When Art Imitates Life and that is a Wonder…Outlander 3.1

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S3-Jamie

There were a lot of good articles written this week by reviewers who have seen the first few episodes of Outlander.  There was a lot of great insight, but I keep going back to the article written by Maureen Ryan of Vanity Fair  .  The article on the surface seems to be a report of a conversation had between the actors about the show and their roles in it, but I believe her article, in truth, goes to the heart of what is making this show successful.  She speaks to the care and committment given to honoring the source material and its characters.  She speaks to the commitment to their craft of all involved and their desire  to get this thing right.

Heughan: What’s funny is Jamie actually never wanted to be involved in any of this. He never wanted to be part of the Jacobites, he just wanted an easy life. He wanted to be with his wife. It’s just fate, and history has just forced him to this point. When we meet him again [when he’s older], he’s printing seditious material. He is a rebel again. He just wanted to go home to Lallybroch. But history has forced him into that situation.

Menzies: He’s not driven by ego, is he?

Heughan: No.

I found myself astonished that she would end the article in this way.  I know she has been doing this for a while, but wow, what a great choice.  I looked up from reading and said , “She gets it.  They all get it.”  I’ve always maintained that it is possible to find truths about life, what it means to be in a relationship, what it means to love, in the pages of Diana Gabaldon’s books.  I recognized myself and others in her stories.  If the sci-fi, time travel situation Claire finds herself in seems like fantasy, the feelings don’t.  I would often find myself nodding my head in recognition while reading.  It is perhaps why these novels remain one of my favorites and I re-read and never tire of what I find there.  Like the actors in Mo Ryan’s article, I find I can analyze these characters and their motivations because they are written with such depth.  Yes, Jamie isn’t motivated by ego.  Yes, Claire has a calling.  Yes, Frank is a tragic character whose only real fault is that he isn’t Jamie.  And, yes, it isn’t about ego for these actors, either, it is about their craft.  And, yes, because of the talent and commitment of all involved, it looks like the TV version of this story is only getting stronger and will have the chance to represent on-screen the reasons I love these characters and what they have to tell us about…us.

The Battle Joined

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I heard that the first 10 minutes of episode 3.1 were breath-taking. I didn’t realize they meant that literally.  I had to stop watching, catch my breath and gather my emotions. I was shaking.  I guess I knew that it might be difficult to watch this episode, but they have handled difficult subjects so well, I found myself anxious to watch how they handled the battle of Culloden.  This morning I find myself glad I did and reflective about what I saw. Because, despite its fantasy wrapping there is truth about real life in Outlander.

I am reflective, in part, because we just buried my dear mother in law yesterday.  Through no fault of her own my mother in law had to struggle to find a new path forward.  Her life and happiness had been compromised by circumstances beyond her control. Mental illness had robbed her of everything she valued; her work, her marriage, her children.  When we knew the moment was near, the hospital sent a pastor to the room.  He gathered us around the bed and asked us to tell him about our mother.  An overwhelming sadness came over me for her difficult life, for her struggle to find a purpose, a grip on her reality through all of her illness and loss. We all struggled to find anything positive to say and it broke my heart.  So, naturally, when I watched Jamie, Rupert, Claire, and Frank trying to deal with the sad circumstances they had been handed, I once again found myself nodding my head in recognition of life’s sometimes sad truths. The lives Jamie, Claire and Frank now face remind me in a very real and emotional way of our mother’s difficult and disappointing life. Sometimes life is unfair.  Sometimes life is cruel.  Sometimes we have no choice but to move forward even when we cannot see a way ahead or even want to go. Outlander’s imitation of life is a wonder.

One of the things I have learned is that this is no longer just Diana Gabaldon’s story, it is also Ron Moore’s.  I know that Ron is a student of human nature and that fact was very evident in this particular episode. In the guise of a Sci-Fi fantasy, Ron Moore wrote a wonderful episode that told us these truths about life, moving on and more.

