man and was content to have a completely different life with him. She is still carrying Jamie's child. That's such a devastating and personal reveal for Frank. At first, it seems like the thing that finally gets him to break. Lash out at her for not preserving the life they had together. Frank goes on quite the emotional journey throughout this episode as he has to accept the reality as Claire is presenting it to him. This isn't the life he wanted them to have. But there's still the possibility for happiness in their future. The two of them could leave all of this behind and start anew in Boston as a family. That would be enough for him. And now, Claire needs to accept it.

Of course, it's uncertain of how long that happiness will last. Claire accepts all the terms as Frank has laid them out for her. She is willing to drop her pursuit for Jamie in order to have happiness again with Frank. She takes that journey with him to a new and possibility better existence. As she takes that first step to a brave and uncertain new world though, the narrative flips back to Claire and Jamie reaching France to begin their epic plan to change the future. It's a really beautiful transition moment. It highlights the hope Claire is experiencing in both realities. With Frank, she has a family that is willing to protect her and her child. With Jamie, it's the excitement of a new mission and the belief that her actions can have life-altering consequences. Again, it's uncertain just how long it will be until Claire is forced back into the future as well as how happy she can truly be playing house with Frank. But it's going to be really exciting building to those answers.

Meanwhile, the final third of the episode is devoted to introducing the world of France as Claire and Jamie's enter into this society. Claire doesn't actually know a whole lot about the history of these events. She only knows the broad strokes. That's what convinces Jamie to go along with her plan to undermine the Jacobite rebellion - a cause he supports and would likely die for - instead of trying to ensure that they don't make the same mistakes in battle. But the two are hardly able to enjoy a simple beginning to this mission. They are able to convince Jamie's cousin, Jared, that they are committed to the cause. But that doesn't lead to a meeting with the leaders right away. Instead, their first moments in France see them making a new enemy - all because Claire doesn't want an outbreak of smallpox throughout the city. France presents a new world and energy for the show this season. This premiere offers a small tease of just how enjoyable that can be. It will continue to be a dangerous existence for Claire and Jamie. But it should be an exciting and fun one as well - even though it's all leading up to time breaking them apart.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Through a Glass, Darkly" was written by Ronald D. Moore and directed by Metin Hüseyin.
  • Claire and Jamie land in France in 1745 and the battle of Culloden happens in April of 1746. This is going to be a quick uprising and defeat. But an exciting and intense one nevertheless with the two of them at the center of important historic events.
  • Le Comte St. Germain is the enemy that Claire and Jamie make on the docks because they force the harbormaster to quarantine his crew and burn his ship and all of its cargo. Claire believes it's worth it to keep the smallpox from spreading. But he's furious about the amount of money he has just lost because of her.
  • Jared has some reasonable questions about Jamie's sudden interest in the Jacobite cause and politics. But all of those are quickly put to rest when he shows off the various scars he's gotten from Black Jack over the years. What was once used as a recruitment method is now Jamie and Claire's entrance into the inner circle.
  • Claire and Jamie do have to let Murtagh in on their plans to infiltrate French society to stop the Jacobite rebellion. They also have to do so without telling him the reason which does frustrate him. And yet, he has enough trust in Jamie that he's willing to go along with it in the hope of one day learning the truth.
  • What is the small object that Claire finds on the ground next to her when she awakes at Craigh na Dun? She makes sure to keep it in a safe place. But it's largely teasing a mystery that will likely play out in the past shortly.
  • Frank's conversations with the Reverend are just so emotionally powerful as he's doing his best to understand what has happened to Claire and how they can continue to have a life together. It's very difficult but ultimately very rewarding as well.
  • At first, Claire is frightened by Frank's touch because of the pain Black Jack caused her. Over the course of her return to 1948 though, she opens up to him more. She's willing to take that first step into this life again because of him. He is reaching out to her and she's willing to take that journey by his side - just like she is with Jamie in France.