This article centers on Season 3, Episode 5 of Outlander, “Freedom & Whiskey.” If you’re not yet caught up with the show, be warned: Spoilers abound.
Most of this week’s episode of Outlander is set in Boston during the 1960s as Claire and Brianna try to get back to their lives after an eventful summer in Scotland. Re-entry proves challenging for both mother and daughter: Brianna has to make sense of her parents’ marriage and the truth of her biological father, while Claire has to try and accept that she will never see Jamie again.
There is no sex in this episode. I am just putting that out there so you don’t end up disappointed. I won’t say that this week’s episode is bad. It’s just…different; a bit slow-moving, though there’s the pay-off we were promised at the end of last season: a reunion between Jamie and Claire.
Claire goes back to work, being a badass while saving a woman’s life during surgery. (Her personal life might be a disaster, but professionally, Claire is on point.) Such is not the case for Brianna who is wholly disinterested in school since she now knows that time travel is real. After history class (this show, again, with the lack of subtlety), her professor pulls her aside and tells her she is failing. He knew her father, and what can he do to help, and so on. All Brianna can tell the concerned professor is that she’s fine which is universal for, My life has fallen apart, but I don’t want to talk about it, thank you very much.
It’s the holidays and at home, Brianna is wistful for her father (well, one of her fathers), rubbing his favorite chair, holding his pipe, and looking at old pictures. I kept wanting to feel what I knew I was supposed to feel during this scene—and pretty much any scene with Brianna—but I couldn’t. Her character is irritating, which is totally fine because sometimes people are irritating, but still, the emotional resonance of a young woman mourning her father just wasn’t there, and it was supposed to be.
Claire’s work husband, Joe, presses Claire about what really happened in Scotland and she tells Joe there was someone from her past, but she can’t really tell him that the love of her life is lost in 18th-century Scotland. She says something cheesy about fate keeping them apart and Joe, bless his heart, says, “Fuck fate.” He is the one person on this show who cuts through the nonsense and melodrama and he is greatly appreciated.
Roger, poor sweet Roger, arrives in Boston to surprise Brianna and when he shows up at the Randall home, Claire and Brianna are having a loud fight about Brianna’s decision to withdraw from Harvard. Brianna explains that she can’t return to her previous life knowing what she knows about her true parentage. And then she runs off, leaving Roger in the friend zone with Claire. Yikes.
All is not lost. As Roger and Claire chat, he reveals that he has found Jamie, which is like, Way to bury the lede, Roger! In a 1765 article he found, there was a line, “For as has been known for ages past freedom and whisky gang together”—the exact line Claire once quoted to Jamie. The printer of the magazine was Alexander Malcolm (Jamie’s middle names), who was apparently living in Edinburgh. Roger expects Claire to be happy with the news, but not so much—she says she gave up her hope and also can’t take it up again. She also can’t leave Brianna because motherhood, etcetera. Roger, having struck out twice in one night, asks what he can do to help, and Claire asks him to not tell Brianna he’s found her other father. This show takes every single opportunity to draw out the inevitable. Sometimes, it makes for good drama. Other times, like now, it’s just irritating.
Back at work, Claire and Joe have a mini-episode of Bones while studying the hundred-year-old bones of a woman found in a cave in the Caribbean. Then Joe gets down to business, asking, “What aren’t you telling me about your man in Scotland?” Claire admits Jamie is Brianna’s real father, and Joe, who is the most amazing wingman a woman could have, tells her to get a grip and go fight for the man she loves. Again, Joe comes through in the clutch.
Meanwhile, Brianna, in the throes of her young life crisis, concludes that history is “just a story; it changes depending on who’s telling it,” and also: “History can’t be trusted.” Girl, I guess.
At a reception celebrating a fellowship established in Frank’s name, Claire runs into Frank’s sidepiece, Sandy, who is still quite bitter and angry. “You should have let him go,” she tells Claire, and Claire gets downright indignant. Sandy is gonna be heard, though, and she tells Claire that the other Mrs. Randall was selfish and wanted it all, thereby keeping Frank and Brianna from happiness. Again, yikes. It is one of this episode’s more interesting scenes because we see that Claire and Frank’s marriage of inconvenience created quite a lot of collateral damage. I blame Frank, who, as Sandy bitterly points out to Claire, could never stop holding a torch for her. Alas.
Afterwards, Brianna asks who Sandy was and Claire admits that she was Frank’s sidepiece. Brianna takes the news surprisingly well. Claire assures Brianna she was loved by both Claire and Frank, and she also admits that Roger found Jamie since they are having such a deeply truthful moment. For once, Brianna is slightly bearable and encourages her mother to go find the love of her life somewhere in time. The end of our wait is nigh!
While watching the Apollo 8 mission, Claire waxes poetic about her own journey, and just like that, she’s ready to go back to the 18th century. Sure, she has yet another heart-to-heart chat with Brianna about the possibility they might never see each other again, but it’s clear she’s going. It’s like an episode of Lost with someone screeching, “You have to go back!”
To draw things out just a little more, Claire admits she is not only nervous about leaving Brianna, she’s also worried Jamie might have forgotten her or that she’s gotten too old, and so on. (Time-traveling surgeons, they’re just like us.) Joe assures Claire she and Jamie will still find that old loving feeling. That’s all she needed to hear. Onward, she goes.
Around the Christmas tree, Claire opens a gift from Roger and Brianna—antique Scottish currency and a book of Scottish history. Claire, being clever, is also taking some scalpels and penicillin she stole from the hospital. Love makes thieves of us all. Brianna gives Claire a topaz pendant to wear through the stones because the stones require a gem sacrifice to let people through, apparently. Claire then sews herself the perfect dress with lots of pockets so she can carry everything she needs. Claire is a Swiss Army knife of a woman—she can perform surgery, sew, cook in a fireplace, call up knowledge of herbs—basically she can do whatever is required of her when it is required of her. This show never troubles itself with reckoning how overly convenient Claire’s knowledge base is, and I suppose that’s fine. If we can suspend our disbelief enough to believe in time travel, we can believe Claire is perfect. To finish things off, she dyes her hair to hide her pesky grays. (Just like us!)
When they say goodbye, Claire gives Brianna the Scottish pearls Jamie gave her on their wedding night. They hug and murmur sweetly to each other. Claire thanks Roger for finding Jamie and then the three enjoy a shot of whisky, with the toast, “To freedom and whisky.” All things come full circle.
As the episode closes, Claire is in 18th-century Edinburgh. She walks along the cobbled street and asks a random boy where she can find the printer, Alexander Malcolm. This random boy, of course, gives her the exact directions to find Malcolm. Seriously.
Before long, Claire arrives at the print shop, and after pausing to breathe deeply, she enters. She walks, slowly to a balcony overlooking a workspace where Jamie stands, his lovely hair in a ponytail, his back turned. Jamie speaks to her as if she is someone else named Jordy. “It isn’t Jordy. It’s me…Claire,” she says. Slowly, Jamie turns, his face shifting marvelously as he realizes it is indeed Claire smiling down at him. And then he passes out, and the episode is over.
Watch Claire and Jamie’s big reunion here:
Most of the loose ends have now been tied. Brianna is squared away with Roger in the 20th century, and Claire is a doctor so she’ll be able to revive Jamie so they can get back to having incredibly hot sex. And all of this comes, we hope, along with Claire and Jamie, in the next episode!
Roxane Gay is the author of Bad Feminist, Difficult Women, and most recently, Hunger. She is also the author of World of Wakanda for Marvel and a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times.