Jamie and Claire ride into the beautiful lands of Lallybroch expecting to find their new home, a fresh start from all the darkness they left behind at Leoch. But new darkness awaits behind Lallybroch’s walls—memories and trauma that, like the scars on Jamie’s back, do not easily go away. Following Claire’s confession last week, “Lallybroch” gives Jamie the chance to unearth painful truths of his own, making for an unsettling and visceral episode.
Outlander isn’t necessarily a different show now that Jamie knows Claire’s secret, but their relationship has changed in profound, though subtle, ways. On the surface, it’s the same: They love each other fiercely. Claire pushes against the customs and norms of this world, Jamie tells her that’s not how things are done, and they find a compromise. Jamie has always known Claire is a sassenach, but now he’s armed with more complete knowledge. “This is my family, my land, my time,” he tells Claire when she embarrasses him in front of his sister. Jamie doesn’t bend more easily now that he knows the truth; in fact, he bargains more stiffly with Claire, reinforcing that she needs to play more-or-less by the rules. She, after all, made the choice to stay here. She has to live with that choice by adjusting.
But in “Lallybroch,” Claire isn’t the only sassenach trying to play by her own rules. The episode positions Jamie as an outsider in his own home, where his sister Jenny and her husband Ian have been running things. Upon his arrival, Jamie instantly makes incorrect assumptions, chastising his sister for “giving herself” to Captain Jack Randall and carrying his bastard child. But Jamie’s awful accusations aren’t rooted in anything other than his own guilt and anxiety: In truth, the child is Ian’s, and Jenny tells him, essentially, that he doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.
She then tells Jamie and Claire the truth of what happened on the day Jamie was taken from Lallybroch: Randall tried to rape her, and when he couldn’t get an erection, she laughed at him, used his insecurity as a weapon against him and continued to laugh even though he hit her. When he threw her against a bed post, she passed out, and he was gone when she awoke. The long-term effects of the trauma are evident in the way she tells the story, but it all comes rushing forth again when she sees Jamie’s scarred back for the first time. She blames herself for how he was treated. She doesn’t know that earlier in the episode, Jamie expresses his own feelings of self-blame for what happened to him. Through flashbacks and a conversation between Jamie and Claire, we learn that Jack Randall gave Jamie a choice before the second flogging that almost killed him: He could give over his body to Randall or he could be whipped again. Jamie rejected Randall’s offer—not because of gay panic or shame at the thought of having sex with a man, but because he felt like taking the offer would be giving Randall too much power over him.
The sadistic and monstrous Blackjack Randall craves power over others, and Jenny and Jamie both subvert that power in their own ways, using whatever they can to try to take that power away from Randall. And in that moment at their father’s grave, they finally come to terms with the fact that they can’t blame themselves for anything that happened. The Outlander writers don’t paint trauma in broad strokes; throughout the episode, you can see bother characters processing and negotiating their feelings. They haven’t “moved on” by the end of “Lallybroch” by any means, because moving on from trauma isn’t as simple as moving home or talking about what happened. It’s a process—one often without a real, definitive end. Outlander effectively portrays the nuances and pain of these emotions throughout “Lallybroch.” Randall has hurt so many of the characters on this show. He’s a truly terrifying villain, but the conflicts he creates aren’t just there for shock or for the sake of conflict. Even though he verges on being a caricature with just how big and bad he is, he works as a villain because he’s a threat to Claire and Jamie in equal measure. The wounds he has inflicted upon them are just as palpable and influential on Outlander’s character development as Jamie and Claire’s love for each other. Outlander is visually immersive, but it’s also emotionally immersive, pulling us into these characters’ headspaces, whether its the passion of the sex scenes or the slicing pain of past horrors. The flashbacks literally show us what happened, but Sam Heughan and Laura Donnelly’s performances as Jamie and Jenny in the present are so much more telling of the weight of Randall’s abuse.
And just as Claire isn’t simply reduced to a monolithic “victim” in this world, neither are Jamie nor Jenny. But Jamie isn’t the show’s monolithic hero, either. He doesn’t only misjudge his sister; he doesn’t know how to be a good leader. He rolls into Lallybroch as the new laird, expecting to call the shots, but his ego gets the best of him. Claire and Jamie are often united by their desire to help others, but sometimes they care almost too much, doing more harm than good. When Claire learns that a young boy is being abused by his father, she tells Jamie they should do something, and Jamie pulls out his fists and threatens the father, who in turn decides to abandon his son. Jenny explains that she had been working on a way to get the boy into a safer home with a quieter and more thought-out plan than just a physical altercation.
Jamie thinks he knows what’s best for the people of Lallybroch, but as Jenny points out, life didn’t start when he and Claire walked through the door. Much like Claire, Jamie has to learn the right and most effective way to do things. The answer, as it turns out, is not to be an egotistical drunk asshole. Claire and Jamie so often try to be heroes, but they both have the same stubborn confidence that sometimes leads them to make impulsive and reckless decisions. Jamie and Claire aren’t victims, but they aren’t heroes either, because Outlander generally doesn’t push its characters into limiting boxes.
Jamie explains to Claire that Letitia MacKenzie doesn’t publicly go against her husband but is still considered a strong woman, and it immediately made me think of the narrow ways people tend to define “strong female character.” Claire, and a lot of the other women on the show, don’t necessarily fit that idealized notion all of the time, but they are still believable, complex, and compelling characters who show that women can be strong in a whole multitude of ways, even within the deeply patriarchal confines of 18th-century Scotland. I’m not saying Claire should become some obedient, subservient wife to Jamie. But I do think Jamie’s words about Letitia touch on the idea that Claire can follow some of the social rules of his time and still be a strong woman who can subvert some of those rules in quiet ways. Geillis and Jenny are both proof of that.
- And yes, of course, let’s not forget about Naked Jamie In A River. No doubt that will be a lot of folks’ favorite scene from tonight’s episode, and hey, for good reason. That’s definitely the most we’ve seen of Sam Heughan, and it was a lot. Be honest: How many times did you pause and rewind?
- I already miss Leoch, but Laura Donnelly is so great as Jenny that I am happy to stay in Lallybroch for a while. The writers consistently struggle to make a lot of Outlander’s secondary characters as nuanced as Claire and Jamie, but in this episode, Jenny already possesses the same layered character work behind her actions as the show’s leads do.
- Things From The Future That Amuse Jamie: Flying. Claire tells him all about planes, and he looks like a kid who is hearing about magic for the first time.
- “I have a much better throwing arm than the fair Leticia.” I don’t doubt that, Claire.