A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Claire Fraser looks through a glass, darkly, and sees Claire Beauchamp on the hills of the druids, realizing that in fact, somehow, she had found her way back to the home she had finally managed to leave behind. It’s a sight that Claire at Outlander’s beginning would have given anything for but now becomes a cruel mockery of her journey, an extra twist of the knife as if the previous season hadn’t heaped enough tragedy upon her to begin with. But it’s a sight through a darkened lens that leads to some of the most emotionally deft storytelling the series has tackled yet and it all circles down to the original relationship the series was founded upon. The relationship between Claire and Frank was one of the most revelatory in television history, an unfortunate point of note, but a valid one considering the orthodox nature of marriage depictions in television storytelling. Some book readers may have been unhappy with the distinct characterization of Frank from the series, but it’s a change that has proven to be the most adept alteration from the novels to the screen (other changes, like Claire’s meeting with Brother Anselm in the season one finale, fell somewhat flat). That alteration proves to bear further fruit in this opening episode of the second season, the emotional heft of the first segment between Claire and Frank bearing so much weight it manages to dim some of the narrative clunkiness of the French segment. Through A Glass, Darkly is a title lifted straight out of Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber, the novel that comprises the adaptation of the second season and it fits perfectly on every level, as each character finds him or herself looking through a dimmed, darkened lens upon an unsettling past, a turbulent present, and an uncertain future.
When Claire wakes to find herself at Craigh na Dun, it’s an awakening of immense emotional turmoil that she can’t express in words so she just screams. Claire’s voiceovers are still fairly unnecessary, but a key phrase nevertheless is when she notes that the world she had left moments ago was now dust. For two whole years she had gone away from 1946, from the world that had slowly began to settle back from the terrifying bloodlust of World War II. That Claire who was chugging alcohol as the end of the war was announced was definitely not that Claire that came back, transfixed and transformed by an experience a local news writer is describing as this lovely question: “Kidnapped by the faeries?” with a picture of Claire in her hospital bed. She spent two years trying to return home, falling more in love with someone else, and standing by that man when he suffered from a horrible tragedy. For anyone to ask her to return to a state of normal after that is mental. For it to actually occur with seemingly no explanation is just cruel. It is in that state that she stumbles down onto an empty Highlands road in eighteenth-century garb, grabbing ahold of a slowly terrified driver and yelling at him for news about who won the Battle of Culloden. He’s completely bemused but shouts “The British!” at the top of his voice before driving off. Claire sinks to the ground, an inherent despair creeping into her mind as she imagines all of the loved ones she had garnered in the eighteenth century wasting away on the most infamous battlefield in Scottish history. They were all real and now they no longer exist. They have become an ephemeral, fleeting existence and adding to that immense grief is the incredible guilt she faces that her warnings about the impending doom facing the Jacobites went unheeded.
The reunion of Claire and Frank bookended the official trailer for the season and it packs just as much of a punch as if one hadn’t seen it before. There’s something truly cathartic in Frank meeting Claire again, even if it’s within setting that are distinctly less than pleasant. Claire’s lying in a hospital bed, wafting towards the wall as if something would pop out of them at any moment. Frank approaches Claire with a sense of hesitation, unsure of what to say. He leans forward, but Claire immediately recoils, images of Black Jack Randall flashing before her eyes. For two years, she had disappeared and Frank had never abandoned all of his hope that some day, she would return. But then the next question inevitably becomes about where she went, what she did, how she came back. She can’t answer the how, there’s simply no way for her to tell how. But she can answer the what. We don’t see her narrating the story but we don’t need to. The audience knows the events of season one, but Frank definitely does not and what a story it is. It sounds delusional to any logical individual and even when Frank expresses that he believes her, Claire understandably sees patronization. The part that stings, however, is the part where Claire confesses that she married Jamie to save herself from the English, that she had fallen in love with him, that they had consummated their marriage. Frank’s hurt is understandable from everything but the spark that lights him on fire is Claire’s admission that she was pregnant. The sting was made significantly worse by the past where Frank and Claire had tried to conceive a child and were unable to do so. A temporary smile flitters across Frank’s face before his eyes sink in and the rage bubbles forth. Time passes by and the two arrive at an agreement. They could make it work in Boston, where Frank received a teaching post at Harvard, but Claire would have to leave her search for Jamie’s fate behind. Claire quietly agrees.
The airplane lands and Claire quietly climbs down the stairs, pausing to look at the massive new skyline lying ahead, another new world that awaited her. Frank turns around, reaching his hand outwards. Claire reaches towards it and the hand is grabbed by Jamie. This deft bit of camerawork and editing unfortunately leads to the second segment, where the episode loses a bit of steam. The emotional material preceding it was so strong it peters out a little in Le Havre 1745, where the episode could have used an additional ten minutes to provide some proper pacing. The international politics of France in this era in relation to Scotland are absolutely fascinating, however, the two nations always united in some sense by their shared history of Catholicism and their mutual enemy in Anglican England. Jamie notes that being a Jacobite in Bourbon France was considered a badge of true honor, a symbol of the righteous rebels if you will. Claire takes it in and despite Jamie’s original protestations, convinces him that in spite of the initial victories the Jacobites garner, their rebellion has to be cut off right at the nub for any chance of it succeeding at all. The early calm, smelly French harbor stays so for little more than their first evening, as expected. A ship arrives on the docks and an immediate hubbub ensues. Claire, intrigued by the rather loud coagulation of noise, runs over to investigate and she finds a worker on a stretcher and another one stumbling forward. Claire immediately knows what’s on the horizon, rushing forward to confirm that it was, in fact, smallpox that had arrived in their midst. Vaccinated, she’s unperturbed but the man in charge of the docks orders the ship that had come in to be burnt in the open waters along with all of its cargo. The ship’s owner is infuriated at this loss of profit, but Claire is unperturbed and defiant as always. She tears him down mercilessly, their new enemy burning with promise to make them pay.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+The music is fantastic as always. The inclusion of French into the titular “Skye Boat Song” is a stroke of brilliance.
+The final shot of the ship burning was eerily beautiful. The cinematography was top-notch.
+“Even the devil has standards.”
+“There’s always another fucking war!”
+“I need to know if he died on that battlefield.”
+“I went to Craigh na Dun to look for flowers.”
+“It’s quite a leap of faith.”
+“Don’t use the word flog…!”
+“So I guess a trip to Boston is out of the question?”
+“I wouldn’t change you to save the world.”
Episode Title: Through A Glass, Darkly
Written by: Ronald D. Moore
Directed by: Metin Hüseyin
Image Courtesy: E! Online