This article centers on Season 3, Episode 8 of Outlander, “First Wife.” If you’re not yet caught up with the show, be warned: Spoilers abound.
I suppose it was all a bit too easy, Claire returning to the 18th century, finding Jamie in like five minutes, and falling into his perfectly sculpted arms on the way to a lifetime of great sex. Alas.
This week, Claire and Jamie learn that second chances don’t come easy. The Frasers return to Lallybroch with young Ian and receive a rather uncomfortable reception from Jenny and Ian Sr. who are, as you might expect, angry Jamie lied about having young Ian with him; angry Jamie had young Ian engaging in criminal pursuits; and bewildered Claire is still alive. There is a lot of anger in this episode. Jenny is particularly frosty toward Claire, referring to her as a “stray.” Jenny is either aggressive or passive aggressive to her sister-in-law for most of the episode, but she’s also pretty much the best part of it. Overall, it works.
We see how the Murray children have grown, some with children of their own, all running around Lallybroch as wildly indistinct scenery because they don’t get much screen time. One thing I’ve noticed about Outlander is that in trying to make each dense, plot-filled book into a thirteen-episode season, the show often feels rushed and unbalanced. There will be a chunk of episodes focusing on a given plot point while other plot points are dealt with in a scene or two. Because I haven’t read the books, I see neither the rhyme nor the reason to some of the show’s narrative choices.
That first night at Lallybroch, Claire and Jamie have a moment alone and Claire implores him to let her tell Jenny the truth of where she has been, but Jamie says Jenny has never left the farm and couldn’t handle the truth. He is wrong, obviously, because Jenny is awesome, but Claire concedes. Then Jamie tells Claire the story of how he escaped prison to go to Silkies Island searching for her on the word of Duncan Kerr, the feverish dying man who came upon the prison while Jamie was incarcerated earlier this season.
In the story, Jamie swims through frigid cold water and though, to his despair, he doesn’t find Claire, he does find a small box of treasure—ancient coins and gems and so on. To be honest, it doesn’t look like much. He leaves the box there and returns to prison because the men there need him. “I wasn’t on an island but I was out there, wishing you’d come and find me,” Claire says. The couple continues saying deeply romantic things to each other and I started getting excited because I thought they were going to have sex. I was very, very wrong. There is no sex in this week’s episode, which means the grand reunion was…something of a letdown. I’m kind of worried there will be no more sex this season.
In the middle of this intimate moment, Jamie realizes he needs to come clean with Claire about his secret. But just as Jamie is about to spill, two girls burst into their room—the younger one, a redhead—both calling Jamie “Daddy.” They are followed by that horrible Laoghaire who accused Claire of witchcraft and almost had her killed during Season 1. Laoghaire is outraged, calling Claire “Sassenach witch,” and tells Claire she is Jamie’s wife.
Claire is just stunned and gasping and who can blame her? It’s one thing for Jamie to have gotten married. It’s another thing entirely for him to have married the one woman who has done such grievous harm. I cannot begin to fathom the why of Jamie’s second marriage and I know the show is going to give us some stupid explanation. This is what this show tends to do whenever something implausible happens. Something implausible happens every episode.
“We don’t have a bond that keeps people together,” Jamie tells his stepdaughter Joan, also explaining that he has such a bond with Claire, his first wife. The kid is like seven years old so I’m not sure why he’s acting like she gets it but okay. He also promises he will always look after Joan and her sister, before sending Joan home.
Up in their room, Claire is gathering her things. Jamie tries to explain himself, and we learn he is not the father of either of the girls (a total ye olde Maury episode). He married Laoghaire less than two years ago. Claire is having none of it and when Jamie says, “You’re the one who told me to be kind to the lass,” I personally ducked, in my apartment, even though this is just a TV show. There’s a reason women snap and it’s because men push them to the limit.
What follows is one hell of a fight. Jamie claims Claire left him twenty years prior. They both make clear they have suffered during their time apart and then Jamie is kissing Claire and she is slapping him and they’re wrestling and it’s kind of dodgy and kind of hot. Things are looking up! Jamie declares his undying love for first wife and they start tearing at each other. Just as they are finally about to do the dirty, Jenny throws water on them. Jenny is a consummate hater, an 18th-century cock blocker. And with that, any hope of carnality fades.
