Sunday, November 5, 2017

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Claire and Jamie's Return to Lallybroch is Fraught With Tension and Secrets in 'First Wife'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 3.08 "First Wife"

Claire returns to Lallybroch with Jamie, where she does not receive quite the reception she was expecting. Unbeknownst to her, Jamie's made some choices in their time apart which come back to haunt them with a vengeance.

Outlander feels like it is becoming very plot-centric during the second half of its third season. This show always shines brightest when it focuses on the character relationships and the emotions as they change over time and experience different things. The start of this season was the strongest the show has ever been because it found a way to tap into new emotions with its two lead characters while doing something remarkably different in separating the two. And now, the show is trying to capture a new energy following Claire and Jamie's big reunion. So, they are quickly thrown into complicated situations to really increase the pressure and fear that trying to make this relationship work again isn't such a great idea. But many of these threats come across as very melodramatic. Claire is attacked just moments after returning to the 18th century. Jamie's print shop where the grand reunion took place burns down because of his complicated relationship with a representative from the crown. Jamie has a new wife whom he has kept a secret from Claire. It's all very melodramatic and a little pointless as well. It's just suppose to create this new fear within Claire that the world has changed too much. She wanted to return with the hope that everything could be what it once was. And yet, time has destroyed all of that. Twenty years has changed these relationships. There is no expectation for things to return to normalcy. They have to find a new normal. The show is just actively pursuing that through melodramatic plot beats that feel a little too forced without offering any clear indication of how any of it will be of any substance moving forward.

And so, Claire and Jamie return to Lallybroch. It's the home that they wanted to make together but couldn't because of the rebellion. Claire was sent back to her own time before being able to say goodbye or set up a life there. Jamie did return after surviving the Battle of Culloden. But he was a broken man. He spent a lifetime apart from his family home as well. He never returned until just a few years ago. Lallybroch changed over the years too. Jenny and Ian's family expanded. They found new success because of the helpful tips Claire had. They prospered because of Claire and Jamie. And yet, they were forever apart from this place. And now, it's this grand reunion and it feels like such a strange and peculiar space to them. It's full of anxiety regarding this new secret that Jamie has been keeping. The audience has known about it for awhile. The show has been teasing it since Claire first returned to Jamie. And now, these teases about a new wife are finally paying off. It was going to be a shocking development no matter what. Claire would have gotten angry no matter who the woman turned out to be because Jamie failed to mention this at all. He had no problem telling her about Willy. That's a secret he hasn't shared with anyone else in his life. He could be open and honest with Claire about him. So, why was he secretive about this? It's a mystery that this hour needed to answer. It just doesn't do a great job at it. It instead makes it as personally destructive as possible because of who the woman turns out to be.

Jamie married Laoghaire. He explains that he did so because her two daughters made him feel joy and laughter in Lallybroch for the first time in a long time. He suddenly believed it was home when he was with them. He also took pity on Laoghaire because she was twice widowed and clearly abused physically by one of her husbands. And yet, this reveal feels like the show deciding how to make this twist as personal and compromising to Claire as possible. The return of Laoghaire brings with it an inherent sense of drama and pettiness. Previously, she was a very childish and obsessive character. She had a crush on Jamie and almost got Claire killed in order to seduce him. And yet, the story had basically already provided clarity and resolution with her. So, it feels weird to bring her back to the show right now. There is the feeling that she should be in a different place in her life. She should no longer be that girl pining after Jamie and getting in the way of Claire's happiness. She should be wiser because she's a mother and has endured a lot of trauma over the years. However, the only glimpses of Laoghaire throughout this episode show her to be pretty hysterical. Jamie keeps making excuses about how this wasn't a loving marriage. He and Laoghaire had an arrangement saying they were technically married but didn't spend any time together. But the show makes sure to feature Laoghaire at her most petty and destructive. It's weird. It makes it seem like the narrative hasn't really matured a whole lot over the years. It's still Laoghaire wanting Claire gone because she's a threat to the illusion of happiness she believes she has in her life. That's nothing new and returns her to a place it felt like the show had already moved her out of.

