It’s been nearly a month since the Season Finale of Outlander season 2 aired. I still wake up every day haunted by that final stones scene between our lovers. I often fall asleep with visions of young Fergus setting off on his mission from Milord and that close-in camera shot of Jamie and Murtagh as they exchange those final, poignant words. I think often of all of Rik Rankin’s tweedy, turtlenecky goodness and how thrilled I am that we found our Roger Mac. Friday nights are especially hard, knowing there is no midnight early showing or “early bird” threads on Facebook. Yes, I am taking the Droughtlander very hard. And, like many of you, beginning to re-watch season 2 – this time, with more of a critical eye. It’s remarkable what you see when you have the season to view in its entirety with no breaks between episodes. So, with that, I am taking the leap and ranking all of season 2 episodes from least liked, to most loved. But, make no mistake – I love Outlander for better or for worse, in sickness and in health as long as the both of us shall live. Even my #13 spot holds a special place in my heart. So, strap in and read past the jump for my ultimate season 2 episode rankings. . .
Let’s start from the bottom and work our way up. . .
#13 – Episode 2.08 “The Fox’s Lair”
The obvious reason for this being my least favorite of all episodes in season 2 would be the untimely return of Laoghaire. However, this wasn’t what bothered me the most. . . although any scene with that little baby-faced brat curls my toes. In fact, what irked me most was the precious little time that Jamie and Claire had to recover, relax and relish their family time at Lallybroch. Coming off one of the most traumatic episodes in the season, episode 2.07 – “Faith”, the couple had just reconnected over their shared loss. Claire was still convalescing from illness suffered as a result of the still-born death of her near-term child, not to mention absorbing the shock of her spin through the Star Chamber and edge-of-your seat performance as La Dame Blanche and executioner. Jamie had been holed up in the Bastille not knowing the fate of his child or Claire, who he had last seen doubled over and bleeding in the Bois de Boulogne. It was trauma at a grand scale – for all of us. And yet, all we got was a brief moment around the table admiring the potato crop and a short interlude with Jamie rocking baby Kitty and murmuring in Gaelic. Now, I will admit – that was a precious scene, but as quickly as we had settled into Lallybroch, we got whisked away to the Fox’s Lair, and this is where the episode took a turn for me.
Finding a way to insert Laoghaire into the story because Ron Moore had messed up by including her so prominently in Episode 1.09 and, therefore, “continuity was needed,” is a VERY bad excuse to waste precious screen time in this viewer’s humble opinion. It was a side-story we didn’t need. And, the machinations around enlisting the Old Fox’s men for the Jacobite cause were tortuous and, at the end of the day, amounted to a hill of beans. Writer and Executive Producer Anne Kenney did her best to salvage this episode, but in its attempt to move along the story expeditiously and within the 55 minute time block, we got entangled in a convoluted plot where characters were just a means to an end, with the end being murky at best. However, one of the redeeming aspects of the episode included the return of Gary Lewis as Colum MacKenzie. We can see that Colum is much worse for the wear – a setup for a later, very important plot point at the end of season 2. My admiration for Lewis increases each time I see him on screen. An additional high point was also the aforementioned Jamie in the role of Gaelic Baby Whisperer and the beguiling performance of Clive Russell as Jamie’s Grandda, the Old Fox – Simon Fraser of Lovat, a real historic figure in Scottish history with a fascinating backstory. I also want to give a shout out to the title card – the stunning red fox and the beautiful cinematography. But, when a highlight of the episode is the title card, you have to wonder. . .
#12 – Episode 2.12 “The Hail Mary”
This is a tough one to rank for me, because there are some memorable moments and performances from some of my favorite characters – notably, Graham McTavish during his soliloquy at Colum’s death bed. Then there is the evolution of Miss Mary Hawkins. It’s amazing to watch this youthful actress transform her role from whimpering child to mature woman who’s seen and experienced much in such a short amount of time. There is also the performance of Tobias Menzies. His shocking return and even more shocking range of actual emotions he displays makes Black Jack Randall – gasp – somewhat sympathetic. Could that be? Menzies’ scenes with Caitriona Balfe make the hair on the back of my neck stand up. The tension these two create every time they share the screen is epic.
Again, this episode is difficult for me to rank. If the intention was to jolt us into realizing that the Scottish Highlands remained firmly in the rear view mirror, then mission accomplished. You can’t get further from Castle Leoch then the lavish gold fixtures of Versailles. In this regard, the episode reflected its title well.
