Outlander: Season 2, Episode 13 - "Dragonfly in Amber"
Plot trumps character development in Outlander's finale, but it's still an exciting ride.
OutlanderAirtime: Saturdays, 9pm
Cast: Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies, Duncan Lacroix, Grant O’Rourke
Subtitle: Season 2, Episode 13 - "Dragonfly in Amber"
Air date: 2016-07-09
All roads lead to Culloden. For months, we’ve been anxiously awaiting the day of the Battle. Nervous to see who'll die and who'll live, but more importantly, who'll win. Culloden marks an important moment in Scottish history, which has become a personal journey for Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan).
This episode spends a majority of its time in the '60s -- the 1960s, that is. Claire’s gone back through the stones, Frank (Tobias Menzies) is dead, and Claire has a daughter, Brianna (Sophie Skelton). The episode unravels as the heroine looks distant from her remanding family as they pay their respects to Roger Wakefield (Richard Rankin), adopted son of the now passed Reverend Wakefield, who played an important role in Frank and Claire's life. The episode is a return to where the sourced book actually begins. The first episode of this season features the day of Claire's return to her own time, but the book doesn't. Thusly, the writers have included this time period now because we have all the pieces now to make it make sense.
Yet this episode feels unfinished. Although it seeks to answer many questions, and tie up loose ends, the episode pokes a few holes in the emotional connections because, as we’ve seen a few times this season, the plot moves too fast and the characters' emotional journeys have been set aside.
Claire is distant from Brianna, and Brianna is cold to Claire. They seem like acquaintances, not mother and daughter; it's Brianna and Frank who seemed close, based on how fondly she speaks about him. When Brianna learns the truth about who her father really is and where he is now, Claire breaks down to confess a long kept secret to her daughter. Claire, now having spent the better part of two decades married to Frank, struggles with explaining to Brianna why Jamie means so much to her. She speaks about Jamie like a school girl with a crush, and Briana feels the need to shut her down, regardless of the story, price, or sacrifice Claire has made on Brianna's behalf. For being "so much like Jamie" it's hard to make sense of her lack of compassion for her mother, who’s very clearly torn and has been for 20 years.
Jamie is gone; there's nothing left of him but a dragonfly in amber in a Culloden museum. With the episode split between the morning of Culloden, and Claire's life in the '60s, we lose a lot of the emotional build up to Claire leaving Jamie to go back through the stones. Their parting was sad, and a moment of desperation that Jamie had been preparing for and Claire had been in denial about. It becomes clear throughout the episode that if Claire had been given a choice to stay, she would have, and never returned to Frank. Her relationship with Frank after she returned seemed troubled and loveless, as Brianna paints it, but Claire explains through tears that the cost of giving Brianna the best life was leaving Jamie; a decision she's still not settled with after 20 years.
One character that comes into greater focus is Geillis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek) -- Claire's fellow accused witch and time traveler -- or as she known in the '60s, Gillian Edgars. We discover that she wanted and planned to go through the stones and murdered her husband to do it, thinking a sacrifice was necessary for her to move through time. Geillis was a challenging friend to Claire during the time they knew each other, as Claire fought for her during the trial, but also knew that Geillis killed her husband in season one -- the second husband she killed, apparently.
Her fight for Scotland also centered on Culloden and changing the series of events. She was seemingly killed before she got the chance to alter much of the timeline, with the exception of being Roger "MacKenzie" Wakefield's direct ancestor. Geillis' nature to be mysterious and yet all-knowing on the ways of the Scots actually came from her immense research before leaving the '60s, not because she was actually from that time.
The parallel between the Geillis storyline and the Dougal (Graham McTavish) storyline ends in this finale, just as we see how Geillis' story began. In the last hours before the battle, Claire and Jamie are still determined to find a way to change the course of history, discussing killing Bonnie Prince Charlie (Andrew Gower) as the the only thread left to pull. Dougal, of course, overhears the exchange, and the always-overzealous Scot quickly attacks Jamie as a traitor to the cause. In a flashing moment of clarity, Claire and Jamie both press a small blade into Dougal killing him. Mortified by their actions, they have yet another problem on their hands. Again, the plot is prioritized, so the time spent by Claire and Jamie contemplating their actions are left unfortunately left out, despite the fact that killing a family member should warrant more time than most scenes.
One unexplored problem with the time traveling aspect of the show is that the uncertainty of traveling through the stones. Claire ended up 200 years before her own time when she first went through the stones. Geillis left 20 years after Claire, but arrived several years before Claire did. Claire returned two years after she left, the same amount of time she’d spent in the past. It's curious to consider where Claire will land if she does decide to return to Jamie. Being that the story must keep moving forward, it's a good guess that she'll land 20 years later and arrive to meet Jamie's new life, but it's possible for the show to stray from the plan of the book. There have been scenes added to the series that weren't featured in the book in order to cater more to a TV audience. Being that this show is now launching back in time again, presumably, there's an opportunity for the writers to explore the magic and reasoning behind the stones, especially now that Claire has Geillis' research to plan a way to make the trip through the stones more precise. Then again, will they leave it up to fate?
One of the most important scenes was Claire's moment at Jamie's "grave" at Culloden. When she first told Jamie the truth about how she came to this time during season one, she had mentioned that she didn't know how much she needed to tell someone the truth. Although Jamie had to take time to process the information, he loved and knew Claire well enough to know she wasn't lying to him. He still plays that part in her life, the ultimate beacon of truth. She can't lie to him, and she can't make peace with her life until she speaks with him, as he's always been the only one who's known her whole truth.
Consequently, Claire sits for hours speaking her life story to the Fraser stone at the Culloden memorial. She clearly needs to share with him the part of her life he’d missed it, even as she worked hard to avoid being haunted by him. It works; Claire seemed brighter and happier in that scene than she does during the majority of the episode, only to be eclipsed by the moment, emotionally and literally lit by sunrise, when she learns that Jamie hadn't died at Culloden. He's found; he's not gone. Time stills stands between, as it seemingly always will, but now the distance feels smaller to Claire, and the vision of her life changes right then and there. I think going back to Jamie may be the easiest decision she’s ever made, even if it means leaving their daughter with no parents to support her.
Claire's lived in two worlds ever since she landed in Scotland in the 1740s, but she's now given the opportunity to choose when to go and when to leave. Her free will is available, and so is an open door. The question is: what does she actually want?