Black Jack and Jamie

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Viewers of the series will recognize that this is a moment Jamie had longed for, the chance to kill Black Jack Randall.  He had desired nothing that was happening on that battlefield, but this…he wants.  We all want this.  We all want Jamie to get the revenge he deserves, longs for and needs. The look on his face while he waits for Jack to see him is almost triumphant.  But, somewhere in the battle the feeling changes. One of the reviewers this week suggested that this death dance was “homoerotic”.  I’m not sure I agree. It is hard to understand, but in an a way more than physical, Jamie knows more about Jack and Jack knows more about Jamie than perhaps anyone else in either of their lives. That last embrace on the battle field felt more intimate than erotic.  The horrible bond between them is finally broken and yet, it felt fitting that these two men should fall as entwined in death as they were in life.  The irony that, in the end, that very entanglement probably saved Jamie’s life, is not lost on me.

Claire and Frank

 

I always admired the fact that in Diana’s Gabaldon’s books there were a lot of “ahas” and connections. Things discussed on the first pages of the series come into play in later books and the same can be said of most things she adds.  It is one of the joys of delving deeper into her stories. I love and continue to love how this show also makes connections with its past episodes.  They give us lots of “aha” visual moments.  The scenes between Frank and Claire reminded me so much of the early moments in Jamie and Claire’s marriage.  Claire is in a relationship that she doesn’t really want, but has agreed to be in out of necessity.  She is trying her best to make the best of a bad situation, but her suppressed feelings keep rising to the surface.  When Jamie tried to touch her intimately at the table after they first make love, she flinched.  She flinched because she still loves Frank and at this moment, his touch feels too intimate, and I would argue that she is already afraid of her feelings for Jamie.

Claire is once again in a relationship she doesn’t really want.  When Frank puts his hand on Claire’s shoulder in the kitchen you can watch her try.  She tolerates this touch because she knows she should, but when he reaches for the stomach that carries Jamie’s child?  She flinches.  Unfortunately, for them both, this time Claire is not conflicted by her feelings.  Her heart is irrevocably Jamie’s.

 

I thought the fight that followed also echoed the fight between Jamie and Claire at the river, the “good fuck” convo, Claire’s chin up in defiance, the moment they both realize that they have perhaps gone too far, and Frank, in his own way, making her realize she was tearing his guts out.  At the river, Claire goes to Jamie and asks his forgiveness.  In Boston, we see Claire begin to go to Frank and then stop.  She cannot bring herself to come all the way back to him, she cannot come back from the past. The show has already done a wonderful job of showing us that sometimes wanting something to be true and working hard to make it happen isn’t enough.

 

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“Where’d she get her red hair?”

Rupert Thomas Alexander Mackenzie

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Saying goodbye to Rupert was bittersweet.  In the end, his loyalty to his friends and clan, his pride in the face of his captors, and the dignity in his last moments spoke volumes about himself, the highlanders, and the senseless loss of lives.  When he spoke up, stood straight, and took charge of his last moments as best he could, I was proud.  Who would have thought that Rupert would become the leader Dougal could never quite be.  “I will not go to my grave hating you. God will judge us both and I trust in his mercy.”  The gift he gave Jamie and himself with these words was moving.  May we all choose love and trust in mercy.

Overall, this tale was told with sensitivity and creativity, the performances were stellar, the sets and costumes perfection, the battle joined was gruesome and yet moving, and I was left wondering how I was going to wait until next week.

After watching this episode, I understand a bit more about why actors and show runners might do what they do.  Sometimes, you get a chance to work on a project like Outlander.  Sometimes, in the guise of entertainment, you get to be part of something bigger than yourself.

 

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136 thoughts on “When Art Imitates Life and that is a Wonder…Outlander 3.1

  1. momt14

    Well now I’m crying. When you peel this onion we know as Outlander you show us how multi-layered it truly is. I love how you pick it apart and show us its truths. Great insight as always. Thank you and it’s so good to have you back post episode.

