TV reviews

Outlander – 3×05 ‘Freedom and Whiskey’ – Review

‘Freedom and Whiskey’ takes its title from a line in a Robert Burns’ poem that Jamie improbably remembers from listening to Claire recite the famous Scottish poet. Jamie, who is now working as an author and writer, publishes the lines to the poem in a pamphlet protesting at sanctions on the trade of Scottish whiskey, 21 years before Burns himself actually wrote the poem. The viewer has to wonder if this would result in modern historians furiously debating the validity of Burn’s authorship in much the same way as academics today sometimes question Shakespeare’s work. Either way, Jamie’s uncanny ability to recreate the poem word for word means that Claire in 1960s Boston can finally discover his whereabouts in the past and make plans to return to him.

The highly anticipated reunion of the devoted lovers is a welcome relief from a season that has seemed to drag in both plot and pacing, often collapsing in to what closely resembles melodrama. But before we get to see Jamie reunited with his beloved Claire, we have to sit through an entire episode of Brianna’s conflicted emotions. Brianna, confused about her identity, still grieving for her adoptive father Frank and generally being difficult, is failing at Harvard. Sophie Skelton who plays Brianna looks the part with her long red hair, but sadly she is just not a good enough actress to pull off the emotional turmoil required for this episode. She reacts to the news that she is flunking out of Harvard due to bad grades with barely a shrug. To give credit to Skelton, it may be hard to play such a supremely annoying and immature character. She is spoiled and self-centred and in almost every scene that she appears in she turns the conversation on to herself. This may be the result of being the child of two extremely strong and dominant personalities like Claire and Jamie, but it makes for boring viewing.

Which makes the audience all the more sorry for poor Roger MacKenzie, who has fallen hopelessly in love with Brianna and travelled all the way from Scotland to Boston to spend Christmas with her. Roger is very kind, calm and collected, not unlike other characters, Frank Randall or John Grey. He is also tactful, treating both Claire and Brianna with respect and being a wonderful guest when both women are initially terrible hosts.

Outlander has previously been touted as a feminist television show, exploring the lives of women throughout different historical periods. But recent episodes have actually painted men in a much more favourable light than women. The support that the wonderful Dr Joe Abernathy shows Claire, the commitment Frank shows to his family, the quiet kindness of John Grey and the patience of Roger all contrast sharply with the less than exemplary behaviour of the female characters. One could argue that the show is not afraid to make its female characters fallible and unlikable at times and that this in itself makes it very feminist in nature. But if the show tips the balance too far, then the female characters could become sinners and the male characters become saints, which can hardly be argued as supporting the positive portrayal of women in television drama.

There are some truly bizarre elements to this episode. A small sub-plot involving a 100-year-old skeleton that Joe is examining leads to Claire making some pretty large jumps in deductive logic. Her affinity with the old bones leaves the audience wondering if we are supposed to wonder if Claire has some sort of special knowledge about objects from the past due to her experience with time travel. Obviously at some point this skeleton’s story will be revisited in future seasons. Another truly strange scene is a montage of Claire sewing her new 18th Century outfit to the Batman TV theme tune. In preparation of meeting Jamie, she dies her hair, which also seems like an odd decision as surely Jamie with his undying and unconditional love would not care that she has aged slightly! Logic fails again towards the end of the episode when Claire arrives in the Scotland in 1765 with no indication of how she manages to get back to that exact time in history through the magical stones of Craigh na Dun. Did she somehow dial up the stones like a giant historical calendar?

Despite the silliness of these lapses in logic, there is some nice mother and daughter bonding in the episode and Caitriona Balfe’s acting is, as usual, fantastic. She expertly portray’s Claire nervous anticipation and desperate excitement at the idea of seeing Jamie again. There is a nice scene where she is confronted by Frank’s mistress, Sandy. Sandy’s heartbreak is another nice example of how Jamie and Claire’s all consuming love ripples throughout time and can ruin the life of even the most distantly connected character. How many people have had to be sacrificed and hurt just so the two lovers can be reunited?

The overarching theme of history cleverly links all the different scenes of this episode together. History is shown as a force that echoes again and again through people’s actions, the buildings we live in, the words we write and read and even contained in the bones of our own bodies. It is the words that Claire recites to Jamie, that he then writes down and she reads 203 years later that leads her back to him. The scene in which Jamie and Claire finally see each other after so many years part is fantastic. It is initially devoid of any music and then as the Outlander love theme begins to swell Jamie looks at Claire in shock and he completely and unceremoniously passes out. It is both a moving and hilarious end to an otherwise frustrating episode.

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