Outlander: Top Ten Favorite Episodes

Outlander, currently running on Starz, is a time travel and mixed genre mash-up of a series based on the novels written by Diana Gabaldon. There are eight Outlander novels published with a ninth near completion, and a tenth and final novel planned. The television series will start filming season six as soon as the pandemic permits. Whether or not the series ever catches up with the books is anyone's guess. (I hope so.)

Outlander is about Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe), a World War II British Army combat nurse who goes back in time to 1743 and is forced by circumstances to marry eighteenth century highlander Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan). The core of the series is Jamie and Claire and their unusual marriage against a backdrop of Scottish history, the American Revolution, primitive medicine, conflicting gender roles, and various time travel complications.

This top ten list, in reverse order, is derived from several "favorite episode" polls I've posted on a large Outlander Facebook fan group (which is currently closed to new members during Droughtlander, or I'd give you a link). It is fan favorites, not critical favorites, which is why I think it leans away from some of the heaviest stuff in the series.

Please note that it's impossible to describe these episodes without spoilers.

10. FAITH (season two, episode seven)


This is the midseason finale, and the last episode set in Paris.

After losing her baby and nearly her life, Claire slowly recovers as Jamie remains in the Bastille for dueling. When Claire finally learns the why behind the duel, she goes to King Louis, knowing in advance that she will most likely have to exchange sex for Jamie's release. Instead, the King takes her to a mysterious chamber within Versailles and asks her to use her skills as a white witch to determine the guilt or innocence of two Parisian sorcerers, both of whom she knows well.

The entire edge-of-your-seat life-and-death sequence in the King's star chamber is one of the best scenes in the series, with a terrific performance by Caitriona Balfe as Claire. Her reconciliation with Jamie afterward as they try to repair the damage to their marriage is touching and beautifully done. (My full review here.)


9. MONSTERS AND HEROES (season five, episode nine)


While out hunting with Roger, Jamie is bitten by a snake. Near death and unable to walk, Jamie is forced to depend on his son-in-law, making this the turning point in their rocky relationship.

What makes this episode so good is that after five seasons, we know these characters so well, and "Monsters and Heroes" is an exceptional character piece. We understand why Jamie initially rejects amputation – because he thinks it will make him useless to his family – and why he agrees to it in the end. We also know it's possible that Claire's love for Jamie might push her to operate against his wishes just to keep him alive, and it's agonizing to consider what would happen if she went ahead and he never forgave her.

The scene in bed where Jamie is near death and Claire desperately tries to heal him with her hands is particularly effective. So is young Ian's anger at Jamie, especially considering Ian Senior's situation. (My full review here.)


8. UNCHARTED (season three, episode eleven)


I was a bit surprised that this one made the top ten, because honestly, it is a batshit crazy episode.

After jumping off the British ship in an act of desperation, Claire washes up on an island in the Caribbean. As she struggles through the jungle trying to find civilization, she deals with excessive heat and thirst, snakes, biting ants, and a fallen priest who smokes dope and converses with a coconut.

This episode, like many others in the series, is a particularly enjoyable character piece. It culminates in Fergus and Marsali's sweet and comical wedding on the beach, followed by Jamie and Claire, back on board the Artemis, discovering the erotic side effects of sherry-spiked turtle soup. (My full review here.)


7. NEVER MY LOVE (season five finale)


Claire is abducted by a gang of men led by Lionel Brown, who hates her for accumulated and various stupid reasons. As she is subjected to terrible abuse, Claire mentally retreats into a 1960s fantasy world where she is celebrating Thanksgiving with her eighteenth century family. These fantasy scenes are fascinating and heartwarming and contain many easter eggs referencing earlier episodes.

Jamie and the men of the Ridge carry out a raid to rescue Claire, and in the aftermath, Jamie focuses single-mindedly on healing her, as she once healed him. This is an exceptionally strong episode that focuses less on the violence of the event and more on the strength of Claire's ties with family and friends who love her. Caitriona Balfe (Claire) and Lauren Lyle (Marsali) deserve Emmys for this one. (My full review here.)


6. THE DEVIL'S MARK (season one, episode eleven)


This is my favorite first season episode. Like many Outlander outings, it has two distinct parts: Claire and Geillis on trial for witchcraft – I honestly don't care for dramatized witchcraft trials, but this one was exceptionally well-written and well-acted – and the aftermath, where Claire finally tells Jamie the truth about her trip through the stones.

The emotional gut punch in this episode is that Jamie immediately believes Claire and takes her back to the stones so that she can finally go home to her own time. While devastated at the thought of losing her, he doesn't try to emotionally blackmail her in order to make her stay. It's a completely unselfish act of love on his part.

Outlander has become my favorite love story, and this episode is one reason why. I also should single out Lotte Verbeek's exceptional performance as Geillis Duncan; she totally rocks. (ChrisB's full review here.)


5. THE RECKONING (season one, episode nine)


Skipping back two episodes before "The Devil's Mark," "The Reckoning" is probably the most controversial episode of the series. Fans have widely divergent opinions about it.

