Separation, Sorrow, Sex, Sails & Sand: The Ultimate Ranking of Outlander Season 3 Episodes
Ranking Outlander Season 3 episodes is no easy task. Anne Gavin took the challenge and ranked the episodes from worst to best. See if you agree with her choices.
Can it be? Another #Droughtlander has descended like a thick, smoky print shop-on-fire haze upon fans of Outlander. There is no longer any wind in our sails as the doldrums have set in once again. In fact, it was a monumental feat to condense Diana Gabaldon’s over 1,000-page tome, Voyager, into Season 3’s 13 episodes. Outlander fans around the world wondered aloud during the season hiatus whether this was even remotely possible. The Outlander crew, and a slew of new writers and directors, had their work cut out for them. But, work they did—aided by magnificent performances from lead actors Sam Heughan, Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies, in addition to newcomers Richard Rankin, Sophie Skelton, César Domboy and Lauren Lyle.
Overall, the season delivered. It was a wild ride—as is most of the story of Outlander. We went from America, back to Scotland, to England, back to Scotland and then on to the Caribbean finally landing—literally— back in America again. Or, should I say, the Colonies! There was a heaviness to the first half of the season, followed by a massive sigh of relief and many tears when our lovers were united again. There were epic battles—both military and personal—deaths, loss, lies, and regrets but always hope and underlying all—love.
It is always difficult for me to rank these episodes. I am not a TV critic, nor a television production expert. Like most fans, I see Outlander through the prism of someone who adores the Jamie and Claire saga and the ongoing and consistent underlying themes of love, war, politics, conflict, adventure and deliverance. My hope is that fans will recognize some of their own likes and dislikes about the season in this ranking, and maybe even come to appreciate a few things they didn’t notice while viewing themselves. So, into the breach I go and will get it started with my least favorite and work my way up to #1.
#13 — Episode 3.07, “Crème de Menthe”— written by Karen Campbell and directed by Norma Bailey
Perhaps the writers were feeling the pressure to push through plot points to get to the part of Voyager that see Jamie and Claire off on their epic high seas adventure? Or, perhaps there was a need to jam a whole lot of characters and story into this episode as a set-up for the final episodes of the season? It’s not clear the reason but this episode dragged for me. There was no common thread running through and characters seemed moved only by plot and not plot moved by characters. The story zigged and zagged its way through Edinburgh with some major changes from the book. But, disclaimer: I don’t care about book changes as a rule. I love the novels, but I am not hindered by them when I watch Outlander. That said, changes need to make sense. Claire insisting on trying to save the man who just tried to rape and kill her made no sense. The introduction of the Campbells—while utilitarian for later plot points—was confusing and random set amidst seemingly larger issues such as Jamie’s attempts to evade detection by the exciseman.
What I did like about this episode was Young Ian played by the animated John Bell. Bell more than impressed me with his adorable puppy dog eyes and impish attempts to woo the young lassie in the pub. Plus, his scenes with the grown-up and now worldly, Fergus—played by the scruffy and sexy Domboy—were endearing. A bromance was born! I loved every second of Fergus’ “How to Bed a Lass” tutorial and Ian’s enthusiastic attempts to apply what he learned. The fire at the print shop seemed wedged into the story, but there is no denying the special effects worked well and Jamie’s heroics were fitting for the King of Men. A lot about this episode seemed disjointed, but was interspersed with a couple of high points.
Final thought: Inevitably, one episode must bring up the rear, and sadly, this is it.
Notable about this episode is yet another musical adaptation of “The Skye Boat Song,” with the addition of mesmerizing, rhythmic and exotic conga drums. Testament to the genius of composer Bear McCreary, the title theme variations at the episode’s start immediately signify there are big changes afoot in the story. Jamie and Claire and entourage head off from the familiar shores of Scotland to find young Ian in the Caribbean accompanied by a rag-tag group of sailors and one hardened captain who holds the superstitions of the sea in high regard. The best thing about this episode (besides the new title theme) is the arrival of Jamie & Claire Version 2—Fergus and the beguiling eye-roller, Marsali. This new couple make for an entertaining distraction against the backdrop of the helter-skelter of our main couple. Jamie and Claire are trying desperately to find their footing amidst the rolling deck of the Artemis and threats against the Scotland crew due to the captain’s belief in the canards of sea travel and the luck (or lack thereof) that results. However, this last notion is where the episode sails off-course for me. Such an over-emphasis on the superstition storyline seemed created from whole cloth. Lucky horse shoes, seeking the “Jonah,” lack of wind, etc. just felt like filler. And, dare I say, there was more important story to cover off prior to our couple hitting the shores of Jamaica.
