‘Outlander’ Surprises Fans With Season 3 Premiere at Comic-Con

Outlander Season 3
Courtesy of Starz

Fans of “Outlander” got a treat on Friday: At the end of the panel for the show at San Diego Comic-Con, they were shown the first episode of the third season, which arrives Sept. 10 on Starz.

The episode depicts Jamie (Sam Heughan), Claire (Caitriona Balfe), and Frank (Tobias Menzies) as they adjust to the difficult new realities of their lives. Jamie and Claire have been separated in time again, and Claire has traveled to Boston to live with Frank — and have Jamie’s child. 

Before the episode aired, the “Outlander” panelists — Balfe, Heughan, Menzies, Sophie Skelton (Brianna), Richard Rankin (Roger Wakefield), author Diana Gabaldon, and executive producers Ronald D. Moore and Maril Davis — talked about Season 3. 

Starz also released a video recap of the first two seasons, to help fans prepare for Season 3:

At the panel, Moore said that this season of “Outlander” is “pivotal,” taking the characters from Scotland to the Boston of the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, and also from the Caribbean to South Carolina.

“It’s a pretty dynamic, interesting season that takes the characters on a long journey and takes them [far from where] they eventually started,” the showrunner noted. 

Part of the journey is across the Atlantic, and “Outlander” used some of the sets, ships, and tanks that had been utilized by another Starz series, “Black Sails.”

“It’s a fantastic facility outside of Cape Town,” Moore said. The show was in South Africa for “almost four months. I think it’s an amazing set of episodes.”

“We call ourselves a traveling show — there hasn’t been a season yet that has been like the previous seasons,” Davis said.

Moderator Jenna Dewan Tatum, one of the hosts of “World of Dance,” not only asked questions of the panelists — including surprise guest Graham McTavish — she also challenged them to dance if they didn’t want to answer a question. She said her husband, Channing Tatum, who is also a fan of “Outlander,” would be fine with it. 

He would say, ‘Yes, please dance with him,’ Tatum said to Heughan.

Skelton talked about first auditioning for the role of Brianna in 2014. By the time the role came around again, she was able to watch the first season on repeat in order to take elements of Heughan and Balfe’s performances, to make her realistically the offspring of those two.

Rankin said that he researched a lot of history for his character, Roger Wakefield. traveled around, looked at historical subjects, and threw myself in at that angle,” he said. 

Balfe talked about the challenges of building her character’s journey through several different time frames.

“It was interesting to figure out how time weighs on a person. How does tragedy weigh on a person? How do you live with grief? They were interesting challenges to come to as an actor,” Balfe said.

Heughan described seeing someone watch an episode of “Outlander” on a recent flight — an early episode from the first season.

“It just feels like such a long time ago,” Heughan said. “This season we got to really stretch the characters and go somewhere else with them and [find out] who they are after 20 years apart.”

This time around, “the characters have their own lives and go through all the emotions of grief and acceptance and losing someone they loved,” Heughan added.

“One of the great privileges of being in the third or fourth year — that’s kind of a dream as an actor, to sit and have that time to explore” the characters, Menzies said. In the upcoming season, “we get to unpack the life of Claire and Frank in Boston, which is told in a slightly different way in the book, but we get a chance to see that in real time.”

SPOILER ALERT: Here are a few thoughts on the Season 3 premiere of “Outlander.”  

The sensitive and melancholy episode, “The Battle Joined,” was written by Moore, and director Brendon Maher did a bravura job of showing excerpts of the pivotal Battle of Culloden, as well as its bloody and terrible aftermath. The impressive first 13 minutes of “The Battle Joined” show Jamie — who was injured and lying under another body — on the battlefield after the Scottish forces lost to the British.

Very few words are said: Jamie’s ragged breathing frequently can be heard, as he comes in and out of consciousness, and as memories of the battle come to him. Impressionistic and harrowing snippets of the battle arrive, and eventually Jamie is seen facing down Black Jack Randall (Menzies) on the battlefield, which is filled with mud, fire, smoke, and blood. After a wounded Jamie is rescued from the field of battle, where snow has begun to fall and the English have been killing the wounded, it’s not clear if Black Jack is dead or alive (he looked kind of dead, but you never know with him).

Though Claire and Frank have begun a new life in Boston, she is haunted by her past. There are no flashbacks for Claire, but she and Frank feel the strain of being together when she is carrying Jamie’s child, and still feels great love for him as well. We see Claire meeting a well-intentioned neighbor and encountering a very arrogant professional colleague of Frank’s. Frank and Claire have a fight about whether she should apply for American citizenship, which turns into a larger argument about her ongoing attachment to Jamie and whether they will be able to make a go of it as a couple.

The episode’s success lies in its ability to excavate and illuminate the emotions of its characters, which has always been “Outlander’s” strong suit. The separation between Jamie and Claire is keenly felt; they don’t share a scene together (except a brief dream sequence), but their connection — and the severing of that bond — is felt in every frame. And even though Claire and Frank are in the same house, the distance between them is also quite ably depicted by the cast. They are together, but only tentatively so, and Claire is clearly grieving and still looking for her place in the world. 

The episode ends with the birth of Claire and Jamie’s daughter — which is not much of a spoiler, since viewers met an older version of Brianna at the end of Season 2. And though the situation is dire for Jamie and the few other survivors of Culloden, it’s hard to imagine that he won’t make it through the post-battle crises — there’s no show without Jamie.

That said, I won’t give away how Jamie survives. All in all, the cast’s work is uniformly exceptional throughout, especially from Heughan, who must convey a lot of grief, physical torment and psychological pain with very few lines of dialogue. Balfe’s performance is similarly both poignant and tough. Through it all, both Claire and Jamie remain rebels, in two very different worlds but still connected emotionally, across the centuries.