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As the second season of Outlander officially concludes Saturday night, many fans have recently binged on, discussed, and reexamined the past twelve episodes that have occupied our social media feeds for the past five months. “Come for the action, stay for the conversation” I wrote in a February 29 article responding to the Entertainment Weekly cover that generated heated debates from both fans and detractors as to its appropriateness and message. I admit that my first reaction to the two leads, Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe, embracing on a bed with only the fabrics of one kilt and one sheet between them (plus the inclusion of “bodice-ripping” in the cover lines) was “Oh, geez,” because I knew it would only fuel the misconception of the show as some Harlequin revue of heaving bosoms and muddy kilts and PASSION. As I noticed all the details referencing prior events and characters’ motivations (physical vs. mental scars, sexual intimacy influencing spirituality), I realized that was the kicker: the image both acknowledged and countered that cover line. 

Entertainment Weekly

Over the last thirteen episodes (yes, I’ve screened the finale but won’t reveal spoilers), the brilliance of Outlander has been its continuous ability to place those assumptions under the microscope and flip them over, reshape them, or recontextualize them. “Brilliance” as a descriptor is in danger of being reduced to the worth of a participation medal for any show that requires a thinking hat, but what makes this show so worthy is that it challenges the assumptions of not only its detractors, but also for its most ardent fans. The intricate and painstaking process of adapting Diana Gabaldon’s epic story of Jamie and Claire for the medium of television means change is inevitable within the confines of time, space, budget, context, and other variables. This is what makes the show an interpretation of the novels, not a word-for-word mirror image of each chapter, and it carefully balances the wants of the book fans with the needs of the strictly show fans. Each facet of its production, from dialogue to costumes to cinematography, demands the engagement of the audience (and often repeated viewings) to discern the meaning behind the images: issues of power and control, masculinity and femininity, and the manipulation of genre and stereotype. 

To put it plainly: it is one of the smartest and most proactive shows on television, embracing love and passion and intrigue and refusing to apologize. Will Outlander ever break free of its “kilty pleasure” stereotype in the press? It’s getting close. I don’t think anyone could watch “Wentworth Prison,” or “To Ransom a Man’s Soul,” or “Faith,” or “Prestonpans,” just to name a few, and still reduce the show’s appeal to only one gender or viewers who like only one genre. Yes, the romance of the two leads is at the forefront of their ongoing story, and rightfully should be celebrated as part of a healthy adult relationship. Jamie and Claire’s friendship and later marriage unfolds and matures within a violent and chaotic world, where their decisions are tempered by forces beyond their control as well as factors they try their hardest to influence. 


Much has been written and rightly so about costume designer Terry Dresbach’s magnificent creations that have adorned the characters both in Scotland and France, from a salon in the 1740s to a country house in the 1940s and 1960s. Following Dresbach online is participating in a master class about what costumes bring to and reflect about the story and what they reveal about the characters. Claire’s Highland wardrobe was primarily a matter of function and defense against the elements (i.e. the layers upon layers of wool) while her Parisian dresses reflected her very pointed political and social strategy. As she and Jamie establish themselves in Paris to try to thwart the Jacobite rebellion, their carefully structured public personas were shown through their appearance and style. As Jamie needed to perfect the image of the successful businessman to the French elite as well as his Scottish heritage to Prince Charles Stuart, Claire utilized her newfound wealth and privilege to design a wardrobe that reflected her most unique situation: as a woman of the future, she brings a 1940s sensibility to mid-18th century haute couture with equal parts refinement and titillation. 

Throughout the Paris episodes, each creation was an examination of womanhood under the spotlight: confronting societal expectations with a silent protest in each cut of skirt or peek of décolletage. Like a sartorial chess game, Claire had to predict what situation she would be in, and what lines of etiquette she could tiptoe across, and who she had to impress. Of course, as a woman of the 1940s transplanted to the 1740s, as she becomes acclimated to Paris society, her style becomes brilliantly meta, such as when she wore a gown that resembled the famous Bar Suit of the late 1940s by Christian Dior, which was itself inspired by 18th century designs. She is a woman of her own time asserting her identity within the societal structures of the 1740s. 


As Outlander blends elements of science fiction, military history, and action-adventure, when considering the aspects of romance and love it is crucial to examine how the male characters are portrayed. There are several types of love depicted on the show: romantic love, filial love, love of country, love of self. While we are predisposed to focus on the women and their displays of love, the Outlander writers place as much if not more emphasis on how their male counterparts deal with matters of the heart (or lack thereof). 


James Fraser is certainly the dashing, attractive partner of Claire, but the paths they take towards loving each other are very different. Jamie knows romance on a more personal level than Claire, as his parents, Brian and Ellen, ran off and eloped. Claire was orphaned at a very young age and raised by her uncle; as she lead quite a nomadic existence until adulthood, she has a deep, internal craving for home. For Jamie, his family home of Lallybroch is his stability and sense of self, and his years away from it – first as a soldier and later an outlaw – have made the farm his idyllic dream in most of Season One. When he tells Claire in “The Reckoning” that he fashioned her wedding ring from the key to Lallybroch, as she is his home now, you can see that emptiness in both of them has been filled. 

