The Restaurant Critic’s Wife is the second novel by author Elizabeth Laban, real-life wife to Philadelphian restaurant critic Craig Laban. In her debut, the 2012 young adult drama The Tragedy Paper, Laban proved a talent for thoughtful, eloquent writing and an ability to conjure unique characters the likes of which readers will not have met before. The same praise can be given for her newest novel, which shines with Laban’s unique sensibility and skill.Read More
With its final episode of the season, Outlander gives us perhaps its most astonishing adventure yet. Named for the book upon which the second season has been based, Dragonfly in Amber managed to somehow set the bar even higher for one of the best dramas on television and one of the most thoughtfully crafted adaptations to ever come along.Read More
A note on spoilers: Please be aware that while I work diligently to avoid extensive spoilers in my recaps, these entries will discuss each episode's plot and may include key details from the show's first season as well as the books on which both seasons are based.
What good is a rebellion that runs away from a fight? Rupert (Outlander, The Hail Mary)
With the tragic battle of Culloden looming as an ever-closer certainty, Jamie and Claire do everything in their power to frustrate history’s plans in the penultimate episode of Outlander’s second season. As the Jacobite force weakens both in body and in spirit, Jamie is desperate to save the men from certain death at Culloden Moor while Claire meanwhile becomes embroiled in the enfolding of a different breed of tragedy, one that finds her on a similar side with the man she most abhors. Amid the many somber twists of the season’s twelfth episode, lives are lost, choices are made, and countless fragile fates hand in the balance.
Aptly titled The Hail Mary, this weekend’s episode resolves around several situations of last requests and desperate acts that will shape the fates of many innocent lives. Written jointly by Ira Steven Behr and Anne Kenney, the story weaves effortlessly between somber grace and emotional conflict. In Jamie we see a man grown through immeasurable strife as he refuses to give up on changing the future; as his entreaties and enticements fall with faint chance on Stuart’s muddled ears, Jamie’s will is tested as strongly as his hope. Others, meanwhile, await a different sort of reckoning. When a quickly failing Colum MacKenzie arrives at the Jacobite camp, we find that he has not journeyed to find peace in reconciliation with his brother, Dougal, but rather to put one last plan into motion which will undeniably break his brother’s heart. Gary Lewis and Graham McTavish have been superbly matched throughout the series as Colum and Dougal, respectively, and in their final scenes together they create a jolting, heartbreaking reflection of true, inevitable loss. The brothers MacKenzie have ever been at odds, yet in their ultimate interaction Dougal finds that his words and feelings of love for his brother come too late. It’s a masterful performance from McTavish that causes the audience to grieve for the character whose intentions so seamlessly slide from good to bad and back again. “My poor brother,” Column tells Claire in a moment of authenticity, “I have been crippled of body, and he has been crippled of mind.”
"I am beyond any injury you could do me." "Injury I do you? What about all the pain you've caused me in this bitch of a life we've shared?" "Your life is your own. I take no blame for it." Colum and Dougal MacKenzie (Outlander, The Hail Mary)
Under the direction of Philip John, the always remarkable supporting cast delivers some of their best work in The Hail Mary. As true as it is for the scenes between the MacKenzies, so it also is with the very complicated branch of the Randall family tree. An unexpected meeting with Mary in an Inverness apothecary leads Claire to the bedside of a fatally ill Alex Randall along with the revelation of a secret that will forever tie Mary to the Randall family. Living in a boarding house where Alex cannot recover even strength enough to breathe freely, the young couple is supported by none other than the deadly of the two Randall brothers. The result of the circumstances finds Claire in a position to once again face Black Jack and to yet again work her abilities in his favor. With a bargain struck between them, Jack agrees to give Claire information about the British army in exchange for her treatment of Alex, but when a deathbed request is made, Jack becomes undone in a way we have not seen him before. For the first time, Claire and the audience are baffled by the conflicting senses of good and evil in the sadistic Jack Randall; through Alex’s love for his brother and Jack’s shockingly reciprocated compassion we see the inner battle being fought inside an unforgivable man.
"The woman I am now is not the woman I once was." Claire (Outlander, The Hail Mary)
From this unusual perspective of good conflicting with evil we see Black Jack’s struggle to honor his brother’s request even as the beast inside him threatens to inevitably lash out. Whether the good Alex sees in him is a deception or a true glimmer of humanity, the audience is left – along with Claire – to wonder. Characteristically, Jack reacts to every moment of fear or sadness with a venomous combination of anger and cruelty. It’s perhaps at his most pained that he seeks to cause the most unthinkable pain for others; and now Mary’s fate, along with that of her child and Frank’s own fate by extension, lies tremulously in the grasp of it.
This episode takes us to the concluding chapter of Book Two as the 90 minute finale brings viewers to Culloden Moor and into the future, where we will finally meet beloved book characters Brianna and Roger. Dragonfly in Amber comes to its final pages on July 9th, but viewers can relive the sumptuous experience of the full season when Starz airs all twelve previous episodes next weekend. In the meantime, we anticipate what will surely be a blockbuster finale.