Need to catch up? Check out the previous Outlander recap here.
Talk about performance anxiety.
Both on- and off-screen, this week’s episode of Outlander has a daunting charge: Bring to life the scene fans of Diana Gabaldon’s books have spent years waiting to see — Jamie and Claire’s reunion in Alexander Malcolm’s print shop — and do it perfectly.
The Frasers’ first hours together in decades have to be fraught, but not depressing. They have to be romantic, but not syrupy. And above all, they have to be sexy — Jamie and his Sassenach do, after all, spend a lot of the episode in bed — without veering into tush-for-tush’s-sake territory.
I am verra happy to report that the hour, titled “A. Malcolm,” succeeds on all fronts. Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan do some of their best work, in a season where they’ve already set the bar rather high. There are tears. There are professions of renewed love. And yes, Jamie and Claire go a loooong way toward making up for lost time between the sheets. (For Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe’s thoughts on these matters, make sure to check out our post-episode interview with the pair.)
In short, I loved it. Let’s review the highlights, and then you can tell me if you did, too.
RETURN TO ME | In the cold open, we watch a woman fix Jamie’s stock, arrange his coat and generally touch him far more than anyone whose name doesn’t rhyme with “flair” should. As he leaves, he smolders at her — but as one of my co-workers pointed out at San Diego Comic-Con this summer, Heughan smolders ALL THE TIME. Jamie walks around Edinburgh with his scarf thrown jauntily about his shoulders, winding up at his print shop.
Inside, he pulls his knife when he hears some noise, but it’s just two of his smuggler pals who’d slept there the night before. They call him MacDubh, so it’s likely they’re from the Ardsmuir years. Jamie pops open a panel in the wall, removes some treasonous pamphlets he’s published, then tasks the men with transporting them on the downlow. “Caught, and your necks are in ropes,” he reminds them. Geordie, Jamie’s cranky assistant, shows up, gets made fun of by the men for the large goiter on his neck, then leaves on an errand. In his absence, Jamie goes about the intricate process of using the press. The whole thing is quite interesting, but there’s a lot of naked to get to later on in the hour, so I’m gonna skip. Cool?
Jamie’s back is to the door when the bell rings. “Is that you, Geordie?” he calls out, signaling that we’ve reached the events of the end of the previous episode. This time, though, we experience Claire’s arrival from Jamie’s side, and range of emotions — chief among them confusion and maybe even fright? — cross his face before he turns to see his wife… and then faints, hitting the floor.
IN WHICH GEORDIE IS THE WORST | When Jamie comes to, Claire is crouched over him. “You’re real,” he breathes. “So are you,” she replies. As will happen many more times during the episode, their highly charged emotional moment is interrupted by something silly and/or mundane: Jamie touches his breeks, looks concerned for a second, then smiles ruefully. “I thought I’d lost hold altogether and pissed myself, but it’s all right,” he says, gesturing to the alepot that tumbled to the floor with him when he fell. As he goes to take off his pants, it gets a little weird. But she reminds him that they’re married, and so he slips out of ye old man-pris and draws closer to her.
Both of their eyes are full of tears as he asks, “I would verra much like to kiss you. May I?” She says yes, but they approach each other skittishly. After, Jamie is overcome as he recalls how he often saw Claire “whenever I needed you,” but she never touched him. “I can touch you now,” she whispers, adding a callback to their wedding night: “Do not be afraid.” He smiles as he finishes it, “There’s the two of us now.”
Then they start to kiss and cry in earnest, and I’m just starting to marvel at the detailed way Heughan’s hands are stained to make it look like he runs actually runs a press, when Geordie’s arrival jolts them apart: He’s quitting, because he can’t stand working for an immoral Papist who’ll have pants-off parties in the shop in the middle of the day.
THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT | Pulled back ever so slightly from the emotional brink, Mr. and Mrs. Fraser chuckle — but in that slightly unhinged way that happens when things are a little nutty — and Jamie asks her back to the quarters he keeps at the rear of the shop. “It’s very fine to see you again, Claire,” he says, but there’s still a distance between them. Knowing how Balfe and Heughan usually relate to each other on screen and off, the weirdness is a nice touch: Wouldn’t you have a hard time figuring out how to comport yourself in the same situation?
They do a quick catch-up. Jamie asks about their child, and Claire tells him about Brianna. Jamie’s initial dislike of his daughter’s name doesn’t set off the same firebomb in Claire that it does in the book, and for that, I’m glad: It’s too early in their reunion to have her flipping out, no? Claire brought back a small assortment of photos of Brianna, and as Jamie shuffles through them, he is BARELY HANGING ON. That said, he doesn’t have the sobbing breakdown that he does in the book… but I nearly do when he notes that Bree has red hair, “like her sister, Faith.” Also: He’s scandalized by the shot of her in a bikini, with a male friend sitting nearby.
Then, it’s Jamie’s turn to share. “I have a son, Willie. I havena told anyone about him, even Jenny,” he says, handing Claire a miniature portrait of the little scamp. “Did you love his mother?” she asks carefully. He says no, but then pivots the discussion to her life with Frank. “So, you were happy with him?” he wonders. “I was happy raising Brianna with him. He was a very good father to her,” she replies, and things are starting to get a little tense when a ringing bell reminds Jamie that he was supposed to meet someone at a tavern at 1 pm. So they go.
