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Outlander delves into the challenges and consequences of time-travel

Illustration for article titled Outlander delves into the challenges and consequences of time-travel
Image: Outlander (Starz)
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“Time, space, history be damned,” Claire tells Brianna. “Between Two Fires” actively engages with the challenges and moral dilemmas of time-travel on a character and story level, and it makes for a very strong episode of Outlander. Claire has decided to try to make penicillin a full 157 years before it’s invented. Brianna thinks it could upset some cosmic balance, but Claire points out she did just the same to save Jamie and Claire from the fire at Fraser’s Ridge. Every action and decision the time-travelers make alters history. Claire traveled back to be with the love of her life, but Outlander can’t and shouldn’t ignore all the challenges and paradoxes that this choice comes with, especially the ones that exist outside the bubble of Claire and Jamie’s romance.

Claire is, after all, a doctor. She takes this calling very seriously, and she feels undone by the limitations of this time. Lives that she could have saved are lost because of medicines that haven’t been invented yet and also cultural practices that do more harm than good. She finds some ways to weaves in her advanced knowledge without causing too much of a stir, because that’s a big obstacle too and not without its own moral implications: Should Claire be more of a passive observer so as not to impose her ways on a community that she has dropped in on or should she use what she knows to save people? She distributes a list of preventative healthcare tips that she attributes to a fictional male doctor so that people might actually listen. Here, she’s just a healer, and existing gender norms work against her, too. There’s the risk of revealing too much, which could make others think she is possessed or mentally unwell. Even Marsali has to ask when Claire reveals an autopsied body to her if her mother had been right about her being a witch.


Claire ultimately decides to make it her mission to save as many lives as possible, presumably her narrative hook this season. It’s a smart way to engage several sides of this show, part medical drama, part historical fiction, with a dash of science-fiction. Like Brianna, my head sometimes starts spinning when it comes to time-travel logic, but it’s important for Outlander to engage with these moral quandaries for its characters. It makes for better storytelling, and it also delivers on the promise of time-travel adventure. Claire as a passive observer isn’t nearly as exciting as Claire subverting and changing history.

“Between Two Fires” also delves into some of the emotional implications of the time-travel on an interpersonal level. Simply put: Roger is ready to go back to his time, and Brianna is not. She argues that their family is here, and Roger says that Brianna and Jemmy are his family. He feels so familial attachment to Claire and Jamie. They are merely his in-laws, and while he sees how important they are to Brianna, especially the father she didn’t get to know for so much of her life, he has not formed a meaningful bond with them. Claire confides in Roger that she does indeed want them to return to their time once they know if Jemmy has the time-traveler gene. This comes from a believable place for her. Claire’s main priority is that everyone is safe and healthy, and she can’t ensure that in this time period. Brianna bends over backwards to make a case for the past being safer, pointing out that Jemmy won’t ever get in a car accident here, but the fact of the matter is that it’s much more dangerous to stay. The push and pull of all of this makes for compelling drama and relationship development.

All of that, indeed, is much more captivating than Jamie’s storyline here. He continues to be torn between his allegiance to the governor, which his settlement and therefore all the people who live on it rely on, and his allegiance to Murtagh, leader of the Regulators, who have been protesting unjust taxes in the area. Murtagh has not really heeded Jamie’s insistence that he be hard to find and is instead tearing through towns tar-and-feathering court leaders when they do not oblige the Regulators’ demands. Murtagh and Jamie never have to face each other in the episode, but the tension between them pulsates. Jamie seems taken aback by the violence of the movement. It seems that he’s realizing that playing both sides is even harder than he initially thought.

We’re also violently reintroduced to Stephen Bonnet, whose face has been haunting Brianna to the point where she keeps drawing it, something Roger quietly discovers that potentially breaks something in him in terms of the way he sees both his wife and their son. Bonnet is up to his old games of gambling and hurting others, but the most disturbing part of his scene is when he reveals that he seemingly has intentions of claiming his child. It’s a dark cliffhanger, one that further pierces the quaint bubble of Fraser’s Ridge. Sadistic villains have always been a part of Outlander’s universe, an extreme contrast to the tender parts of its love story.


“Between Two Fires” balances the extremities of Outlander’s narrative tones quite well. There’s danger and doom but there’s also quiet care, and sometimes they’re all wrapped up together, as with Roger watching Brianna guide Jemmy through his first steps. They are out of their time and place, and that has consequences, affecting every part of their lives.

Stray observations

  • We are treated to another Roger jam session. Is this just a regular part of Outlander now?
  • I love the setup of Marsali apprenticing under Claire, and I look forward to seeing if it goes anywhere.
  • Forgot to mention this last week, but I love the new choral version of the theme song.
  • Maybe Claire and Jamie are going to be pretty separate this season?

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