  2. Joanna

    what a wonderful article – you are so right. This touches us all, we all recognise so many of these moments in life and decisions that we have to make – right or wrong – that is why these books have touched so many people. Haven’t seen the episode yet – saving it for tonight as I know I’m going to cry – a lot!

  3. Nancy

    Wonderful review. I am in tears after watching 301 twice now. It was so moving in so many ways. The acting was stellar and you got the gist of what I have been thinking. I think BJR wanted intimacy with Jamie. Jamie did not, thus not homeoerotic on Js part. Thnaks for this review.

  4. hilariec

    Wow, Beth, great post. And yes, the reason I keep rereading Gabaldon’s books is exactly because they describe life in an incredibly relatable way. And the show is a great tribute to that and is able to make visible what we see in the texts. Thank you.

  5. Kris

    For years I have considered Diana’s books as a personal indulgence; I recognized myself and spouse in Claire and Jamie and their numerous trials and tribulations. So far we have survived 44 years of marriage and I see the 20 year separation like the period of time raising our children and then reconnecting in a new way. You have articulated exactly the profound nature of the books and series which I now see is not an indulgence. Thank you for elevating this to “literature” and great art.

  6. Michele

    What a wonderful synopsis of last nights premiere. I was so moved by the storyline and the acting, especially Cait, Sam and Tobias. I feel blessed that we have this quality series to watch. May it continue to flourish.

  7. Anne Hetherington

    I am so moved, again, by this episode, now because of your words. In the death scene between BJR an Jamie, I initially thought” no”. But then on reflection and re viewing I came to understand that this was not “homoerotic”, but rather a release, almost forgiveness and goodbye. Yes, BJR’ positioning is what saved Jamie on the battlefield and that was brilliant! So glad they put that in the show the way they did. As you said, there is so much to be found in this episode. Thanks for pointing some of it out for us. Always read your blog.

  8. Carolyn Eggleston

    Beth, enjoyed your article and loved the first episode of this long-awaited season. The sets, the costumes, the music, the writers, and the characters all come together in an amazing way. It is what we all hope for, no wonder Outlander has become so beloved.

  9. Marlene Lemmer Beeson

    Watching last night, I was riveted to both the beauty and the horror of the events. Emotionally, I became numb as the story moved forward to the executions. I tried to watch it again but could not. You captured in this article so many of my thoughts. I did not find Jamie’s nor Frank’s actions to be homoerotic in this episode but rather tortured and ultimately intimate. as they moved to a resolution of all that had gone before between them. Thank you so much for your insights because I have for two years tried to understand why I am so obsessed with these books and the series. What I now know is that I am not alone in my complex feelings about Outlander. I am so grateful for the actors. They are perfect in their roles and enormously talented. Finally, I am grateful for Diana and Ron for this great story and the opportunity to analyze human behavior for self enrichment.

  10. Angela Davis

    Thank you for this, somehow you always bring even more depth to each episode. I will watch again with your thoughts in the back of my mind. It was as emotional as I expected it to be, the acting, writing and all the background work was excellent as always, but I found the way Rupert was written and acted was extremely touching, truly a man of strength & far more of a man of grace than Dougal ever was.
    My condolences to you, having lost both my Mum & Mother-inLaw after many years of illness I empathise with the loss of someone who has struggled through much of her life, albeit they both had physical rather than mental illnesses.

  11. Donna Allen

    Your observations & comments are so perfectly expressed. I am glad you put into words, underlying happening in the scenes that may not have been noticed by even those of us who have read the books multiple times.

    The talent of all involved in the entire
    production of the series just becomes
    more evident with every episode!

  12. Thressia Reynolds

    Thank you for putting into words the same thoughts and emotions many readers of Outlander are feeling. Ron Moore wrote an excellent script for this first episode of season three. I did not think it possible to convey on the screen all the horror of battle and sacrifice and separation and reconciliation and the heart-ripping emotions that I read in the book. Ron Moore wrote it and the actors performed — in one hour. I cried.

