Sunday, October 22, 2017

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Claire and Jamie Rediscover Each Other After 20 Years in 'A. Malcolm'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 3.06 "A. Malcolm"

After decades apart, Jamie and Claire finally reunite and rekindle their emotional and physical bonds. But Jamie's new business dealings jeopardize the couples' hopes for a simple life together.

In many ways, "A. Malcolm" feels like a spiritual successor to Season 1's "The Wedding." In that prior episode, Claire and Jamie get married and explore each others' bodies and desires to determine whether or not they can actually love one another. It was a pivotal turning point early in the first season to prove just how powerful and romantic the two of them can be as a couple. It was the beginning of their fantastic relationship full of passion and desire. Since then, it's been a very compromised relationship. They've always been able to trust one another. But they've endured a lot of pain. All of that physical turmoil over the years is nothing compared to the agony they've felt after 20 years without each other. This season has kept the two of them separated by 200 years. They were off living their separate lives having to make peace with the fact that they'll never see each other again. They'll never have any clarity as to what truly happened to the other. Their story would always be open-ended with the uncertainty of the lives the other has been living. And now, they've been reunited. Claire was able to find Jamie again in history. She was able to travel through the stones and return to him. It was such a pivotal moment at the end of the previous episode. After being apart for so long, they are back together. Upon that realization, Jamie fainted. It was just going to be an average day for him as a printer. But instead, it was another turning point in his life. It was the day that his wife returned to him. She was no longer a fantasy. They were no longer the dream they've had in order to find comfort in the uncertainty of life. They are able to be together again. But this hour highlights the changes they've both endured over the years. The time they've spent away from each other has changed them. So now, they need to take the time to explore each other once more in every way possible - both physically and emotionally.

This is such a powerful showcase for Jame and Claire's relationship as well. They've lived these lives apart from one another but desperately wanting to be together. There was a hole in their lives that couldn't be filled by anyone else. They lost the spark that made life special. They had to find other ways in order to be fulfilled. And now, Claire really is standing before Jamie. He's not dreaming. It's not a hallucination. He can reach out and touch her again. And just like that the spark has been reignited. The characters can feel it and so can the audience. The tension and desire is thick between them. The writing and direction do a phenomenal job in showing the palpable intimacy as well as the trepidation to get too close. They are afraid just like they were back in "The Wedding" when they revealed themselves to each other for the first time. But now, there is just so much more history to unravel. Claire returns to the past with news of the daughter she and Jamie had. She comes with pictures to give to him. He is able to see Brianna grow up right before his eyes. It's not the same as actually being there as her father. That's the huge tragedy of his life. He's had two children but hasn't been able to be a father to them. Claire can tell him stories but there is still the pain of the life not lived. Brianna appears happy with the life she has. And Jamie has to tell Claire about Willy as well. It's an unexpected development for her as well. She knew Jamie had to have lived a completely separate life in order to survive for all these years. But now, there is the fear that their relationship won't be the same as it once was.

Claire and Jamie mean so much to each other. The thought of each other kept them going through the many years of turmoil. And now, there is the uncertainty of what this reunion actually means. Is Claire here to be Jamie's wife again? Or has she just appeared to tell Jamie about his daughter? Before Claire traveled through time, she worried that Jamie had forgotten about her. That he needed to forge a completely new identity and put his past behind him. So now, there is the awkwardness of the two of them wanting to kiss again. It's passionate. But it's awkward as well. It's just like the day they were married. Here, they just have a few more interruptions. Jamie's apprentice disproves of the activities he seems to be doing with Claire in the print shop. Jamie has appointments to keep throughout the city. He has an associate, Mr. Willoughby, who is making a scene at the tavern. He's being extorted for more money from another business partner. All of these are important details to have as the show immerses itself in this world once more. The audience is seeing all of this for the first time just like Claire. We have some understanding of the life Jamie has lived over the years. But this time and place is new to us as well. That way it's a shock to see Fergus all grown and reunite with Claire. It's surprising when Ian Jr. appears and meets his aunt for the first time. They are joyous reunions. But they highlight the awkwardness of Claire needing to figure out an explanation for where she has been all of this time.

