Saturday, July 9, 2016

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Claire Tells Her Daughter, Brianna, the Truth About Jamie in 'Dragonfly in Amber'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 2.13 "Dragonfly in Amber"

Flashing forward, Claire revisits the past and reveals to her daughter, Brianna, the truth. Back in the 18th century, the Battle of Culloden has arrived, and Jamie must do everything he can to save the ones he loves.

The second season of Outlander opened with Claire returning to the 1940s and reuniting with Frank. She told him the incredible story of what happened to her. He chose to take her back and raise the baby she was carrying as his own. Claire returned to this world devastated by her inability to change the past and the loss of Jamie. And yet, she was ready and willing to make a life for herself and her daughter with Frank. She traveled with him to Boston to start her life over again. She would forget about everything that happened with Jamie. She had to leave the past behind in order to make a bright future for herself and her family. Opening the season in such a way meant that the whole narrative was essentially a flashback. This season showed how Claire and Jamie valiantly fought to change history. And yet, the audience always had the knowledge that they would fail in this endeavor. The true mystery came from how these actions would change Claire, Jamie and their marriage as well as how and why she once again traveled through time to return to Frank. And now, all of those answers have become known in a season finale that goes even further into the future.

"Dragonfly in Amber" splits its time evenly between the Battle of Culloden in 1746 and Claire telling her daughter, Brianna, about Jamie in 1968. Twenty years have gone by since Claire and Jamie parted ways. Their daughter is now a young adult as well. She was raised by Frank but she has Jamie's spirit. It is definitely a weird way to pick up the story. Claire has had twenty years of love and family with Frank. All of that happens offscreen. But this venture into the future allows Brianna to be an important part of the story. She is Claire and Jamie's daughter. But she's not just a young child who would simply complicate her parents' lives. She is her own woman capable of her own thoughts and actions. Yes, it means Claire has now aged considerably - as seen though makeup, hairstyling and costuming effects. Though that largely means her hair is now fuller and has a couple of grey stripes in it. That's all that the show aspires to do with her age. But that never really distracts from the main premise of this finale. The stuff in 1968 works remarkably well. It's completely because it's the show looking towards the future with excitement and uncertainty. So much of the narrative this season hasn't worked because the audience knew it was all a doomed venture. It was hard to care about anything that happened because it was all building to history going unchanged. The 1746 story is answering questions and resolving a mystery. Meanwhile, the 1968 story is building new dynamics and opening exciting new opportunities for the characters.

The events behind Claire needing to travel through time again seem very contrived as well. It's something that needed to happen. The show told the audience that. Again, it would have been much more surprising in the moment if we didn't know that Claire would go on to build a life for himself back in her original time. It's still a tense story filled with murder and mystery. Despite all of their best efforts, Claire and Jamie have failed to stop the Battle of Culloden. It is happening just like it has always destined to be. And now, Jamie is doing whatever it takes to protect his loved ones and the soldiers who fight for Clan Fraser. But it's also a story that derives so much of its urgency and stakes around a central murder. Claire wants to kill Prince Charles in order to stop the battle. It's the only thing left to do that could change history. Jamie agrees. But then, they never do it because Dougal overhears their plans and attacks. That leads to Jamie and Claire killing Dougal. It's a shocking moment. It dooms Jamie from ever being able to return to Clan MacKenzie to help guide Hamish as the new leader. But Dougal's death is enough of a diversion to keep Claire and Jamie from being able to poison Charles. Why they don't try is weird. Everything happens so quickly. And before anyone realizes it, the battle is getting started and Jamie is making plans to protect his men and save Claire by pushing her away from this horrifying world. It's a bit of a mess that feels forced.

However, Claire and Jamie's final moments together at the rocks of Craigh na Dun is a very powerful sequence. Yes, it's weird that both are aware that Claire is pregnant again. That's especially surprising considering they haven't really had sex onscreen in awhile because they've been too busy with the war. And yet, the two are able to fuck one last time before saying goodbye forever. That was such an earned moment. Sex is a huge part of their relationship. Yes, they've struggled with that this season due to Jamie's trauma and Claire losing the baby. But it's still important that they do it one last time just as the emotions of battle are climaxing on the horizon. Jamie sends Claire back through time in order to ensure a happy life for her and their child. He no longer believes that he can provide that for them. If he doesn't die on the battlefield, he will be killed for murdering Dougal. He is sentenced to death no matter what. He has come to accept that. Claire has to as well. Of course, it's also weird that Claire is the only one able to travel through time. It would be such a clever concept to see Jamie try to adjust to 20th century life just like Claire did at the start of the series. But keeping the two of them apart is important for the story. Claire has lived for twenty years believing that Jamie died at Culloden. That's a fate she has accepted. She has never said goodbye and embraced closure for that part of her life. But she did move on in order to protect her daughter just like he wanted her to do.