  13. Silke Petersen

    Thank you for these wonderful words. I am 71 years old and feel the difference of age how the audience reacts to this episode. I fully agree with your interpretation, I felt the same, truly. The actors must be so pleased and thankful to be able to play these very special roles that come along once in a life time. The immense possibilities of growth for them. The first episode was very well done, I was amazed and very pleased.

  14. Sam was brilliant. We watched Jamie’s soul dying, slowly, miserably. It was painful to watch. Actually gut wrenching. The dead stare, too injured to move or express but you could see the longing for a physical end to it in his eyes. I’ve never seen a lack of expression be so expressive. Sam Heughan is brilliant!

  15. Cathy L.

    Truly extraordinary piece. I’m so glad Outlander is back on so I can enjoy reading your in-depth perspective. Always learning something new after reading your recap. Thank you!

    Sorry to hear about your MIL.

  16. Kathie Kellogg-Taxe

    First let me extend heartfelt sympathy for your family’s loss . May you find comfort in each other.

    Thank you for a beautiful reflection on last nights show. I really enjoy reading your take on the themes presented.
    All the best,
    Kathie ( in Calif)

  17. Connie Evans

    Nailed it again, Beth. You have the amazing ability to express what I feel but am unable to put into words. I knew I would get an excellent interpretation on BJR & JAMMF’s final confrontation that would be insightful, and I wasn’t disappointed. It was lost on me that BJR probably
    saved JAMMF, but thanks to you, it was found!

  18. Dorothy Boyd

    Bless you, Beth, for your continued insightul expression of the very heart of Outlander. Even after watching the episode twice, I had not connected the flinching & conflict with Frank back to Claire’s feelings early in her marriage with Jamie. Sam’s pained eyes… in both his silent, but heart-breakingly expressive stares, & his quivering tears at Rupert’s execution
    ( after having been given his cousin’s dignified, courageous grace) were the aspects of the episode that moved me the most. “Homo-erotic”? No. Jack relentlessly seeking a selfish intimacy, even in death? Yes. That it saved Jamie’s life from what should have been a mortal wound…is the epitome of poetic irony. Diana Galbaldon’s writing IS great literature, and Beth Wesson is my favorite blogger!

      • Oh Beth — what icing on the cake of all that is Outlander to read your blogs! I then follow up your blog with reading all these comments and usually decide there is nothing more to be commented cuz your readers have expressed everything I ever could, and more eloquently. I do want to add my sympathy to you and your husband and family for your recent loss. Sadly, my father is nearing his final days and holds tight to his anger instead of the hands of his adult children who wish only for a loving connection with him before he is beyond our reach. Thank you for all you share with us, your ardent followers.

  19. Nancy C.

    Last September, my best friend and I traveled to Scotland and stayed in Inverness. We made our plans and rented a car and just drove around. Of course, one stop we had to make was at Culloden. It was an exceptionally warm and sunny day and surprisingly, there were hardly any other visitors. But as I walked through the field, I definitely felt a chill – a real chill. I tried to imagine the field filled with fighting men. Fighting to the death. Fighting for a lost cause. Fighting for honor and dignity. Those thoughts were certainly incongruent to the beauty of the day I was there.

    And it took this particular episode to give me what I needed to complete my vision of the battle of Culloden. The scene that took my breath away was when Jamie used grass and dirt to kill his opponent. Grass and dirt vs. cannons. Such horrible odds.

    This episode was so much more to me than the Outlander story. It portrayed history. It made clear to me the horror of that day that I didn’t get while walking on the battlefield.

    A magnificent return to Outlander.

    Condolences to you and your family, Beth. Thank you for your wonderful words.

  20. Diane Pyle

    Beth, So glad to read your article – well thought out as usual for us to feast on and further enrich our viewing. From Rupert’s ‘ “pick up the pace” to BJR’s having his most deep desire to be in Jamie’s arms and I thought, you know really did save Jamie’s life by lying on him and keeping him warm. Is this BJR’s legacy? It was a two edged sword. Claire’s changes in mood and actions that were reflections of her former lifestyle and relationships in Scotland – she had us knowing what she felt. Having birthed our daughters and being in the work force for a large company in the 1960s, brought back so many of the similar experiences I had. It was the way back then. Please continue to charm us and thoughts for your family at this very special time.

