Nearly a year after we left Claire and Jamie Fraser on a ship bound for France, the lovers are back – but producer Ron Moore gives us a tidy wait before we see the two of them together, picking up from the end of the first season. Instead – in what will be a surprise for readers of the second of Diana Gabaldon’s book Dragonfly in Amber, upon which this season is based – we start with Claire back in the “present”, albeit two years after she disappeared from Frank’s life. There’s not the jump to the 1960s of the book but the decision makes dramatic sense for a serial version, and I suspect it’s just one of the many divergences we’re going to see this season.
The first half of the episode is 20th century-based, with Tobias Menzies on top form as Frank. It’s one thing to say that you’ll forgive your missing wife anything that has happened in her absence; another completely to be faced day in, day out with the physical living evidence of her actions in the form of a child. Menzies just allows little moments of Black Jack Randall to show through the altogether more refined and academic Frank – not so much the destruction of the potting shed, as the move to hit Claire when she tells him of her pregnancy – and it’s fair to say that this early part of the episode is dominated by him.
Things change once we transition back to find out what happened to Jamie and Claire in France, as they arrive in Le Havre, and make their plans to basically do something which will be pretty dishonourable, albeit in a good cause. The reconstruction of the 18th century port is very well done (much better than the 1948 New York skyline which was surprisingly poor effects work), and we’re thrown straight into fresh intrigue, as Claire manages, with her usual tact and diplomacy, to make a new enemy within three weeks of arriving.
It’s good to have Outlander back: it’s a series that builds out of strong characters, and allows situations time to develop properly. It’s interesting that the Gaelic covnersations in series 1 weren’t subtitled, but the French ones in this are (even if on at least two occasions, they weren’t quite accurate, missing phrases or slightly reworking them). We know that Claire and Jamie’s efforts are going to be wasted in the grand scheme of things – but we want to know how close they come…
Verdict: A different start to the season than many may have expected, but Outlander is still the solid series it was last year. 8/10