Welcome to our recap of Season 3 of Outlander! This season is based on the novel Voyager, a beefy book that follows the storylines of both Claire and Jamie, separated by two centuries. It’s early days in the season, and we’re still going through the process of finding out exactly what Claire and Jamie have been up to over the course of twenty years. So far, we’ve seen Claire decide to follow her dream of attending medical school, and we’ve seen Jamie sacrificing his freedom for his family after hiding in a cave for six years. Tonight, we can both rejoice and grieve—rejoice at two characters that we’ve all wanted to see, and grieve for the final exit of someone we’ve come to know and love.
The past two weeks we’ve started with Claire’s storyline, but I think this week we’ll reverse that, as there are some massive events in Claire’s life that deserve a little drama in their telling.
Somewhere in Scotland is Ardsmuir Prison, a bleak posting that is thought of as a punishment post for the officers unlucky enough to be stationed there. Arriving at this inauspicious place is one of the series’ most anticipated characters: Lord John Grey, who has come to take up the post of Governor of the prison. Colonel Quarrie, whom Lord John will replace, is all too happy to flee to parts more civilized, and he warns John that his only society will be his officers… and one prisoner. Red Jamie Fraser is at Ardsmuir, kept in irons, and the other Jacobite prisoners treat him as their chief, calling him Mac Dubh. John doesn’t like that suggestion, and if you paid attention to the “Previously on” segment of the show, you remember that Jamie spared John’s life at Carryarrick, for which John, perversely, hasn’t forgiven him.
Still, John seems to realize the value of cultivating Jamie’s acquaintance and asks to speak to him. Jamie is obviously wary of him, and doesn’t seem to recognize John. Their first conversation is brief, although John does get a bit of an earful about the rats in the cells and how the prisoners will eat them if they catch them. In the aforementioned cells is the most welcome sight imaginable: Murtagh!!! CRANKY OTTER LIVES!!! Okay, he’s a bit the worse for wear, with a nasty cough and a festering rat bite on his wrist (anybody else think he’s going to replace Duncan Innes later down the line?) but still, he’s alive! And I am a happy recapper.
Later, a British patrol comes across a man walking alone across the moor, muttering about cursed gold. Immediately thinking of the Frenchman’s gold—the fortune that King Louis of France was supposed to have sent to Charles Stuart—they swoop down on the poor guy and spirit him off to the prison. Lord John, realizing that he needs help to translate the man’s hodgepodge of English, French, and Gaelic, asks for Jamie’s help. Jamie initially refuses, but John promises to strike off his irons if he helps. All he wants is a true and accurate telling of what the man (Duncan Kerr) says, and Jamie’s silence on the matter. Jamie wants John’s help in treating the prisoners who are sick, but when John protests that he hasn’t the resources to do so, Jamie asks him to help one in specific: Murtagh. Duncan Kerr is near death, babbling about selkies and Jamie’s mother Ellen, but it’s his mention of a white witch that gets Jamie’s attention. Duncan dies without giving Jamie any real information, but Jamie becomes determined to find out if the “white witch” is Claire, and the next day, he escapes while the prisoners are being marched out to cut peat.
John is, as you can imagine, less than pleased with this development, but searches diligently for the rogue Highlander. As John is leading the search, Jamie pops up behind him (how can a guy that big move so quietly?) and reveals that he knows who John is. And he wants John to honor his promise to kill him. John won’t kill an unarmed prisoner, though, leaving Jamie reluctantly in possession of his life. Jamie does explain to John why he ran, and John begins to see how lost Jamie feels without his wife. The two men begin to bond over dinners and games of chess, and eventually, Jamie talks about Claire with John. In return, John tells Jamie about the loss of his dear friend on the battlefield at Culloden, with the clear intimation that they were more than friends. John tries to console Jamie by putting a hand over his, but almost unconsciously strokes Jamie’s hand with his thumb, causing Jamie to shut down and threaten to kill John.
The pair still haven’t reconciled their friendship when Ardsmuir is closed and the prisoners set to be transported to America and into fourteen years of indentured servitude. Jamie, however, seems bound for a different fate, as John ropes him to his saddle and sets off across the countryside with him. He’s gotten Jamie’s indenture transferred to a landowner at a place called Helwater—the best he could do to give Jamie his freedom. When Jamie questions him, saying “I didn’t give you what you wanted”, John expresses his regret for that moment, and says he wanted to discharge his debt to Jamie. The pair proceed to Helwater.
Off to the 1950s we go! Claire and Frank are having breakfast together—a proper English breakfast, prompted by Brianna having asked for Eggo toaster waffles. Over the meal, Claire suggests that she and Frank see a movie that night, which he’s willing to do, but he admits to having seen the two that she’s suggesting. Claire is taken aback, but a comment from Frank explains things to the viewers: Frank and Claire have agreed to lead separate lives, which includes seeing other people. He has promised to be discreet, for the sake of her and Brianna, but he is obviously seeking companionship elsewhere. This is actually a fairly neat and tidy way to resolve the contradiction of the book version of Frank, whom the author says can’t be proved to have cheated but whom we are told (by Claire, who may not be the most reliable narrator in this regard) that he had definitely had affairs. It also keeps the essence of the book version of Frank while making him more likeable to those who have only seen the show. After all, if Claire cooked up the idea of letting him see other women, he’s not quite the cad he might otherwise have seemed. Okay, book nerdishness off now.
A few years later, Claire and Joe have gotten their medical degrees and they’re having a graduation party at Claire and Frank’s house. Frank is a bit concerned about their dinner reservations, having misremembered them as being at six, when in fact they’re at seven. His nerves are explained when a young woman rings their doorbell and is visibly shocked to see Claire, who answers the door. Claire covers her anger by suggesting that the party go to the restaurant early. But you know this is a fight that won’t be put off forever. In fact, as soon as Frank gets home, Claire confronts him. How dare he bring a woman to the house where their daughter lives? Even if she was just picking him up, Claire feels that Frank is throwing his affair in her face, and on the night of her graduation. Frank admits that he might just have wanted to hurt her, to make her feel what he’s felt for so long. But when Claire tells him to file for divorce, he refuses, afraid that he’ll lose his connection with Brianna.
1966 rolls around, and Brianna graduates from high school. That night, Frank confronts Claire with his request for a divorce. Brianna is eighteen now, and Frank has been offered a job in Cambridge—and he hopes Bree will go to England with him. For good. Claire accuses him of waiting for the clock to run out to make his escape, but he pleads with her to understand that he wants to live what life he can while he can. He asks her if she could have forgotten Jamie with time, if Brianna hadn’t been a living reminder. She replies “That amount of time doesn’t exist.” Frank grabs his car keys and leaves the house, leaving Claire briefly alone before being called to the hospital for a surgery.
Later that evening, as Claire comforts the husband of the woman she just operated on, Joe approaches her with a shocked look. It’s Frank, he says. He’s been in a car accident. Claire runs out to the ER, only to find Frank lying dead on a gurney. Now that it’s too late, Claire is finally able to admit that she did love Frank, and that he was her first love. She kisses him goodbye, visibly pulls herself together, and walks out.
And thus exits a great character and a wonderful actor. Tobias, we’ll miss you and we hope that you return in a flashback or two. Next week, we return to 1968 as Claire, Brianna, and Roger search for evidence of Jamie’s continued survival through history.