Outlander S02E13 “Dragonfly In Amber” REVIEW
Airing in the UK on Amazon Prime Instant Video
Writers: Toni Graphia, Matthew B Roberts
Director: Philip John
Essential Plot Points:
- In 1746: On the morning of the Battle of Culloden Claire tries to convince Jamie they need to poison the Prince to stop the slaughter.
- Dougal overhears. He attempts to kill Jamie but Jamie and Claire gang up to kill him instead.
- Rupert witnesses the aftermath but in honour of their previous friendship he agrees to wait two hours until reporting the murder so that Jamie can attend to important matters (oddly Rupert doesn’t ask, “Is one of those important matters getting the hell out of here as quickly as possible?”)
- Jamie signs Lallybroch over to his nephew and gets Murtagh to round up the Lallybroch soldiers and surreptitiously send them home before the battle.
- He also asks Murtagh to accompany them but Murtagh says he we stay and fight at the Culloden alongside Jamie.
- Jamie then takes Claire back to the Craigh na Dun stone circle. He reveals he knows she’s pregnant and convinces her to raise the bairn in the safety of the future.
- Then there’s a big bang. No not Jamie and Claire shagging again (though that too) but the start of the battle. Jamie sends Claire back through the stones.
- In 1968: Claire returns from America to Scotland with her and Jamie’s daughter, Brianna, for the funeral of Reverend Wakefield.
- There, the Reverend’s adopted son, Roger (whom Claire knows is a secret descendant of Dougal and Geillis), takes an instant shine to the impossiblly hip and groovy Brianna. The feeling’s mutual. They’re soon flirting adorably while Claire takes the chance to get all nostalgic.
- Claire realises that a local Scottish nationalist campaigner, Gillian Edgars, is, in fact, Geillis, and that she’s planning to travel back in time to alter history.
- From the Reverend’s old records, Brianna learns that Frank was not her father, and believes that her mother’s three-year disappearance in the ’40s was because she was having an affair.
- Which, of course, was exactly what was happening, with timey-wimey bells on. So when Brianna challenges Claire, Clare ’fesses up. Full disclosure. And Brianna thinks she’s bonkers.
- Especially when Claire also tells Roger of his true heritage.
- Roger is more open-minded, so when Claire goes off hunting for Gillian in an attempt to stop her travelling back to the 18th century (and getting burnt at the stake as a witch) he convinces Brianna that they should accompany Claire, in an effort to get to the truth.
- They find Gillian at the stone circle having just sacrificed her husband as an offering (since his diet seems to have comprised almost exclusively of whiskey for the past few weeks he was ripe for a flambé).
- Brianna and Roger witness Gillian vanish through the stone. They now believe Claire.
- Roger also reveals that some of Reverend Wakefield’s records show that Jamie did not die at Culloden. Claire immediately want to travel back in time for more great sex again.
And so finally we get to the Battle Of Culloden. Except we don’t. A couple of explosions aside, the event the whole season’s been leading up to is entirely absent. It’s a typically left-field decision for a show that increasing seems to revel in not doing the obvious. On one level it works perfectly.
Outlander is, after all, a character-led show, not an action/adventure, so having the season finale concentrate on the emotional fall-out and long-term consequences of decisions made by those characters pays dividend. On the other hand, you can’t help feeling disappointed that plot lines and supporting characters you’ve been following all season are relegated to cameos and glancing references. It’s like 1746 gets a cursory nod while Johnny-come-lately 1968 takes centre stage.
Luckily, 1968 has one great justification for grabbing so much of the running time, and it ain’t the amazing make-up job done to age Claire. Because a few carefully placed grey hairs doesn’t count as amazing. No, what makes these scenes so great are the impeccably cast Brianna and Roger (Sophie Skelton and Richard Rankin). It’s a risk to place so much importance on two new characters in a season finale, but they instantly appeal, and they instantly convince you there’s a chemistry going on here. Admittedly there’s a touch of Amelia Pond to Brianna (pouty red-headed Scot who likes a good whinge) but when she’s not in teeny strop mode she’s adorable and truly rocks that ’60s hat. Roger, meanwhile, is less like the descendant of Dougal Mackenzie and more like qn ancestor of Agent Of SHIELD’s loveable geek, Fitz. It’s not just the accent; it’s the way he makes academia and being ever-so-slighty gawky seem sexy.
It’s also fun to see a different aesthetic on the show, as with that Parisian excursion earlier in the season. Aside from the opening shots of the kids watching The Avengers (is there a more ’60s show than The Avengers?) and a couple of classic pop tunes on the soundtrack, the episode is admirably subtle in its nods to the period. There’s a risk of going all Austin Powers but the episode instead opts to show the decade slowly increasing its influence over the almost time-warped existence of Roger Wakefield.
