Outlander: ‘A. Malcolm’


(Original post at The National Student)

In this week’s instalment of Outlander, Claire and Jamie get intimate. Don’t watch this episode on public transport unless you’re prepared to get some odd looks.

The writers of Outlander are aware of the role of sex in their show, and are savvy enough to withhold the physical reunion of Jamie and Claire from the viewer for a while. Consequently, A. Malcolm is full of tension (dramatic and otherwise) and may irritate some impatient fans, but it’s an excellent episode overall.

Before we’re treated to Claire’s arrival from Jamie’s perspective, we have to watch Jamie walk to work and bicker with his colleagues. Oh, and provide some Autumn/Winter fashion inspo through his brand-new scarf and tricorn hat combo. Work it, Jamie.

It’s an exquisitely slow pace, frustrating and delightful all at once. By the time Claire and Jamie are brought together again, the tension is so extreme that it’s advisable to spend a few minutes shrieking into a pillow to keep calm.

Claire reveals she’s still wearing Jamie’s ring, and Jamie tearfully asks to kiss her again. It’s pretty much perfect and I may have cried a little. Sue me.

A. Malcolm had the potential to sag under its own weight, with the pressure of fan expectations and its serious content looming large. It’s a relief, therefore, that writer Matthew B. Roberts has leavened the episode with humour. From a spilled pot of ale to Jamie’s morally outraged assistant Geordie, bathos stops A. Malcolm collapsing under the strain of its romantic obligations, and keeps the tension building.

After their initial euphoria subsides, it becomes clear that the two have led separate lives. Claire shows Jamie photos of Brianna, and Jamie discloses he has a son with another woman. In a feeble attempt to make Sam Heughan look older, Jamie now wears reading glasses that make him look like every hipster that’s ever tried to make you read Infinite Jest.

Business soon calls for Jamie, and Claire accompanies him to meet with an old friend. Fergus is as cocky and charming an adult as he was a child. He pulls Jamie aside to hint at some dark secret that Jamie has kept from Claire thus far; why exactly Jamie needs the legal advice of Ned Gowan remains to be seen.

Jamie conducts a shady deal with a sinister English gentleman, whilst Claire speaks to Jamie’s drunken colleague Mr. Willoughby, real name Yi Tien Chao. The couple return to Jamie’s new sleeping quarters, which happen to be in a brothel. The establishment’s owner Madame Jeanne is not at all happy that Claire has arrived, igniting a wonderfully bitchy feud between the two women.

Once Claire and Jamie are alone together, there’s a lot to feel awkward about. Claire is concerned about Jamie’s new circumstances and whether he still wants her. Jamie, for reasons that are entirely inexplicable to me, isn’t sure whether Claire intends to stay with him. Both of them are entirely obtuse, but eventually the overwhelming sexual tension between them clarifies things.

The moment that many fans have been waiting for finally arrives this week, as Jamie and Claire sleep together for the first time since Claire went back to the future. Outlander has always been distinctive in its discussion of sex. The writers have been largely successful in portraying a central couple for whom physical intimacy is vital without relying on regressive tropes.

The bedroom scene is a fine example of when Outlander gets it right- it’s funny, sweet, and not reliant on the male gaze to titillate its audience. It’s a long scene and may be deemed trashy by some, but crucially the nudity never feels gratuitous. As the culmination of twenty years apart for Claire and Jamie, it’s hard to ignore what an important emotional moment this reunion is.

It’s also a relief that the sex was good; travelling back 200 years back in time to have bad sex would be a special kind of hell.

In a state of post-coital bliss, Jamie calmly discusses his criminal enterprises with Claire. When he’s not busy getting arrested for printing seditious pamphlets, Jamie’s smuggling whiskey on the side. James Fraser: part outlaw, part activist, 100% everyone’s fantasy boyfriend.

When Jamie is finally forced to leave the brothel to work, Claire heads downstairs to talk to the prostitutes over breakfast. Once she’s hurried away by Madame Jeanne, Claire heads back to their room and finds a mysterious thug searching for Jamie’s ledgers. When Claire refuses to disclose their location, the man threatens to rape her and the episode ends with Claire’s life in the balance.

A. Malcolm is a return to the classic Outlander formula, and that’s mostly a good thing. Jamie and Claire are back together, they’re in Scotland, and their relationship is threatened by dark external forces. The show’s over-reliance on rape-as-drama mars an otherwise excellent episode, but it’s wonderful to have Claire and Jamie reunited once again.

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