It's easy for Claire to say that she was in America for the past 20 years. It's the truth. But in the past, Boston is just a part of the American colonies. They are still a part of the British rule. It's not a separate country where Claire was able to continue her education. It's an easy enough lie for Claire to sell. She's happy to see these familiar people again. But she's also intrigued to meet Jamie's new associates. She's able to have a nice and genuine conversation with Mr. Willoughby. But things turn awkward and weird once more as soon as Jamie takes Claire to his room at the local brothel. Claire never thought her big reunion with her great love would occur in such a place. It makes her suspicion about the activities he has been doing recently. She knows that she can't judge him for it. He needed to move on just like she did. But she's still curious. She still needs to know if he has his own private room in this place because he's a frequent customer. It's not as simple as that. In fact, it's just a part of a business arrangement Jamie has with the madame. She's a part of his new illegal business smuggling wine into the country. That's the latest venture he finds himself entangled in. That's how he's making his money. Of course, it doesn't seem like a stable business at the moment either. Claire arrives at a time where things are getting more complicated and precarious for Jamie. The episode ends with a man looking through the room at the brothel for Jamie's ledgers. It's an ending that doesn't entirely match the episode that came before. It's a slightly cheap way to heighten tension going into next week's episode. Claire arrives in the past only to be put in peril right away. It's a story the show has told before. But it's also a nice moment of excitement and action as well. It's a return to the narrative of the two previous seasons and shows that things can return to normal for Jamie and Claire.

But that's besides the point. Jamie's business dealings will be important because it'll get the plot moving for the next few episodes. But "A. Malcolm" is a success because of the conversations Claire and Jamie have in the print shop and the brothel room. It's important for the two of them to have a sit-down dinner and talk about the many ways their lives have changed or are exactly the same. It's a montage for the show. But it's important to see the desire within the trepidation. Every single action is very deliberate. They are very purposeful with their movements. They eat slowly to absorb everything that is going on. They are learning so much about each other. They are re-experiencing their lives together. They can reminisce about the past while filling in the details of the lives they've lived over the past twenty years. They need to make the pledge that they are genuinely interested in being husband and wife once more. Their souls are full of desire for one another. But they don't know how the other has changed personally over the years. They both feel the same way. But they don't know if their personalities will still match. They need to explore and understand each other. They need to ask questions. Jamie needs to know about Frank and if Claire had a pleasant life back in the 20th century. Claire needs to know if Jamie has ever been in love again. These are important questions that help build the intimacy once more.

And then, things get even more passionate once Claire and Jamie have sex again. They've always been such a sexual couple. Their connection burns brightest when they are together in that way. That's what makes it so amusing when they bump their heads into each other as they prepare to do it again for the first time. It's such a simple and small moment. It highlights their anxieties and how they don't know how to be with each other anymore. It comes after such an elongated sequence of buildup. They are taking their clothes off each other for a long time. The anticipation is building and building. Then, it's released with that bump in the head and a laugh. And then, it heats up quickly thereafter with Claire telling Jamie to have rough sex with her. It's hard and passionate. It's her being in control of her own desires. It's the two of them listening to each other and being able to please the other in the way that they want. That's so inspiring. As Claire notes later on, this isn't something they've forgotten how to do all of these years later. They are able to tap into these feelings again with relative ease. In this first night together again, they have sex three times. All of this buildup across the past 20 years has a way to be released. It's rough in the first encounter and then slow and passionate in the other two. This is a couple that desire each other in so many different ways. Their bodies have changed slightly over the years. They are still exploring each other in that way as well. But it's just so enticing and arousing to see their big sexual reunion. The anticipation was high for this moment. The show does a phenomenal job in showing the intimacy of their relationship while highlighting how their marriage will be different moving forward. The connection is immediately there but the world has changed. They need to adapt to it in order to continue to survive as a happy husband and wife.

Some more thoughts:
  • "A. Malcolm" was written by Matthew B. Roberts and directed by Norma Bailey.
  • John Bell and César Domboy make their series regular debuts as Ian Murray Jr. and the older Fergus, respectively. In first impressions, they both seem well cast in the roles. Ian does resemble his parents while the hair and vocal cadence for Fergus match. Only time will tell though if these actors will be compelling parts of the narrative though.
  • When Jamie and Fergus have their conversation off to the side, Jamie notes that he should check out what the law says regarding the return of Claire. He still sees her as his wife. But this brief moment offers a suggestion that perhaps something else is going on in this new environment that the audience isn't aware of yet.
  • The show offers a little bit of misdirection at the top of this episode as well. It shows the day leading up to the print shop reunion from Jamie's perspective. In it, he is being made presentable to the world by the madame of the brothel. The audience doesn't know who this woman is but it's clear that they are meaningful to each other because of the banter they have together.
  • There's the additional fear in the early going that Jamie opens the print shop and suspects that someone is already there doing something nefarious. Of course, it's just Ian's friends who needed a place to drunkenly spend the night. Jamie quickly puts them to work delivering traitorous documents. 
  • The story back in Lallybroch about Claire is that she was a fairy who went back to the mythical land she came from after the Battle of Culloden. That explains where she was in the aftermath. That's what Ian Jr. was led to believe. In a certain sense, that is true. She went back to where she came from. But she's not a mystical being whatsoever. And now, Ian Jr. finally has a face for all of these stories about her.