Fans have been waiting for Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) to be reunited for all of Season 3 and part of that eager anticipation is definitely down to the sexual chemistry between both the two characters and the actors playing them. In ‘Malcolm’, fans will not be disappointed.
The second half of the extra-long episode sees Claire and Jamie undress each other for a full ten minutes and then frolic in bed naked for the next 20 minutes of screen time. But Outlander has always tried to be a show that is more than just about sex and in this episode, unlike the famous ‘The Wedding’ episode of Season 1, the story actually succeeds in that aim.
The episode starts out explaining where Jamie has been living (a brothel) and what he has been doing (some smuggling and producing pro-Scottish propaganda in his print shop) rather than jumping straight back to where the previous episode left off with Claire’s sudden arrival. This allows the viewer to see Claire’s reappearance in Jamie’s life from Jamie’s point of view. Outlander has used this storytelling tactic before, taking a scene shown from Claire’s point of view and re-visiting it again so we can understand how Jamie feels about the events. It is effective and allows us to understand the motivations of both characters. A good portion of the episode is focused on Claire learning about Jamie’s life in the print shop and about town, giving the audience of dose of 18th century Scotland, which is refreshing after we have spent so long in 1960s Boston.
The production values of Outlander are outstanding and in this episode they really shine. The show has lost its sweeping Scottish scenery but, thanks to excellent set design and prop-making, it has given us the visual treat of seeing an old town, an ornate brothel, a market and a print shop. The shop is especially wonderful, with a large printing press and it is a delight to see Jamie setting the type and inking up the press. The scene proves he has talents that lie beyond working with horses and fighting on the battlefield.
As with most Outlander episodes we are introduced to a range of new characters from the prickly and pedantic Geordie (Lorn MacDonald), who works in Jamie’s print shop to the corrupt Sir Percival Turner (Paul Brightwell), a Customs Officer who is siphoning off the profits from Jamie’s smuggling. Perhaps one of the most interesting new characters is the mysterious Mr Willoughby, also known as Yi Tien Cho (Gary Young) who is a Chinese immigrant assisting Jamie with his smuggling.
Aside from licking whores’ elbows and not paying for the liberty to do so, Mr Willoughby seems a rather pleasant character and whose backstory we hope to learn more of. We also meet a glamorous brothel owner, and a group of prostitutes. This leads to a fantastic scene where Claire eats breakfast with a table of whores, having the sort of conversation that is rarely found in period dramas; the most effective form of 18th century contraceptive.
There are some familiar faces too, Fergus (Cesar Domboy), the boy Jamie and Claire adopted in France has returned and he is now a young man, as is Jamie’s nephew Ian Murray (John Bell) who we last saw in earlier episodes as a young child. Unfortunately the older versions of these characters, only serve to remind us that Jamie and Claire are now in their 40s, although neither of them seemed to have aged at all. There is a ridiculous little scene where Jamie sheepishly puts on a pair of glasses explaining that his eyes have aged, but Sam Heughan still looks as youthful as he did six episodes ago.
There are some aspects of the episode that fall flat. Characters seem to readily accept Claire’s explanation for where she has been all these years (supposedly in America) and are implausibly not upset or angry about the turmoil that her absence has caused Jamie or his family. The strange decision for Jamie to take Claire to a brothel to reignite their physical relationship is odd, even to the brothel owner who Jamie also seems rather close to.
The cliffhanger surrounding Claire being attacked by a strange man in her bedroom and yet again threatened with sexual violence feels forced and weary. We are so used to seeing characters being threatened with sexual assault or rape that it gives the impression that the writers delight in writing about non-consensual sex which is not something that should ever be glorified.
But despite these criticisms, the episode is a success, in a huge part thanks to the exceptional acting of Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe. They both portray a vast range of complex emotions often one following quickly on from another, carefully balancing the interactions of two people who are at the same time intimately acquainted and complete strangers. Some of the most touching scenes are not so much the lovemaking but all the conversations that precede it and surround it. They catch up on their lives apart and for the first time in many episodes, we see the Claire that we remember from previous seasons; a gentle, kind and loving woman. Jamie too is a more wryly humorous and emotionally open person and the scenes where he gazes at photographs of Brianna are some of loveliest of Season 3.
It is clear that the writers of Outlander want to portray Claire and Jamie as still possessing an epic attraction that transcends time and space, but it is their love for each other and them finally being together that makes them better people.
Outlander Season 3 is now airing on Amazon Prime in the UK. Let us know what you think of the season.