What makes this episode intriguing is how successfully it shows both Claire's and Jamie's perspectives. Jamie did what his father and grandfather would have done with a disobedient wife in such dangerous circumstances. Claire won't forgive Jamie because she cannot accept a marriage in which her husband can physically punish her whenever he chooses. (Nor should she.)

It's obvious why this episode is controversial. And yet, I think it does the job of showing that Jamie isn't simply a twentieth century character in eighteenth century clothing. It's laudable that he chooses to bend, to discard what he sees as tradition, in order to save his marriage. (ChrisB's full review here.)


4. DRAGONFLY IN AMBER (season two finale)


This is my personal favorite Outlander episode. It's extra long – ninety minutes – and takes place in two time periods, 1746 and 1968, with both story threads culminating at the standing stones of Craigh na Dun.

In 1746, it is the morning of the Battle of Culloden. After discussing the possibility of assassinating Bonnie Prince Charlie as a last ditch effort to change history, Jamie and Claire are instead forced to kill Jamie's uncle, who overhears their plans. After doing his best to save his men and his Lallybroch family, Jamie takes Claire, who is newly pregnant, to the stones and forces her to return to her own time before he turns back to die at Culloden. This farewell is a three-hanky event for me, every time I watch it.

In 1968, Claire and her nineteen-year-old daughter Brianna attend the Reverend Wakefield's funeral and befriend the Reverend's foster son, Roger. Claire has decided to use this trip to Scotland to tell Brianna about time travel and that her biological father is Jamie Fraser, not Frank Randall. Brianna reacts with disbelief and hostility, but eventually comes to accept the truth.

Claire believed for twenty years that Jamie died at Culloden; when she learns that Jamie in fact survived, she decides to return to him. (My full review here.)


3. THE BIRDS & THE BEES (season four, episode nine)


This episode features one of the best moments in the entire series: the awkward, poignant scene in an alley behind a pub when Jamie finally meets his grown daughter Brianna for the first time. Sam Heughan and Sophie Skelton give lovely performances in this scene.

One of the saddest ongoing threads in this series is that Jamie longed to be a father but was cheated by fate from raising all three of his natural children; separated from Brianna by time, he didn't even know she existed until "A. Malcolm" (below). (My full review here.)


2. A. MALCOLM (season three, episode six)


It's not surprising that this episode is a huge favorite. It packs the strongest romantic and emotional punch in the series. In fact, I like it more than the episode the Outlander Facebook group chose for number one, below.

After twenty years apart, Claire travels two hundred years back in time again to find Jamie. She walks into Jamie's printshop in Edinburgh, and he is so shocked to see her that he passes out. The two of them slowly reconnect; she tells him about his daughter and they bring each other up to date, all the while both are clearly wondering if they can overcome such a long separation and find their way back to each other.

This episode could have been melodramatic or too sweetly romantic. Instead, it is cleverly leavened by bits of silliness, as well as some confusing problems connected to Jamie's current living situation in a brothel. (My full review here.)


1. THE WEDDING (season one, episode seven)


It's only the seventh episode of the series, and Claire must make a critical choice – submit to torture and imprisonment by villain Black Jack Randall, who believes she's a spy, or marry one of the MacKenzie men, which will make her a Scottish citizen.

Claire reluctantly marries Jamie for protection, but things change during their wedding night. As he tells her about interesting and amusing things that happened earlier in the day (Dougal and Willie threatening the priest, Rupert and Angus and the ring, Ned and the brothel and the dress), the two of them get to know each other, and connect on a physical level when they make love for the first time. Interestingly, in contrast to typical romance novel circumstances, Jamie is younger than Claire and a virgin, while Claire frets about betraying her first husband Frank. Is it bigamy if Frank hasn't been born yet?

In most love stories, the wedding is usually the end. On Outlander, it is the beginning. If you're familiar with the entire series and know what is in store for Jamie and Claire, the actual wedding ceremony, which we don't see until near the end of the episode, is deeply moving. And while this episode isn't my personal favorite, I'll readily admit that it is sweet, charming, funny, romantic and divinely sexy. (Review by ChrisB here.)


But that's not all! I'd like to include "Billie's Addendum" with three of my personal favorites that didn't make the list.

THE BATTLE JOINED (season three premiere)


After two seasons of build-up and futile attempts to keep it from happening, we see the 1746 Battle of Culloden mostly in flashback through the eyes of the seriously injured Jamie as he waits for death on the battlefield. The battle itself is realistic, vicious and intensely violent, but mostly tragic as hundreds of starving Highlanders charge to their unnecessary deaths. The tragedy is intensified by the scenes in the farmhouse afterward, as the exhausted, wounded handful of Scots that had taken refuge there are summarily executed one by one by the British. This episode features what might be Sam Heughan's best performance as Jamie, although it has a lot of competition.

As Jamie waits for death, the pregnant Claire waits for life as she tries to adjust to 1948 Boston and readjust to her first husband Frank. Hope prevails when Jamie unexpectedly survives, and Claire gives birth to Jamie's daughter Brianna. (My full review here.)


