Spoiler warning: This post contains plot details for “Outlander” Season 2, Episode 1, titled “Through a Glass, Darkly.”
We last saw Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) setting sail for France following a harrowing encounter with Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) in the 1700s, but the Season 2 premiere of “Outlander” opened somewhere else entirely — back in Scotland in 1948, with a distraught Claire reuniting with her first husband, Frank (Menzies), desperate to learn the outcome of the infamous Battle of Culloden, to see whether she and Jamie had succeeded in changing the course of history.
More than half of the episode was dedicated to Claire and Frank’s attempts to reconcile what had happened to Claire in the past, while looking towards an uncertain future together, before we took a jaunt back to 1745 as Claire and Jamie arrived in France and got to know Jamie’s cousin, Jared (Robert Cavanah), a wine merchant and Jacobite.
Balfe tells Variety that they kicked off the season by filming those first scenes between Claire and Frank in Scotland. “When I got the script I was like ‘oh my god, I can’t wait for this’ — I cried reading it,” she recalls. “[Showrunner Ron Moore] wrote that episode and it’s just beautiful, because it’s so tragic – it’s so complicated and neither one of them are wrong and neither one of them are right, and you can’t help how people feel depending on circumstance.”
In those tense moments, in which Claire told Frank the truth about where she’d been, who she’d been with, and that she was carrying Jamie’s child, Balfe explained, “Claire is someone in grief and she can’t really see past that. I did a lot of reading about grief and how people feel and she’s just someone who’s so shut down at this point; the worst thing she could’ve ever imagined has happened, and in a way, how do you go on living with that? Yes, you go through the motions, but you have to shut the doors on your heart and lock away the key, and it’s so sad … People give Frank a hard time, but can you imagine being in his shoes?”
Menzies had spent the last half of Season 1 playing Jack Randall, and viewers hadn’t seen Frank since Episode 8 of last season, which meant that revisiting Frank at the beginning of Season 2 had extra potency. “They managed to write some really interesting stuff, because we go forward in the story, her arriving through the stones, pregnant, and Frank and Claire have to come to terms with that and what it means for their marriage, so that seemed rich territory,” he says of the challenging scenes. “That also felt like it was a good payoff from having built Frank up in the first part of the season, to root it in the emotional cost of the story, in a way. The challenges of it [are that] you’re obviously up against some of the more far-fetched aspects of the story, the time-travel and making that real and emotional, but I think we pulled that off. It feels like a really good episode, and a really surprising and strong place to start off.”
Frank is a character who comes across as fairly restrained — although we saw flashes of the violence underneath his cool demeanor back in Season 1 — and Menzies relished the chance to portray Frank as he lost control in the potting shed. “It was important to see the real cost in him; the potting shed was great fun because you get to trash a room, and that’s always enjoyable,” he laughs.
Back in the past, we saw Claire and Jamie attempting to acclimate to France — which was markedly different from Scotland in terms of fashion, culture and sensibilities at the time. Heughan admits that he and Balfe encountered some culture shock, just as their characters did, moving from the Highlands to the French court for Season 2.
“It was actually slightly unsettling, me and Cait found it very odd for quite a while. We came back to work expecting it to be the same and suddenly, [there are] different costumes, different sets, and the characters felt very different,” he says. “We were constantly trying to find Jamie and Claire, and we realized that it was only in the private moments, when they’re together, that they’re themselves, but in public, they’re keeping their guard up the whole time. They’re both very good at it, they’re both very adaptable, but it doesn’t sit well with them, and ultimately it just gets too much for both of them. For Jamie is certainly gets too much, because he’s thrown himself into it to take his mind off what happened to him at Wentworth.”
The closing minutes of the episode brought Claire and Jamie into contact with the enigmatic Comte St. Germain (Stanley Weber), a French nobleman who immediately fell into conflict with Claire after she inadvertently became responsible for the loss of his ship and cargo, after she noticed that his crew was infected with smallpox. That animosity will only grow as the season goes on, Balfe previews: “The Comte and Claire, in the beginning it just feels like she’s used her big mouth to get herself into trouble again and you see [him as] someone who just wants revenge, but as we progress in the season, you realize that there are darker things about the Comte St. Germain and it’s a very interesting storyline.”
“Outlander” airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz.
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