The spiritual connection between the two continues to develop in and out of the bedroom, as Jamie’s respect for Claire as a healer and Claire’s witness of his increasing skill as a leader of men make them ideal partners, best friends, lovers, and soulmates. Jamie recognizes that love is all-encompassing and requires sacrifice and devotion, and he demonstrates this not only for his wife but for his home and family and clan. This is what makes Sam Heughan’s performance so heartbreaking after Wentworth: even the demonstration of love has been tainted. After his assault by Jack Randall, he cannot physically connect with his wife, causing him to literally and figuratively withdraw from her for the first few episodes. When Claire discovers the bite marks a prostitute left on his thighs in “La Dame Blanche,” and surmises that he can still muster the will for physical intimacy, just not with her, he confesses his ongoing torment. This is not something a romantic male lead is supposed to experience, let alone admit to, but Outlander presents his suffering honestly and openly, and it is Claire who comes to him later that night, assuming the roles of protector and nurturer and lover, instigating their physical reunion. 


Once the episodes return to Scotland, we see the Frasers continue to work together in a shared cause to save their friends and Highland culture altogether. Jamie rides with his wife by his side, consults her in all matters, and recognizes her independent and tenacious character. The weight of prescience about Culloden weighs on the couple, and one of the most tender scenes shared between them is when Jamie is leaving for Prestonpans. He says no words to his wife, but their passionate kiss and his deep bow to her is testament enough to the emotion between them. 


Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) is one of the most romantic characters in the last two seasons, and not because of his brief romance with the chambermaid in Paris. Jamie’s godfather carries the burden of unrequited love for Ellen Fraser and a steadfast devotion to her son. He is grave and intense and gruff in a Gary Cooper sort of way, his dark eyes attesting to the hard life he has lived and his social awkwardness in Paris revealing his introversion and isolation from home. Murtagh is a romantic in the unswerving attention he pays to his loved ones, which come to include Claire, and his appreciation for love itself. When he argues with Claire in “The Search,” or wraps Jamie in his kilt and carries him out of Wentworth, or later argues with him against suicide in the Abbey, or becomes Fergus’s unwitting big brother back in Scotland, or offers to wed Mary Hawkins to save her from possible abuse by Jack Randall, his gallantry is unaffected by pretension or expectation. He has not been lucky in love, but he will not let that stop him from devoting his life to helping others, and recognizing love in turn. 


On the other hand, Charles Stuart (Andrew Gower) merely thinks he is a romantic. He is in love with passion and desire and glory. Most devoutly, he is in love with himself, and his attentiveness to his beloved in terms of appearance and bearing is tenderly wrought. He is in love with dramatic gestures, and frivolous women, and the faux-liberality that comes with strong wine and dimly lit brothel parlors. Unfortunately, his rose-colored glasses extend to grander schemes, where a combination of ego and entitlement layered over a foundation of daddy issues threatens the very lives of the people he hopes to regain sovereignty over. He sees the romance of war, the style of military regalia, the songs and tributes and crowns of laurels. He cannot be bothered with the elements, the mud, the broken of body and sick of heart. That would ruin the spectacle he has created in his mind, the everlasting glory of his predestination that renders the reality around him a necessary sacrifice. He is a foolish dreamer that has created a nightmare that all come to see except himself. 


Frank Randall is a polarizing character, depending on how actively you feel he participates in the hand he is dealt. Without spoiling the books for the “show fans,” the television portrayal of Claire’s hapless first husband is fantastically done because he is not relegated to the dimwitted cuckold nor some beastly tyrant who drove his wife into the arms of another. He loves Claire, and she loved him, though not at the intensity of her connection with Jamie. He loves her enough to want to rekindle their passion at Inverness in the first episode of Season One, and he loves her enough to want to start over with her unborn child in the first episode of Season Two. Frank believes in new beginnings, and when Claire physically and spiritually can not return his love, he channels it into a devotion to Brianna who he takes as his own child. 


Finally, how could Jack Randall have any part in a discussion of love? Praise must be heaped on Tobias Menzies for not only portraying Frank with heart and hope, but exposing the pathology of Jack in a meticulous, brutal way. A year ago, I debated whether or not Jack could experience love in a review of the last two episodes of Season One. In “The Garrison Commander,” he interrogates Claire as a possible spy and tries to get her to confess by assuming the persona of a man in need of redemption. Just when he moves her to tears with his profession of remorse, he physically beats her and assures her that he is in total command of the evil with which he surrounds himself. Later, moments before raping Jamie in Wentworth Prison, Jack challenges Jamie’s determination to remain numb to the assault by saying, “You think I cannot control the darkness I inhabit?” He wants his victims to know and believe in his complete power over them, and over the evil that causes one human to commit such cruelty to another. 

I thought Jack might have some degree of anhedonia as a result of his wartime experiences combined with a diseased psyche, especially given his displays of physical and verbal rage. He cannot experience love with anyone but his brother Alex, so he desecrates the flesh out of self-hate. Even worse, he has mastered how to pantomime acts of love as witnessed in his final assault of Jamie, when he figures out how to break him by emulating Claire and displaying a grotesque tenderness. Not satisfied merely to destroy a man physically, he requires the active participation of the victim in his own violation: if Jack can not unite with another in love, to achieve that physical and spiritual connection that comes with true intimacy, then they will unite in fear and anguish. 