On the positive side, I really love and appreciate the lavish costumes, Versailles goings-on and overall depiction of the decadent Paris lifestyle. We are also introduced to some fantastic new characters, including Louise de Rohan, King Louis and Mary Hawkins. The Duke of Sandringham reappears in a fabulous new wig, seemingly having gotten more evil and calculating than when we last left him in Scotland. Who doesn’t just squirm with delight when Simon Callow is on screen as the Duke? And the reveal of the Red Dress was spectacular and included a sweet scene between Claire, Jamie and Murtagh and that amazing staircase. I just wish Starz PR hadn’t used the dress in its season 2 marketing campaign because, by the time it showed up on screen, the anticipation had waned. That said, another shout-out to the brilliant Terry Dresbach.
And, yes – the honeypot scene. I remain an island unto myself regarding my thinking on this one, but I really enjoyed the screen treatment of this iconic book scene. Given Jamie was still suffering from full-fledged PTSD, it was a clever way to include the scene, yet work in the conflict that loomed large between Jamie and Claire – Jamie’s inability to be intimate. We had some very light moments between the two, but the scene overall exposed Jamie’s deeply held trauma. We laughed through our tears and our hearts ached for Jamie – and for Claire, who was becoming increasingly more desperate to bring her man back to her heart and her bed.
Most of the scenes, however, jumped around and the episode overall didn’t seem cohesive to me. The King’s toilette, while amusing, took up too much valuable screen time. The faux male appendages displayed at Maison Elise’s was bizarre to say the least and again, why so much time on this? It was not one of writer Ira Steven Behr’s best episodes. I know he can do better. Perhaps it was by design that the episode was rocky and unsettling in order to prove the point that, in fact, we were NOT in Scotland anymore. I can live with that as an explanation, but I don’t have to like it.
#9 – Episode 2.01 “Through a Glass Darkly”
There has been a lot of discussion about the framing device used in this episode – the flash forward, cold open, Claire at the stones in 1948 and subsequent reunion with Frank. It was meant to provide the same jolt that book readers got in the opening pages of “Dragonfly in Amber.” I go back and forth on this and whether or not it was a change that needed to be made for the benefit of the television audience. While I enjoyed the episode at the time, now looking at it in the context of the whole season, I think adding the 1948 piece had serious negative ripple effects throughout the rest of season 2. Confirming that Culloden was a failure in the opening 35 minutes of Episode 2.01 essentially destroyed the tension of the rest of the season – in particular, Jamie and Claire’s machinations in Paris. It’s no wonder viewers – especially non-book readers – felt so short-changed with the Paris episodes. The story of the Bonnie Prince and the march toward Culloden would have been so much different if the viewing audience didn’t already know that the Jacobites were doomed to lose at Culloden.
#8 – Episode 2.09 “Je Suis Prest”
We get it. The Highlanders are preparing for war and it’s a slog. But, just how many scenes do we need of rumpled, overweight and unprepared cotters, tacksmen and smiths flailing away with their homemade garden tools doubling as bayonets? And while Claire’s PTSD storyline was interesting, it seemed to come out of nowhere and then, just as suddenly, disappear in all subsequent episodes. As a “filler”, it was fine. . . but I expect more from the writers and producers of Outlander, who have shown themselves to be better storytellers than that.
#7 – Episode 2.03 “Useful Occupations and Deceptions
I liked this episode overall, but it lacked any marked action or intrigue. Instead, we got more Jamie and Claire angst which, at this point in the season, I was beginning to tire of. Arguably, their fight about Claire working at L’Hôpital des Anges was the worst row they have had since the fight at the river in Episode 1.09. I liked that the fight reflected the chasm that still existed between our couple over issues of control and the proper place for a wife, the role of the man, and the appropriateness of certain types of “work” for women in this time. I am sure Claire was thinking that all this had been resolved that post-spanking night in Leoch (during epic make-up sex) when it was decided that the rules needed to be different for these two. But apparently, Jamie had forgot all about that and was more focused on his troubles.
#6 – Episode 2.11 “Vengeance is Mine”
When I first heard that Outlander series author Diana Gabaldon would be penning a script for season 2, I swooned. What could be better than this brilliant woman, who created this obsessive series and these amazing characters, actually having the chance to write for those characters on the small screen? It was easily my most anticipated episode of season 2 – more than the premiere and even more than the finale.
