Outlander premiere review: Claire and Jamie come full circle


Outlander explores “America the Beautiful” in a familiar — but still incredibly enjoyable — season premiere.

Much like the wedding rings Claire Fraser (Caitriona Balfe) wears on both hands, Outlander‘s design is circular. The plot follows a similar pattern: Claire and Jamie (Sam Heughan) unite, face hardships, are torn apart, and come together once more. The hangman’s noose — which Jamie has narrowly escaped countless times now — is a loop. The standing stones of Craigh na Dun,  Abandawe, and the unnamed North American location in the cold open of Outlander‘s season premiere are arranged in, you guessed it, circles.

Circles weigh heavily on Claire’s mind in “America the Beautiful,” and really, who can blame her? Everything that goes down in the episode has happened before.

If that sounds nasty, that’s not my intention. The cyclical nature of Outlander is part of its charm. Amid the plot twists, violence and new characters, we know that at the end of the day, Claire and Jamie are meant to be.

The show itself seems to recognize this, and so most of “America the Beautiful” is table-setting for the upcoming season and a reaffirmation of our heroes’ love. A new villain is introduced, old friends are bid farewell, plans for the future are made, redcoats are out-smarted,  and Claire and Jamie prove their wisdom regarding The Nature of History yet again.

First, let’s talk about the new baddie, Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers), a thief and pirate who avoids execution when Team Fraser’s Lesley (Keith Fleming) makes a scene when another Team Fraser member, Hayes (James Allenby-Kirk), is hanged. The sociopathic Bonnet helps Jamie bury Hayes and makes friends with the gang, but in the last scene double-crosses them. He robs their boat, which is en route to Jamie’s aunt’s place, kills Lesley and takes the wedding ring Jamie had made for Claire.

Bonnet is charming, manipulative and amoral. He’s willing to do or say anything to get what he wants, and manages to pull off terrible schemes with an air of cheeriness. After last year’s villainous void (Black Jack died in the premiere and Geillis’ arc lasted just a few episodes), Bonnet might provide a nice jolt to Outlander. If nothing else, he’s given Claire and Jamie at least one concrete goal for the season: getting the ring back.

Hopefully, as Black Jack did in the first two seasons, Bonnet will keep Outlander‘s energy kinetic. Nothing cures a series of listlessness quite like a good foil.

“America the Beautiful” also unveils the larger, societal evils Claire and Jamie will encounter this season. In a scene that provokes at least two eye-rolls, but is also oddly effective, the couple discusses the America they’re experiencing in 1767 North Carolina and the one of the future. Claire — who made a fresh start, sort-of, in America after leaving Jamie last season — speaks of the melting pot and American Dream with genuine affection: “The only limitations are a person’s own abilities and the will to succeed,” she says.

Jamie, however, is more dubious, and wonders how the American Dream affects the Native Americans. Claire, slightly chastened, explains about colonization, genocide and reservations. “A dream for some can be a nightmare for others,” Jamie replies. Yes, it’s on-the-nose, but it’s also accurate — and resonant.

As for America’s other greatest sin, slavery, that’s hinted at more than commented upon in the premiere. Claire admonishes the riverboat captain for not giving the slave who is steering, Eutroclus (Leon Herbert), a break. The captain reveals his white savior story, confessing that Eutroclus rescued him from a fire, which inspired him to rescue Eutroclus from slavery. That shuts Claire up, but it shouldn’t: the dude didn’t exactly free Eutroclus from the goodness of his heart.

Eventually, the Frasers will reach Jamie’s aunt’s slave-run estate, and Outlander will be forced to reckon with the issue on a macro level. After last season, I doubt that conversation will be perfect, but let’s hope it’s a bit more nuanced than the riverboat exchange.

Related Story. What’s in store for Claire and Jamie in season 4 of Outlander?. light


  • Who else laughed derisively at the title card’s soaring bald eagle?
  • Young Ian (John Bell) wins a wolf while playing dice. That’s about the most Outlander-iest thing that’s happened on the show yet.
  • Outlander, please, please, please have Jamie cut his hair this season.
  • After Bonnet and his crew rob the boat, I truly hope Claire isn’t just crying for her wedding ring. A man was killed right in front of her…
  • Claire and Jamie are going to be grandparents, sort of! Their adopted son, Fergus (César Domboy), and his wife/Jamie’s stepdaughter, Marsali (Lauren Lyle), are expecting.
  • I think the inclusion of Ray Charles’ “America the Beautiful” would have been the slightest bit more appropriate in a montage about America’s history of colonization or slavery — not in a scene where a group of (mostly) well-off white people get mugged by other white people. But that’s just me.
  • Outlander continues to sensitively depict trauma and its aftermath. Jamie and Young Ian’s conversation in the graveyard might have been the episode’s best scene.
  • Most Swoon-Worthy Line: “When my body dies, my soul will still be yours,” Jamie vows to Claire.

Tell us what you thought about Outlander‘s premiere in the comments!