THE BEST LITTLE WHOREHOUSE IN EDINBURGH | The pair make their way to a tavern called World’s End. Along the way, they run into a handsome young man missing a hand, and Claire is shocked to see Fergus as a grown man. She lamely tells him she went to America after Culloden in order to keep Lallybroch safe from scrutiny, but you can tell that he barely buys it. And when Jamie and his surrogate son have a moment alone, Fergus starts to ask, “What about —?” but Jamie already knows what he’s going to say, answering that he needs to consult Ned Gowan “and have him advise me on the law.” Intriguing! (Side note: If you already know what they’re talking about here, please don’t spoil it in the comments for those who don’t.)
In the pub, Jamie settles a kerfuffle involving his “associate” Yi Tien Cho, a Chinese stowaway who goes by the name of Mr. Willoughby in Scotland. Then, while Willoughby hangs out with Claire, Jamie steals down to the cellars, where a Brit named Sir Percival accepts his cut of Fraser’s smuggling business. But he’s convinced that Jamie is branching out, and he wants more money the next time they meet. And then the Frasers leave, heading to a brothel — run by Madame Jeanne, the woman we saw in the cold open — where Jamie rents a room. Upstairs at the cathouse, his quarters are cozy and a fire is blazing: It almost seems like something out of Harry Potter… until you hear the grunting coming from the next room.
Claire not-so-idly wonders why Jamie has a room in a brothel. “Is it because you’re such a good customer?” He staunchly denies that, getting very serious as he asks her whether she’s come back to be with him for good… or just to bring him word of Bree. She backpedals a little, giving him an out by saying that she knows he may have developed other ties during their time apart. This would be a very good time to tell her about that thing he was discussing with Fergus, but instead he says, “I have burned for you for so long. Do ye not know that?” all low and growly, and oh well OK I guess that works, too.
Dinner arrives, and in one of many parallels to their wedding night, they eat and drink and talk, getting more comfortable as the time goes by. After Jamie consumes a grape in perhaps the hottest way possible, there’s only one thing on their minds: “Will ye come to bed with me, then?” he asks. (Side note: Is there a way to convey HERE FOR THIS without sounding like a degenerate? Asking for myself.)
THE NAKED TRUTH | So the undressing begins. It is at turns slow and playful, and after Claire introduces Jamie to the modern invention of the zipper, they’re finally both in the altogether. “Are you as scared as I am?” she asks, nervously. “I suppose I must be afraid, aye,” he answers. But all of that falls away as they touch, then start kissing, then take it to the bed… and then not even Jamie accidentally smashing his titanium forehead into Claire’s porcelain nose can stop them from a shag 20 years in the making. I won’t get too into the details, except to say that the command “Do it now, and don’t be gentle” is uttered (and heeded), and that you could light a small stadium with the afterglow these two give off as they catch their breath.
The rest of the evening passes in similar fashion, broken up by bits of conversation. She tries to guess what he does for a real living, ultimately learning about his alcohol-smuggling operation. She asks about the deep gash on his leg (“Culloden,” he answers, Heughan packing a whole lot into that one word), and later they agree that whatever magic that existed between them before is still there. Oh, and Jamie never loved anyone but Claire, a sentiment he punctuates by initiating the night’s roughly 465th round of lovemaking.
Only by this time, it’s morning, and the maid is there with breakfast. Jamie quickly sends her away. “Don’t you want to eat?” Claire asks, as her husband kisses his way southward on her bare torso. “Aye,” Jamie says, grinning, as he continues his commute downtown.
BACK WHERE YOU BEGAN | Claire wakes up to find Jamie fully dressed and preparing to go out. He reminds her that here, she’s “Mrs. Malcolm — not Fraser,” and then asks her to “stay here ’til I return.” Yeah, that usually goes well.
By the time a teen boy knocks at the door, Claire is wearing her shift and nibbling on some leftovers from dinner. Turns out, the visitor is Young Ian Murray, Jenny and Ian’s son. He’s 16, very earnest and surprised to hear that the woman he thought was a hooker is actually his aunt. “But, you’re dead!” he sputters, later asking her if she went back to the faeries like some of the women at Lallybroch supposed. “No, I was in the colonies,” she replies, amused, and then promises to pass along word to Jamie that his nephew is looking for him.
Claire later ambles downstairs in search of food. And when the ladies of the house assume she’s a new recruit, they offer up their best tips about hygiene, workplace efficiency and birth control. The entire scene is pretty much verbatim from the book, and I love it. When Madame Jeanne comes in, she’s highly displeased to see Madame Frasier mixing with the working girls, so Claire slips back upstairs — and finds a man rooting through Jamie’s room.
She orders him out. He assumes she’s a whore and pushes her aside as he searches for Jamie’s ledgers. When he comes up empty, it gets worse. Positing that raping her will “jar your memory,” he grabs her… and the scene cuts to black.
Because I don’t want to end on such a terrible, violent note, how about we think about this until next time: When Claire wakes up in the morning, she says she wanted to see if Jamie was still there. “Maybe I’m a ghost,” he jokes — and if that’s not a sly nod to the apparition we saw in the series premiere, I’ll eat my tartan.
Now it’s your turn. Check out my additional thoughts in the video below, then hit the comments with all of your print shop-related musings!