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 only three episodes remaining in the stellar second season, Outlander delivered the first of these final episodes with a delightful surprise. In Saturday’s eleventh episode, titled Vengeance Is Mine, fans were treated to a chapter of the series written and adapted for television by Outlander’s creator herself. All the hallmarks of Diana Gabaldon’s beloved writing style translate beautifully to the screen in an episode brimming with romance, humor, and intensity as the Frasers find out what history has in store for them next. Despite many successes in their agenda, the Jacobites find themselves at odds once again when the majority choose to halt their march on London and turn back to Scotland, instead, for the winter months. Knowing that such a choice means sending the men further down the path that will end in the massacre at Culloden, Jamie chooses to align himself with an impassioned Charles Stuart, who seeks to continue on to London. Jamie is, unfortunately, the only supporter of such a plan. His efforts result in a conspiring of the Jacobite leaders to spirit Charles away and send Jamie, Claire, Dougal and company into veritable exile gathering stores in Inverness.
Gabaldon and director Mike Barker make a marvelous team on an episode that reunites familiar faces and settles a complicated relationship once and for all. Our first moments of drama come when Stuart goes on the defensive toward his generals in a desperate attempt to inspire action. Here, Andrew Gower has the opportunity to dig into the depths of what may have motivated the pretender prince on his tragic quest, and he does not disappoint. In one of his most captivating performances as Stuart, Gower shines a light beyond the façade of a delusional man and into the hopeful heart of his best intentions. Gone is the oft-delivered demand for attention - “Mark me!” - and in its place is a man speaking, perhaps for the first time, from the unscripted place of the heart.
Things take a fateful turn for the Frasers when a run-in with Redcoats along the path to Inverness causes Claire to make a desperate sacrifice. As we see the essence of love around them in a tender scene which finds Jamie saying a Gaelic prayer over a sleeping Claire, we also see in this episode the unmistakable passion for the Frasers to protect one another. As Jamie rails against the notion of giving Claire up, the dauntless Brit accepts her responsibility to Jamie and the others. Her choice finds her a guest of the British army, delivered in all coincidence to the estate of none other than the Duke of Sandringham, but not before a chance encounter allows her to send word to Jamie through Hugh Munro (Simon Meacock, returning after a brief appearance in Season One).
Throughout this series, the diabolically unpredictable Sandringham has been brought to life in the lavish and delightfully wicked way that only Simon Callow could. Whether we’re drawn into the drama of his sinister conspiracies or his inexhaustible deception in playing the two sides against each other, Sandringham has become an unforgettable part of the Outlander television experience, thanks to Callow’s consistently brilliant performance. In his final episode, Sandringham is at his most viperous as he accepts Claire into his nest, his designs to save her or ruin her perpetually unclear. He is every ounce the cat joyfully playing with his captive, leaving even the diehard book fans speechless in suspense of what he’ll really do next.
In the episode’s most suspenseful moments to follow, Jamie and Murtagh are led by Munro into a trap designed by Sandringham, yet the duke finds that things work decidedly against his favor. When a revelation at the house brings Claire – and, subsequently, a likewise stationed Mary Hawkins – to learn that the duke himself played a hand in their brutal attack in the streets of Paris, vengeance is indeed sought, and by no one as passionately as Murtagh; honoring his vow to Claire that he would correct his self-perceived failure in Paris, the rough-edged Highlander delivers on his promise with shocking results.
As next week’s episode brings us closer to the final chapter of Dragonfly in Amber, the weekend’s adventure offered viewers a diversion from the uprising and a chance to experience the visual world of Outlander through the eyes of its own creator, resulting in a captivating story that renders itself as beautifully full-hearted on the screen as it first appeared on paper.