It’s a long way from the magical standing stones at Craigh na Dun, where in 1946 on the eve of the Celtic festival of Samhain, we now know as Halloween, a young married woman Claire Randall (Catriona Balfe) suddenly disappeared.
Moving through time is at the essence of this story when via one of the standing stones, Claire meets and marries the dashing Highlander Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan). It is the beginning of their extraordinary adventures together.
They include a scintillating sojourn in early eighteenth century France, where they met the King in his Star Chamber, as well as bravely facing the devastation and aftermath of the ill-feted Battle of Culloden as loyal Scots endeavoured to ensure the “King over the sea,” or James III, as their prince James Edward Stuart styled himself, claimed the throne of England. However they failed and a great deal has happened since.
Series 3 ended with Jamie and Claire Fraser being washed up in a shipwreck on the shores of America. Now, while they are together again in both heart and soul, we find them trying to navigate the many unknown of elements of what will be their future together.
They have a lot to talk about, including the years of separation, tales of their daughter Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and that of Jamie’s son William by Laoghaire (Nell Hudson), while pursuing the pirates who kidnapped his nephew Ian (John Bell) and fled to the Caribbean.
Shipwrecked on the shores of America where the English are still firmly in control, it’s time for them both to face new hazards, which despite Claire knowing her world history, are yet to be defined.
Don’t read any more if you don’t want spoilers
Well do we remember Jamie once saying “Life is never dull with you Sassenach – I wouldn’t change you to save the world”. Maybe if we asked him now he may have indeed, changed his mind.
Starz Outlander Series 4 Episode 1 provides our fav couple with a new challenge and altogether different experience of the star-crossed lovers, who we find talking at length and in detail about their plans for the future. Don’t be lulled into thinking however, this will be a gentler journey.
In the first instance, one of their extended family members Gavin is hanged. We also learn how healing for young Ian about how and why the sexual assault he was subjected to before he was kidnapped, is so painful and slow.
While the men all seem to flounder in their struggles in Episode 1, Claire is keeping her cool and seemingly, in control. She’s now almost immune to the dangers she’s subjected to, until they come across a new challenge entirely; Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers).
He puts a chill into any of our ideas of a charming man.
Jamie doesn’t yet realise his kindness in helping Bonnet escape the noose that claimed the life of his friend Gavin, means he has unleashed a monster of huge proportions. When Jamie and Claire say goodbye to him in the woods, he issues them a warning about robbers and bandits being about.
While they may think that would happen on dry land, they don’t count on it happening when they are travelling downstream on a riverboat, as they head off to make their future, lulled into a sense of harmony and peace.
Bonnet however, with his band of cutthroats has other ideas and as they gently navigate the picturesque river overnight, he comes on board to steal all their belongings, including their money and rubies. He is all about proving how heartless he really is as he threatens Claire on every level, all to the tune of the song America the Beautiful.
There is a clear focus in Episode One on how high the stakes are and how difficult life is, when as an immigrant, you are trying to make a new start. There’s a smaller spotlight in this episode too, on the plight of indigenous peoples.
It is impossible to ignore the author of the books these stories are based on, Diana Gabaldon, is echoing the sentiments and conditions that prevail in our own contemporary times.
So what is next for Jamie and Claire after this new and terrible trauma, which is basically about just one terrible moment in America’s creation story. With the revolution not so far off, we could ask why are Jamie and Claire here and in this time at all?
Despite us thinking positively about their having a new beginning together in Starz Outlander Series 4, in the first instance, it is certainly all doom and gloom as Jamie and Claire face an uncertain future, while negotiating their own historic present.
Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle, 2018