As the books were written by Diana Gabaldon, and the show has several female producers and writers (Maril Davis, Toni Graphia, Anne Kenney), and a female costume designer (Terry Dresbach), the female gaze and perspective is finely tuned and acutely felt throughout the episodes. The challenges and risks of being a woman both in Scotland and France in the 1740s, including issues of reproductive health and social stability, are examined from Claire’s modern perspective. Something as natural as pregnancy and childbirth could bring a slow, painful death, while a victim of rape could face social suicide if the assault were made public. As Claire navigates the different worlds she and Jamie live in, she has the ability to discern the parameters from which she must conduct herself, and with whom, and to what extent. She has come to a time where women are considered property and marriage a business transaction, and she utilizes the preconceptions of the men she encounters to her advantage in order to survive. The objectification of the male gaze is not limited to the 1740s, either: as Jen Yamato points out in her condemnation of recent profiles of female celebrities by male writers, a woman’s worth is still relegated to a Likert scale of how threatening, physically attractive, and useful she is deemed to be. Regardless of the environment in which she lives, Claire has to gingerly tread the social minefield where her intelligence, independence, and foresight could elicit begrudging respect as easily as distrust or even danger.  Like Jamie, however, Claire possesses a natural grace and dignity alongside her resourcefulness that establishes trust, both from the other characters and the audience. We believe in Jamie and Claire, in their actions and decisions, and in the endurance of their love for each other. Throughout the show, Claire’s roles as healer, lover, mother, friend, and leader continue to evolve as she confronts each new challenge with a resiliency and fortitude, bolstered by the man who she allowed into her heart and soul. 

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‘Outlander’ Finale: Sam Heughan & Caitriona Balfe Talk Culloden Consequences, Season 3

Spoiler warning: Do not read on unless you’ve seen the “Outlander” Season 2 finale, Episode 13, titled “Dragonfly in Amber.” Refresh your memory of where we left off with our previous “Outlander” recap.

After a season spent barreling towards the Battle of Culloden, it felt like something of a relief to be spared the gory details of that fateful fight, with the Season 2 finale of “Outlander” spending most of its time focused on what really mattered — Claire and Jamie’s relationship, both in its vibrant immediacy on the morning of the battle, and through melancholy memories that played out across Claire’s face 20 years later as she revisited Scotland. Claire took a monumental journey in the extended episode, moving from grief and repression to a rekindled sense of hope as she realized that Jamie hadn’t died at Culloden, meaning there was still a chance for her to reunite with him, even two decades (and two centuries) after leaving him.

The episode skipped back and forth between the 18th century and Claire’s “present” in 1968, allowing us to meet Claire and Jamie’s daughter, Brianna (Sophie Skelton), and Reverend Wakefield’s dashing adopted son, Roger (Richard Rankin) — as well as catching up with Claire’s Season 1 friend Geillis Duncan — aka Gillian Edgars — before she traveled back through the Standing Stones and met Claire for the first time back in the 1700s.

The finale provided yet another showcase for Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan’s nuanced performances; Heughan exuded both strength and vulnerability as Jamie was forced to say farewell to his wife — and that was after the ordeal of killing his uncle, Dougal, when the war chief discovered them plotting to kill Bonny Prince Charlie in a last-ditch effort to avert Culloden.

“You just see how desperate they’ve become that they would even consider something as horrific as this, but as Claire says, it’s take the life of one to save the lives of thousands,” Balfe says of their scheme. “It’s a really heartbreaking moment for Jamie because no matter what Dougal has done, he’s his uncle, he raised him for a lot of his life and trained him, and there was a very complicated love there, but there was some kind of love there.”

Heughan agrees, telling Variety in our video recap above, “We decided that Claire should be involved in that and that isn’t in the books. I think it makes them both complicit in the murder of Dougal, it makes them both guilty. So they’re united in their desperation of trying to save everyone and everything, and in doing that they’ve had to kill Jamie’s uncle, which doesn’t sit well with him.”

At that point, Heughan admits, “it’s about trying to save Claire — she doesn’t quite know that until they get closer to the Stones.” Their farewell scene was monumental both for the characters and the actors, he says. “We were both very aware that this is the last time they’re together, so there is a pressure, but you also don’t want to pressurize yourself as an actor, otherwise you begin to tense up – we just wanted to see what happened, and out of it came this wonderful almost choreography, this moment where it’s almost like a dance, where Jamie’s guiding Claire with her back towards the stones so she’s staring at him… it seemed to work because we couldn’t work out how to get to Claire to the stones, because she doesn’t want to go.”

The farewell at Craigh na Dun was one of the series’ most heartbreaking and evocative yet, made all the more desperate because they know Claire is pregnant again. Balfe admits that there was some debate about how Claire and Jamie’s final moment of intimacy should play out during filming.

“In the book it’s very different, because they stay overnight in a cottage and we were condensing the time and because we’d filmed things in Season 1 where there was no cottage, we couldn’t do that, so then there was a whole thing about ‘where do they have their last moments together? They have sex and where is that gonna be?’ There was a lot of talk about up against a tree and I was like ‘no, not gonna happen that way! That’s so not romantic, it can’t be up against a tree, that’s not right,’” she laughs, recalling the moment. “I was so adamant about it, and they were like ‘well, it’s gonna be cold and wet, are you gonna wanna be on the ground?’ I was like ‘I don’t care, I’ll be on the ground, it can’t be against a tree.’ It just seemed so wrong and so not beautiful.”