The next day, Jamie tries to stop Claire from leaving Lallybroch and vows to make things right. “I’ve only known one love in my life and that was with you,” he says. Someone should do a supercut of all the ways he declares his love. It’s so extra. Unfortunately, Laoghaire happens upon them as they’re talking, only now she has a gun and she’s going on about how Jamie is hers—and then the gun goes off. Jamie is shot in the shoulder, because of course.
Now it’s just like old times, Jamie injured in some way and Claire putting him back together. Claire immediately shifts into Doctor Mode and sets to digging the buckshot pellets out after Jamie self-medicates with whisky. Young Ian looks on and seems rather intrigued by the whole affair. Everything turns out fine.
When Jamie comes to, he finally explains why he married Laoghaire. The explanation is exactly as lame as I expected it to be. Basically, he was sad and lonesome. “I was a ghost,” he says. And then, during a Christmas party at Lallybroch, two young girls ask him to dance, and as he’s twirling about with the girls, he starts to feel something like joy. The girls are Laoghaire’s daughters, Marsali and Joan. One thing leads to another and he marries Laoghaire. It was a simpler time, I guess. Their marriage is kind of lousy but he has his stepdaughters and he gets to be a husband again, which is all he really wanted. Things don’t work out in the marriage bed because Laoghaire is scared of intimacy, probably because one of her previous husbands, of which there are two. “I couldn’t bear the thought of someone being afraid of my touch,” Jamie says, and that’s why he went to Edinburgh. Uh. Okay. Sure. As he’s talking, Claire realizes Jamie has a fever but fret not! She has some 20th-century penicillin.
Ned Gowan, the lawyer from Season 1, stops by Lallybroch. He informs the Frasers that Jamie’s marriage to Laoghaire is invalid because Jamie and Claire were married first. Take that, Laoghaire! Long story short, Laoghaire pitches a fit and wants alimony—twenty pounds and then ten pounds a year so she and her daughters can continue living in the style to which they have become accustomed. (Marital dissolution is the same in any century.) Claire, Jamie, Jenny, and Ian Sr. are trying to figure out how to pay such a vast sum but of course, there is a solution—the treasure Jamie found on Silkies Island. Of course! Young Ian will swim out to the island to fetch the small treasure chest and then he, Claire, and Jamie will go to France to sell the treasure for sterling and come back to Scotland with the money they need to get Laoghaire off their backs. The funniest part of this convolution is everyone acting like this is a. a reasonable plan and b. that it will work out fine.
Now, at this point you might be thinking that for an episode of Outlander, this week’s goings-on mostly make sense. Don’t worry. There are still a few minutes left. As young Ian swims out to the island, Claire tells Jamie she’s not sure they should stay together anymore. She gets all emotional about how hard things have been since she came back to the 18th century. Blah, blah, blah. I honestly rolled my eyes. Like, could they not figure out what to have Claire and Jamie do while they waited for Ian to play fetch? This would have been a great moment for a sex scene, but no, the Frasers have to rehash their feelings for the umpteenth time. Jamie says pretty things again about how he and Claire are bonded for life. It’s a little predictable at this point. We’ve seen this scene about ten times over the past three episodes.
Before they can continue this dull conversation, a tall ship suddenly appears. Yes, the show introduces the bizarre curveball at the very end. Claire and Jamie start shouting to Ian who cannot hear them because he’s like a mile away. And it’s windy. Men from the tall ship row to the island and grab young Ian. Why? Who knows? Why are they even in the vicinity? Who knows? Come on. What are the chances? This is so improbable. I just cannot. What I can tell you is that the episode ends with young Ian being kidnapped and Claire and Jamie looking on from shore, helplessly, as the tall ship sails away. I’m pretty sure we’re not going to be in Scotland for much longer. In other words, there is no sex on the Outlander horizon. Je suis désolée.
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.