Outlander has yet again changed tact and pace with this week’s episode ‘Uncharted.’ The series seems to be switching genres quicker than it kills off newly introduced characters. Outlander has been a epic love story, a tale of historical time-travel, a picture of the disintegration of a marriage, a crime caper, a murder mystery and war drama. This week the writers add ‘ship-wrecked survival story’ to the mix as we beg the series to make up its mind as to what theme it will stick too.
‘Uncharted’ is a strange episode and we have not felt this bewildered by events since Claire (Caitriona Balfe) was shown sewing her historical costume to the tune of the Batman theme in episode 5 of season 3. The first 20 minutes of the episode follow a much slower pace than the rest of the story, showing Claire struggling to survive on a desolate tropical island with her voice-over essentially providing us with a character study of her personality. There are scenes that would be more at home in Robinson Crusoe or Castaway such as Claire struggling to find drinking water or resourcefully starting a fire with her undergarments to keep warm. She has the uncanny ability to attract trouble, waking up not once, but twice to danger from red ants and snakes. Shaky filming with the camera ensures we know she is confused and desperate from having floated away from Grand Turk Island and is now utterly lost. She is at the limit of her survival and we watch Caitriona Balfe single-handedly carry the action as Claire battles heat, exhaustion, hunger and dehydration and mostly trudges around the island until the audience either falls asleep or goes to make a cup of tea.
Luckily Claire finally loses consciousness and since the writers of Outlander at least know that watching someone die a slow death is not entertaining, they quickly move us on to the next part of the story. Claire is rescued by two new characters, Father Fogden (Nick Fletcher) and his mother-in-law/housekeeper Mamacita (Vivi Lepori). Father Fogden is a sweet but mentally ill priest who talks to coconuts and imagines Claire to be a saint. He is an eccentric who gets high at the dinner table and talks incessantly about his dead lover. Mamacita doesn’t do much but harbour an unnecessary hate for Claire. There does not seem to be any reason for introducing these two characters to the series other than to rescue Claire, accidentally drop hints of Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) whereabouts and to marry Fergus (César Domboy) and Marsali (Lauren Lyle). Fogden and Mamacita are like so many background characters in Outlander: plot devices to serve Jamie and Claire’s adventure story. This way of using supporting characters is starting to grow wearisome and seems to unnecessarily complicate the plot.
Fogden and Mamacita are also unwittingly the tools with which to introduce a mystery into Outlander, which is already crowded with themes. While grieving over the severed head of a dead goat called Arabella (don’t ask!) they mention a mystical place called Abandawe. This throws up a whole bunch of questions for the audience to ponder. Abandawe was last mentioned by poor Margaret Campbell in season 3, episode 7. Fogden explains that it is a place of great power where people are rumoured to have gone missing. Could this relate to the skeleton found in a cave in the West Indies that Claire examined with her colleague Joe in Boston in the 1960s? Could Abandawe be a time portal like Craigh Na Dun? Before we have much time to consider the mystery, the plot is off again with Claire rushing through the jungle having learned Jamie may be on the beach with the rest of the crew of The Artemis.
Claire can run really fast for someone who was near death no less than two days before and she makes it to the beach just in time to signal Jamie with a pocket mirror. The Artemis had been shipwrecked hours before and some of the crew have died (including the grumpy captain). Conveniently all of the Scots survived the storm and Jamie is now back in charge of the crew. No one seems particularly aggrieved over the dead men except for Fergus, who is such a sweet character that we grow to love him even more with each episode. There is a dramatic scene where Jamie runs ashore and catches Claire in a sweeping embrace. This may be the most romantic moment of season 3 so far. Despite the now over-used cliche of separating Jamie and Claire repeatedly, only so they can be passionately reunited, it works well in ‘Uncharted’ as they kiss and hug each other as if their lives depended on it.
After the reunion of our favourite married couple, the episode rather abruptly changes pace and tone once again. Yi Tien Cho (Gary Young), who killed and ate the goat Arabella, bonds with Fogden over a chicken and is offered the chance to get high in return. Marsali asks for Claire’s help with contraception and in a rather touching ceremony, dubious priest Fogden marries her to Fergus. It all happens rather quickly which seems like a bit of shame since we actually care about Fergus and Marsali’s nuptials after so much screen time has previously been spent debating the subject. Before the plot hitches the horse back on to the buggy and races off, we at least get to see Jamie give his last name to Fergus officially recognising the young man as his son.
The episode ends on a sex scene. Claire is drunk on turtle sherry soup (don’t ask!) and flirts with Jamie while he helps her administer an injection of penicillin to her thigh (honestly has any sex scene in the history of film or television started out like this?!). One thing leads to another and soon both Jamie and Claire are engaged in surprisingly graphic sex. Are really surprised? This is Outlander, so of course we are not. But since the episode started out with a tale of desperate survival, this ending of drunk lovemaking does feel a little jarring and we remain as bewildered at the end as we did at the start.