Despite the need to save their baby, Balfe says, she felt that “Claire would fight towards the end and she wouldn’t want to leave, so how do we get Jamie to take her to the stones and yet how do we get Claire to go, because I just felt like she just wouldn’t want to. I know she has to go to save her child, but she just wouldn’t want to, and somehow we came up with this beautiful almost like a dance, where they’re locked together and they’ve got their heads together and they’re looking in each other’s eyes and he sort of dances her to the Stone and she’s just crying and telling him that she loves him and it’s so beautiful. When we were filming it, I feel like everyone got so swept up in the moment. It’s so sad. These characters are so much a part of us at this point, it was just heartbreaking – how do you let go, how do you say goodbye to someone? It was just awful. I think some of the crew were all misty-eyed, it was great.”

In addition to those emotional scenes in the past, Balfe also deftly managed to portray a wholly new version of Claire in the future — one with 20 years and countless life experiences behind her — while still maintaining her character’s integrity, fire and resolve.

“I went ahead and I read all of the information from [book three in Diana Gabaldon’s ‘Outlander’ series] ‘Voyager,’ that showed Claire in Boston, because I wanted to really get a sense of what her life had been like in that interim 20 years,” Balfe says of tackling the later iteration of her character. “I really wanted to more concentrate on ‘what does 20 years of, in some ways, a compromised existence, how does that weigh on a person?’ Claire is a survivor, we know that about her – we know that she’s a fighter, but having lived in a marriage of convenience in many ways with Frank for 20 years, that has to have had an effect on her shine in a way, on her vitality. And yet, at the same point she’s become a surgeon so I wanted her to have a bit of gravity and she carries herself very well and it was really interesting to play with all of that.”

Balfe says she looked to the work of some of her favorite actresses to inspire her performance, including Charlotte Rampling, Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep. “I watched films they did in their late twenties and then I went and watched some things that they’d done in their fifties and obviously people physically age, but how do you carry yourself?” Balfe says. “It’s always very slight, there’s a maturity but it’s more in how they carry themselves.”

Despite the tension between Claire and her headstrong daughter – who is reluctant, to say the least, to believe that her real father was a Scottish warrior from the 18th Century, Balfe notes that “a big part of Claire now is that she’s a mother, and that relationship with Brianna was very important. At this point when we meet them, they are somewhat strained, there’s distance between them, but myself and Sophie when we were talking about the relationship, [we felt that] it can’t be that this has how it’s always been. Even with Claire’s relationship with Frank, it couldn’t have been miserable for 20 years, otherwise she wouldn’t have stayed in it. So there have to have been moments where things were working, and I think always in the back of Claire’s mind, she’s never really loved him again in that way, but there have to have been good times and they co-parented and there’s joy in seeing your daughter grow up and all of these things, but it has been more compromised, so there was all of that was so interesting to play.”

We’re spared the brutality of Culloden and what happens to Jamie after Claire says goodbye to him at the Standing Stones, but Heughan promises that all will be revealed in Season 3.

As Jamie lets Claire go, Heughan says, “he knows he’s going to die, but at least she is going to be safe, and his unborn child, who will be Bree. We won’t actually see what happens to Jamie after she’s gone through the Stones until the next season – for me that’s a really big question and something that will be really interesting to look at – who is Jamie without Claire, why is he still surviving or what has he got to live for when he’s lost the woman that he loves? She will eventually return, but they’re both older, so who is the man he’s become age-wise, physically? I think that’s the joy of the show, it’s never the same thing, it’s constantly moving, so next season should be quite an adventure.”

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TV Guide http://www.tvguide.com/news/outlander-murtagh-duncan-lacroix-best-bro/?ftag=TVG_Twitter

Changing history is a hard job and, for Outlander‘s Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe), it would be impossible if not for their closest and most reliable ally: Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser (Duncan Lacroix).

Murtagh doesn’t say much, and he has an insatiable sexual appetite for the Fraser’s help staff. But when it comes time to draw arms, he’s always in their corner. He is their most loyal compatriot, trusted confidant and ready to slap them with reality whenever their lofty ideas get too far off the ground.

Don’t believe that Murtagh is the only reason the Frasers even made it to Culloden? Let the GIFs show you the light.

Outlander Mega Buzz: A familiar face returns for the finale

1. He’ll embarrass himself for the Fraser cause


Who was the only person to go looking for Jamie with Claire when British soldiers captured him at the end of Season 1? Murtagh. Only your best bro would do a jig in front of his Scottish brethren to try and entertain information about you out of them.

2. He keeps Claire out of trouble


Claire has a lot of worthy skills, but interrogation is not one of them. Murtagh did the dirty work when she was about to leave a British soldier alive after the solider told them where to find Jamie. Amateurs.

3. He keeps a promise


Murtagh promised vengeance for Claire and Mary (Rosie Day) after their attack in Paris. It may have taken him several months to find it, but he delivered on his oath.

8 Things we desperately need to happen in the Outlander finale

4. He can keep a secret


Murtagh is the only person (besides Jamie and Claire) that knows Claire is from the future. Imagine how much grief they could have saved themselves if they had told him in Season 1 when everyone thought Claire was a British spy.

5. He’s even taken to Fergus


Murtagh may seem like a surly man, but don’t let the sour face fool you. He’s willing to extend the same loyalty and protectiveness he has for the Frasers to their young charge, Fergus (Romann Berrux)

10 reasons Outlander‘s Fergus is an international treasure

6. He has his priorities straight


If the Frasers had listened to Murtagh’s point of view about wine they could have avoided all of their trouble with Le Comte St. Germain (Stanley Weber).

