(Original post at The National Student)
In this tumultuous instalment of Outlander, Claire fights to stop Geillis destroying her family.
Eye of the Storm begins with a flashforward to Claire, who cheerily announces that she’s dead. Although her body is submerged in dark waters somewhere in the Caribbean, it seems unlikely that Outlander’s protagonist will be killed off before season four. Still, it wouldn’t be Outlander if Claire wasn’t constantly in danger.
We rejoin the main storyline as Claire takes a carriage ride to Rose Hall, searching for her abducted nephew Young Ian. Claire investigates the slave quarters where she believes Ian is being held, but is captured by a shadowy assailant.
Alerted to Jamie’s arrest by Claire, Fergus and Marsali contact Lord John Grey in the hope of gaining his release. Thankfully, the Governor pulls rank on Jamie’s jailer Captain Leonard, and points out that he has no authority or evidence to justify arresting Jamie.
Back at Rose Hall, Geillis lambasts Young Ian for neglecting to mention his aunt is alive. Ian is taken back to his cell whilst Claire is brought to Geillis. Despite a mutual pretence of good will, neither woman trusts the other.
Claire and Geillis are officially frenemies for life.
Claire tells Geillis the truth about her life since the witch trials, and that she’s been back in her own time for the last twenty years. Geillis still thinks Claire worked to stop the Jacobite rebellion from succeeding, and has been following her for twenty years to prevent the rise of a new Scottish King (in fairness to Geillis, she’s half right about that).
Geillis doesn’t see why Claire would leave her husband behind in the past. Claire tries to verify her story by explaining that she was pregnant. Quite why she didn’t mention the fact that she saw Geillis as Gillian Duncan in 1968, I don’t know, but the plot demands this tactical error from Claire. This detail triggers Geillis’s realisation that Brianna is the two-hundred-year-old child that must die to bring the new Scottish monarch.
I could watch a whole episode of Claire and Geillis being frenemies, but Geillis quickly excuses herself stealing a photo of Brianna from Claire to aid her murderous quest. Claire sees a bound Young Ian being taken out into the night, and knows that something very suspect is going on.
Reunited with the newly freed Jamie, the Frasers follow Young Ian and his captors into the night, eventually stumbling across a group of slaves engaged in worship. Yi Tien Cho and Margaret Campbell, who have fallen in love and intend to elope, were invited to attend and share Margaret’s prophecies.
Margaret has a vision of Brianna, affecting her American accent to warn Jamie and Claire that their daughter is under threat. Reverend Campbell arrives to reclaim Margaret, and explains that the prophecy Geillis intends to fulfil requires the death of a two-hundred-year-old baby.
Although it’s made clear that the ritual’s participants are non-violent and welcoming to anyone trustworthy, the voodoo ceremony is a Hollywood glamorisation of actual worship that’s designed to feel menacing. The ritual is intercut with both an act of violence (Yi Tien Cho killing Mr. the abusive Reverend Campbell) and a sinister revelation (Claire’s realisation that Geillis wants to kill Brianna).
The scene represents one of Outlander’s most significant issues- its problematic treatment of race. Whilst Yi Tien Cho is considerably humanised from the figure in the books, the stereotypical depiction of voodoo is a step back for the season’s racial representation.
To adhere to Outlander’s source material, the show centres a white woman’s experience in a highly charged racial context.
Jamie and Claire race to Abandawe, the ancient cave where Geillis has taken Young Ian, and acknowledge that Claire may be forced to return to the 20th century permanently to save Brianna. Inside the cave, Geillis sets up her elaborate ritual around the portal, a pool of water instead of the stone circle at Craigh Na Dun.
At Abandawe, Jamie battles with Geillis’s henchman whilst Claire negotiates with Geillis. Geillis moves to kill Young Ian and travel through the portal, but not before Claire uses a machete to slit her throat. It’s then that Claire remembers the woman’s bones she examined in 1968, and realises that the body belonged to Geillis.
With Geillis dead, it’s surprising that Eye of the Storm still has another twenty minutes to run, as if the writers remembered they had a romance quota to fulfil. Half of the remaining episode is devoted to a languorous sex scene, and although it’s blatant fan service, it reorientates a plot-heavy episode back to the heart of the series.
Claire and Jamie’s post-coital bliss doesn’t last long, as the titular storm that’s been foreshadowed all episode finally arrives. To escape the hurricane, all but the most experienced crew shelter below decks (except for Jamie and Claire, naturally). A wall of water breaks over the ship, sweeping Claire overboard to the ocean depths we saw earlier.
Confirming his position as a god amongst men, Jamie dives into the sea to rescue his wife, and the Frasers reemerge in the safety of the storm’s eye. After washing up on a beach, some nearby residents inform Claire and Jamie that the crew of the Artemis has been rescued and they now find themselves in America.
The final sequence, despite its ridiculousness, reveals a whole-hearted commitment to its romantic style. Claire’s near drowning isn’t supposed to have real dramatic stakes, but instead serves to reinforce the romantic ideals of the genre.
Outlander is at its best when it commits to the romantic genre it was born out of, rather than reject it due to its melodramatic (and gendered) reputation.
When Outlander is unashamed to be itself, Claire and Jamie’s relationship becomes the show’s heart, the calm eye of an otherwise chaotic storm.
Season three of Outlander has been very inconsistent, and Eye of the Storm is no exception to this. To improve season four, the Outlander team should embrace the show’s histrionic heart, playing its romantic tropes straight as an exercise in genre writing. Likewise, the writers should not be afraid to deviate further from Diana Gabaldon’s novels, even if that means some angry readers.