  21. Susan Harman

    It’s great to see you writing again. These are a few quick comments I had about the episode and your post (sneaking time at work!).

    I’m sorry to hear about your mother in law. My father suffered from mental illness from the time I was in junior high. It was sad and such a waste to think his life was miserable for probably 40 years. My feelings used to vacillate between feeling sorry for him and being annoyed that he couldn’t pull himself together when so many other people had had a lot more ‘issues’ and survived. Eventually I came to the conclusion that it is what it is and anything I or the family did probably made no difference.

    As far episode 1 is concerned, I watched it twice. As often happens with Outlander, the way the episode unfolded surprised me. There had been much talk about the epic battle scene between Jamie and Black Jack, but it wasn’t the over the top clash it could have been. I saw two men who were determined to find and kill each other and neither was going to stop trying until they couldn’t go on any longer. That was how I interpreted the embrace at the end. They were both totally exhausted and just collapsed in each other’s arms. I think in one of the episodes last season Jamie made some comment about what was between them wouldn’t be over until one of them was dead. James barely outlasted Randall. I thought I had heard somewhere that the weight of Randall’s body kept Jamie from bleeding out. He probably also kept him warm, as someone else suggested, and perhaps kept the roving Redcoats from noticing he was still alive.

    When I watched the episode the second time, I decided the battle and aftermath were so much more effective because they weren’t played like an over the top WWII movie. It wasn’t just an army that was decimated, it was more about each individual person being killed. Yes, there was a whole pile of bodies, but there were closeups showing actual people. The scenes in the farmhouse were subdued too. All fight and hope were gone and the Scots accepted their fate with what dignity they could muster.

    Everything was played small (underplayed?); you had to watch for the little things. That made it so much more human and so much more tragic. The lighting, sets, makeup, just everything–besides the incredible acting–was superb.

  22. Barbara Spellman

    Beth, You have written a deeply insightful profound review of this first very strong episode. This was a well written and well acted episode that explored the tragedies of war, courage, and bravery. Like you, I find Diana’s books present so many truths about life. I often found guidance in my own life through the misfortunes, disappointments, and situations thrust on characters in the books and how they handled them, sometimes well and other times not so well. Either way, they suffer deeply, never give up, eventually forgive one another, do the most honorable thing and are able to move on. I have gone over many lines from the books and replayed many conversations in the series because they touch my heart so deeply because of my own trials and what life has thrust upon me.
    Beth, I would like to give my condolences to you for not just the death of your mother-in-law, but for all the sorrow her condition caused her and all of you. I have had to face the loss of life of a son when he was 22 and the loss of a mind of a father. These unplanned sorrows in life can make us bitter or give us more empathy and understanding for the suffering of others. In Diana’s books and through the series, we learn that love and forgiveness are the only things that can heal emotional wounds, we learn that we will never be the same person that we were, we learn it requires great courage to move on, but it can be done.

  23. Jenny Pertiller

    Hello Beth,

    As usual, you have written an incredibly beautiful and insightful review. I always look forward to reading your blog to help me verbalize my feelings. I watched the episode twice last night but I didn’t catch the similarities between Claire flinching when Frank tried to touch her to her flinching when Jamie tried to touch her after their wedding. Thank you.

    My deepest sympathies on the death of your Mother-in-Law. My favorite Aunt whose photos at a younger age look just like me, died a few years ago after suffering from bipolar disorder most of her life. She was smart and talented but could not control her emotions. Mental illness is such a sad waste. Plus, it impacts not just the person with the illness but the entire family.

