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.
"He was gone. They were all gone. The world I'd left only moments ago was now dust." Claire (Outlander, 2x01: Through a Glass, Darkly)
The second chapter of the Outlander saga follows Scottish warrior Jamie and time-traveling nurse Claire into the decadent foray of 18th century France as they plot to overthrow the Jacobite rebellion and save Scotland's clan warriors from a terrible fall at the hands of the British army. When last we met Claire and her ravaged Highlander the two were on the run from the treacherous Black Jack Randall after the British captain had brutally raped and tortured Jamie, leaving him broken in both body and spirit. Desperate to escape the memory of Randall’s terror and determined to change the course of Scotland’s history, Jamie and Claire board a ship bound for France with the surly but devoted Murtagh along for the journey.
Set to follow the events of Dragonfly in Amber, the second season of the award-winning adaptation from Starz will likely lead viewers through 1745 and 1746 as Claire and Jamie attempt to foil the Scottish uprising that will lead to the devastating battle of Culloden and a fatal blow to the Jacobite cause. Where the book, the second in Diana Gabaldon's blockbuster series, launches readers into 1968 and a grown-up Roger Wakefield's exasperated attempts to organize the late Reverend Wakefield's cluttered manse, the show instead turns its focus on a time two decades earlier: when a frail – and pregnant – Claire wakes amid the stones of Craigh na Dun, her last harrowing year a mystery punctuated only by the battle of Culloden and a burning question: Who, precisely, died on the battlefield that April day two centuries before?
Directed by Metin Hüseyin, the premiere episode of the season, "Through a Glass, Darkly," splits its time between 1948 Inverness where a distraught Frank Randall grapples with the return of his wife, lost to him for three long years, and 1745 France where Claire and Jamie come to terms with their mission to save the Scots. There is never a shortage of remarkable performances from the trio of actors at the show’s center, and arguably the most challenging portrayal (for both actor and audience) is that of Tobias Menzies in his dual roles of scholarly Frank Randall and his sadistic ancestor, Black Jack.
"When you disappeared everyone wanted me to believe that you had left of your own violition with another man, and for a time I wanted to believe that, too, believe me, so I could fill the utter void that I felt with rage and betrayal, with hatred. But I couldn't. Because deep down I knew, I knew that whatever had happened, you did not choose to leave me; that something had taken you from me." Frank (Outlander, 2x01: Through a Glass, Darkly)
It takes a special sort of actor to be able to slide to ultimate ends of the spectrum, encouraging the viewer to have compassion for Frank, a kindly and ultimately even-tempered man desperately in love, when one has so recently seen him as Black Jack at his most ferociously vile. Yet Menzies does just that, giving a startlingly moving performance in several scenes as Frank pleads both silently and openly for Claire to find her way back to him. Our Claire, Caitriona Balfe, is as elegantly heartbreaking as we could expect as she tries to accept her future with Frank and let go of her past with Jamie, even as she quite literally carries a reminder of him within her.
As the episode moves us back to Claire and Jamie's story, we arrive with them in the French port of Le Havre in Normandy where, under the watchful eye of Murtagh, they breathe the free air of life out of Randall's clutches. Still haunted by his traumatic experiences, Jamie’s journey back to Claire and to wholeness is a poignant mirror of what we now know the future holds for Claire. In secret, Jamie and Claire commit themselves to devising a plan that will allow them to infiltrate the Jacobite circle in France, one that will hopefully take them up the ranks and into view of the very tactics being arranged by Charles Stuart. Known throughout history as Bonnie Prince Charlie, he is, as Claire remembers him, the Scottish pretender whose attempts to lead the Jacobite cause result in the final uprising and its ultimate, bloody defeat on the marshes of the Scottish Highlands. On her quest to rewrite history and save the Scottish clansmen who would follow Stuart into battle, Claire is determined to thwart the raising of the doomed charge - whatever the risk.
"You certainly have a high opinion of what a crippled Highlander and a pregnant woman can accomplish." Jamie (Outlander, 2x01: Through a Glass, Darkly)
Never without detour as Claire and Jamie's adventures always are, their new scheme finds them in the employ of Jamie’s cousin Jared (Robert Cavanah), a wine merchant and proud Jacobite who asks Jamie to run his business temporarily in exchange for entry into the circle. Before long, Claire finds her new life in France upturned by the scourge of smallpox and the subsequent malice of French nobleman Le Comte St. Germain (Stanley Weber), who blames Claire entirely for his loss of both ship and cargo.
"A new country, a new enemy," Jamie tells her; "Life with you is certainly never dull, Sassenach." And as the viewers prepare themselves to be once again swept up in Ronald D. Moore's lavish rendering of Gabaldon's enchanting and savage world, with a new season of lush performances, heart-rending drama, breathtaking costumes, and the seduction of 18th century French intrigue, we can only wholeheartedly agree with him.