7. He’s a selfless gentleman


Murtagh offered to give up his wily bachelor ways to marry Mary Hawkins if it would save her from having to spend the rest of her life with Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies). He didn’t have to do it, but made the sacrifice in order to make sure the young girl was safe. #Chivalry

The essential Outlander episodes you should binge now

8. He’s willing to make tough choices to save his friends


When it was revealed that Black Jack Randall had survived Murtagh’s attack on Wentworth Prison in Season 1, Murtagh made the tough decision to keep the information from Jamie to stop his friend from suffering. Lying is never Murtagh’s first choice, but he was willing to live with it if it meant keeping his best friend from going off the rails.

9. He doesn’t need the fancy things


Murtagh is a simple Scot who likes sword fighting, women and whiskey. He has no time for Parisian frills and fanciness and he wants you to know it.

10. Where the Frasers go, he goes


Whether it’s breaking Claire or Jamie out of prison, or following them to France, or serving in battle — Murtagh is always by the Frasers’ side. He’s been there through everything and has proven there’s no one more willing to take up their cause.

Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser doesn’t get the credit he deserves, but we appreciate him. Cheers, Murtagh. We wouldn’t have made it here without you.

Outlander Season 2 concludes Saturday at 9/8c on Starz.

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Tomorrow night, Outlander is poised to take its beloved hero to his doom on the battlefield. Despite Claire and Jamie’s best efforts, the Battle of Culloden is going to happen. Scottish highlanders will be cut down and their way of life destroyed. Oh, and Claire is going to have to return to her timeline, to raise Jamie’s daughter with Frank.

Outlander fans know all this. It’s been teased since the Season Two premiere. What they might not know yet is that tomorrow night’s supersized 90-minute long episode might be one of the most emotional, most romantic, and most, well, fun in the series’ whole run.

Season Two of Outlander had a lot to recommend it. Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, and Tobias Menzies all brought their A game as they each tore into some of the most emotionally challenging material on television. The trio kept everything emotionally grounded even as the show sometimes spiraled even further away from straight-forward logic. Likewise, the set and costume design were stellar. Claire’s gowns were worthy of a Fashion Week runway. The story itself reached delirious new dramatic heights.

Still, not all of it worked 100% of the time. The first half of the season sometimes felt like a sorry slog through unthinkable tragedies. We saw lovable characters raped and Claire lost her baby. Not to mention the fact that Claire and Jamie were often on the outs with one another. Overall, the whole Paris part of this season was not a lot of fun. Things finally perked up once the show went back to its roots in Scotland, as the story hurtled towards destiny, and as Claire and Jamie solidified their commitment to one another.

It’s not that the show shouldn’t court tragedy and discord, but Outlander works best when Claire and Jamie are a solid, supportive team and when it’s dealing with the emotional fallout of trauma. While many dramas lean on thrilling moments and shocking twists, Outlander actually soars highest when it’s showing its characters ruefully picking up the pieces of the tragedies that have occurred. It’s a show about the beauty of surviving, about looking at all the horrors you’ve seen and declaring that you won’t give up. Something is worth fighting for — and that something is usually love.

That’s why tomorrow night’s season works so well. It not only ties up numerous story threads from the first two seasons, but it opens the door for more adventure. The entire 90-minute episode is split between narratives about our heroes coping with an oncoming tragedy and trying to make sense out of the fallout. Oh, and those new kids hyped in Entertainment Weekly? (Click here to be spoiled.) They’re both pretty swell and give the show a breath of fresh air. The finale is going to tug at fans’ heartstrings just as it declares that there’s going to be a new energy and swagger next season.

Needless to say, it’s worth the wait.

The Season Two finale of Outlander airs Saturday, July 9th at 9 PM on Starz.

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Outlander Season 2 Finale Preview: Will War Break Claire and Jamie Apart?

Kate Hahn

Steffan Hill/Sony Pictures Television Inc.

Before dawn on a freezing morning last winter, Outlander stars Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, who play soulmates Claire and  Jamie Frasier, arrived on set in the rugged Scottish countryside to shoot a heartbreaking scene for the Season 2 finale. The pair soon got chills—and not from the cold.

“When the sun came up, there was this magical layer of snow,” recalls Heughan, who makes fans swoon as the heroic 18th-century Highlander in love with feisty time-traveling former WWII battlefield nurse Claire. “The whole place looked like a Disney set. It was perfect for such a powerful scene,” Balfe adds.

RELATED: How Outlander Is Taking the Art of Love (and War) to Paris in Season 2

But the action on Outlander, as fans well know, is far from Disney fare. This season has seen the couple challenged by a move to France, the fallout from Jamie’s rape in prison, the devastating loss of their child and now the impending Battle of Culloden, a clash between Scotland and England that will kill thousands and wipe out Highland clan culture, which the duo failed to stop. “Jamie thinks he’s going off to die [in battle],” Heughan teases. “His hand is forced and some of his actions have dire consequences. Ultimately, he and Claire get trapped.”

The action in the supersized 90-minute finale cuts between Claire and Jamie dealing with a disastrous chain of events leading up to the war in Scotland and incidents that happen more than two centuries later, in 1968, when a middle-aged Claire visits Scotland with her 20-year-old daughter, Brianna, or “Bree” (Sophie Skelton), whom she has raised with husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) despite her undying love for Jamie.

