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.
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. Performances from cast and crew are as sweeping and majestic as Bear McCreary’s haunting score and Philip John’s direction once again brings Outlander’s story to the viewers with an exquisitely detailed flourish. The result is a finale that serves as the perfect closing chapter to a phenomenal season.
While the majority of the season has taken us through the 18th century, the final episode guides us across time, taking viewers from the battlefield at Culloden to the foggy atmosphere of Scotland in 1968 where a grown Roger Wakefield meets widowed Claire and her daughter Brianna at the late Reverend Wakefield’s home. Wonderfully adapted by series writers Tonia Graphia and Matthew B. Roberts, the episode reveals characters and scenes that appear in the first chapter of the book. Although that meant fans had to wait all season to officially meet beloved characters Roger and Brianna, the resulting revelation proved to be well worth the wait. This change in the sequence of events works especially well in the adaptation as it keeps key plot details away from audiences experiencing the story for the first time and allows the actors to make reveal these details in their own beautifully choreographed way. Ghosts from the past, ghosts from the future, and all in between touch on Claire’s life in 1968 Scotland as she returns for the first time in twenty years to the place where her life-changing journey began and heartbreakingly ended; or so she believes. While Richard Rankin and Sophie Skelton join the cast as Roger and Brianna, a Scot and American, respectively, about to have their entire worlds rocked by impossible truths, Lotte Verbeek makes a terrific return to the series for the first time since season one, as the story of Geillis Duncan and Dougal MacKenzie finally comes full circle. These additions to the cast all help to make the grandeur of the story fully realized through exceptional performances of heart-breaking sincerity.
In an extended ninety-minute episode audiences are treated to a fully detailed chapter in Outlander’s broader story. Despite the actual battle of Culloden taking place off-screen, we find ourselves with an entirely immersive experience into how Claire and Jamie prepare to face the bleak reality of history, including a desperate final plot that results in an explosive confrontation between Jamie and Dougal. Unquestionably one of the major pillars of the show’s success, Graham McTavish is once again unmatched in his ability to blur the line between right and wrong as he becomes, in a sense, a villain to Jamie and Claire even as he acts from the center of his moral awareness. Missing from the finale is the other great chameleon of the show, Tobias Menzies in his dual roles as Frank and Jonathan Randall. While Frank’s story has presumably ended with his death in Boston, his goodness of heart is kept alive in Brianna’s remembrances.
It wouldn’t be an Outlander finale – or, indeed, an Outlander episode at all – without the unforgettable performances from the show’s two leads, and in Claire and Jamie’s plight the stars certainly deliver. Although it’s difficult for Caitriona Balfe to top her soul-crushing performance in this season’s Faith, and likewise for Sam Heughan to outdo the traumatic events of last season’s Wentworth Prison storyline, the two are ever up for the challenge to once again immortalize all that millions of fans worldwide love about Diana Gabaldon’s remarkable characters. From first glances to final breaths and the shattering echo of a goodbye, Outlander’s Dragonfly in Amber radiates the unique life and strong heart of a story for the ages.