We made it Sassenach’s! After a year-long hiatus Outlander returns with season 3. When we last left Jamie and Claire, Jamie sent Claire through the stones with their unborn child. Claire returns to Frank and tries to adjust to life without Jamie (and in Boston), while Jamie fights in the Battle of Culloden. With our favorite OTP centuries apart, alongside the characters, we have to learn to adjust to this new normal. Outlander delivers a breathtaking season 3 premiere with “The Battle Joined.”
Sam Heughan has given many gut wrenching performances in the three seasons of Outlander. We’ve watched him lose himself in Jamie’s PTSD after his encounter with Black Jack. Jamie’s unbearable loss when Claire loses Faith and when he must send her home. While all of these moments define Heughan’s immeasurable talent, there’s something to be said about the mostly wordless performance he gives in “The Battle Joined.”
Lying on top of his fellow, deceased, Scotsman, Jamie is left to reflect on the Battle of Culloden. Told in a flashback format, which works perfectly, we learn what very little Jamie remembers about the battle. We see Jamie’s pure joy as he sees Murtagh for what could be the final time, but we also witness a man being broken. Watching this losing battle can’t be easy for Jamie and we see that. Heughan soars into battle in one of the biggest scenes Outlander has ever produced.
While the entire Battle of Culloden is a feat for every department on Outlander, it’s Jamie’s battle with Black Jack (Tobias Menzies) that solidifies this as one of the most epic moments in the shows history. As we learn that a dead Black Jack lies on top of Jamie, we see the duo battle. Once again, Heughan and Menzies play off each other effortlessly. We may be cheering for Black Jack’s downfall, but we’ll miss Menzies playing this version of his character. The best part of this entire sequence is the almost silent moment when Black Jack finally succumbs to his injuries. On an almost empty battlefield, strewn with dead bodies, it’s just Jamie and Black Jack. It’s the perfect ending for a rivalry that has driven a better part of two seasons.
Heughan may blossom on the battlefield, but the depth of his performance lies in the silent, moaning in pain, moments. He’s the shell of the man we know and love. Without Claire, Jamie has lost all hope in living. He’s ready to die. As each traitor is taken out and shot by the red coats, Jamie prays he’s next. He has nothing to live for and it’s a sad realization to watch him come to. Even when Jamie is eventually returned home to Lallybroch, thanks to a promise made to him by John Grey, Jamie is the shell of his former self. Heughan gives a gut wrenching performance using just subtle eye movements, groaning and tears welling in his eyes. If this is what Heughan accomplishes in the Outlander premiere, we can’t even imagine what the rest of the season holds.
We know Claire and Jamie won’t be reunited for a while, but our hearts weren’t ready for Jamie hallucinating Claire. As he continues to struggle for survival, Jamie sees Claire walking on the battlefield towards him. The only words exchanged between the two are “Are you alive?” and “Claire?” Heughan and Balfe are a force to be reckoned with even in this small moment. This is one of many moments that’s beautifully shot, beautifully scored and beautifully executed in this episode.
When Jamie is eventually taken off the battlefield, one of the saddest moments is watching a basically lifeless Jamie drop the dragonfly in amber that Claire left for him. The cut from the dragonfly in amber hitting the muddy Culloden battlefield to Claire in Boston is heartbreakingly beautiful.
In a completely different century, Caitriona Balfe delivers her own award winning performance alongside Menzies as Frank. Trapped in what we can assume is Claire’s worst nightmare, Claire is forced into a world where women are not to speak their minds. Balfe keeps Claire’s edge as she bites her tongue to try to fit into this world. Claire may not be fighting in the Battle of Culloden, but she’s dealing with her own version of a battle at home.
One of Balfe’s best moments is when Frank drags Claire to a social event with his boss. When Claire announces she’s been reading The Boston Globe, Frank’s boss has the audacity to tell Claire that women are no more than their bodies and motherly duties. It’s a tongue biting scene and Balfe plays it perfectly. You can see Claire trying to not get up and deck the man and that’s what makes the scene. Claire is hurting and her not making a move shows it.
The entire Outlander season 3 premiere is filled with some poignant moments, but none is more impactful as Balfe and Menzies tussle as Claire and Frank respectively. Claire may be in Boston with Frank, but her heart still lies in Scotland with Jamie, and Frank knows it as well as anybody. The couple balances on a deadly cliff the entire episode until they finally fall over the edge.
It’s an Emmy Award worthy scene to say the least. Balfe and Menzies let every possible fight between their two characters boil and boil until they finally explode. Frank’s angry that Claire still loves Jamie, while Claire is angry Frank doesn’t understand. It’s a hard scene to watch, but Balfe and Menzies make it one of the best this episode. Balfe portrays Claire’s heartache perfectly and further proves how amazing she is at bringing this strong female character to life.
As the episode draws to a close Claire goes into labor with Brianna. A moment that brings Frank and Claire back together. We see how torn Claire’s heart is. She loves Frank for being there for her, but you know her heart will always belong to Jamie. The entire birth sequence is another gut wrenching one. First off, Claire is put under, despite arguing with doctors that she doesn’t need to be. We feel for Claire in this moment and it’s a testament to how much we want Claire to break free of these patriarchal chains and how well Balfe plays the role.
After giving birth to Brianna, Balfe delivers arguably the saddest line in this Outlander season three premiere. Upon waking up Claire asks the nurse if her baby is dead. A heartbreaking callback to one of Balfe’s strongest performances in “Faith.” Claire’s smile as Frank brings a beautiful baby girl into her arms will make your heart swell. Living in the new parental bliss with Claire and Frank is a moment we enjoy being in. Until the nurse utters the sentence: “Where did she get the red hair?” A moment that hits you like a ton of bricks as the episode draws to a close.
While the season 3 premiere of Outlander didn’t feature the sex scenes and romance that made the show famous, it’s an episode that shows the strength of the quiet moments. The moments that ride on the backs of the fearless actors that bring Outlander to life. A very plot heavy, character driven episode brings us out of droughtlander and we’re ready for the wild season 3 ride.
Outlander airs Sundays at 8/7c on Starz