July 10, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Outlander”


The second season of Starz’s OUTLANDER was often disconcerting for a viewer unfamiliar with Diana Gabaldon’s bestselling novels.  That may be one reason why the series, embraced by Starz (along with the hit Power) as one of its signature properties, and gifted with a 2-season renewal order, didn’t fare particularly well in the ratings this year, drifting downward for much of the season.  The rough-hewn historical (by way of time-travel) romance of Season 1 gave way to a Season 2 that transformed first into a sumptuous melodrama of intrigue at the French court, and then a gritty war story that included an hour devoted to the PTSD suffered by heroine Claire (Caitriona Balfe) due to her experiences in the future’s World War II.

That disconcerting quality extended to tonight’s 90-minute season finale, written by Executive Producer Toni Graphia and Co-EP Matthew B. Roberts, and directed by Philip John.  It was largely set in an era we hadn’t even seen before on the show:  1968, with Claire as a middle-aged widowed Boston surgeon visiting Scotland with her 20-year old daughter Brianna (Sophie Skelton), who had no idea that she was the child of Claire and her true love Jamie (Sam Heughan)–and conceived in 1746–rather than Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies), who raised her as his own.  The Battle of Culloden, which seemed intended as the climactic sequence of the season, happened off-screen at the end of the episode, and the content was more devoted to the mechanics and implications of time travel than the series had ever previously explored, as Claire finally told Brianna about her true parentage, and both women had contact with the woman known in 1968 as Jillian Edgars (Lotte Verbeek), who was about to travel through the magic stones to become the woman named Geillis Duncan, who would be burned in Season 1 at the stake as a witch, saving Claire’s life.  The episode even found time to introduce a potential romantic interest for Brianna in Roger (Richard Rankin), the grown son of the vicar we’d met in previous visits to the 1940s.

All this meant that the 1746 sequences were brief, the main event being an excruciatingly effective death for Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish), who unfortunately overheard Claire and Jamie as they considered poisoning Prince Charles (Andrew Gower) in order to head off Culloden and the disastrous end of the revolution against England and the Scottish clan society.  Jamie’s killing of Dougal was immediately discovered, and then there wasn’t much to do but have Jamie reveal that he knew about Claire’s pregnancy and insist that she return to the time-travel stones (although they did find time for a final sex scene).

As with much of Season 2, this all worked compellingly enough as an individual episode, and certainly Balfe (who bore the major part of the night’s dramatic burden, since so much time was spent in the “present”) and Heughan acted the doors off their powerhouse emotional moments.  The Claire/Jamie romance ranks with Catastrophe‘s as one of the most convincing on television.  In addition, Skelton and Rankin, whose characters will apparently strongly figure into future seasons, established themselves as personable newcomers, even if her role forced Skelton into a lot of petulance.  The dual-period trappings were first-rate, with special kudos for the make-up people handling Balfe’s 1960s look, which was strikingly different from the ways we’d seen her before without going over the top.  The finale was another example, though, of a season that seemed to change identity on a nearly weekly basis.  Instead of the consistent tone of Season 1, the 2d season moved from melodramatically evil French nobility to a rapscallion rescued from a bordello, from mysticism to brutal battlefield violence.  Some of the transitions were smoother than others.

It’s hard to get a grip on Outlander (Season 1’s archvillain Black Jack Randall, also played by Menzies, was only an occasional fringe presence this year, Claire’s main concern being to keep him alive long enough to become Frank’s ancestor), and while that’s part of its appeal, it’s also part of the challenge.  (The same was also sometimes true of series creator Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica, which encompassed sci-fi action, dark humor and both political and religious allegory.)  Who knows what it has in mind for its future, but the climactic reveal that Jamie didn’t die at Culloden means that characters are probably headed back to the past.  With two more seasons tucked into its pocket, Outlander‘s own prospects are wide-open, although it may want to settle down a bit if it wants to attract more than a cult-sized audience.


About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."