Based merely on the events of “The Watch”—which includes a standoff at gunpoint, a complicated pregnancy, the arrival of a potentially dangerous threat, and a sword in someone’s back—it should be a much more significant episode than it actually ends up being. Though on the surface level more technically happens in “The Watch” than in “Lallybroch,” the latter kept the story moving forward in a way “The Watch” fails to do. Outlander has proved in the past that it can slow things down and still be exciting, but “The Watch” stretches its loose plot much too thin, making for an episode that lingers with little reward.

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Despite all that happens in “The Watch,” at episode’s end, the characters are more or less in the same places—emotionally and narratively—as they were when it began. Story developments act more as idling distractions. The men who surrounded Jamie at gunpoint in “Lallybroch”’s final cliffhanger turn out to be members of The Watch, a group of men who offer protection services for a price. They’re skeptical of Jamie’s arrival to Lallybroch, but Jenny lies to save his life.

If there’s one thing “The Watch” does well, it’s tension, especially when Horrocks, the British traitor who knows about the accusations against Jamie and the price on his head, arrives. Lallybroch suddenly turns from comfortable home into a very dangerous place for Jamie. And indeed, Horrocks blackmails Jamie, threatening to tell the truth. He’s saved at the last minute by Ian, who still isn’t much of a character yet, but his reaction to killing Horrocks is one of the episode’s highlights. Even though he knew he was a bad man who threatened his family, Ian feels the psychological trauma of killing another person, and that internal conflict hasn’t really come forth in a lot of the show’s other deaths.

Meanwhile, Jenny and Claire are forced together when Jenny goes into labor and the baby is breech. With the midwife conveniently away, Claire has to handle the delivery even though she has only seen childbirth before. Much like the plot developments in this episode end up feeling kind of hollow, the character development between Jenny and Claire just doesn’t feel substantive or even earned. “Lallybroch” introduces tension between the two, and “The Watch” clumsily tries to force them close together, and it just doesn’t feel honest for either character. It’s too much too fast, and the only saving grace is how great Laura Donnelly and Caitriona Balfe are with one another.

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But the pregnancy plot also brings forth Claire’s anxieties about her possible infertility, which she shares with Jamie. He accepts the truth about as instantly as he accepted Claire’s confession that she’s from the future, which really makes me wonder if Claire could say anything that would faze Jamie. “Perhaps it’s for the best,” he says, explaining that he would never want to see her suffer. It’s a sweet moment that reinforces Jamie’s love for Claire, but the quick wrap-up to the storyline again undercuts some of the emotional work and lowers the stakes. There’s a sense that this conversation is the end of Claire’s fertility doubts, and besides just not being realistic, it takes away from the weight of her worries.

After everything, Jamie still gets caught by the Redcoats when The Watch is ambushed in off-screen action. That provides some direction for next week’s episode, but it could have so easily happened earlier in this episode—or even at the beginning—so the writers could get a jumpstart on the implications of his capture instead of dragging the pieces of “The Watch” out. It’s hard not to feel like Claire waiting three days for Jamie’s return—which never comes—when watching this episode. Outlander needs to start lining up the pieces for its finale, which is not that far off. “The Watch,” unfortunately, does little to move us forward.

Stray observations:

  • I watched this episode with a friend who read the books, and according to her, this episode deviates sharply. Book readers, you’re welcome to discuss in the comments, but please label any spoilers appropriately.
  • I mentioned this last week, but it’s worth repeating: Laura Donnelly is a delight, and even though I still don’t have a super clear sense of who Jenny is yet, she brings a lot of emotion to the character.
  • The women on this show are always going so out of their way to protect the fragile feelings of their husbands. This week, Jenny doesn’t want Ian to know about her pregnancy complications.
  • Shout out to all the beautiful dogs of Lallybroch.

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