To prepare to play an older Claire, Balfe watched films starring some of her favorite actresses—Charlotte Rampling, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep—and compared performances they gave in their twenties to those later in life. Balfe changed the register of her voice, deepening it to give her character more authority, and she even tweaked her posture. “I was interested in how she carries herself, how the weight of experience rests on her,” Balfe says. “In 1968, Claire’s got all of these memories flooding her mind. Everything is unnerving her.”

RELATED: TV Guide Magazine Cover Party Celebrates Starz’s Outlander (PHOTOS)

Claire’s distracted mood doesn’t sit well with Bree, who is suspicious. “She thinks her mom’s lying to her,” Skelton says. “Bree’s a very logical person. She majored in history! And she’s strong-willed.”

The mother-daughter tension builds to a powerful argument. The scene, created by writer-producers Toni Graphia and Matthew B. Roberts, was penned before the rest of the script so it could be used to audition actresses for the part of Bree. The moment will be familiar to readers of the bestselling Outlander novels—but not an exact copy. “We’re very mindful of the mass of loyal book fans,” Roberts says. “We try to give them what they want, just not how they expect it.”

Sam Heugan and Caitriona Balfea


Sam Heugan and Caitriona Balfea

The quarreling mother and daughter get a mediator in the form of another new face in the series, a grown-up Roger Wakefield (Richard Rankin), whom viewers met in previous episodes as a boy in 1940s Scotland. “Roger’s intelligent both academically and emotionally, and he’s quite charming,” says Rankin, a Scottish actor who grounded himself in the role by spending two weeks in the Highlands before shooting began and found a visit to the Culloden battlefield “deeply haunting.”

Roger is instantly smitten with Bree, and the two soon join forces to unlock some secrets from the past. “For her, it’s more about the excitement of solving this puzzle,” Skelton says. “Bree isn’t very easily swept off her feet.”

A good portion of the finale, however, deals with Claire’s inner emotional life in 1968 as she revisits some of the places she knew with Jamie in the 1700s, including their onetime home, a now dilapidated Lallybroch. “It was really sad because it looked so abandoned and discarded,” Balfe says. “It’s the tragedy of time and what it does to places.”

No matter how time and fate conspire to drag Claire and Jamie apart, “This is a love story. They’re lovers who are meant to be together,” Graphia says. “It’s safe to say they’ll always find each other. We just don’t know when, where and how.”

Outlander, Season Finale, Saturday, July 9, 9/8c, Starz.

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The Hail Mary

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou, among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now, and at the hour of our death. Amen.

While I know the term Hail Mary is applied to any and all last-ditch efforts, I couldn’t help thinking about the prayer itself and how it applied in this episode. Who, exactly, is full of grace? Because grace can mean any number of things. It can mean an act of goodwill. It can mean forgiveness and mercy. It can mean the way someone moves, with elegance. It can mean an attractive quality or good manners. It can mean an act of charity or leniency. Almost every character, at some point in this episode, shows a measure of grace.

Mary. Her voice has changed. It’s deeper. Measured. Gone are the hysterics and the stutter. Finally, she’s grown up. And as she talks with Claire we see how she is full of grace. She shows forgiveness, charity, and leniency all in one exchange at the apothecary’s. And I got a sense that she’s not so much naive as she is in denial about her situation. And when Mary agrees to marry BJR, they both do an act of goodwill for Alex. It eases his mind. And unbeknownst to them, it is an act of goodwill for Clair as it assures Frank’s life. (And say what you want, but this is necessary for Jamie’s child. Get over yourselves). She’s also pregnant, so it benefits her unborn child. Blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

Jamie. He can see the hour of all their deaths. And it weighs on him so heavily. He looks so gaunt in the face. It echoes what Dougal says, that their strength is dwindling on one bannock a day. But the entire episode his mind is always turning, always thinking of how to get out of this mess. Jamie’s Hail Mary is 100% trying to think of his own last-ditch plan. When O’Sullivan accuses him of ‘coward’s talk’, Jamie’s about ready to take his head off a la Sandringham. I had to wonder, did Claire tell Jamie the gold doesn’t arrive? To stall might be one of his plans. Any information that he receives is turned into another plan. Cumberland’s birthday? Trap the British. Colum handing him the reins? Bring fresh men to the battle. Now, and at the hour of our death.

Prince Charles thinks that their cause is full of grace and cannot fail. That God is with them. The Lord is with thee.

Claire. She is so resigned to history repeating itself. I keep remembering a hopeful Claire on the boat and early in Paris, telling Jamie, “when were you never up for a challenge?” But now, she’s the one who’s essentially given up and Jamie has to rouse her to the challenge. They lift each other up when they need to. She, too, is full of grace, in certain circumstances. With Alex. And in realizing the Mary needs BJR in case history does go according to plan. She is very logical and kind in her explanation to Murtagh as to why he can’t help Mary. Claire’s grace comes in the form of goodwill and wanting to make reparation for her meddling in Mary’s business. And with Colum. You could tell she wrestled with that one, but in the end she decided to forgive anything between her and Colum. And give him what he wanted. Which was to be in control of his life to the very end. Claire is a rare woman in this time. Intelligent. Compassionate. Gifted. Strong. Blessed art thou, among women.

