The weekend’s episode of Outlander marked the mid-season finale of a fantastic first season, one that took us from 1940s Inverness across the Highlands of Scotland’s 18th century. The eighth episode, “Both Sides Now”, takes us back to the world Claire left behind as Frank desperately searches the Highlands for his missing wife. Meanwhile, Claire is exploring life as Mistress Fraser and her relationship with Jamie continues to grow. The honeymoon doesn’t last long, though; soon enough, events spiral out of control, bringing new threats and ultimately placing Claire at a crossroads between the two men she’s come to love.
The first act of Outlander comes to a close with all the drama, romance, and complexity that has made this season such a truly immersive experience. Claire’s plight takes on a traumatic new level of danger in a heart-rending and emotional explosion of circumstances; perhaps in no other episode have we as audience members felt closer and more emotionally connected to this remarkable character than we do here. There are times when beloved literary characters can seem impossible to capture in the flesh, but Caitriona Balfe has done truly wonderful work reinventing Claire for the screen; I don’t imagine anyone else could have done the role such justice. Likewise, the entire cast has continuously proven themselves to be near perfect in their respective roles, from the supporting actors playing new faces to the main cast bringing our most beloved – and reviled – characters from the book to life. While none among them has held back in the previous episodes, they put their very best efforts into “Both Sides Now”, and the result is yet another exhilarating, passionate step into the world of the novels.
This episode also brings us another superb performance from Tobias Menzies. In an an interesting breakaway from Claire's point-of-view, the story glimpses back to follow Frank; I think that addition makes Frank’s side of the story a bit more compelling. Initially, Menzies's portrayal of Frank evokes very strong sympathy (in my case, even a bit stronger than I had for Frank in the novel), but most intriguing is when he appears as Black Jack Randall only moments after we saw him as Frank. His ability to fully assume each of the two vastly different identities is marvelous, and it’s most impressive here as we see the performances back-to-back. The particular contrast I find interesting is Frank’s desperation to Black Jack’s deviousness; though we also see a bit of Frank's own darkness as well. Ultimately, we’re left with a renewed sense of the depth of Claire and Frank’s relationship, and despite the wonderful charm and remarkable chivalry of Jamie, this episode reminds us of the impenetrable bond that previously existed. Not to be swayed in one direction, though, we feel the very tug of Claire’s dilemma on our heartstrings as she finds herself so severely torn between her love for these two different men.
A few new characters from the books come to life in this episode, including Simon Mecock as Jamie’s friend, licensed beggar Hugh Munro, and we also get a glimpse of young Roger Wakefield (played by an impossibly adorable Rory Burns) back in Frank’s world of the 1940s. In all, it was a beautiful, emotional mid-season finale, and its echoes of the majesty of the Outlander world will surely be with us until the show returns next spring.
If you missed the announcement on the Starz Outlander social media channels, Outlander’s first season will resume on April 4th, 2015 for another eight episodes. I know that seems ages away, but if the first half of the season has been any indication I’m sure it will be worth the wait!
Disclosure: Programming was made available for the purpose of review.