Plus, the show really didn't need that dose of melodrama in this episode. Jamie being married is a twist that forces the episode concluding moment to happen. It's a way to keep the plot moving instead of being something that actually has merit in the character dynamics. This episode is much more successful when it focuses on a relationship that has actually meant something in the past. Claire left an entire life behind not just Jamie. When she traveled through the stones to return to Frank, she was leaving behind this new family that she had made. Most of the story this season has framed her story as longing for Jamie. But there is a certain longing for the life she had with him as well. She loved Jenny like a sister. And now, she has returned to Lallybroch hoping to recapture that relationship. But Jenny isn't having any of it because she believes Claire just abandoned this family for no good reason. She left because she believed Jamie to be dead. But Jenny has no reason to believe why Claire didn't at least keep in touch with her over the years. This highlights a huge complication in Claire and Jamie's relationship. The truth about where Claire comes from is this very personal secret between them. It would open the lines of communication and trust if she could just tell Jenny the truth. Instead, Jamie and the narrative are contorting themselves into believing that Jenny could never accept that as something that genuinely happened. The tension between Claire and Jenny is meaningful because of that. Jenny has always known that something was off with Claire. She can see the passion she brings out of her brother. But she's very skeptical about Claire's influence because it seems to only bring about more destruction for Jamie. She's right to think that because the show is always putting Claire and Jamie through the ringer as a couple. Their lives apart were tragic as well. But that was still a story defined by their struggle to move on and fill the holes in their lives without each other.

And more importantly, Jenny and Ian are worried about Young Ian always running off to be with Jamie and get into trouble elsewhere in this world. This hour highlights how the family has grown. Jenny and Ian now have grandchildren. The kids Claire saw running around Lallybroch are now grown and have children of their own. None of them have any idea who she is. They are pleasant and accommodating to her. But their lives are in flux as well because they have no clue what to think of this new woman. The only person who has any close connection to Claire as a part of this family is Young Ian. That's only because he has spent a brief amount of time with her in Edinburgh with Jamie. He sees her as a fearless and adventurous woman. He marvels at her skills when it comes to removing bullet fragments from Jamie's arm. Seeing that and the life that Jamie can lead him on is enough explanation for why Young Ian wants to explore the world with Claire and Jamie. He wants to be a part of their lives and not the limiting life that's waiting for him at Lallybroch. He wants to see and experience more of the world. He doesn't want his parents telling him what he can and can't do. Jamie allows him a chance for freedom. And then, the narrative quickly complicates that decision. Jamie needs to find a way to provide Laoghaire with alimony so that he can return to wedded bliss with Claire. When Young Ian goes to retrieve the lucrative prize stored away on an island, a ship suddenly appears and captures him. Jamie and Claire are left powerless on the shore. Their nephew has just been taken away. Jenny and Ian will be furious. And thus, the new adventure for Claire and Jamie begins. It just takes a lot of plot machinations in order to get to this moment. 

Some more thoughts:
  • "First Wife" was written by Joy Blake and directed by Jennifer Getzinger.
  • Ned Gowan is still alive. That's a face from Claire's past from Clan Mackenzie as well. He is a much more friendly face than Laoghaire's. Claire is glad to see him still alive. He is able to advise Jamie on the legal options he has regarding the state of his marriages as well as Laoghaire firing a gun at him. And in the end, Jamie wants to show mercy for the sake of the girls.
  • Speaking of which, one of Laoghaire's daughters is played by Lauren Lyle who is listed as a series regular in the opening credits. That hints that she is going to play a crucial role this season as well. This middle stretch of the season has been introducing a ton of new characters who have the perception of importance because of their contractual status. Only time will tell if that's true or not. In this episode, Lyle doesn't ultimately do much. I don't even know her character's name.
  • Jamie is literally in the middle of trying to tell Claire his big secret when Laoghaire and her daughters storm into the room and bring all of their uncertain and chaotic energy. It's this big, disruptive showcase that really spins Claire for a loop. It just feels incredibly manipulative in order to offer the audience a thrill based on the history of these characters.
  • Claire's medical supplies from the 20th century are coming in handy once more. Of course, it's also amusing to see how willing everyone at Lallybroch is to just go along with this technology that hasn't been invited yet. They have no right to question the size of her medical instruments or the shot of penicillin that she gives Jamie.
  • Jamie telling Claire about this secret treasure that he knows about from his time in prison mostly just highlights the weird logistics of that moment in time. He had the opportunity to do all of this and still get the upper hand on Lord John Grey. It feels like a lot happened during that small period of time. Plus, it's odd that he has waited all this time before going back out there to retrieve the precious items.