Murtagh. He shows grace by offering to marry Mary Hawkins. An act of goodwill and charity. Unselfish. Gallant. Chivalrous. No wonder Jamie turned out the way he did. Murtagh has always had an easier relationship with Claire than the other highlanders. Like Jamie, he treats Claire as an equal. I believe he recognized Jamie’s love for her right away, when he told her Jamie needed a woman, not a lassie. And he’s always believed Claire to be different. From the beginning he had a gut intuition that Claire was someone special. Right when he found her in the woods and said, “I’ll stake my best shirt she’s not a whore”. And he’s grown to love, respect and trust her. It’s so nice to see that come to fruition. He’s always allowed Jamie to make his decisions and backed him up. So be it. He’s also bothered by what he knows of history. Jamie’s and Claire’s burden is his burden. Pray for us sinners.

Brief moment….can I ask why they made Alex look like the Vampire Lestat after a feeding frenzy?? …moving on.

Colum. Still The Mackenzie, even if he is on “rickety sticks”. In his own way, he asks for forgiveness in the way he compliments Claire. And Jamie. And admits he was wrong about their marriage. And they extend that grace to him. Gary Lewis is a master. His scene in asking Claire for the mercy of a death of his own choosing is heartbreaking. And Claire, not wanting to hear an ill word about her friend. Still showing mercy to Geillis after all these years. Because without Geillis, Claire most likely would not be alive. Is it just me or did anyone else feel like Colum gives Jamie the idea of saving the Lallybroch men from Culloden? I got a sense that a light bulb went off over Jamie’s head in that scene. At the hour of our death.

I absolutely loved watching BJR and Claire square off. They hate each other. They really do. And the fact that they extend no mercy towards each other, EVER, makes all the other relationships in the show that much more tender. Her face at seeing Jack Randall again for the first time encapsulated all the feelings from her miscarriage. She was literally Claire in the hospital, all over again. Her grace most definitely does not extend to Jack Randall. There is no charity or goodwill for him. Only bargaining. Something for something. And the Claire now is so different from the Claire we first met. She’s harder. Bitter. Angry. And when he baits her talking about Jamie, she pulls herself together, musters her hate and hands him guilt. Not grace. Finally, did anyone else think Jamie found his wife hot af when she reminded him she’d help him kill BJR?

You get a sense from Alex that Jack, in a former life, a life before the war, was a different person. Hell, even his name is different. Johnny. A name that is softer, that makes you think of a childhood friend. At one time Johnny was probably full of grace, for his little brother. What changed? Why? And how did BJR come to feed only his darker self? Try as I might to understand why a man might pummel the body of his dead brother, I cannot. Perhaps in order NOT to feel, BJR has to stay in the darkest place he can. Anger. Always anger. There can be no other emotion for this man. Because maybe if he starts to cry he will never stop. Maybe it’s the opposite of Dougal, who was upset that Colum never healed. Perhaps BJR is upset that he couldn’t heal Alex. Whatever, it was the most disturbing of reactions. There is no prayer of comfort for an act like that.

Dougal. The most powerful scene for me was between Dougal and Colum. In his rough and ungraceful way, Dougal is essentially telling Colum that he’s mourned for his brother all these years. Everything he expected his big brother to be changed in an instant. And all of Dougal’s prayers, wishes, and hopes for a recovery were dashed. Forever. In Dougal’s mind, he did all that was asked of him. For Colum. I got a sense he felt like he had to live his life, AND a measure of Colum’s life. Because Colum couldn’t. And when he comes to make peace with his brother, Colum dies. And Dougal can’t have the conversation because he’ll never get the answers he so desperately wants. He loved his brother. He truly did. He never forgave his brother for not getting better. And he weeps for THEM. Not just Colum, but for them…and who and what they could have been. Together. And at the end he runs out of time to repair it. Amen.

Final thought: War. When Claire is at war the first time she leaves Frank for 5 years. When Claire is at war the second time with Jamie she rides beside him. And as we see in the trailer for next week, she doesn’t want to leave him. Even knowing the outcome. She was committed to the War as a nurse the first time, independent of Frank. She is committed to the Jacobite Rising as a wife the second time, in union with Jamie.

Also, Things the writers fixed for me this Season: Claire’s habit of laughing hysterically when she’s stressed.

Having Murtagh accompany Claire to Alex’s boarding house, instead of Jamie.

Fergus as both Claire and Jamie’s and not just Jamie’s.

All of Murtagh. And fleshing out his relationship with Claire, the wife of his godson.

Colum and Dougal’s absolutely true to form brother rivalry.

June 25, 2016

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By Laura Prodom

As the Battle of Culloden looms ever closer, this week’s “Outlander” sees Claire and Jamie’s lives spinning even further out of their control — first ambushed and besieged by the Redcoats, they then find themselves forced to separate to protect their men, which leads Claire to an unexpected confrontation with the duplicitous Duke of Sandringham, who is revealed to be the architect of Claire’s attack and Mary’s brutal rape in the streets of Paris. Not only does the episode feature the welcome return of Jamie’s mute friend Hugh Munro, it also allows Mary and Murtagh to exact their revenge on the men responsible for that heinous crime, offering some semblance of closure for what transpired in France.

Beyond featuring the death of a major character and pulling off several epic action scenes, the episode has special significance to stars Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, since it was written by “Outlander” author Diana Gabaldon — who was also on set during filming.

“It’s so funny, because each writer has such a distinctive voice when they write — even if they took away the title page, you’d be able to hear ‘that’s an Ira script, that’s a Matt script,’” Balfe says. “And with this, it just felt like reading the source material again; it was so distinctively Diana that it was such a beautiful read and had such great action and pace to it. Claire’s so feisty; it’s the very distinctive Claire from the book, and it was really exciting to be able to do.”