But, I will offer a call-out to the handful of intimate Jamie and Claire scenes above and below deck. These two continue to radiate and produce a collective sigh from viewers alike who have missed them together for over half the season. Kudos also to Gary Young as Yi Tien Cho/Mr. Willoughby, who delivered his magnificent speech taken directly from the novel. While I felt it was a bit long to commit to the small screen, it was dramatic and gave us a chance to hear the beginnings of McCreary’s unique “Willoughby Theme” with its distinct Chinese instrumentation. Again, we feel we are on a different kind of journey this time. The true genius of Outlander, really, is that we never feel like the story stagnates—even when bobbing aimlessly for weeks on the sea. We saw some important characters start to take shape in this episode. And, we relished the return of the warm feelings of familiarity between Jamie and Claire as they again tackled yet more peril and separation. I’ll take Jamie and Claire above and below-deck scenes all day long over lucky horseshoes and Finding-Jonas, however.
Final thought: A few too many peculiar writing choices in this episode place it towards the back of the ranking.
#11 — Episode 3.10 “Heaven & Earth” — written by Luke Shelhaas and directed by David Moore
The cold open of this episode provides Jamie’s perspective of Claire’s “kidnapping,” as the Porpoise sets sail with its sought-after ship’s surgeon safely aboard. This sets up conflict between Jamie and the Artemis’ Captain Raines, which leads to all sorts of out-of-character Jamie dialogue that had me scratching my head. I get that Jamie is beside himself about the fact that Claire has been torn away once again. But our usual level-headed King of Men—you know, the one who stoically danced his pregnant wife through the stones forever to be lost to him—seems to have mislaid all practical sense. Jamie and his men are clearly outnumbered by the suspicious crew of Captain Raines, and yet he insists that Fergus bust him out of his below-deck prison and he will single-handedly (no offense, Fergus) take the ship aided by the bumbling duo of Hayes and Lesley and Willoughby’s delicate calligraphy hands. Their chances are significantly worse than the Highlanders’ hopes to prevail at Culloden and that time they had 100 times more men (plus one Murtagh!). To even suggest that Jamie would abandon all reason and berate his young acolyte for espousing the only sensible way forward is puzzling to say the least.
What I did like about this disjointed set of scenes was that we truly see Fergus come into his own. The student becomes the teacher. Balance must be found between unnecessary risk and safeguarding one’s true love. Throughout the Outlander story, Jamie strikes this balance again and again. But, for some reason, in this case, it falls by the wayside. Perhaps his normal level-headedness was affected by the return of his retching sea-sickness. Or, the last 20 years of desperation was just too tough to swallow again. I dinna ken. It seemed odd all around, especially when Jamie was so willing to back-pedal on his principled stand on granting approval to Fergus and Marsali’s union only if his pick-pocket protégé could snag the key to freedom. Who are you, Episode 3.10 James Fraser?
Fortunately, the episode was salvaged by Boss Claire aboard the Porpoise. God, I love it when Claire takes charge, orders the men about and gets to the point. “I am no gentlewoman” was one of my favorite lines of the episode! It couldn’t have been a better time for Claire to get kidnapped and pressed into duty as the ass-kicking healer we know she is. After a desperate trip through time, finding out the love of your life was married and then lied about it and from which now you are separated yet again, it is no wonder Claire’s confidence was shaken. Claire has spent more than a few previous episodes questioning whether her return to the past was justified. She found herself, though, aboard the Porpoise administering to the sick and saving the day again. Nothing like a ship’s plague to jolt Doctor Claire back to her reality and back to herself. And, then there was sweet Elias Pound—a definite highlight of this episode for me was this endearing story line. Not only has Claire found her professional identity again, but also her nurturing motherly side. I defy anyone to watch Elias’ death scene and not squirt a tear or two. It was an utterly charming portrayal of the young sailor by British actor Albie Marber. The final scene of the episode, however, brings us full circle back to the Claire we know and love. Her Hippocratic Oath discharged, she plunges into the dark ocean with only her love for Jamie and hastily built life raft to sustain her. Sounds familiar. Claire is back!
Final thought: The King of Men lost his crown in this episode. I am OK with some Jamie modifications, but some scenes and dialogue here took it too far.
