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‘Outlander’ recap: Claire and Jamie play God, poorly

Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan in "Outlander."
(Starz)

“Outlander” has never really been about the time travel.

For the most part, Claire slipping between times was a catalyst, a construct. It was a storytelling device that allowed for a pulpy love triangle and a slew of top-notch costuming. But insofar as time-travel staples go, “Outlander” has never really gone in for paradoxes and parallel universes.

This reality is in large portion why “Untimely Resurrection” is such a powerful episode. As the series hinted in “La Dame Blanche,” the choices Claire and Jamie are forced to make about changing the future are getting more complex, making it far easier to wander from the path of virtuousness.

Last week, Claire and Jamie outed a pregnancy to try to inflame the rage of Charles Stuart. This week, Claire is trying to manipulate Alex Randall into spurning Mary Hawkins because she deserves better. Claire and Jamie are reduced to meddlers in the lives of others in pursuit of disparate ends. In one moment, the priority is to change the future and save the Highlanders, in the next, the aim is to preserve the future and the existence of Frank Randall.

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Time travel narratives that center around attempting to fix the future for the better by returning to he past often boil down to a single theme: the hubris of man. When Claire returns to Jamie and the pair set out to save the Scottish clans, they do so with a teaspoonful of knowledge about the whole of human history.

For as much as the butterfly effect is in play, the idea that changing one small element could have tremendous consequences later on (see also: “Back to the Future’s” Marty McFly nearly destroying his own existence by showing up in the 1950s), it’s impossible to tell what that small element might be. Claire and Jamie are doing their best to change the course of human history but, so far, it seems like each action they take brings them one step closer to preserving the future as we know it.

The Frasers are, in effect, trying to play God and so far they’re doing a spectacularly poor job of it. Which is what brings them to a point of crisis so devastating the pair may never fully recover from it.

After Captain Jack Randall unexpectedly arrives at Versailles, Jamie confronts the man and challenges him to a duel, an activity banned in France at the time. Claire is beside herself when she learns of it, not because she fears for her husband’s life, but because she does. Except the husband she fears for is not Jamie in 1740s France, but Frank in 1940s Scotland.

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Claire makes a rash decision, charging that Captain Randall was the man who attacked her party in the alley in last week’s episode, and her accusation is enough to temporarily imprison him, long enough for Claire to make her pitch to Jamie.

What Claire knows, or believes she knows, is that Frank Randall is the direct descendant of Jack Randall and Mary Hawkins. She saw as much in Frank’s genealogy records back in the first episode of the series. It’s why she interferes with Mary and Alex’s relationship and it’s why she begs Jamie to temporarily spare Captain Randall’s life. All of it is to try to protect the existence of a man who has done nothing to deserve his life being summarily snuffed out by ghosts from the past.

To say that Jamie is enraged by Claire’s request would be an understatement. Not only is he miffed at her plea to protect the life of someone she once shared her life with, she’s doing so at the cost of Jamie’s own healing process.

Still suffering through the aftermath of his torture at the hands of Captain Randall, Jamie is fixated on the idea of ending Randall’s life in an attempt to return balance and serenity to his own. Just last week, learning that he would still have the opportunity to kill Captain Randall himself was enough to pull him out of the funk that he’d been mired in for months. And now, the woman who was supposed to be at his side no matter what was trying to deny him closure.

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This is the Fraser family’s new reality and the price of playing God. You want to decide who gets to live, who gets to die and things inevitably get messy. The tragedy of it all is, given the flashback/flash-forward that began season two, whatever Claire and Jamie do, they’re successful in protecting Frank’s life, yet the two of them won’t realize it until it’s far too late.

Jamie agrees to Claire’s terms, when she demands a life for a life, having saved Jamie’s twice. He snarls at her, asking if that’s really what she wants, to spare the life of Jack Randall, and she agrees. Jamie is a man of honor and Jack Randall’s life is spared for a year: time enough, theoretically, to preserve the lineage of Frank Randall.

But the damage is done and it’s unclear how Claire and Jamie will move forward from their argument. They save Frank Randall, but is it possible for them to save the Highlanders? Is it possible for them to save themselves? Or is playing God a surefire way for any mortal to self-destruct?

More:

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“Outlander” recap: Claire and Jamie stop being polite and start getting real

“Outlander” showrunner Ron Moore discusses “unflinching” rape scene and Season 2 reset

How “Outlander” star Sam Heughan gets ready for all those shirtless scenes

Follow me on Twitter @midwestspitfire

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