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Outlander: Dragonfly in Amber

I have a lot to say about this second season finale. But I'll start with only two words:

Twenty years.

Twenty freaking years!

There's something about this twenty year gap that gives me a lump in my throat every time I think about it. Two people so deeply in love should not be separated for twenty years – it's too painful. Yes, I know Jamie and Claire are fictional characters, but I care about them and they've already been through too much. And now this?

Okay. That said, let's talk about "Dragonfly in Amber." Two critical things happen in this ninety-minute episode: Jamie and Claire say a painful goodbye on the morning of the Battle of Culloden as he sends her back through the stones to 1948, and twenty years later in 1968, Claire finally tells her daughter about Jamie, and decides to go back to him.

Morning, April 16, 1746

Still unable to make Prince Charles listen to reason and with the knowledge of history staring them in the face, Jamie and Claire seriously considered assassination. Would they have tried it if fate hadn't brought the eavesdropping Dougal to their door?

Instead of killing Prince Charles, they were forced to kill Dougal MacKenzie. The man was beside himself, fury uncontainable, attacking Jamie with a sword as he spouted vicious obscenities. Jamie couldn't quite make himself push that knife into his uncle's body; without even thinking, Claire added her strength to his, and they killed Dougal together. It was a deeply felt shock to Jamie and Claire, just the first of this horrible day. Dougal was a complicated character and I never liked him, but I hated to see him go this way.

And omigod, those goodbyes. They got to me, big time. Again with Claire's knowledge of the aftermath of the battle, Jamie signed a deed giving his beloved Lallybroch to his nephew, backdated a year to protect his family from being branded as traitors. He gave the deed to Fergus, trusting the boy with the dangerous, massively important task of getting it to Jenny. As they bid Fergus farewell, Jamie called him "mon fils," my son. So did Claire.

Jamie ordered his godfather Murtagh to take the Lallybroch men home before the fight. In a touching exchange that made me cry, Murtagh agreed to get the men on the road to home but told Jamie:
Murtagh: "When you return, I'll be waiting here to fight by your side."
Jamie: "No. I said I'll not have you dying for nothing."
Murtagh: "I won't be. I'll be dying with you."

Like Murtagh, Claire wanted to stay and die with Jamie. Would he have allowed it if she hadn't been pregnant? She was keeping it from him, not wanting to burden him, but he had noticed the change in her cycle. Because of course he did. It's Jamie Fraser.

The climax of this episode, in both time periods, was at Craigh na Dun. In 1746, Claire gave Jamie the piece of amber, he gave her his father's ring. After a final, desperate coupling on the ground and with tears dripping down his cheeks, Jamie backed Claire into the circle and placed her hand on the stone, forcing her to leave him. Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan were at their best; they managed to wring every possible particle of anguish out of that scene.

We do not see what happens to Jamie. We do not see the Battle of Culloden. (Yet.) I was surprised by that, but I shouldn't have been. I should have remembered that this story is being told by Claire.

And now it's 1968

It is twenty years later. Claire has never told her daughter Brianna the truth about her biological father because Frank demanded it stay a secret. Claire kept her word to Frank, but he is dead now. It again felt like fate was taking a hand.

One thing I love about Outlander is that it takes its time establishing characters, and a large part of this episode was the introduction of Brianna Randall and Roger Wakefield. The Reverend Wakefield passed away while Claire and Brianna were in England visiting relatives, so they came to Inverness for his wake. Intending only to visit briefly, Claire and Brianna wound up staying much longer, and Brianna and Roger connected almost immediately. Oddly, Claire connected to Roger too, although not in a romantic way. Perhaps Roger the historian sensed from the start that Claire's heart was in the past.

As Roger and Brianna did some lighthearted sightseeing accompanied by flirting and a debate about American history, Claire went alone to revisit places she had been with Jamie. The emotion was all with Claire – although Brianna at Fort William, unknowingly walking over ground that had been soaked with her father's blood, made me shudder.

