MY Outlander Review – Freedom and Whisky

False Expectations, Brianna Grows Up, Timeless Ageing and Claire Decides.
Contains SPOILERS.

This week’s episode proved to be a case of false expectations on my part. Unable to avoid the chatter on social media, I thought this week’s episode would feature THAT reunion. Of course it did but in a way it didn’t, the brief snapshot we get serving as a mere teaser for the next episode which the producers, in what can only be termed as an act of indescribable cruelty, are making us wait two weeks to see. (Yes, I know. Tell me about it).

Watching this episode, reminded me somewhat of The Search episode in Season 1 where I spent most of the programme assuming Claire (Caitriona Balfe) would find Jamie (Sam Heughan) after a suitable skirmish and wondering where the hell he was and why they hadn’t found him yet. (How wrong I was).

Thus by the end of Freedom and Whisky my initial reaction was that the writers were marking time for the simple reason they needed to end with that short scene featuring Claire and Jamie finally meeting, presumably with the intention of devoting a whole episode to THAT reunion rather than share it with other aspects of the story in this one.

Admittedly, that is slightly unfair on my part as Claire’s back story needs filling in but her story is, in essence, less high drama than Jamie’s. While Jamie is busy shooting dead a member of the English aristocracy and being lusted over by yet another one, while being blackmailed into having sex by another member of the landed gentry, Claire’s story is more internal: dealing with her own fears and having to choose between the man she loves and being there for her daughter.

And she is afraid. On discovering that Roger (Richard Rankin) has found Jamie, she is understandably overwhelmed, fearing the pull on her emotions that going after Jamie might entail. That and the more prosaic fears of anyone who has ever got back in touch with an old love – wondering if their former paramour has forgotten them or if they even still love them.

Not that Claire lacks courage. The episode opens with Claire willing to make brave medical decisions as a surgeon. But she’s clearly scared at the prospect of going back to meet Jamie. Fortunately she has a good friend in Joe Abernathy (Wil Johnson) who along with Brianna (Sophie Skelton) encourages Claire to take that final step towards her past and possibly her future.

Although not before Claire is given some home truths by Frank’s (Tobias Menzies) mistress Sandy (Sarah MacRae). Sandy accuses Claire of having been selfish; no longer in love with Frank, yet refusing to let him go. You can’t help feel that Sandy is on point and that deep-down Claire knows it.

This episode also fleshes out Brianna’s character. Brianna is struggling with her studies at Harvard, having to deal with her sense of loss at losing her supposed father and the fact that her real father is an 18th century Highlander. She finally decides to withdraw from her studies and in the way she stands up to her mother over this you realise she’s inherited both her parents’ stubbornness.

Brianna is also much more likeable than she was in Season 2. Then she seemed a bit of a spoilt brat but then again I suppose finding out your real father is a 247 year old Highlander who fought alongside Bonnie Prince Charlie would be somewhat unsettling.

When Roger arrives unannounced on their doorstep (he’s keen) to the sounds of their arguing you assume nothing much has changed in their mother-daughter relationship. In fact, Brianna may be struggling emotionally but she has grown up big time. The way she encourages Claire to go and find Jamie and overcome her fears shows a maturity and bravery well beyond her years.

In a way Brianna’s encouragement of Claire is a mirror image of Jamie’s willingness to lose Claire for the sake of his unborn child. “You gave Jamie up for me. Now I have to give him up for you,” she tells her mother. Maybe she’s more her father’s daughter than she realises.

Of course one of the more unintentional humorous aspects of this episode is Claire wondering if she is still sexually attractive (YES) and if she has aged badly (NO), particularly as the only sign of her ageing seems to be the odd strand of grey hair. Not only is my hair (minus the hair dye) a lot greyer than it was 20 years ago, I was about 3 stone lighter. So all in all, I’d say Claire’s aged remarkably well in comparison.