Some time has passed since the Scots’ victory at Prestonpans, and we see that “Jamie’s been constantly battling with all the other commanders; there’s a lot of in-fighting — too many people with too many opinions, too much tradition,” Heughan notes in Variety‘s video recap above. “Jamie knows that if they fight like they have done for hundreds of years using the Highland charge, that won’t be effective against a modern army, so Jamie’s trying to modernize this army to at least give them a chance. Jamie definitely feels like he has a lot of weight on his shoulders now and ultimately, he begins to concern himself with the things he can protect — his men and the people that are close to him.”

That makes him reluctant to allow Claire to hand herself over to the Redcoats in order to secure safe passage for the rest of their troops — but our heroine is determined to do her part to ensure their freedom.

“I loved that Diana wrote that. Claire feels as much a part of this clan as any of them, and she does share that responsibility with Jamie,” Balfe says. “It’s a great line: ‘Am I not Lady Broch Tuarach? Are these not my men too?’ Because we’re back in Scotland, you can’t help but think back to last season and different times of when she felt so left out and it took such a long time for them to accept her and for her to accept them. It’s so great that now you see the unity of them all. She isone of them; she’s now a true Scot in many ways, and yet you see her use her Englishness to be able to protect them more – it’s the one card that she keeps having.”

It’s a fraught situation — one of many they’ll face before Culloden, Balfe previews. “They’re very desperate at this point, they don’t have a lot of options left. Claire and Jamie both know what’s looming, and I think that once you’re aware of that and you have that hanging over your head, it makes you act in very desperate ways, because you’re just reaching for anything, you’re trying to do anything that will help you survive.”

Heughan agrees, “It becomes quite frantic and quite desperate, but actually Jamie goes the other way, he doesn’t become desperate, he becomes very in control, very logical … before he might’ve been very passionate and very out of control, but now he’s a grown man and a grown leader of men.”

After his rape and torture at the hands of Black Jack last season, Heughan purposefully wanted to show that Jamie was a changed man, and that his sense of self-worth was affected by the lies and manipulation required of him in Paris as he tried to earn the trust of Bonny Prince Charlie. “I was very aware and nervous about the first half, about playing him as not the Jamie that we know and love and not as sparkly, not being quite present,” he admits. “I was slightly concerned that maybe the viewers wouldn’t get that or they’d be switched off by it, but I think it’s important to see that that has affected his relationship with Claire and that their relationship isn’t working, it’s a long process to get back to each other, which takes almost the whole season.” Now that he’s back in Scotland and has the lives of his men in his hands, however, “hopefully by the end of the season he’s in control of his destiny,” Heughan says.

Balfe recalls reading a fan comment that asked, “if they know what’s going to happen, why do they keep fighting,” to which she responds, “They don’t have any other option; otherwise you just lay down and die. They have to fight to the end and I think it’s so indicative of their spirit, the fact that they’re just relentless, they’ll keep fighting and keep trying right ’til the end.”

The death of Sandringham may not affect the outcome of Culloden, but it’s a personal victory that is sorely needed before they face their fates on the infamous moor. Balfe offers some insight into what’s going through Claire’s mind when she discovers Sandringham’s involvement in the Paris attack: “Sheer rage, it’s seething rage. More for Mary Hawkins than for Claire. It’s just that disgust. It’s always been this very slippery relationship between them anyway, and I think time and time again Claire, against her better instincts, has had to make alliances with him or somehow be involved with him, but I think she’s always known that this man is more devious than he appears, and to find out that he orchestrated that attack, and for his own goddaughter, it disgusts her. But I loved that Mary Hawkins finally gets justice and she gets it by her own hand, and Rosie Day did such an incredible job.”

The cast was reluctant to say goodbye to Simon Callow, who has endowed the Duke with such sly wit and perfidiousness, he’s fast become one of the most memorable characters on the show.

“It was very funny because poor Mary, every time she would come into the room, Simon would just turn round and be like ‘Just go to bed!’ and it became the catchphrase for the rest of the season among all the actors,” Balfe recalls with a laugh. “We’d just say ‘oh, just go to bed!’ And the prosthetic head, it was so wonderful and lifelike and I have a wonderful photo I can’t wait to tweet out once this episode has aired, of Simon holding it by its face.”

The only downside of Sandringham’s eventful death scene was that there wasn’t enough time to include every brutal moment that was written, including a powerful performance by Duncan Lacroix as Murtagh.

“Before going into battle, the warriors would announce their fathers and forefathers and conjure up the spirits of their past fathers,” Heughan says. “When shooting it, Duncan Lacroix did this beautiful speech in Gaelic – unfortunately it didn’t quite make it into the cut, but it was a really special moment.”

“Duncan is fantastic in that,” Balfe agrees. “It was really dramatic and I think Duncan probably terrified Simon because he was in the zone all day and off listening to music and would just come in…”

The bloody decapitation (and Mary and Claire’s priceless reaction to it) certainly ended the episode with a bang, Balfe notes: “It was a very fitting sendoff to a very colorful character that we’ve had since very early on in Season 1.”

“Outlander” airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz. What did you think of “Vengeance is Mine” and seeing Sandringham dead at Murtagh’s hand? Weigh in below.

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