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‘Outlander’ recap: We’re not in Scotland anymore

Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall Fraser in "Outlander."

Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall Fraser in “Outlander.”

(Ed Miller / Starz)

If there’s one thing that “Outlander” would like you to take away from the second episode of its second season, it’s that 1740s France was crazy. “How crazy,” you ask? So crazy.

That’s the only explanation for how much time “Not in Scotland Anymore” spends detailing all the ways that 1745 France is different from what its protagonists are used to.

Worst of all, for all intents and purposes, “Outlander” is simply rebooting the plots of its first season in a new, exotic locale.

That said, the show is so desperate for its audience not to notice its plot rehashing they’ve dialed everything up to 11, making the colors brighter, the parties larger and the characterizations even more cartoonish, to the extent that all of Claire and Jamie’s servants seem as they were recently transformed from typically inanimate objects, a la “Beauty and the Beast,” and that the French minister of finance is positively Pepé Le Pew-ian in his attempted sexual assault on Claire.

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But this time, it’s not just Claire adjusting to the strangeness of a new environment, it’s Jamie and Murtagh, as well, which has the effect of making everything that much more exhausting.

Murtagh, Jamie’s stalwart friend and protector, has been reduced to a petulant child who has somehow been forced into taking a cross-country road trip against his will. Each time he grouses about how terrible France is, how much it smells, how different it is from Scotland, it reads like an 8-year-old kicking the back of your car seat and demanding to know when you’re going back to the hotel so he can swim in the pool.

In a single episode, we get Jamie meeting Charles Stuart, would-be ruler of England, at a French whorehouse where a variety of old-fashioned dildos are bandied about and we’re also introduced to a new friend of Claire’s while she’s getting every hair below her neck waxed from her body. We witness the protagonists at a very exclusive party at Versailles, where a very refined woman with exposed nipples accompanies the King of France. As well, Jamie and Murtagh witness the King attempting to relieve a bout of constipation in front of a group of loyal subjects.

Each scene smacks of self-satisfaction, as though the show is deeply tickled at the thought of how subversive its being by showcasing the hedonism of 18th century France and desperately hoping that no one notices that they did the same thing last season with Scotland.

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What’s more concerning than the basic recycling of plot, however, is the fact that the show has such a precarious grasp on its most pressing storyline. Though the whole of the season is centered around the Frasers’ attempt to circumvent the Jacobite movement, Jamie and Claire’s efforts on that front are often convoluted, or worse, boring. The series falls back on its weakest element, Claire’s narration, to try to clarify what the show is doing, but it just doesn’t stand up to the outlandish escapades unfolding in the show’s visuals.

More than that, in its worst moments, the episode feels as though things are only happening because it is, indeed, a television show. In the closing moments, when Claire learns that Black Jack Randall is not, in fact, dead, she is horrified, frightened that it will distract Jamie from the task at hand. And while that’s somewhat reasonable, given Jamie’s continuing PTSD at the abuse he suffered, Claire has no real reason to expect that their paths will ever cross with Randall again, but for the fact that Tobias Menzies is a main character on the show, so of course they will.

“Not in Scotland Anymore” isn’t without its charms, however. The episode features Claire’s stunning red gown, so prominently featured in the season’s promotional art, as well as a striking off-white and black skirt and jacket inspired by a 1947 Christian Dior suit, both of which serve as highlights.

In an interview with Vanity Fair recently, “Outlander” costume designer Terry Dresbach explained that she was inspired by Dior with regards to Claire’s fashions because the characters is a 1940’s woman trying to express her sensibilities in an 18th century world. It’s a simple, yet genius, way around dressing Claire in straight 18th century fashions and it serves as a brilliant way to have the character stand out visually in a world where she already stands out mentally.

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But even better than Claire’s fashion sense is the moment she meets a former love interest of Jamie’s at the Versailles party and the two have a silent fight using only their eyes, in the way that only married people can. Jamie and Claire’s relationship will always be the best part of the show and the key to making the entire narrative tick. Let’s just hope the second season eventually settles down and remembers that.

Follow me @midwestspitfire


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