The second season begins as our heroes Claire and Jamie arrive on French soil, highly motivated in infiltrating the Jacobite Rebellion spearheaded by Prince Charles Stuart and thwarting the Battle Of Culloden before it even begins. With help of his cousin Jared, Jamie and Claire are thrown into the lavish and polite society of the French court. This is a place where you’re never too far from a soirée, but political gain is less kind. Changing history presents many an obstacle that begins to test the strength of their relationship. However, armed with hard historical facts about the future of Scotland and the events of Culloden, Claire and Jaime must do their utmost to prevent the butchery and massacre that will happen to the Scotts at the hands of the Sassenach. This isn’t just the end of the Scottish people. The Highlander way of life will cease to exist because of Culloden.
For Starz to adapt Diana Gabaldon’s books like this is nothing short of legendary. These books are by no degree small. They’re chunky reads. Book one (Outlander) has 652 pages with book two being a bit longer as 752 pages in length. Starz have created an accurate more or less page for page adaptation. I take my hat off to them. The Outlander Series has incorporated numerous genres. It’s an anthology of science fiction, history, romance, period drama and fantasy. I’ve only read the first book but after doing so, and watching both seasons available, Outlander can be taken as a feminist text, books and show alike due to the abundance of strong female characters. This is a genre-blending cinematic cocktail that is riddled with state-of-the-art landscapes, great acting performances and excellent storytelling. General opinion says that season two is just as faithful to book two as season one was to book one.
The show has made excellent actors out of Balfe and Heughan who play Claire and Jamie. Claire Randall is a British Second World War nurse who falls through time at The Stones (Craigh na Dun) from post-World War Two Scotland to 18th Century Scotland. Then we have Sam Heughan who plays the gallant Jamie Fraser, the clansman who meets her in his time and rescues her from the sociopath Black Randal (Tobias Menzies) who is a doppelgänger of Claire’s 20th Century husband Frank Randall. The knowing of both Frank and Black Jack causes all kinds of time conundrums in season two. Problems that are very much akin to fading images on a photograph in Robert Zemekis’ Back To The Future, except we’ve traded the Enchantment Under The Sea Dance for the class rules and cultural conventions of the French court.
Tobias Menzies (Game Of Thrones) is quality as both Frank and Black Jack. He was an already established character and the whole fanbase’s hate for him has only increased, this season. I don’t think there’s anybody who even loves to hate him. He’s no Joffery or Cersei. Menzies, with Heughan and Balfe in addition to an excellent supporting cast, made season one a variation of different types of stories from time travel to historical epic to war story. Claire’s devotion to Jamie is heartwarming and admirable but it doesn’t come without a cost. Jamie has to tolerate Claire’s 20th century feminist ideologies and this clashes with the 18th century cultural and social Scottish norms, much to the annoyance of our Sassenach lady. Claire does what Claire wants to do and this irks Jamie to no end when she won’t follow his orders. But that doesn’t mean he won’t go to the ends of the earth and back to defend her honour. Not to forget to mention Jamie being raped by Black Jack last season in Wentworth Prison so Claire wouldn’t have to be. In both seasons one and two, there are so many “what the fuck” moments, but the most notable was in the last episode.
Season two is split into two halves. The first half is set in France playing politics in the polite society of the French court with Claire picking up the nickname La Dame Blanche which translates as The White Lady but for the show it was The White Witch. A woman with intelligence is basically a witch regardless if you’re in Scotland or France. The scenes in France were the best because it truly showed the more elegant side to Outlander. The first half of the season was truly a period drama and Balfe killed every scene she was in. She was born to the genre and she fits the period dresses really well. Watching the scenes in the French court was like something out of Poldark or even Downton Abbey. It was excellent to see Claire and Jamie’s relationship develop since she knows how the Jacobite Rebellion ends. They clash many times and their outlooks on stopping this rebellion before it happens are ideologically different.
The costume and hair design for the scenes in France are picturesque and easy on the eye, filled with bright colours, extravagance and ostentatious dresses. It’s a fashion show for half a season amidst the pomposity of French society. Costume designer Terry Dresbach should be up for BAFTA, Golden Globe and Emmy nominations for her handiwork this season. Beyond expensive vetements, the core story is playing political games of chess with every character having a part to play whether they are as kings, bishops, rooks or knights. Many players are playing different moves behind closed doors which will come down to one final match at Culloden; ultimately ending in a checkmate but not before all the bloody butchery of Scottish clansmen and the extinction of the Highlander lifestyle.
The opening episodes of season two are the direct opposite of season one. They are elegant and graceful in the civilized society of France in comparison to the brash and bloody reality of Scotland. Claire and Jamie are trying to get over the events of “To Ransom A Man’s Soul” from the torture and rape at the hands of Jonathan Randall. Season one is savage and morbid where season two is much easier to watch, emotionally speaking. Normally, their lives are killing English soldiers, running from Jonathan Randall and occasionally having sex yet this season there is more enjoyment of life and less running from Randall. They fight battles, but battles where brain displaces brawn. Intelligence and wits are their weapons in the French court.
Without waiting too long, there are nods to modern-day sexual innuendos in the form of pubic hair removal and dildos. The French aren’t as disgusted at their own bodies as the English. The English would rather hide from it than accept it. Nakedness is uncivilized in 18th century England in comparison to France, where it was keeping their clothes on that was the problem. Claire’s voiceovers are prominent throughout the season and are welcome as it is necessary with the many time jumps through the various story arcs.
The second half of the season is set in Scotland as well as switching between the past in Scotland and the present in mid-20th Century Britain. Claire has gone back through the void and she’s remembering her time in the past; sadly leaving Jaime and the bloodbath that would be The Battle Of Culloden. I enjoyed season two much more than season one. It felt to me to be a hybrid between Poldark and Vikings but set between France and Scotland. Excellent acting performances from Simon Callow as the Duke Of Sandringham before his bloody dispatch as well as the rest of the cast which includes: Sam Heughan, Graham McTavish, Caitriona Balfe and Andrew Garrow as Prince Charlie Stewart to name a few.
The season finale was my favourite episode of the series with a perfect blend between great acting, battle sequences as well as glimpses into the future as we see Claire’s daughter Brianna played by Sophie Skelton, and Roger Wakefield (Richard Rankin); descendent of Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish) and Geilis Duncan. The season two finale is one of the most heartwarming and emotional episodes of any television series I’ve ever seen. It’s soul-destroying yet so well-made that it really can dismiss you. It flashes between past and present really, not spending too much or too little time in either century. It stays with a scene and develops it before it alternating between the time periods.
The revelation of these two characters is going to be big for season three. I loved their introduction, and despite only being in the season finale, I soon warmed to them and I foresee them becoming my favourite characters. Season two improves upon season one in every degree, whether that be in the acting performances, character development, costume & hair design and epic storytelling.