While an angst-filled episode from beginning to end, I loved wrapping myself once again in the warm embrace of Lallybroch… even if Jamie didn’t. And, then there is Jenny Murray. Any scenes that include the formidable Fraser sibling, played by brilliant actress Laura Donnelly, is a feast for the eyes and the ears despite Jenny’s often shrill admonitions. Feral Jamie, however, was a shock to the system, despite, as a book reader, knowing full well what his life post-Culloden had devolved into. I must credit the talented Sam Heughan, however, for going almost a full 15 minutes into the episode before he said a word. Silence conveyed much more than any spoken words ever could. The episode did mark the continuation of the “parallel lives” storyline, so we sling-shot back and forth from Jamie’s isolated existence to Claire’s, which—despite her life in the busy urban setting of Boston, with her baby and the doting Frank—seems just as remote and solitary as her 18th century husband’s life. Can we just give a shout-out here for the Randalls’ Boston home? Thank you, Jon Gary Steele, for yet another magical set design. Details are plentiful, and it is what we come to expect but never take for granted. Now nicely furnished, Claire’s new home appears to be the perfect nest for hatching her new life. She tries. She does. But, Frank will never be an adequate substitute for the love of a lifetime. Both Jamie and Claire finally surrender to their pale existence, for the sake of others and for their own survival. Jamie snaps back finally after being reminded he has a family to protect and a legacy to maintain. And, Claire finds release in seeking satisfaction in the pursuit of a career as a doctor. The best line of the episode for me was Frank’s Captain Obvious retort, “When I am with you, I am with you. But, you’re with him.” Claire’s memory of Jamie and Jamie’s memory of Claire were the constants in this episode, underscoring the deep chasm that will continue to exist as long as they remain apart.
Overall, I thought this episode neatly summed up what these parallel lives had become—bereft of feeling, but filled with physical and intellectual needs that must be satisfied in some way if both are to go on living. Jamie’s sacrifice for his family thrust him back to a physical prison but, as he said, no different than the prison he lived in already. Claire’s gilded cage in Boston was breached finally by her desire to find meaning outside her confinement. Neither, however, are whole.
Final thought: This was a nicely paced episode with a few clunky detours such as the Steven King-esque kids crow- killing incident. But, overall a satisfying yet sorrowful look inside our protagonists’ solitary lives.
#9 — Episode 3.11 “Uncharted”— written by Karen Campbell and Shannon Goss and directed by Charlotte Brändström
Three-time Golden Globe Nominee Caitriona Balfe showed us exactly why she has earned this honor in the first 20 minutes of Episode 3.11. Thankfully, all her Uncle Lamb’s outdoor living tips came back as she stumbled through the jungle with nothing more than her now-disintegrating batsuit and a few pieces of flint. It was an astounding bit of cinematography as viewers could almost feel the thirst, discomfort and, yes, even those fire-ant bites that Claire endured trudging through an unforgiving landscape en route to God-only-knew where. I did wonder, at times, what Claire was thinking throughout this jungle ordeal. Could it be I was pining for more of the dreaded voiceover? If the intent was to imply that Claire was tough and resourceful, I suppose that came through. I question whether we needed quite that much screen time to make that determination.
Regardless, it was a tour-de-force performance for Balfe. No denying that. Equally entertaining was Father Fogden, played by Nick Fletcher. Two parts wacky and one part oddly endearing, Fogden succeeds at moving the plot along to get us to the point where Jamie and Claire are reunited on the beach once again. I admit, my heart was stuck firmly in my throat while waiting to see if Claire’s attempts to signal Jamie proved successful. Never mind the conveniently pilfered hand mirror that aided Claire’s cries for help. Sure. Why not? It worked and that’s all we cared about. Thankfully, the episode took a turn back to Jamie and Claire 2.0 and we were treated to some fabulous scenes between Fergus and Marsali, and Marsali and Claire. I always enjoy the moments between the women in Outlander, whether it be Claire and Geillis, Claire and Jenny, Claire and Louise, and now Claire and Marsali. In this case, Marsali finally realized that despite her animosity towards Claire, the “wise-woman” had something to offer. After all, girls must stick together and without her own mother close at hand, Marsali needed an ear to bend in the moments before her wedding. The ice thawed a bit in that sweet scene when we glimpse a self-aware and, apparently, ahead-of-her-time Marsali ponder the need for couple time before embarking on motherhood. I feel like this was a pivotal scene between these two characters. As a book reader, I know this relationship will be important to the future story and it was nice to see this scene brilliantly acted. It sets the stage nicely for what is to come.
And, well, then there was Turtle Soup. Balfe, in particular, made this scene work. I often wonder if any of the lead actors feel the pressure of having to do justice to iconic book scenes such as this. In this case, they delivered again, reminding us that passion takes many forms, including laughter. The playfulness of this scene was as sexy as Jamie and Claire’s wedding night—just in a different way.
Final thought: Overall, it was a good episode, although it could have probably made the point about Claire’s survival skills in a much shorter amount of time and with far fewer lengthy fade-to-blacks. That said, it was an enjoyable episode for character development and yet another oh-so-sweet Jamie and Claire reunion.