And now, all of this becomes complicated once again when Brianna discovers that Frank wasn't her real father. Yes, it's another story filled with plot devices in order to force this confrontation between mother and daughter. Brianna found letters that hinted at a dark event in her parents' past that she knew nothing about. When she and Claire arrive in Scotland, she is on a pursuit for answers. She is helped on this journey by Roger Wakefield, Reverend Wakefield's son seen as a child during the 1948 scenes at the start of the season. The two of them share quite an easy and sweet connection. Even though he is mourning the death of his father, he is more than willing to help Brianna search for answers. He does so because it brings him closer to his father. He is able to read his journals and see just how much he helped Frank and Claire in the past. What the two of them discover though is an even more incredible story. Claire has kept the truth from Brianna her entire life. She is named after Jamie's father. And yet, she has no idea who Jamie is. That's what Frank wanted. He wanted the truth kept from Brianna. Claire agreed in order to have this happy life as family. Brianna needed a father and Frank proved to be great in the role.

It's so easy for the truth to come out now because Frank has died as well. No one mentions how he died. It's just important that he did. Claire can help Roger through the grieving process. And more importantly, Claire can tell Brianna the truth without it causing problems with Frank. It also effectively ends the big love triangle of the show. Claire had twenty happy and loving years with Frank. And now, she is moving forward with a future with Brianna that could quite possibly lead back to Jamie as well. Claire chose not to think about Jamie at all over the past twenty years. She did so in order to be present in her life with Frank and Brianna. And yet, she has always been distant because of it. She never got any proper closure with Jamie. She simply wouldn't allow it. It took coming all the way back to Scotland after Frank's death for her to say goodbye to Jamie. As she stands over the battlefield at Culloden believing that's where his body has been buried, she tells Jamie all about her life and their beautiful daughter. That's a heartbreaking and very powerful scene. She's finally ready to move on with her life. It has taken her a long time to do so. But now, she has accepted it as her reality.

But that acceptance also comes with Brianna learning the truth on her own and wanting answers from Claire. Claire does tell her the truth. She tells Brianna and Roger about traveling through time and falling in love with Jamie. It's a difficult story to believe. It's easy to understand why Brianna has major reservations about her mother's sanity. Brianna actually has to see time travel in order to believe it. Fortunately, the show has already established the fact that someone else travels to 18th century Scotland in 1968. Yes, Geillis Duncan makes her return to the narrative here. Claire and her family run into her before she traveled back in time. It really is quite the full circle moment. Unlike Claire, Geillis was actually planning her trip. She wanted to make a difference. She wanted to be the one to go back and stop the battle of Culloden from happening. She was a true nationalist who wanted to change the future. She left with a purpose. Sure, she had these crazy theories about time travel. They show that she has always been willing to kill her husband in order to advance her own agenda. But again, all of this has purpose because it gets Brianna to believe Claire's story. Claire isn't able to interact with Geillis before she leaves. So, Geillis really didn't know Claire before she arrived at Castle Leoch. And yet, it is still life-changing because it forms a new bond between Claire and Brianna.

The finale also ends with the big revelation that Jamie didn't die during the battle and he escaped his public execution as well. That's not entirely surprising. He's always finding a way out of the most dangerous situations. Plus, he's an integral part of this story. Yes, it's largely about Claire's adventures with time travel. That mission will now include her daughter and possibly Roger as well. But Jamie is the reason why she would be willing to go through this journey all over again. So now, instead of being torn between her love for Jamie versus Frank, she will be torn between Jamie, the love of her life, and Brianna, her wonderful and strong daughter. She wants to be reunited with Jamie. She now realizes she has a chance to do that. But she also has no idea if Brianna will want to actually meet her father or if the rocks will allow both of them to travel through time to the same destination. But these final minutes are filled with hope. Hope that this family can be reunited. After a very difficult and emotional season, hope is enough to lift Claire's spirits again as she embraces the unknown once more.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Dragonfly in Amber" was written by Toni Graphia & Matthew B. Roberts and directed by Philip John.
  • It's so surprising that Tobias Menzies isn't in this finale at all. He's been scarcely used this season but has still had some terrific moments. He helped make the premiere work so well. And now, it's significant that Frank dies for the story with Brianna to move forward. And yet, he is also absent as Black Jack who Claire revealed dies on the battlefield at Culloden. He is too memorable of a villain for his death to happen offscreen.
  • Murtagh needs to survive as well. He was very crucial in helping Claire and Jamie on all parts of their mission this season. Again, he's too important of a character for his death to happen offscreen.
  • Claire learns that Roger is actually a descendant of Dougal and Geillis. That's very surprising. But it may worry her as well considering she played a part in Dougal's death. She helped Jamie run the blade through his chest. Dougal's death really isn't surprising given Graham McTavish is a series regular on AMC's Preacher.
  • Jamie is surprised to learn that Claire helped Colum kill himself. Though that's really not important at all because other events happen that take priority over that transgression.
  • It's also a big deal that Jamie signs over Lallybroch to Ian and Jenny's son, James, who they named after him. It happens here largely so Claire can have a document to show Brianna and Roger that she was there when it happened. 
  • Sophie Skelton and Richard Rankin are fine additions to the show. The show continues to do wonders with casting. Claire and Jamie's daughter must have been quite the challenge. But it seems like they really got it right. Both characters are billed as series regulars so they'll continue to be important as the series moves forward.
  • Plus, Outlander has already been renewed for two more seasons. So that should be a lot of fun. Though again, I am a little worried about how fast the show is moving in its timeline and the aging effects on all the characters so far.