The eighteenth century felt so long ago and far away during these scenes. At the roofless ruin of Lallybroch, Claire remembered voices from the past and in a startling moment, imagined Jamie standing in the courtyard looking at her. At the county records office, Claire found that same deed of sasine that she and Jamie had signed in 1746, stained with her own tears. She learned that Lallybroch had stayed with the Murrays for generations, although they no longer owned the property.

Stark and ugly, Culloden Moor creeped me out. Crouching before the marker for Clan Fraser, Claire finally spoke to Jamie, believing she was visiting his grave. She told him about his daughter and all that had happened in the past twenty years, and forgave him for making her return to her own time. He had been right to do it, she told him. Their daughter had grown up safely, and with love. And she was finally ready to say goodbye to him.

As Roger and Brianna, in one of their best scenes, went through the Reverend's journals in the attic and Roger won my heart (and likely Brianna's) with an impromptu "rat satire," they learned about Claire's three-year disappearance "kidnapped by fairies" and that she was pregnant when she was found in 1948. It took more than half of this episode for Brianna to learn that Frank was not her biological father. Too long.

As Roger looked on uncomfortably, longing to leave the room, Claire told Brianna about Jamie Fraser. And Brianna didn't believe her. "The man I grew up with, who loved me for twenty years, isn't my father. My real father is some six foot three inch redheaded guy in a kilt from the eighteenth century? What is wrong with you?"

And yes, I get why Brianna was so angry. She loved Frank and thought Claire had been unfaithful, that their current trip to Scotland was a trick intended to spring her biological father on her. And maybe Brianna protested a bit too much to suit me, but that's because we, the audience, are deeply invested in Jamie Fraser. It also made me think that Sophie Skelton wasn't the strongest casting choice they could have made, because I simply couldn't warm to her or her point of view.

This uncomfortable situation was unexpectedly resolved by Geillis Duncan, of all people. In 1968, Geillis was Gillian Edgars, a fiery Scottish nationalist obsessed with Bonnie Prince Charlie. Again, fate had to be calling the shots since it was the very day that Geillis had chosen to go back in time through the stones at Craigh na Dun, providing convenient proof to Brianna and Roger that Claire was telling the truth.

(The fact that Geillis murdered her first husband to power the stones, just as she murdered her second husband in 1744, just made her more familiar and almost endearingly evil. It also added confusion to the time travel rules. Gem stones, yes, but human sacrifice? Claire never did that. This episode also established that both Brianna and Roger can hear the buzzing at Craigh na Dun. And reminded us that sadly, Jamie cannot, which is just too bad. Who wouldn't love seeing Jamie Fraser in the twentieth century?)

The Reverend had left behind the research he did on Jamie at Frank's request – proof that Jamie had survived the Battle of Culloden. It's fascinating that (and yes, we know Claire has free will, but) essentially, Jamie gave Claire back to Frank in 1746, and Frank, by asking the Reverend to do this research, ultimately gave Claire back to Jamie in 1968.

Because Claire knows now that she must return to Jamie. This series is about the two of them, after all, and there's no reason to watch if Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe and their amazing romantic chemistry aren't together in the same time and place.

Let's hope they won't make us wait through an entire third season to bring them back together.


— It was a shock when this episode began with a scene from The Avengers, with Steed pressing Mrs. Peel's doorbell with his umbrella. The sixties music was also jarring, but fun. It managed to make Outlander into a different show.

— Roger Wakefield was born Roger MacKenzie. Claire did a genealogical search and found that Roger was a direct descendant of Geillis Duncan and Dougal MacKenzie. Is being able to hear the stones genetic?

— Prince Charles compared Jamie to Doubting Thomas and himself to Christ. A deluded, dangerous idiot to the very end.

— Geillis asked Brianna the same thing she asked Claire back in season one: "Why are you here?"