At first viewing, I was not terribly fond of this episode. I thought the pacing lagged and, again, felt like scenes were crammed together to extend the plot as quickly as possible. However, this became the episode that, as I inevitably re-watched, I came to enjoy much more. In part, this is due to the outstanding performances of Hannah James as Geneva Dunsany, Tanya Reynolds as Isobel Dunsany and young Clark Butler, who played William Ransom, the Eighth Earl of Ellesmere and illegitimate son of Jamie Fraser. Many fans dreaded the Geneva/Jamie storyline from the novel. It involved a sexual encounter between Jamie and someone-not-Claire, which is hard enough to stomach, but that also contained some questionable dialogue that ignited many a debate about whether there was actual consent that accompanied the sexual act. Wisely, the television production team decided NOT to go there and made it quite clear that when the head-strong Geneva blackmailed Jamie into a sexual situation, it was done with consent defined clearly. That said, I didn’t care for the fact that Jamie seemed to enjoy his “duty” to Geneva a little too much.
The Claire “parallel life” in this episode was on the paltry side in terms of screen time, but, I am OK with that. We needed more Jamie at this point in the season, and many plot points required exposition. What we did see of Claire was her return to Scotland and frantic search through the historical records of any sign of Jamie. Aided by Roger Wakefield and Brianna, the heaviness of Claire’s seemingly futile task was felt. I did love the few scenes between Roger and Bree in this episode. As a viewer, I could begin to see the establishment of more and better chemistry between the two of them. Still an awkward couple in many respects, but they were starting to grow on me, especially Roger in all his sweet tweedy and turtleneck-y goodness.
But, it was that final scene that turned around my initial inclination about this episode. It was a jolt, at first, when the contemporary cover version of Bob Dylan’s “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” accompanied Jamie on his ride back to Scotland. I am not much of a Dylan fan, so had never heard this tune before. But, in hindsight, I thought it was a risky yet brilliant choice to include this as backdrop for Jamie’s agonizing leave-taking of his young son. Heughan’s performance here was gut-wrenching. Again, no words, just this haunting music and Jamie’s grieved face.
Final thought: It was a lot of plot to jam into one episode, but was saved by the stellar casting, including several scenes with the exquisite David Berry as series favorite Lord John Grey. Multiple re-watches helped bump this episode up the ranking.
#7 — Episode 3.13 “Eye of the Storm” — written by Matt Roberts and Toni Graphia and directed by Matt Roberts
I am shocked that a season finale episode of Outlander doesn’t even make it into my top five of the ranking. Outlander, to date, has traditionally put out great finales for each of its two preceding seasons. Season 1’s “To Ransom a Man’s Soul” and Season 2’s “Dragonfly in Amber” (particularly, Dragonfly) were beloved by most fans and critics alike and really built to a climactic conclusion. Unfortunately, I don’t think the same can be said for the Season 3 finale. There were many highlights, but as a cohesive episode and build-up as in previous season finales, it didn’t quite make the cut.
Highs included any scene with Lotte Verbeek. Lotte took her role as the beguiling, slightly off-kilter Geillis Duncan to new highs in Season 3. Her particular flavor of crazy captivates. Just when we thought Geillis couldn’t get any more peculiar, we glimpse just how far she will go to pursue her dream of a Scottish King. Multiple dead husbands—and dead boys—later, Geillis’ twisted attachment to the crusade for a Scot on the throne and warped belief in the “prophecy” dominate the drama of the first half of the episode. And, Lotte is oh-so-good. I am non-plussed by the jungle scenes—save for the call-back to the Dance of the Druids, which forever and always will be my Outlander goose-bump moment. And, the resolution of the Willloughby and Margaret Campbell storyline was fine. I mean, who doesn’t yearn for a Club Med retirement in Martinique with your soulmate? It certainly completes the rehabilitation of Yi Tien Cho/Willoughby, who fared much better in the television production than he did in the novel.
Also, I certainly can’t argue with an extended version of “Jamie’s Plan” and more Claire and Jamie banter/bunk romp back on the Artemis. The storm scenes were a bit contrived, but the CGI and special effects were stunning. And then the suspend-belief merman moment—when Jamie, somehow in the vast sea, saves Claire with a rescue breath and more than a bit of luck—was entrancing to watch. Shout out to the director of photography and the underwater crew. And, so thankful Jamie never loses track of his trusty dirk! It always comes in handy. Stunning musical sequence here, too. Bear McCreary, you never disappoint.