    • Hi, Jenny. thank you so much for commenting and for sharing your story. Yes I have seen pictures of my mother in law before the ravages of her disease and mourned for the person she was and could have been

  24. I concur with all the reviews here, especially the one concerning Rupert. It was unexpected but it was the moment when both he & the other clansman beside Jamie saying their farewells brought forth my tears. That simple gesture of kissing Jamie’s hand and the heartfelt act of Rupert trying to ease Jamie’s guilt over Dougal were so touching. The way Jamie’s breath rasped and his utter despair so clearly etched on his face was wonderfully accomplished by Sam.
    What also struck me was the way Cat showed Claire as a shadow of her normal self. I kept wanting her to show that strong sense of pride and self worth she always had when she had been with Jamie.
    The whole episode was finely tuned and crafted to perfection. I am eagerly awaiting the rest knowing how worthwhile the long wait has proven to be. Hal was also great casting once again.

  25. Shirley Shumate

    Well done. You voiced my thoughts exactly about Outlander story, actors, and Diana’s wonderful depiction of Scotland and it’s history. As an author and historian….I appreciate your insight. ❤️👏🏻

  26. Karah-Leigh

    I said a lot of this in my post on my blog, but I agree and how you showed that look on Claire’s face, the one of disgust and just being pissy… I remembered that look from season one.

  27. Panda O

    Thank you Beth,
    I have missed your writing as many others have said. I agree with your review of the books and show and appreciate that I see the things that you write about too.
    I do have to say I’m sorry for the loss of your mother in law. I have a son who suffers from mental illness due to a traumatic brain injury when he was a teenager. I cried when I read you all gathered and tried to say positive things about your mother in law. So glad you shared that because it’s so painful to see them suffering and nothing you can do to fix it. It’s a pain filled life and as a mom I suffer with him each time of crisi or turn of life that he struggles to get through. And finding positive things to pint out to him and others about him can be very difficult. Yet I try.
    Sorry this is a bit more personal and longer than I intended. Thank you Beth

  28. I add my condolences to you and Your Family regarding your Mother-In-Laws passing. What a beautiful tribute to the whole Family’s strength around her Bedside.that in the face of her tragic Illness . I worked as a Psych RN for 40 yrs and saw Patients hurt and grieving , acting out, and how it just beat down those closest to them. I saw myself and my Family as being very Blessed even with all our faults and foibles. I hope my compassion Nursing Skills made a small difference in all their lives.
    Surely do agree with the sentiment in your Blog and in many responders here, Diana’s Books hit home a LOT. I suspect there are times in all of our lives that don’t go as planned, don’t make us ‘happy’ and certainly we want to lash out at those closest to us. Transition aka change is a multifaceted Monster for sure. I do so enjoy being immersed in the Outlander Books and amazing translation to the TV Screen.the Music, the Costuming, the scenery and sets, oh just everything ! I cry ( a lot) I laugh (also a lot) and I learn more and more about the depth of these characters through your interpretation here, as well as from the screen portrayal done by our beloved Actors. If I did miss something I can find it here. Thanks so much Beth, I DID miss you as much as the Show !

  29. Cate Corr

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts. You always make me see things I wasn’t sure I had seen. I’m so sorry for your family’s loss. I have lost close family and my best friend, so I understand that kind of loss. It does get better with time.

  30. Barbara Spellman

    Beth, your in-depth writing, intelligent insights, and beautiful heart are wonderful, and I’ve never written a second reply, but I just had to say something about one beautiful scene that I don’t think anyone has mentioned so far–the scene where Claire walks toward Jamie as he lies dying on the battlefield. She reaches down so lovingly while asking him, “Are you alive?”. Frank told her that if he was to raise their unborn child, he wouldn’t have another man in their marriage and asked her to promise to never research Jamie’s death to find out if he was still alive. She tearfully accepted. For 20 long years she tried to go on with her life the best she could, but she must have had that nagging thought constantly in the back of her mind wondering if he could possibly have survived and was alive. I was so touched by the importance of this scene and thought it was brilliant writing.

  31. Cindy M Shannon

    Beth, I am new here. I want to thank you for sharing your insights, and I look forward to your writing as this season progresses. Also…I am sorry to read about your mother-in-law’s – and, by extension, her family’s – compromised life living with mental illness. The struggle is so very heartbreaking…

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