— In this episode's time segue, Claire was looking at Brianna's red hair and saying, "God, you are so like him" when Brianna's hair became Jamie's.

— The costumes were amazing, as always. I also liked Claire's ironed hair and black eyeliner. Very sixties.

— At the Culloden visitor center, Claire found the piece of amber with the dragonfly she gave to Jamie at the stones. Dragonfly in Amber is the title of Diana Gabaldon's second Outlander book.

— I haven't discussed the books much in my reviews, but the 1968 piece of this episode was how Gabaldon chose to start her second book. It confused readers so much that Gabaldon added a preface explaining that yes, this is the second book, you didn't pick up the wrong one. I thought the television series made the right decision to begin season two with 1948, instead. Less confusing. Less infuriating.


Claire: "Mrs. Graham had warned me not to spend my days chasing a ghost, and so I hadn't. But now that I was here, the ghosts were starting to chase me."

(Jamie is often referred to as a ghost throughout the series. I think that's a reference to the pilot episode "Sassenach" when Frank saw Jamie's ghost outside the bed and breakfast, looking up at Claire as she was brushing her hair. This scene has yet to be explained.)

Roger: "Your mother seems very kind as well."
Brianna: "My mother lives in another world."

Roger: (singing) "Ye rats ye are too many, if ye would dine aplenty, ye must go, ye must go. Go and fill your bellies, dinna stay and gnaw my wellies! Go, ye rats, go!"

Jamie: (to Fergus) "You're a soldier now, mon fils. I love you like a son."
Claire: "Like our own son."

Roger: "It smells like a fucking barbecue."

(Which is close to what Geillis said at the witch trial when she was pregnant with Roger's ancestor.)

Jamie: (about Frank) "Tell him I'm grateful. And tell him I trust him. And tell him I hate him to the very marrow of his bones."

Jamie: "If I have to endure two hundred years of purgatory, two hundred years without you, then that is my punishment that I have earned for my crimes, for I have lied, killed, stolen, betrayed and broken trust. But when I stand before God, I'll have one thing to say to weigh against all the rest. Lord, you gave me a rare woman. And God, I loved her well."

Brianna: "No more lies. From now on, I only want the truth between you and me."

(This was the same thing Jamie said to Claire way back in season one.)

While the shift from "historical war story" to "sixties time travel tale" is undoubtedly awkward and a bit lopsided, "Dragonfly in Amber" is a game changer of an episode. Four out of four rat satires,

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. Wow! Just, wow!

    This season was not my favorite, but it certainly set up one hell of a finale. I found myself incredibly moved through most of it, to the point of tears on several occasions. Claire going to see the house with the ghostly voices in her head was beautifully shot and incredibly sad.

    I loved the reveal of Geillis -- one of the great OMG moments of the series to date. I think it is interesting that Gillian never met Claire. If she had, it would turn their whole friendship in season one around as she would have recognized her from 1968. Likewise, the reveal of Roger's parents. A bit theatrical, but fun none the less.

    Great second season reviews, Billie!

  2. I enjoyed seeing Geillis again, but good lord, that woman is bonkers! I found it a little hard to warm to Brianna too, but the episode worked well otherwise.

  3. I completely agree with everything you wrote here.

    I also struggled a bit with Brianna, to the point where I mentally re-wrote some of the dialogue in my head during a crucial emotional moment:

    Briana: No more lies. From now on, I only want the truth between you and me.

    Claire: Okay, if you're ready for it: both of us have naturally curly hair, and we're only flat-ironing it because it's the 1960s. We need to enjoy our curls.

    Briana: Moooooooom! Stop it! Stop judging my hair!

    Claire: No, you don't understand. We are like Samson. You. Me. Your father. Our power comes from our curls.

    Briana: OMG, I can't even. Why do you always do this?!

  4. Josie, lol. Blame the book author for the curls. :)

  5. I just finished watching this episode.

    I like both the episode AND this review a little too much.

    Just wow and wow for sharing your thoughts.


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