But, I am left somewhat middling at the episode’s conclusion. Thank God Jamie and Claire are not left separated again. But, it just wasn’t the heart-stopping moment I am used to when it comes to Outlander finales. Save for McCreary’s soaring score accompanying the panoramic view of Jamie and Claire’s “New World,” it was an average Outlander finish. Of, course even “average Outlander” is still much better than most.
Final thought: I think this episode is middle-of-the road for season-enders and amongst this episode ranking. Good, but not spectacular. Perhaps the Season 3 finale suffers by comparison of what came before.
#6 — Episode 3.03 “All Debts Paid” — written by Matt Roberts and directed by Brendan Maher
Bias alert! This episode automatically rises to near(er) the top of the ranking due to the reappearance of one bearded Highlander who most fans (including this one) had prayed to God and Ron Moore might survive the Battle of Culloden. The re-appearance of Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser was one of the most anticipated moments of the season for me. The moment I heard that gravelly voice and saw that bedraggled beard, my heart leapt! I didn’t care that he looked like shite and might, in fact, be disappearing as quickly as he reappeared. The Godfather was back! I loved seeing the scenes between he and Jamie reminiscing about Claire and the wee Fraser bairn out there somewhere. It brought me back to happier times at Castle Leoch and on the road.
Yet, no sooner had we uncovered Murtagh, were we able feast our eyes on the perfectly formed patrician countenance of John William Grey. If there is one actor I greatly feared for once his casting was announced, it was David Berry. I was familiar with Berry’s previous work and believed him to be a fine actor. But, the Lord John Grey character in Gabaldon’s novels and novellas is arguably one of the most popular of all the Outlander characters. Much expectation was thrust upon this actor. However, in Episode 3.03, Berry delivered as the enigmatic, sensitive Major Grey. The extreme close-ups of Berry’s porcelain skin and piercing blue eyes stunned. And, while the development of Grey’s relationship with Jamie/MacDubh was abbreviated for television production, it set the tone for the long-standing relationship that will unfold between these two men going forward.
Meanwhile, back in Boston, the dissolution of the Randall marriage is well underway. Best line of the episode, “I think our bedroom is far too crowded already.” While Claire may not have “left the past behind” as she promised Frank she would, Frank has certainly moved on with linguist Candy/Sandy and appears not to be looking back. Tobias Menzies is, as always, magnificent as the tortured Frank. And, as much as I thought I was ready to see Frank Randall meet his maker, his final goodbye with Claire in the morgue was hauntingly beautiful and dramatic. Balfe’s performance was superb, as well.
Final thought: All debts were paid in this episode, including the promise to keep amazing characters in the show if it made sense. Enter one Murtagh (thank you, Ron Moore). That and David Berry’s Baby Blues brought this episode close to the top five in the ranking!
#5 — Episode 3.12 “The Bakra” — written by Luke Shelhaas and directed by Charlotte Brändström
This episode was one WILD ride. In fact, I think it was one of the best-paced episodes of the entire season. I like to be carried along when watching episodic television. I prefer little time for breathing and more time for successive gasps. This episode did not disappoint when held to this standard. Geillis and the blood bath and Ian’s terrified yet turned-on reaction were spell-binding. And, how I love me some John Bell as young Ian. We have seen this young actor transform in just a few short episodes. He holds his own against the strong screen presence of Lotte Verbeek’s Geillis Duncan. I adore his in-your-face style when questioning Geillis. I swear I held my breath through the entire first scene between the two of them, as campy as it was.
The lead-up to the Governor’s Ball was perfunctory. It was necessary to the story to reveal the slave trade that existed during that time in history and in that place. It allowed viewers to experience once again how Claire can still struggle with her return to a backwards and oftentimes offending past. And, oh the visual feast the Governor’s Ball presented. Confession: I loved Season 2 of Outlander. I am, indeed, an outsider when it comes to this, but seeing Jamie and Claire all wigged up in the colorful shades of Paris, made me smile from ear to ear. There were also some powerful scenes with Berry as Lord John Grey. The Frasers/Lord John love triangle was delicious to watch, especially Claire’s side eye. I really can’t wait to see more of Claire and Lord John together as the story unfolds.
I did find the Willoughby and Margaret Campbell connection slightly odd. But, it was clear by this point that the writers were determined to take a decidedly different turn as regard Willoughby’s character. Quite the scoundrel in the novel who slowly evolved into a murderous mad man, TV Willoughby was sympathetic, sensitive, spiritual and apparently, in search of a soulmate equally as peculiar as himself. Hence, Margaret Campbell and the budding romance. I will give it a pass as an easier way to tell the Willoughby story, and—as important— end it.
