In ‘Crème de Menthe’, a dead body is stuffed into a barrel of the minty liqueur, much like this episode which is bloated with the weight of two many story lines and background characters that we have little or no emotional attachment to. Following on from last week’s slow and seductive character development of Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) and their reuniting, this week’s instalment feels strange and jarring in tone as it is devoid of intimacy and events speed past at a frightening rate.
The episode begins with John Barton (Ian Conningham) an exciseman for Sir Percival attacking Claire after she discovers him searching through Jamie’s belongings in their room. While she attempts to defend herself, he unceremoniously trips and knocks his head on the stone fireplace giving himself a life threatening head wound. Claire, despite Jamie’s protestations is determined to save the man with her surgical knowledge and sets off to find instruments and medicine to perform brain surgery. This is where the first problem with the episode appears.
Claire has seemed to have forgotten how 18th century life operates. While she seemed to be continually miserable in the 1960s with its opportunities for her as woman, its semi-modern medical care and personal and financial safety, she now complains that life seems cheap in the 1700s and that women are treated unfairly. Claire seems to want Jamie, but not the era that comes with him and it is both boring and irritating to watch her whine.
Jamie is also acting frustratingly out of character. In this episode he seems to have become the Tony Soprano of Edinburgh. His smuggling operation involves not only his relatives but 5 different men and a whole brothel. He seems to have little regard for the life of John Barton, who does end up dead and even lies to his obviously desperate brother-in-law Ian Murray (Steven Cree) about the whereabouts of his son Ian Junior (John Bell).
At the end of the episode he has sanctioned Barton’s body being hidden in a barrel of crème de menthe, is possibly wanted for sedition himself and appears to be lying to Claire about having another wife. Whereas the Jamie of last week’s episode seemed to be a return to the optimistic and honourable man we once knew, this week he is someone else entirely less admirable. The character change all seems a little abrupt and unconvincing.
Events and new characters pass the audience by at lightning speed. Whiskey is smuggled, Fergus (Cesar Domboy) and Ian Murray Jr ruminate on how Claire seems to cause trouble wherever she goes, (which is true) and Sir Percival (Paul Brightwell) slithers around looking for money and illegal goods like a cartoon villain. Ian Jr beds tavern girl Brighid (Zoe Barker) in the print shop and we don’t care because we have barely had time to get to know either of them.
They are interrupted by a henchman of Sir Percival, who is notable only because he is missing an eye and in the ensuing scuffle, Jamie’s seditious pamphlets are discovered and a fire is started. There goes the print shop! This is a real shame because the audience barely got to spend any time in the shop or see Jamie as a printer before it is destroyed. As is sometimes the case with Outlander, places and people are sacrificed in one episode in favour of keeping the plot speeding along. The show is never at its best when it doesn’t slow down and take its time in storytelling.
The only two stand out moments of the episode are when Claire visits a local woman named Margaret Campbell (Alison Pargeter) who is suffering from a mental illness. Although it is not clear why this character has been introduced or if we will ever see her again, it is a frighteningly real example of the perception of mental illness in the Georgian era. Margaret is dosed up with laudanum by her brother so he can control her and profit off her ‘visions.’ In this time period there is little Claire can do for her.
An equally interesting scene is the reunion between Ian Murray, Jamie’s brother-in-law and Claire. Unlike Jamie and Claire, Ian does seem to have aged in the last 20 years and he is both delighted and bewildered by Claire’s sudden reappearance. Their reunion is filled with tenderness and tears, partly down to the fact that the groundwork for their relationship has been laid in many previous episodes and so the audience is invested emotionally in Ian Murray. This all quickly dismissed however in place of prioritising the plot. Ian is lied to and dismissed by Jamie and yet again we are asked to accept that people believe Claire’s ridiculous story of being abroad for 20 years.
Aside from these few scenes, this weeks episode is a mess of different plots, unrealistic events and lacks the profound emotion that we have come to expect from Outlander. The story spends too long focusing on minor characters that the audience has only just been introduced to and then continues to crowd the episode with even more new characters that appear only briefly and then promptly depart.
By the end of the episode it looks like everyone will be returning to Jamie’s ancestral estate Lallybroch, so perhaps next week we will have the Scottish countryside to distract us from such frustrating storytelling.
Outlander Season 3 airs on Amazon Prime in the UK. Let us know what you think of the season.