This weekend saw the return of time-traveling sassenach Claire Randall and dashing Highland warrior Jamie Fraser as Outlander returned from its mid-season break, marking the end of what the social media world has dubbed "Droughtlander". Starz's Outlander, based on the stellar series by Diana Gabaldon, has gained a full audience of devoted fans since the first eight episodes aired last fall, and now the critically acclaimed series is back in full swing in the second half of its debut season.
In The Reckoning, the season's ninth episode, Jamie and company devise a scheme to save Claire from the clutches of Black Jack Randall at Fort William – preferably, as lawyer Ned Gowan advises, without killing any redcoats and drawing Clan MacKenzie into direct confrontation. But the dangers of conflict with the British prove to be not the only source of tension for the MacKenzie. While Jamie's relationship with Claire is tested by the stringent bonds of archaic tradition, back at Castle Leoch civil unrest could mark an uprising in the clan as brothers Dougal and Colum find their political differences leading them to a decidedly dangerous crossroads. As Jamie struggles to clear the air between the MacKenzie clan’s chief and war chieftain, he must also confront the starry-eyed and heartbroken Laoghire who is determined in her efforts to win him back from Claire.
With The Reckoning, creator Ronald D. Moore and company approach the Outlander story from an entirely new perspective: Jamie’s. While, like the books, the series has been narrated in Claire’s eloquent account, this episode marks a divergence from the books as Jamie instead narrates. The first scene opens to Jamie's rich brogue as he muses on how choices are the making of a man. It’s a beautiful exploration of the character, offering legions of fans a chance further inside the mind of the romantic Highlander, and the rendering delivers all of Jamie's graceful, charismatic honesty. Doubly, this approach gives us a chance to watch the MacKenzie men orchestrate their plan to steal into Fort William and spirit Claire out of the territory of Randall’s villainy. (In this scene, Tobias Menzies reminds us again how brilliant and utterly immersive his performance as Randall can be.)
Another enjoyable advantage to the switch in narrative perspective is that it draws the reader into the "present" cultural and political upheaval as Scotland is experiencing it, particularly in the dissent between Dougal and Colum as the Laird of Castle Leoch questions his brother’s fealty. While Claire's asides in the first half of the season helped us to understand the history of it all, Jamie's immersion into the brothers’ discontent and his attempts to keep Clan MacKenzie from, essentially, imploding give viewers a sense of what that history actually might have felt like, when the future was unknown and the hopes of Scotsmen were fragile but determined.
The Reckoning also touches on a controversial moment from the novel when Jamie is governed by tradition to punish Claire for putting the MacKenzie in a precarious position. Following the account from his perspective helps to take the viewer into the history where such behavior was dictated; ultimately, it allows for a bit of dialogue on Jamie's struggle between the world as he has been taught to see it and the world as he sees it through Claire.
In all, Outlander returned with a bang (literally), and proved that the stories, the performances, and the in-depth richness of the show has only gained steam during its hiatus.
New episodes will be airing every Saturday on Starz and, as always, you can find more insights and info on Starz.com.