I can’t tell you how much I truly hated the ending of this episode, however. Another angst-filled parting of Jamie and Claire. Enough. The only good thing I can say about it is that it set up scenes in the next episode for Berry as Lord John Grey. I suppose maybe it was worth it then, but Jamie and Claire get separated enough in the actual story of Outlander that we really do not need to add additional separations to the mix.
Final thought: This episode crept its way into the top five based primarily on its quick, suspenseful pacing and fantastic character scenes.
#4 — Episode 3.01 “The Battle Joined”— written by Ronald D. Moore and directed by Brendan Maher
Believe it or not, I am one of those people who live for the war, politics and battle scenes in Outlander. Yes, I do love Jamie and Claire and their epic love story. The sex isn’t bad either. But, when it became apparent in pre-season interviews that Ron Moore was planning to take on the visual telling of the real Battle of Culloden on screen, I was as giddy as Ned Gowan at the whore house. I believe it is still true that the historic Battle of Culloden has not been recreated in any real way on either the big or small screen. And book readers know that the series author committed all details about the Battle to Jamie’s fuzzy memory, which took him many books to recall. So, when Moore hinted pre-season that he hoped to bring this historic battle to life, I was more than ready to take it all in.
The episode did not disappoint. An amazing and practically wordless performance by Sam Heughan blew any expectation I had away for the re-telling of the battle. The smoke, the cannon blast and the utter confusion of the battlefield was brilliantly depicted. I was transfixed by Heughan’s almost dead gaze as he lay nearly mortally wounded on the muddy moor. And as Jamie recalled the chaos and the mayhem of the Highlanders’ fateful charge in flashback, it illustrated all too well the sense of total loss that must have been felt that actual day in April 1746.
The coup de grâce of the battle was the clash between Jamie and his arch nemesis, Black Jack Randall. Beautifully shot and colorized, the intensity between these two men and the penetrating stares shared between them as they fought to the death was gripping. Part of me wanted to look away as a dying Black Jack reached out to touch Jamie in such an intimate way. I was hypnotized by this gesture, yet sickened by it at the same time. It was made all that much more remarkable when it was revealed that it was an unscripted and unblocked choice by Tobias Menzies to touch Sam/Jamie in that way. Score one for Tobias.
Truly, anything that came after the first 20 minutes or so of this episode was gravy. Grant O’Rourke as Rupert Mackenzie, however, did give a standout performance as the de facto spokesperson and leader of the remaining Highlanders unfortunate enough not to have died in battle. I was glad to have that time with Rupert as he saw to Jamie and to the younger men prior to walking in quick step to his own death. The love between Jamie and Rupert was a beautiful thing to see, but so, so heartbreaking as the sounds of the firing squad rang out and we realized the last of the Leoch men was dead.
And, while Jamie’s isolation in survival becomes more and more evident in this episode, the Claire/Boston scenes show us just how solitary Claire’s life is even as she prepares for the birth of her and Jamie’s child. And, then there is Frank. It’s not fair, he didn’t deserve it, he was a victim. Yeah, I know all that. And, it’s true—at least in this portion of the season. But, he also forced Claire in some ways to make a choice. Either way, it’s heartbreaking watching the Randalls awkwardly interact. Again, Menzies shines in this episode. I almost feel sorry for Frank. Almost.
Final thought: Overall, “The Battle Joined” delivered. It’s easily in my top five and will remain for some time a fitting tribute to the men who died at the real Battle of Culloden so many years ago on that bloody moor.
#3 — Episode 3.06 “A. Malcolm” — written by Matt Roberts and directed by Norma Bailey
It was pretty much a given that this episode—the Jamie and Claire Reunion episode—was pre-destined to be in the top three of the ranking. First, Matt Roberts wrote the episode, and the man knew better than to screw this one up. Second, we waited so damn long to see our lovers reunited, it just HAD to be good!!!
And, in fact, it was. The previous episode left us at just the right moment—Claire and Jamie locking eyes after 20 years apart. I loved the cold open of this episode as we saw Jamie’s day unfold in Edinburgh (and who will forget his Man-Shawl Strut) as he makes his way to his place of business unaware that his lost love was about to drop back into his life again. However, we knew it was coming and that made it all that much sweeter to watch and wait. The wait was eased by the opportunity to gaze appreciatively on Jon-Gary Steele’s print shop set and props. Again, the attention to detail is stunning. I will admit there was some hyperventilating going on when Jamie hears Claire’s voice—my hyperventilating—although it would appear that it had the same effect on Jamie as he fainted, as Gabaldon described, “quite gracefully for such a large man!”