So it’s immense fun watching how these two characters, who’ll become increasingly important in future series, enter Claire’s world. And it’s also something of a necessity, as the 1746 plot has basically run out of steam. Culloden must happen now. There’s little room for surprises, and the one surprise they writer do want to spring – Jamie survives – they understandably opt to reveal in 1968 for dramatic impact.
Sure, there’s one last, half-hearted “Can we prevent this?” scheme from Claire which ends up with Dougal being killed. The manner of his death is one of the show’s great moments, as Claire helps Jamie stick the knife in (and it’s an intelligent reinterpretation of the scene in the book in which Claire basically acts as a mere cheerleader). But somehow the scene still feels like a rather off-hand death for a character who has been portrayed in such an interesting and complex way in the second half of the season.
It’s typical of most of the 1746 scenes in the episode, few of which have much emotional impact, until Claire and Jamie’s final farewell. They just feel like necessary plot beats, delivered with unfussy efficiency. Supporting characters turn up for a scene then vanish. Even after the somewhat ludicrous scene in Rupert gives Jamie “two hours”, there’s little sense of a clock ticking. The all-important battle becomes a vague and abstract affair.
It was great to have Geillis back briefly, and the revelation that she killed her husband to travel in time is a bit of a jawdropper that throws a new light on the character. On the other hand, 20 years of thinking time seems to have done little to improve Claire’s hazy grasp of time travel paradoxes. Here she’s worried that stopping Geillis from going back to the 18th century could stop Roger being born, but doesn’t seem to worried that it would also prevent Geillis from saving her life during the witch trials.
So, an odd, unusual and unexpected season finale from a show that likes throwing its audience a swerve ball. There’s a lot to enjoy, but also a little bit of a feeling that you’ve been shortchanged. Sure Outlander doesn’t need a Battle Of The Bastards but after a season of being teased, the lack of single sword being swung at Culloden (or the look on Charlie’s face when he realises things are going drastically wrong) is a shame.
- Roger and Brianna are well-cast and it’s easy to fall in love with the characters instantly, even factoring in Roger’s terrible rat-whispering. But partly because Brianna looks so groovy in her ’6os gear. These two give a considerable lift an otherwise quite average episode.
- Murtagh’s reaction to Dougal’s death: “I couldnae say I’m that surprised just that it took you so long.”
- The optimism of the final scene and the very pretty shot of the sun rising over the stones.
- Jamie literally pushing Claire towards the stone.
- Claire’s emotional monologue next to Jamie’s “gravestone”.
- Jamie’s sanguine, slightly tongue-in-cheek speech to Claire that convinces her to journey back to the future. “Tell [Frank] I’m grateful. Tell him I trust him. Tell him I hate him to the very marrow of his bones.”
- No battle of Culloden.
- Claire’s continued cherry-picking interpretation of time travel.
- Too many supporting characters are relegated to one-scene cameos as the story concentrates on 1968 instead.
- Dougal’s death is disappointingly perfunctory.
- There are a few too many handy coincidences, with people turning up at the right places at just the right time (especially Brianna arriving at the stone circle just as Gillian passes through the stone) and overheard conversations.
- Similarly, Jamie’s plea to Rupert to give him two hours to sort thing about before reporting the murder feels trite.
- Claire’s “greying” hair is laughably artificial. The “neat streaks of grey” look for TV ageing is such a cliché. Sure, there are some women who go naturally grey this way (and a few who even create the look specifically) but far, far, far fewer in real life than you see on TV.
- This might seem really picky, but would someone as patriotic as Gillian Edgars really split the name of her beloved country over two lines? It feels… well… disrespectful. We’d place a bet that whichever designer on the Outlander team created this wasn’t Scottish.
And The Random:
- The kids at the beginning of the episode are clearly watching a repeat of Steed and Mrs Peel in The Avengers, since the funeral’s set in 1968 but the episode they’re watching, “The Town Of No Return”, originally aired in 1965. This was the first episode to feature Diana Rigg as Mrs Peel and was originally filmed with another actress in the role, Elizabeth Shepherd, before being reshot.
- Showrunner Ron Moore’s favourite scene in the episode was Claire’s monologue at Jamie’s gravestone.
- This episode doesn’t have the usual opening vignette; instead the writer, director and creator credits are overlaid onto to the first scene.
- Jamie’s Frankie Howerd impression was hilarious. Oooooo, missus!
Review by Dave Golder
Read our other reviews of Outlander