#5 – Episode 2.05 “Untimely Resurrection”
The return of Black Jack and the circumstances surrounding that return – as well as the aftermath -– made for a heart-pounding hour of television. Richard “The Kid” Kahan scripted this episode – his first script written for television, ever! Mentor Steven Ira Behr must have felt very proud of his protégé as Richard succeeded admirably in creating a rich canvas for Tobias Menzies as Black Jack to titillate, tantalize and tease us with his cat-and-mouse game with both Claire and Jamie. The air in the manicured gardens of Versailles was so thick you could feel Claire’s breath be sucked away when Randall appeared, walking confidently toward her in all his slow-motion glory. It was a brilliant on-screen return for our resident villain made even more satisfying when King Louis throws a bit of karma Jack’s way, forcing him to kneel and beg before the King and the Frasers. How many of us cheered at that scene??!!
Of course, this was a set-up for Claire’s impossible ask of Jamie and their ensuing argument. As a general matter, I am not one to notice scene blocking BUT, how the confrontation scene between Jamie and Claire was stage-managed was truly outstanding. Jamie’s thrusting the handle of his dirk into Claire’s hands – blade pointed at his chest – and how Claire took the blade and dropped it clanging on the stone floor. . . Jamie kissing the hilt of his sword as he pledges to honor Claire’s request and then the two of them standing at opposite ends of the room as the screen fades to credits, symbolizing the huge chasm that exists between them given Claire’s unthinkable request. Exceedingly well done and one of Sam Heughan’s best, most evocative scenes, which is why episode 2.05 rises near the top of my favorite episodes in season 2.
#4 – Episode 2.06 “Best Laid Schemes”
I watched this episode via the Starz app at the crack of dawn Saturday morning while huddled in my Edinburgh hotel room. Thank God the VPN service I had purchased for my trip to Scotland worked like a dream so that I could enjoy this episode in somewhat real-time – still taking advantage of the early showing. However, what I didn’t realize is that I needed a defibrillator on-hand to resuscitate me at the episode’s end when my heart rate and blood pressure shot up to dangerous levels. Seriously, I had NEVER had a television show affect me physically in quite the same way before, or since.
Claire’s realization that Jamie had broken his promise and gone off to fight Black Jack and her subsequent head-long jolting carriage ride through the streets of Paris into the Bois de Boulogne was electrifying. The duel itself – while not quite as dramatic as I would have hoped for – was, when viewed through Claire’s eyes, heart-stopping. And poor Magnus, the caring servant, who was helpless to protect his Lady from the harm that came rushing from her womb and could only mean one grave, agonizing thing. And, Jamie flown into such a rage as we had never seen when he realized the atrocity being inflicted on poor Fergus at the hands of the black-hearted, depraved Randall. Lastly, when we see Jamie, having exacted a mortal (or so we thought) wound to Black Jack, realize Claire was near and we see (but don’t hear him) call out to Claire in despair as he is led away by the Gendarmes. Again with the slow motion! Used so effectively, we hear in our mind Jamie’s agonizing “Claaaaire!” This back half of Episode 2.06 is what I loved most.
The front half? Not as much. It seemed so incongruous to open the episode on our tranquil couple, with Jamie seemingly over the upset from Claire’s impossible plea for Black Jack’s life. It was such a disconnect from the previous episode. But besides this, I loved and was thrilled by this episode. Defibrillator notwithstanding, it took me more than 15 minutes to get my respiration under control. Fortunately, I didn’t have to explain myself to my Scottish friends who picked me up shortly after I finished watching. I could only imagine what they would have thought!
#3 – Episode 2.07 “Faith”
To say that Caitriona Balfe delivered a career-altering performance throughout this episode would be a major understatement. Caitriona’s portrayal of the loss and the unspeakable grief Claire felt at learning of her baby’s death touched hearts, if only for the restraint shown in the breadth of the emotions she displayed. Alone, lost, bereaved and deathly ill, Claire fights back with the help of Mother Hildegard, the enigmatic Master Raymond and, surprisingly, her loyal servants.
The series finale does for season 2 of Outlander what the series premiere did not. The finale absolutely elevated all episodes that came before it whereas the opposite occurred with the premiere, thus spewing negative ripple effects throughout all subsequent episodes. But ending with a bang, I would argue, is the better place to be and Outlander closed out its sophomore season with the resounding boom of cannon fire. Thankfully, the writers had 90 glorious, feature-length minutes to spin their tale, and spin they did. The rapid-fire switches between centuries was accomplished seamlessly unlike the premiere’s awkward treatment of the time changes.
#1 – Episode 2.10 “Prestonpans”
I declared this my favorite episode the minute it concluded and, even after watching and re-watching all the episodes, I haven’t wavered since. THIS is Outlander. It combines everything I love about this series – adventure, intrigue, history, deep, deep love and intimacy and incredible character depiction.
What is your favorite episode of Season 2? Least favorite?