SPOILER ALERT: This piece contains spoilers for the Season 6 premiere of “Outlander,” which aired on March 6.
Nearly two years have passed since the fifth season of Outlander wrapped, ending on an incredibly solemn and foreboding note. Claire’s brutal assault by Lionel Brown (Ned Dennehy) and his gang of men was eventually avenged by Jamie (Sam Heughan) and the men of Fraser’s Ridge. Roger (Richard Rankin) and Brianna (Sophie Skelton) realize home is exactly where they’ve been this whole time, not in the future, confirmed by an unsuccessful time-traveling jaunt. In the finale’s last moments, a thunderstorm comes rolling over Fraser’s Ridge — the low rumbling signaling not just rainfall to come, but a revolution.
This Sunday, the extensive droughtlander came to an end with the sixth season premiere. Despite this season being cut down to eight episodes, executive producer Maril Davis says fans can expect a “jam-packed” run of episodes that will end on a cliffhanger. “It’s like a roller coaster ride. There’s not a lot of chances to breathe this season.”
The season opener balances between addressing tension lingering from Season 5 and introducing a mix of new characters and conflict for Jamie, Claire and their American-based clan to deal with. First, to shake things up: Tom Christie (Mark Lewis Jones), who arrives at Fraser’s Ridge asking if the offer Jamie put out for former Ardsmuir men to settle in the backcountry still stands. Through flashbacks, the premiere details how Tom first met Jamie after being imprisoned at Ardsmuir.
“One of the reasons we wanted to start off with that Ardsmuir flashback is because we didn’t get to meet Tom in a past season, where it kind of naturally happens in the book. We wanted to set up their conflict,” Davis says. “Tom and Jamie are just such different people. Jamie is such a leader of men. It’s natural, that’s just what he was born to do. And Tom is not a natural-born leader but aspires to be one. I think there’s something so dangerous about a person who wants that position of power, but just doesn’t have the tools.”
Davis adds that Tom essentially resents Jamie for all he’s attained since getting out of prison — “a great love of his life, all this property, the admiration and respect of men.” As seen in their first few exchanges, Tom and Jamie’s ideologies are very different. Tom wants to build a church right away, to which Jamie half-agrees, noting the building will be called “a meeting house.”
“That’s setting up a great conflict, both in terms of who they are as people, but also their ideologies about life. Jamie has to make it very clear in that first episode it’s his land, it’s his rules.”
Compared to the previous season’s villains, Davis notes Tom fits the title but not in the exact same way as Jonathan Randall (aka “Black Jack”), Geillis Duncan or Stephen Bonnet.
“I don’t even like to call Tom a villain, but he is technically the villain of our piece,” Davis says. “[Past antagonists] were very clear what their purposes were fairly early on. What makes Tom so dangerous is we really don’t know what he wants or what he’s after. Is he a villain? Is he not? That’s a great question to have as we go through the season.”
Someone who checks plenty of villain boxes and whose visit to Fraser’s Ridge disturbs the peace is Richard Brown (Chris Larkin), Lionel Brown’s brother. In the Season 5 finale, Jamie delivered Lionel’s body to his brother — not knowing that Marsali (Lauren Lyle) murdered him vs. him dying from his injuries. Richard seems fine with Lionel’s death, admitting he got what he deserved. But he also tells Jamie the time will come when he gets his revenge.
Brown first returns in the premiere to intimidate Ian (John Bell) and Tom Christie’s son Allan (Alexander Vlahos) while they are out hunting, going as far as to tell Ian, who still wears attire connected to the Mohawk tribe he lived with, to dress in a more “civilized fashion.” Brown explains he and his band of men have put together a “committee of safety” — in reality, they’re scouring the area with the intent to blame Indigenous people for recent house fires and other incidents in the name of “justice.” Later, Brown arrives at Fraser’s Ridge to arrest Allan for stealing a powder horn. Jamie ends up handling the matter, whipping Allan for his theft and telling the Browns to be on their way.