Resourceful as ever, Claire makes her own 18th century outfit, having first stolen various accoutrements from the hospital and heads off to Bonnie Scotland. Joe had mentioned to Claire that he’s seen her live a half-life for the last 15 years and we realise how true a statement that is as Claire’s face comes to life as soon as she spots Jamie (admittedly, as does mine). Claire’s face is absolutely glowing (ditto). And in a rather neat twist on gender stereotypes, as soon as Jamie spots her, he faints, leaving a close up of Claire in panic mode. Whatever reception she was expecting, it wouldn’t have been that.

So yes I was disappointed that THAT reunion didn’t take place as I’d expected. I was even more disappointed when I realised Starz were dragging it out for another week before showing it but Freedom and Whisky is still an episode which, like many an Outlander episode before it, can set you thinking.

The essence of Outlander – the relationship between Jamie and Claire – exemplifies a commonplace aspect of the human condition. It is not for nothing that the Dickens story given to Brianna is A Christmas Carol, a short story featuring a ghost who haunts the present.

By middle age, I’m betting there are quite a few of us who have had some great love who managed to slip through our fingers. And therein lies the danger: letting that lost love get in the way of having a fulfilling relationship with someone else in the here and now, as Mrs Graham would say: chasing a ghost.

Just look at the main protagonists: Claire could never reconnect with Frank on account of her love for Jamie: Jamie has cut himself off from any real relationship because of his love for Claire: Frank was unwilling to move on with his life out of fear of losing Brianna and his feelings for Claire: while Sandy was willing to stay with Frank though part of him still loved Claire, thereby missing out on having a relationship and family life with someone else.

We are all haunted by our past. When Jamie rejects Grey (David Berry) at Ardsmuir Prison his anger is directed more at what happened between him and Randall (Tobias Menzies) then it is at Grey. As for many of us, current relationships often pay the price for past ones. Just as current political situations sometimes pay the price of a country’s past.

At one point Brianna’s history lecturer (Douglas Reith) points out that fictional prose can alter the perception of history which is particularly pertinent when it comes to Outlander, given that for many non-Scots, Outlander may well have been their first introduction to Bonnie Prince Charlie, the Jacobite Uprising and the Gàidhealtachd (Scottish Gaelic-speaking culture).

Moreover, this idea of fiction altering the perception of a country’s past is particularly pertinent to the whole idea of how Scottish history is viewed in general and the way Scots are perceived and may perceive (or may have perceived) themselves. It’s after all a 19th century Scottish writer, Sir Walter Scott, who is often credited with reinventing the shortbread tin image of Scotland featuring the brave and honourable hero in a kilt, fighting for a lost cause, of which Jamie Fraser is a direct literary descendant.

I grew up in a very patriotic Scottish household (believe me, no one is more proud to be Scottish than Scots who don’t live in Scotland) and I remember growing up with all the romanticised songs and stories featuring a very different Bonnie Prince Charlie than the one portrayed in Outlander.

This idea is expounded upon when Roger and Brianna (neither of whom know their real fathers) talk about history and the stories we tell ourselves or are told to give us an identity. We all do it as do all nations. As Roger points out, “Everybody needs a history”.

When Brie asks Roger how do you know if it’s true, and what if the stories are made up simply to make you feel better, Roger replies, “Does it matter?” Having had her own history uprooted, Brianna is of the opinion that history can’t be trusted.

And while we’re at it, can I just say that Richard Rankin is doing an excellent job of making a bearded, diffident academic sexy. As with Jamie, I think a large part of the appeal is that Roger is clearly so in love with Brianna. And that’s a very appealing quality to the female gaze.

As for Claire and Jamie, presumably they are about to find out how true the stories they told themselves about each other are, and I for one can’t wait. (Seriously I can’t).

Special thanks to @SarSketches for her illustration accompanying this post.

For further Outlander articles and posts, check out the following links or you can always listen to mine & Jen Brister’s podcasts on the subject!

Outlander’s Jamie Fraser: a new kind of romantic hero?

Outlanderish sex: Why going back in time makes for better nookie

How to survive Droughtlander – Outlander vs Dragonfly in Amber

Outlander Season Two – A Romance for Grown Ups

 

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