Time-traveling kilt romance series Outlander came back for a solid season three premiere last night, tying up loose ends at the Battle of Culloden and featuring some major character deaths. But it seems as though Starz’s contender for nabbing Game of Thrones’ audience suffers from the same pacing issues that plagued Westeros’ most recent season.
We left off season two with 1960s Claire revealing the time-travel-y truth to her fully grown bairn (read: child), the ill-fated Battle of Culloden set to begin, and Claire realizing she needs to go back through the rocks to find her One True Kilt (read: Jamie).
If the above paragraph made zero sense to you, welcome to Outlander, sassenach!
The premiere of season three appropriately slowed things down for Claire: life as a mid-century Boston housewife is a snooze compared to her adventures with kilt hunk Jamie, and not any more progressive than the 1700s Scotland she left. Her husband’s boss condescends to her about her war nurse credentials, and her OB-GYN puts her under without her consent during her labor with Brianna. (Maybe 1960s Claire should take a train down to NYC and hang out with the ladies of Mad Men to kvetch about the patriarchy and learn how to use modern kitchen appliances. Would read that fan fiction.)
Meanwhile-and-also-200-years-ago, Jaime finally kills his sworn enemy, Captain Black Jack Randall, as played by the genius Tobias Menzies (who also plays 1948's Frank Randall, descendent of Jack, because that’s how Outlander rolls). This was the moment seasons one and two have been building up to, and it didn’t disappoint. The final fight scene between kilt-wearing hunk Jamie Fraser and gross asshole Jack Randall was partially improvised by Menzies and directed in a way that stands up next to Game of Thrones’ best battle scenes.
Yet while Randall’s end as delivered by Jamie’s sword was appropriately poetic, something struck me as deeply uncomfortable about Jamie’s lack of response to waking up face to face with his rapist’s corpse.
We spent a good portion of seasons one and two building the character of Jack Randall, establishing how thoroughly evil and sadistic he is through an extended torture and sexual assault scene that almost breaks Jamie’s spirit. (Jamie’s trauma, of course, is cured by Claire yelling at him.)
It’s a bit odd that this show, which has so wonderfully explored how Claire’s been affected in the aftermath of her journey, would so stumble in even hinting at an aftermath for Jamie. While this episode spent plenty of time on the effects of things on Claire, the death of Jamie’s tormentor doesn’t have the same impact. It’s a repeat of how his mental health was easily dispatched before.
Yet the episode does have its strengths: one of Outlander’s strongest narrative devices is its use of saturation to define different timelines. The 1700s and 1960s are vivid, while the 1940s are pallid and bleak, sort of like the difference between the Instagram filters “X-Pro” and “Earlybird.” Whoever does Outlander’s color grading deserves their salary, and then some.
Claire and Jamie don’t reunite this episode, and thusly, don’t get to bang. This was the most disappointing part of the premiere—even more than the pacing issues.