OF LOST THINGS (season three, episode four)


After the closure of Ardsmuir, prison governor John Grey finds Jamie a position as a groom at an English estate called Helwater. Still technically a prisoner and trying simply to keep his head down, Jamie is blackmailed into a sexual relationship with one of estate owner's daughters; she then marries an earl, gives birth to Jamie's son, and (conveniently) dies.

What I enjoy most about this episode is that Jamie finally has the opportunity to be a father. He willingly spends six years of his life as a groom in order to stay close to his unacknowledged son Willie. Jamie also develops a close friendship with John Grey, whom Jamie knows is in love with him. These two situations come together when Jamie is forced to leave Helwater and asks John to be Willie's father. (My full review here.)


THE BALLAD OF ROGER MAC (season five, episode seven)


This midseason finale, my favorite episode of season five, features the Battle of Alamance, with Jamie forced to don a red coat and fight against his own godfather. The battle scenes are, as always, exceptionally well done, and the scene where Jamie drags Murtagh to Claire and begs her to save him is devastating. So is the shocking ending at the hanging tree.

"The Ballad of Roger Mac" is a turning point in Jamie's balancing act between the redcoats and the colonials. This episode also includes Roger having a confusing and ultimately tragic conflict with one of his own ancestors. (My full review here.)


So how'd we do? Did your favorite make the list?
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

7 comments:

magritte said...

Interesting list--very surprised to see Uncharted, as well. I feel like I didn't enjoy Season 3 as much as a lot of people and was more fond of the Paris episodes in Season 2 than most. Maybe I enjoyed them more because there was a bit more levity after the horror of the last two episodes of the first season. Also, my enjoyment of Malcolm is undermined by my pet peeve about plots revolving around characters concealing key information (in his case his marriage), a contrivance which led to my least favorite episode of the series, First Wife.

Billie Doux said...

magritte, perhaps I should have put together a least favorite episode list too. I actually liked "First Wife," but I strongly disliked "Heaven and Earth" (the plague on the ship) and "Creme de Menthe," the one after the reunion episode where the printshop burned down.

Samantha M. Quinn said...

So pretty much all of my favorite episodes are on this list, although I would put them in a different order. Dragonfly in Amber, Birds and Bees, Faith, The Reckoning and A Malcolm are just great episodes. I would agree that the Battle Joined deserves to be in the top ten (the Wedding does too, although at a much lower ranking). I'm not sure about Of Lost Things, even though I love the Jaime/John Grey relationship. The Ballad of Roger Mac deserves a spot though. So hmmm... I guess this is my top ten in descending order.

10. To Ransom a Man's Soul
9. Sassenach
8. Battle Joined
7. The Ballad of Roger Mac
6. The Reckoning
5. Faith
4. The Wedding
3. Dragonfly in Amber
2. The Birds and the Bees
1. A Malcolm

Billie Doux said...

Samantha, this is a great list. It's interesting that you included "To Ransom a Man's Soul." It is undoubtedly an exceptional episode. I just can't watch it without fast forwarding through the heavier scenes.

milostanfield said...

Ahh! Thank you BD and commenters for a bit of rain in the middle of maybe the longest Droughtlander ever.

Hard for me to rank whole episodes in a hurry. So, list of (some) favorite scenes, moments, arcs, whatever in no particular order:

THE wedding night.

The look on Ian’s face when he was accepted by the Iroquois(?)

When Geillis revealed 1968 to Claire.

Geillis bathing in goat’s blood. OMG!

Damn near everything about Lord John Grey.

The production design (and costumes!) of the Paris episodes. That red dress!

When Roger and Brianna ran into each other’s arms. It was straight out of a steamy romance novel. I don’t care. I ran with them.

Roger coming to terms with both himself and the ugliness of 17th Century America.

Jamie passing out when he first sees Claire after 20 years.

Jamie’s astute political skills in Collum’s court.

Claire the medical doctor and scientist amid all of the superstitious twaddle.

Too many Jamie/Claire love scenes to list so I’ll settle for the scene in S05 where they do it perched in a window for it’s silly spontaneity and a celebration of a relationship grown so long and far from that wedding night.

Josie Kafka said...

This is a lovely list!

Since I've only watched Outlander once, and did so in a binge that often meant I stopped mid-episode to go to bed, I tend to think of favorite moments rather than favorite episodes. I'm sure this will change once I've watched it again. :-)

Then again, Outlander might be one of those shows where, for me, the episodes always blur together because they're tonally so consistent. Peaky Blinders is turning out to be a show like that.

(Examples of shows that aren't like that would be Lost [the flashbacks keep me sorted if nothing else does] and Legends of Tomorrow [where each week is a new wacky adventure]).

I will say this, though: the reveal of Jamie's glasses is an important moment for me in Outlander.

magritte said...

Like Josie and milostanfield, I also tend to find it easier to remember favorite moments than favorite episodes. I loved a lot of the Versailles stuff (including the red dress!) and if I were to choose a bonkers episode like Uncharted, I'd have opted for The Bakra. If only for the outrageous cold opening with Geillis bathing in blood.