The familiarity yet awkwardness, the longing, the tears and the overwhelming emotion of that first kiss were almost too much to take. But, when Jamie and Claire truly reconnected body and soul later at Madame Jeanne’s, the episode went to a new level. The transcendence of the Jamie and Claire relationship is just that—as a couple, they transcend what we think of when we think of love, sex, longing and desire. Heughan and Balfe appreciate this quality of the Frasers’ connection and paid it homage in this segment. The years of longing and loneliness, of isolation and painful reminders of the transcendent love that these two shared, melted away—and the viewers with it. And, in some strange way, the scenes at the brothel were also relatable. Insecurities, doubts, and anxiety about whether that old spark could truly burn as brightly were on display. As viewers, we experienced all the emotions that these old lovers were feeling. It felt real as opposed to fairy-tale-ish.
It’s why I believe the Jamie and Claire aspect to Outlander is so enduring. Time travel aside, maybe it could happen to you. Two imperfect beings drawn together across time and space. And yet, despite the euphoria of the reunion, doubts still linger as both Jamie and Claire realize there is more to tell about their lives apart. It was just the right amount of tension in this episode to keep us wanting more.
Final thought: Many compared this episode to the Season 1 classic, “The Wedding.” I will go out on a limb and say that, in many respects, I enjoyed this glimpse into Jamie and Claire’s love affair a bit more than Episode 1.07. More mature love hardened by lives lived and years passed is ultimately more interesting to me in the long run than that first rush of passion couples feel at the beginning of a relationship. In that regard, the episode felt immensely satisfying. The wait was worth it!
#2 — Episode 3.05 “Freedom & Whisky” — written by Toni Graphia and directed by Brendan Maher
This episode takes the prize for my most re-watched episode of Season 3. Within the first week of airing, I watched the episode 13 additional times. Why? I am not entirely sure despite having pondered the question quite a bit. I believe it has something to do with my own personal delight in the weaving of Scottish history into the telling of Outlander. The term “historical fiction” has been used to describe the Outlander novels, however, it is also a point of contention amongst those who believe that Outlander takes one too many liberties when recounting important milestones in Scotland’s tumultuous past. I snickered just a bit at the beginning of this episode when Brianna’s Harvard professor said, “how fictional prose can alter the perception of history.” This is true of most written accounts of history—fictional or not. History, in many ways, is often subjective rather than entirely based on facts. But, when Outlander does right by Scottish history, I am totally onboard.
And, in this episode, it did. But, before I even get to that, again, can I say how delighted I was with the Randall home decked out for the holidays? The details—everywhere. And, for some of us of a certain age, we can recall seeing some of the same items Claire had displayed in our own childhood memories. Nostalgia overwhelmed in the warm glow of the fireplace and reflections from the silver tinsel on the tree. Watching this episode gave me a lovely sense of home, however, it was when one bearded, blue-eyed Scot stepped from the taxi to land abruptly on the Randalls’ Boston doorstep that I drifted into another dimension.
Richard Rankin: how I love you, let me count the ways. Roger is such an endearing character in the book series. In some respect, he is the anti-Jamie. More cerebral, more thoughtful and, in some cases, more sensitive. But, what the two men share is the way they love their women—totally and completely and with little room for doubt as to their intentions. I adored all scenes with Roger, including the pivotal scene with Claire when he reveals the results of his diligent search for Jamie. This is where the episode grabbed me completely.
“Freedom and Whisky Gang Thegither…”—this enduring Robert Burns poem speaks of a time in Scotland’s history when the repression of the English inspired Burns to use the power of his words to challenge the authority of the ruling class. I loved that Gabaldon wove this story into Outlander and Jamie’s seditious profession as A. Malcolm, the printer and sometime smuggler. That the television production took this portion of the book and exposed it to viewers who may not have known of this part of Scotland’s history was brilliant. This, to me, is textbook use of the “historical fiction” genre. And, Roger delivering this news was utterly charming in every way.
Rankin as Roger Wakefield shone the brightest in this episode. I could watch Roger stare sweetly at Brianna a million times and then a million more after that. Rankin carries these scenes with Sophie Skelton as Brianna. It’s as it should be, however, given Roger’s life experience vs. Brianna’s. I think the two actors struck the balance just right. This was the first time in the series that I could really see the chemistry between these two characters and felt excited about the story that was to come.
Lastly, I cannot think of a better way for Claire to have made the transition back to the 18th century than how this episode portrayed it. The creation of Claire’s “batsuit” was kitschy but clever. It added a bit of a twist that I wasn’t expecting, but ultimately really enjoyed. But, it was the actual transition—Claire’s step from the future back to the past on the streets of Edinburgh—that filled me with overwhelming feelings of anticipation. It was perfect in every sense. And, how thankful I was when Claire’s approach to Jamie’s print shop didn’t stop at the door. It could have very easily, but was so grateful that the production gave us that blissful look between our long-separated lovers before the fade to black.