Davis shares that the Browns will not be seen as heavily this season, but their “ominous presence” will linger. “Not only from a carryover from last season and obviously Claire’s traumatic attack, but their presence just is like a cloud over the Ridge. I think that’s what’s important,” Davis adds.
Richard Brown’s arrival, unfortunately, puts Jamie in a predicament. He has been asked to become a representative between Indigenous tribes and the British, a post he aims to decline. However, when he learns a very aggressive Brown would be the agent in his stead, Jamie decides he should take the position. Understandable for the moment, this puts Jamie in an unfortunate position as he is sure to straddle political lines between the British and growing American rebels.
“When you look back at the start of the series at Culloden, Claire knew how Culloden would end and they tried to change it,” Davis says. “Obviously, they weren’t successful. In this situation, they also know how it’s going to turn out. They’re not trying to change it. They obviously want that to come to pass. Jamie does know he’s going to have to be on the winning side. It’s just the right thing to do. It’s just, what’s the moment to do that and declare himself. It’s a very dangerous business to declare yourself a rebel.”
Another concerning issue with the Browns’ lingering presence is Claire’s ability to process her recent trauma. During the premiere, Brianna (Sophie Skelton) shares a tender moment with her mother, telling her “I am so glad you didn’t lose your heart and your spirit” while also reminding Claire that there was a time when she would tell people she was “fine” after her sexual assault. Claire somewhat acknowledges the moment, but quickly changes the subject — a potential sign that she is coping, but not processing. Near the end of the premiere episode, we see Claire is definitely not all right, using her latest invention of ether to put herself to sleep when traumatic flashbacks and nightmares arise.
Davis acknowledges that “for anyone who has experienced a trauma like that, it never goes away” and with Claire’s character, the series wanted to explore that journey. While the use of ether was not in Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” novels, Davis notes that “we wanted to show more of her struggle” and ether offers way for Claire to numb her emotions.
“She’s coping, but coping isn’t enough. I think everyone is walking around on eggshells,” Davis adds. “They’re just wondering what’s going on and how they can help. And Claire is not one that can easily ask for help. She prides herself on being that way and juggling all these different things in life. We’re going to see over the season Claire starting to struggle with that. She thinks she can handle it. We’re going to start to see it unravel.”
Anyone who has watched “Outlander” over the seasons knows that if there is one person who can spot Claire’s vulnerability, it’s Jamie. However, this trauma and Claire’s handling of it may be one incident they struggle to discuss. “For a couple like Jamie and Claire, they’re so close, they communicate so well. And this is one area that they aren’t talking about. As we go on, it’s going to start to rear its head,” Davis says.
Davis also foreshadows that Claire’s good intentions to continue to work with modern medicine may put a mark on her by Tom Christie and his uber pious and superstitious group.
“Claire can’t help herself. I think that’s what makes Claire such a great character. She believes so much in what she’s doing in terms of helping people, certainly helping the women in this time. I think that’s what makes us love Claire, that she’s willing, even after all the trauma that went on in season five and what her ideas led to,” Davis says. “Now, they have all these new occupants on the Ridge. They’re very superstitious and wary of Claire. So it’s a great risk to Claire that she does this, but I think it says so much about her as a character that she’s willing to do it despite that.”
When looking ahead at what the sixth season has to offer for the Frasers, Davis says there has been discussion of the “interconnecting themes of Seasons 4 through 6.” For the fourth season, the major question was “what is home?” and the fifth season was “what will you do to defend that?” Headed into the sixth season, Davis says an overarching question will be “what do you do when that home turns against you?”
Jamie and Claire have had their share of fighting for what they believe in and what they care for. But as Davis implies, this may be one of their toughest battles yet.
“So much of this season, in some ways, parallels what’s happening in the world right now,” she says. “This idea of if you get a rumor going out there and it’s juicy enough or strong enough, it spreads like wildfire, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the truth or not: It’s what is going to be believed. Jamie and Claire are finding very quickly that this home that they established, that they built and tried to open arms to welcome all these new people is going to start to turn against them as the season progresses.”