Outlander has tried its hand at romance, war, time-travel, marital drama, murder mystery, survival story and now with episode 12 of Season 3, ‘The Bakra’, the show experiments with horror. As the plot picks up the pace heading towards the season 3 finale, this episode is jumbled mess of a reunion of past characters. The kind of reunion that only ever takes place in television, where characters that have never previously met each other but who all have the lead character in common inexplicably find themselves in the same place at the same time. Although this makes for a lot of drama, it does feel rather forced and unrealistically fateful. But Outlander is a show about time travel, so perhaps we shouldn’t quibble over little cosmic fate.
‘The Bakra’ starts off with a flash back to Young Ian (John Bell), Jamie’s nephew, being taken by pirates and transported off to Jamaica. Young Ian, who is annoyingly still being referred to as ‘young’ despite the fact that Ian Senior has not been on screen for many episodes, seems to wear a permanent frown of anxiety on his face no matter what situation he is in. This time he has cause to be worried however. Once he arrives in Jamaica he is kept prisoner by ‘The Bakra,’ who turns out to none other than Geillis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek), another time-traveller and former friend of Claire (Caitriona Balfe). The audience last saw Geillis being carried off by an angry mob to be burnt at the stake as a witch. This time she emerges naked from a bath of goat’s blood. It is good for the skin apparently. The scene would be at home in a Gothic vampire story or horror movie. Outlander has bounced unsubtly into another film genre yet again.
Geillis, in a plot so convoluted it is astonishing even she can follow it herself, is looking to secure three blue sapphires so that they can be held by a psychic to reveal a prophecy about when the next Scottish King will rise. Somehow Geillis’ pursuit of the prophecy has led to a trail of dead husbands and the seduction of a whole host of young virginal boys. Geillis may be an odd character (is she a really a witch? Magic does exist in Outlander, after all both Geillis and Claire travelled through time), but she is given the most ridiculous dialogue and her behaviour is down right strange. When Claire meets her again at a ball held by the Governor of Jamaica, she seems astonished but predictably she decides to trust Geillis. Claire never has been the best judge of character or very good at staying out of trouble.
As well as Geillis, other characters such as Margaret Campbell (Alison Pargeter) and Lord John Grey (David Berry) make an appearance. Past characters pop up one after another so that the ball at the Governor’s house is like a high school reunion. Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire attend the ball looking for news of Young Ian and make a strange decision to use Mr Willoughby (Gary Young) as a distraction. Adding to this they also recruit a slave named Temeraire (Thapelo Sebogodi) to help in tracing their lost nephew.
Not only do these two plot points feel a little racist, but the writers in taking such great pains to point out how Claire and Jamie buy Temeraire to set him free, seem to be inadvertently peddling a rather crude white saviour narrative. Temeraire despite representing all the slaves in Jamaica is a very one dimensional character and it would have been wiser to allow him to have some personality if Outlander truly wanted to explore the theme of the slave trade. This is Claire’s first encounter with slavery and she reacts with outrage, yet again showing how some aspects of the 18th Century are easier to cope with than others.
In another strange twist of fate, Mr Willoughby and Margaret Campbell seem to fall in love at first sight for no apparent reason and the Governor is revealed to be none other than the romantically tortured Lord John Grey. He is as enamoured with Jamie as ever and is in possession of two blue sapphires (what a shock!). There is an awkward conversation between John and Claire where they both seem to plant possessive flags on planet Jamie. Claire wins the contest as Jamie’s wife, but Jamie himself does seem rather excited to see John again, so who knows if this series will end up being a show about a heterosexual/homosexual love triangle.
The strangest dialogue of the episode is reserved for Geillis, who turns up at the ball and through some nefarious machinations ends up discovering the prophecy which says a Scottish king will rise if a 200-year-old baby is killed. Claire’s curiosity at how her old friend escaped being burnt alive in Scotland leads to some long exposition from Geillis, including bizarrely describing her newborn son as ‘warm as his father’s balls.’ This must be the first time in television history that such a comparison has been made. Geillis is obviously untrustworthy and the 200 year old baby of the prophecy is obviously Brianna, the daughter of Claire and Jamie.
The plot of Outlander is starting to feel slightly hysterically unrealistic (yes we know time-travel is already unrealistic!) and some of the unnecessary drama between the characters is reminiscent of a soap opera, with Geillis presiding over developments with a cartoon-like villainy. The episode comes to a climax with Jamie being hauled away by soldiers on suspicion of murder. At this point, Jamie’s arrests and the Frasers’ separations are becoming repetitive. By now guessing how Claire and Jamie will be ripped apart and brought back together could technically be a drinking game for the audience.
Despite this show becoming more bizarre and convoluted as each week passes, the production values remain excellent. The scenes in Jamaica have a hot lazy feel. The costumes are intricate and the background extras are all trussed up in a variety of 18th century dress. If only the keen eye for excellent detail that is obvious in the look of Outlander, could have been applied to the pacing, plot and characters. Then perhaps ‘The Bakra’ wouldn’t be such a mixed back of themes, obvious twists and strange dialogue.
Outlander Season 3 is now available on Amazon Prime.