What’s the Best Season One Outlander Episode?
The premiere of season two of Outlander is less than one month away according to the calendar, but obviously something weird has happened with time. Because the days until the April 9 premiere in the U.S. are clearly no longer just 24 hours each. Just pointing that out.
In the meantime, what’s an irrational devoted fan to do? You know, beyond the obsessive checking of various online sources for the tiny tidbits that get thrown our way periodically by Starz? Why, rewatch season one, of course.
Note, I did not say rewatch for the first time; I just said rewatch. It’s between you and your confessor how many times you’ve seen certain scenes, and for the record, I am not judging. For this particular rewatching, I told my husband, who not-so-secretly thinks I may have a bit of an Outlander problem, that I was doing research. I was deciding, I told him, which was the best season one Outlander episode — all for the good of this blog and fellow fans of course. He may or may not have smirked. Anyway, after much obsessive watching thoughtful research, I have made my choice. Hint: It’s NOT “The Wedding.”
First let me say “The Wedding” is one of the most beautifully depicted episodes in the entire series. Ron D. Moore took a very creative approach in how he told this story as a flashback of sorts rather than a linear structure and it really worked. We relive Claire and Jamie falling in love in a completely beautiful and believable way. And that’s without talking about the sex.
But in that sense, “The Wedding” was almost too easy to recreate on the small screen. While Moore took an interesting approach, it was a simpler one overall.
More complicated is depicting Claire and Jamie’s growing relationship and the challenges they face amid an increasingly complex story line. And it is for these reasons that — after doing a LOT of wavering between it and “The Devil’s Mark” — “The Reckoning” gets my final vote for best Outlander episode.
The reasons start with the decision to change the point of view from Claire’s to Jamie’s for the first time. Doing this helps viewers get inside the changing environment Jamie and Claire are experiencing, a set-up that’s clear from the opening images of Jamie putting on his kilt, a perfect metaphor for what’s about to come. Jamie is literally in this episode learning to become a Scottish man. Viewers, meanwhile, need to fully feel and understand the impending threat of the Redcoats in general and Black Jack Randall in particular — both critical to establishing a credible storyline. And what better way than from the show’s lead Scot, who also has a price on his head for a killing actually done by none other than BJR himself?
Seeing the world from Jamie’s point of view enables viewers to better understand clan culture. The loyalty that is so critical to the Highland way of life is brought to life so perfectly in this episode, from the way Rupert, Angus and, of course, Murtagh help Jamie save Claire and the unswerving loyalty Jamie has for Claire as he rescues her with unloaded guns and his bare hands, to, finally, yes, the strapping scene.
“She does not understand what she nearly cost us,” Murtagh tells Jamie as the men celebrate the successful rescue in the tavern, ignoring Claire. “Aye, and she needs to,” Jamie replies.
In the bedroom, as Jamie prepares to teach Claire her lesson with his belt, he says, “You’ve done wrong to all the men. You must suffer for it and it’s my duty as your husband to make it happen.”
That Moore et al didn’t omit or sugarcoat this scene is another reason this episode gets top billing. It’s a risky and tricky step to portray a behavior so clearly unacceptable in the 21st century world. Indeed, many fans cried “foul” that it was done at all and/or how it was done. To have omitted it, however, would have been to miss an opportunity to get to the heart of the fidelity that is so much the heart and soul of Outlander characters and many of their behaviors.
The scene also provided the fodder for the real growth that occurs in this episode between Jamie and Claire, another reason why the episode ranks number one. In earlier episodes we have young love Jamie and Claire. That their relationship might be unusual is hinted at in “Both Sides Now,” when Jamie innocently asks, “Is this usual, the wanting you?” And Claire responds, ultimately, “No, this is different.”
As “The Reckoning” proceeds, though, we get to see the full potential of that difference — for them individually and as a couple. It is an episode of dramatic personal growth, and, as such, is so rich. At first it seems as if Claire will have to conform to 18th century standards or, literally, get whipped into place. The glade fight gutsily illustrates this as they yell and scream hateful words they ultimately take back — such terrific acting by Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe! — as they sink into each other’s forgiving arms.
The strapping scene shows the superficiality of that detente, however. Love in the 18th century clearly means more than saying “I’m sorry.” And yet, Claire stands firm. As a 20th century woman, she knows she is Jamie’s equal. Alone in a foreign world and time, she refuses to give in to this final insult, frostily pushing Jamie out of her daily life and their shared bed.
Claire’s behavior forces Jamie’s hand. It is time, literally, to man up. Earlier in the episode we see Jamie navigate Colum and Dougal’s challenging relationship and watch a laird-in-training as he shows Colum how to maintain face and keep Dougal in his place regarding the brewing Jacobite rebellion. “Let him play the rebel as long as he does it quietly,” Jamie tells Colum. “Let your brother whisper of a free Scotland for now while you watch…Dougal may be war chief but he knows only you can cry for war.”
But it is in his own relationship with Claire that we see Jamie truly grow up and into love. Having seen Colum, “a rigid man,” bend, Jamie realizes that he and Claire need to forge their own path for married life. “Colum risked looking weak publicly because peace was more important,” Jamie says to Claire. “It made me mindful.”
“Wives obey their husbands. Husbands discipline them when they don’t. That’s how it was with my father and on back,” he continues. “Maybe for you and me it has to go a different way.” Jamie then renounces the path Highland men took for generations and throws himself at Claire’s mercy.
And Claire, too, grows up. Yes, she has one more moment of making it clear she’s in charge — the dirk at Jamie’s throat while they’re in the middle of amazing make-up sex — but, ultimately, Claire has her own epiphany. Here, she realizes, is a man who, unlike Frank, is willing to meet her on common ground. “I am your master,” Jamie says, “and you are mine.” Their partnership of equals is cemented.
All this in an hour and with so many other tiny moments of excellence in between. Pretty damn impressive.
Do you think I missed the mark with “The Reckoning”? What’s your pick for best Outlander episode? Tell us what episode you loved and why. It will help us all get through the final days of #Droughtlander.