Warning: this review contains spoilers.
What a change from last week for Outlander! At last Claire’s inner monologue is back (albeit briefly)! Fergus, the young French boy semi-adopted by Jamie is back! As usual Jenny Murray, Jamie’s sister is the most no-nonsense, confident and sassy woman in the series, despite constantly giving birth, it seems. Finally the episode is dominated by a lot of pompous wigs and an exceptional amount of wild hair. Episode 2 of Season 3, ‘Surrender’, is much more exciting fare than last week’s depressing post Battle of Culloden episode.
The story starts with Jamie hiding from the English Army in a cave, which he appears to have been living in for six years, complete with full beard and a long mane of curly red hair. He’s obviously let himself go and is hiding from both his friends, family and his responsibilities as Laird of Lallybroch. He’s pretty grumpy, skulking around the forest, shooting at stags, dreaming of Claire and grunting at his sister. He barely blinks an eye as his one-legged brother-in-law Ian Murray is hauled away by Red Coats searching for ‘Red Jamie’ or ‘Dunbonnet’ as he has been named.
It is very romantic that Jamie is pining for Claire and is so heartbroken, however it is clear that his family are being harassed daily by the English soldiers and he is obviously failing in his duty as Laird to protect them. Claire and Jamie do have a tendency to be so wrapped up in their love for each other that they are not always aware of how their actions affect those around them.
Young Fergus is bewildered by Jamie’s behaviour. Fergus’ desire to fight back against the oppressive English is both brave and foolhardy. The scenes between Fergus and Jamie are very good, showing just how disillusioned Jamie has become, how removed from the world and his family he is. Once he is shocked out of his malaise and realises the strain his family are under, he is exceptionally brave in allowing himself to be captured by the English to spare his family and lands further grief. For all his faults, Jamie Fraser is probably the bravest character of the entire show.
The English Red Coats are definitely the villains of this season. They do many ugly things in this episode from dragging a disabled man away from his home to destroying cherished personal property. One of the most unpleasant scenes of the episode filled with tension is when the soldiers led by Captain Lewis and a traitorous Scottish Red Coat named Corporal MacGregor intimidate and roughly interrogate Jenny while she lies in bed after having just given birth. No amount of curly Regency wigs can make you look civilised after you demand to see a woman’s dead baby.
Events quickly escalate when Fergus, trying to protect Jamie, mocks and taunts Corporal MacGregor in the woods. In a truly shocking scene MacGregor catches Fergus and graphically chops his hand off. Jamie’s family now contains a boy with one hand and a man with one leg, making the 18th century seem even more dangerous and grim than it already was in Seasons One and Two of Outlander. There is a nice twist in that Jamie saves Fergus’ life as he knows how to give first aid for an amputated limb, presumably something he learned from Claire, who was a nurse in World War II. It is this violent act that brings Jamie closer to his original self and spurs him on to protect Lallybroch and its inhabitants.
Meanwhile, one hundred and ninety seven years in the future, Claire pleasures herself while dreaming of Jamie and lying next to Frank in bed. This does seem a tad insensitive and risky but presumably she is frustrated since it has been a long time since she has had sex. She and Frank seem to be getting along better than before, they joke about Dr Spock (a nice reference to the famous American child development expert) and obviously both dote on the adorable baby Brianna. But the physical relationship between them is strained.
Jamie is also getting some physical relief in the 18th century by sleeping with widowed housekeeper Mary MacNab in his cave (it is more romantic than it sounds). This experience is a lot less fraught and awkward than Claire’s experiences. The sex is tastefully portrayed as an act in which two adults strive to find some intimacy in their otherwise lonely lives without the expectation of anything more. One theme that Outlander has never been afraid to explore is the importance of intimacy and sex in the lives of men and women.
Not finding fulfilment in her marriage or in simply being a stay-at-home mother and housewife, Claire decides to bring some meaning back into her life by entering medical school. Hurrah! Not only has Claire gained some of her zest for life back but the audience is finally hearing some of her thoughts again. The show has always worked better when viewers know what Claire is thinking. A huge part of Outlander is her story and her development as a woman. It is clear that being a female medical student in the 1950’s is going to be hard. But despite the prejudice of her classmates and professor, Claire makes friends with fellow student, African American Joe Abernathy and attends her first anatomy class.
‘Surrender’ does improve on last week’s episode but it also feels as if the series is treading water and as if these two early season three episodes are setting the scene for some big story arc that is waiting to start. This episode is really only saved by the drama of Fergus’ amputation, Jenny’s bravery, Sam Heughan’s acting as the traumatised Jamie and the welcome return of Claire’s mojo.
Outlander Season 3 is currently airing on Mondays on Amazon Prime.