In so many ways, this was a flawless episode from beginning to end. It ticked all my boxes. Lovely character development, suspense, drama and a call-back to Scottish history that makes me want to dig deeper into this magical country’s complicated past. There is no doubt it has contributed to my ongoing interest in Scotland’s history and that of some of her more celebrated kinsmen, such as Rabbie Burns.
Final thought: A captivating episode of television in every single way, “Freedom and Whisky” has to be one of my favorite episodes of all of Outlander’s three seasons. I know it will continue to be a popular re-watch for me. And while it was a close race between the #2 and the #1 spot on this ranking, there has to be a true leader…
#1 — Episode 3.08 “First Wife” — written by Joy Blake and directed by Jennifer Getzinger
No one was more surprised than me that this episode ended up as my #1. Like many Outlander book readers, I was dreading the reveal of Jamie’s “second wife.” It remains a puzzling choice that series author Gabaldon made to allow even the possibility that Jamie Fraser would marry the woman that had so betrayed his first wife and actual love of his life. But, he did, and it was the BIG secret that Jamie had been keeping since Claire’s return.
I enjoyed the pacing of this episode. And, I always love when the Fraser crew are back on Lallybroch land. I never get tired of that ride up the road to see the Fraser crest-adorned arch and the steps to La-La-Lallybroch just beyond. But, from the moment they arrived, the ire of Janet Fraser was apparent. Laura Donnelly was on fire in this episode. You could read so much on Jenny’s face that first time she saw Claire. Claire was the sister she never had and the friend she had been through so much with. You could tell she wanted to embrace Claire, but her practical nature took over. Jenny is always the Greek Chorus for Outlander, questioning the why and how and what. The rest of us easily fall deeply into the fantasy, but Jenny always pulls us out and asks the tough questions.
There was a decidedly cool air about the Fraser household despite the fire blazing and passel of chirpy children running about. But, it was the Laird’s bedroom where the chill really took hold after the ill-timed arrival of “second wife” Laoghaire and her two children. “Daddy, who is that woman?” is a classic Outlander book and screen line that lives in infamy. Nell Hudson, as Laoghaire, played the scene to a hilt with her expletive-laden diatribe aimed at a dazed Claire. I don’t think I have ever seen Claire so totally disarmed as she was in that moment. Balfe served it well and made you believe that this was truly the ultimate nightmare come to life after Claire’s risky return to Jamie.
These scenes moved fast and furious even as viewers were left to wonder if this revelation would mark the end of our star-crossed couple. Jamie’s wounding at the hands of Laoghaire and the exposition that followed as to how and why Jamie came to the marriage were beautifully woven together. And, please, can I just live at Lallybroch long enough to experience that blissful Hogmanay scene for myself? As Jamie recounted, the “match” all made sense… sort of. Despite the cringe-worthy moment of Jamie and Laoghaire locking eyes, it was all worth it to experience that warm family celebration complete with figs and jigs and reels. Another Jon Gary Steele set dressing tour-de-force!
This episode tops out as number one for me for one very important reason—woven throughout the entire episode was the tension of wondering whether Jamie and Claire would once again overcome obstacles in their path to happiness. We get carried along the waves with these two repeatedly. It is the story of Outlander, and one of the main reasons I love it so very much. Characters come and go in Jamie and Claire’s lives. Desperate times appear regularly and without warning for them both. Seemingly insurmountable obstacles are thrust before them on a regular basis. Yet, they manage to make it through. They are flawed, and they are imperfect, but the one thing that will always prevail is their total belief in that unknowable and unbreakable thing that exists between them.
In the final scene of Episode 3.08, yet another adventure awaits. The thought of leaving Scotland terrifies me as a viewer because Scotland is another reason why I love this story so very much (see #2 above). But, I take heart in knowing that once again, it is always a quest with the Frasers. They are forever taking a voyage—whether together or apart. Their adventures allow us to explore our own feelings about life, love, safety, danger, family and whether we ourselves have the ability to live a life of exploration and discovery based on little more than a belief in something unknowing or inexplicable.
Final thought: To stare across the vast expanse of sea and to know that whatever awaits you on the other side will be conquered because of the strength you find either within yourself or with another by your side—it is the hope we all want to feel in our lives and sums up Outlander perfectly for me. And, it is why Episode 3.08 landed as my #1 episode of Season 3.
Do you agree with this ranking? If not, why not? What was your favorite episode of the Season? Least favorite?