Outlander: Best Laid Schemes...

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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 if you get caught? Have either of you thought of that contingency?" "Aye. Don't get caught." "This whole thing's dangerous." "T'is." "Every now and then it is okay for you to lie to me, you know. Just to put my mind at ease." "I'll remember that next time." Claire and Jamie (Outlander: Best Laid Schemes)

Outlander's sixth episode of Book Two provides some of the most gripping dramatics of the season, along with moments both of sweet connection and quiet comedy. Best Laid Schemes finds Jamie, Claire, Murtagh, and Fergus on a mission to infect the Comte St. Germain's crew with a smallpox-like disease that will cost the Comte and Charles Stuart their pending wine deal. With the discovery of disease onboard the ship, the harbormaster will be forced to destroy the very cargo Stuart hopes will be the means of financing his uprising’s weaponry. But as always befalls the Frasers, things do not go quite as planned.

Claire in Outlander | © Starz
Claire in Outlander | © Starz

Written by Matthew Roberts, who adapted several episodes of Outlander's first season, Best Laid Schemes takes us through the many layers that make up Diana Gabaldon’s characters, especially their complex devoted relationships. In a contrast to the severity of the discord between Jamie and Claire in the last episode, here we see the Frasers at a truce, however uneasy, regarding the interconnected lives of Frank and Jonathan Randall. Caitriona Balfe's wonderful talent for pouring emotion into every muscle comes in handy here as her eyes and facial expressions speak volumes throughout the episode. Asked by Jamie to make a promise to return to her own time if their plan should fail and his participation in the battle of Culloden becomes inevitable, an utterly shocked Claire wordlessly agrees. Her note of fear and reluctant realization reminds us of Raymond’s words to her: that she will see Frank again. Swept up in changing the past, Claire realizes she may not have any control of the future at all.

While Balfe's performance evokes the heart of Claire’s emotional turmoil, Sam Heughan alternatively gets to have a bit of fun tapping into the boylike charm that so wonderfully defines Jamie in the books. Whether teasing a most disgruntled Murtagh over his posh Parisian dress, engaging in playful banter with Claire, or observing Fergus’s antics with quiet amusement, it’s a chance for viewers to once again see Jamie as he was before the awful events at Wentworth Prison. The lightness of his attitude perhaps stems from their decision to finally bring Murtagh into the fold by sharing the truth about Claire’s past, an endeavor that leads into some wonderful scenes of kinship, particularly between Murtagh and Claire as he struggles with seeing her in this new light and his goodness ultimately wins out.

"But ye ken all the dates? When things will happen. When people will die." "I don't know about you, or Jamie...about any of us." "Even knowing what Jamie says ye do, I wouldn't want to bear that burden." Murtagh and Claire (Outlander: Best Laid Schemes)

Jamie in Outlander | © Starz
Jamie in Outlander | © Starz

But the humorous charm and romantic highlights of the episode are met, of course, with dark edges and dramatic heartbreak as the story continues to unfold. Claire worries for Raymond’s safety when she learns of the king’s plan to have several suspected practitioners of dark magic arrested and brutally killed. Likewise, the plot to spoil St. Germain's wine shipment is met with an unexpected result, causing Murtagh and Jamie to devise and new and rather last-ditch effort to thwart Stuart’s potential money gain. And in one of the most emotionally wrenching scenes of the season so far, many lives hang in the balance and many fates await judgement as Fergus comes into Black Jack’s crosshairs, Jamie makes his fury-driven move, and Claire spirals into a mortal undoing at the hands of a broken promise.

With the beautifully nuanced performances from the exquisite cast and a faithful rendering of the novel that feels brand new, the latest installment in the Outlander adventure keeps audiences in rapt attention as emotions coil across page to screen. And with a final scene that leaves us all breathless for the continuation of the story, Starz's series once again proves itself to be not only an intricately woven adaptation, but a canvas for truly spectacular art.