Warning: This post contains big spoilers from Sunday’s Outlander. Proceed accordingly.
Send Geordie out for some ash and steady your alepots, Outlander fans: We need to talk about Sunday’s episode.
The season’s sixth installment chronicled Jamie and Claire Fraser’s reunion after decades (and the previous five episodes) apart. The bittersweet, sexy homecoming at Alexander Malcolm’s Edinburgh print shop has become emblematic of Diana Gabaldon’s book series — the exchange takes place in Voyager, the third Outlander novel — and therefore carries with it all of the expectations readers have stacked up since the book’s 1993 publication.
So yeah, stars Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan knew the episode had a big kilt to fill. When the pair discussed it with writer Matthew B. Roberts, Balfe tells TVLine, they talked about fantasy (even in a time-travel drama) versus reality.
“The fantasy is, the violins are playing. The angels are singing. Everything’s just perfect, and they come to an orgasm at the same crescendo, and it’s all great,” she says, laughing. “But the reality would be that these are two people who are terrified and have not been in intimate situations a lot. For Claire, if we’re going by what the writers and the book say, it’s probably been 18 years. That’s a long time for someone not to have seen your body, and to be naked and vulnerable with someone.”
Heughan draws parallels between this week’s episode and the Frasers’ wedding night in Season 1, pointing out how Sassenach and Big Red are as awkward with each other after a long time apart as they were when they were little more than acquaintances.
“We know that it’s a reflection of Season 1, what happens there. So we know we’re going over old material, but we wanted to make it new,” he says.
Several times during the episode, Claire and Jamie looked at each other warily, as if they were gazing at a stranger. And when they finally shed their clothes and hit his bed, they knocked heads, accidentally pulled hair and had a few other less than graceful moments — which stood out in stark relief to Mr. and Mrs. Frasers’ formerly ease with each other (and each other’s bodies).
The lack of on-screen coordination drove home the length of the couple’s separation. Heughan adds that it helps that he and Balfe hadn’t spent much work time together during the first half of Season 3. “It wasn’t that difficult to be weird with each other,” he says, laughing.
If you re-watch the episode (and c’mon, you’re gonna rewatch the episode), pay close attention to the scenes in Jamie’s quarters at the brothel — according to Balfe, they’re more crowded than you think.
“There’s a lot of people in that room. There’s the ghost of their own older selves,” she says. “The ghost of Frank is probably in the room, their children, Geneva, everybody. It’s a lot to try and wade through just to have that point-on-point connection.”
She adds: “And then it’s like all of your insecurities or what’s going on in your head or your fears, they all come into the room. I thought it was beautiful that they chose to include all of that, because it makes it more believable.”