Warning: This postmortem contains spoilers for the “Useful Occupations And Deceptions” episode of Outlander.
When sparks stop flying in the Fraser bedroom, even when a freshly waxed honeypot is involved, you know something is definitely rotten in the state of France. Season 2 started smack dab in the middle of Jamie’s shame spiral over being raped and tortured by Black Jack, and thanks to all the political maneuvering, manipulating, and general misogyny of the 18th century and Parisian high society, the rift between the Scot and the sassenach continued to grow in the latest episode of Outlander.
“Jamie is not in a healthy place when they begin this part of their journey,” says Sam Heughan. “And France and the mission they are on there — trying to infiltrate the Jacobite rebellion and stop the battle of Culloden and a race of people being wiped out — has a lot of consequences on their relationship, and love may not be strong enough to see them through. They’re not comfortable in this world.”
Caitriona Balfe (Claire) admits that she experienced an adjustment period when they started filming season 2. “Even though we were playing the same characters, it felt almost like a different show. Our characters, in a sense, were also playing characters as well. We’re so used to Jamie and Claire being so honorable, honest and forthright. And here, we find them in a situation where they’re being quite duplicitous and manipulative. It was an uncomfortable readjustment for us, but they were also feeling that, so it helped us [as actors] too.”
“They’re people dealing with very personal journeys alongside the shared mission,” Balfe continues. “Privately, they’re both struggling. Together they’ve found this common language of this mission, this goal. But it’s not exactly healthy ground for them and it really puts a lot of strain on their marriage. But that’s what happens in a marriage — people have work stresses and evolve at different times and deal with things — and we always said the series is the story of how a marriage stays together. It’s that constant elasticity that you need to have as a couple. It’s so intriguing to explore.”
Jamie is most certainly battling post-traumatic stress disorder and the lingering effects of what happened at Wentworth at the end of season 1 causes him to retreat inward. Heughan explains, “You’re so used to Jamie opening up to Claire and telling [her] exactly how he feels. Season 2 he’s doing the exact opposite of that. He’s doing this mission all day and getting drunk all night. He doesn’t talk about what has happened to him. We miss them connecting, which then pulls them apart, and we’re missing that intimacy between them. Ultimately that comes to a head because they’re not dealing with those issues.”
Just like in real life, communication is key to a solid standing, according to Balfe. “As with any relationship, lack of communication is never a good sign or a good thing. It drives a wedge between them. I think they’re going on very private journeys in the beginning of this season. For Claire, it’s quite a lonely time.”
Claire has also, at least for the time being, decided to keep the possibly explosive news that Black Jack is alive to herself. “When she finds out about Black Jack, her biggest fear is that this will send Jamie into a spiral again or make him do something rash. Maybe he’ll try and go back to Scotland and kill Black Jack,” explains the actress. “So there’s a lot of fear in her decision to not tell him. She feels a lot of guilt about it. It continues this sort of alienation that the two have from each other.”
The disconnect is not helped by the sneaky plan they’ve concocted to change her history/his future either. “Jamie’s forthright, honorable, and speaks his mind so to be deceptive, manipulative, and to lie is not in his character so the way he acts really doesn’t sit well with either of them,” Heughan says. “As the season progresses, the pressure on Jamie grows and they do things they don’t want to do and there’s betrayal. Just being in Paris is killing their relationship. It forces them into addressing that later on.”
It also clearly doesn’t help that they have become two ships passing in the night with Jamie spending all hours in a brothel and at court playing chess and Claire being relegated to looking pretty, being waited on hand and foot, and having frivolous conversations about slang terms for man bits or lady-scaping. “He knows what needs to be done. Obviously, he’s the one that has to do it because he’s a man and can maneuver in the French court,” Heughan says. “Claire, even though she knows what needs doing, can’t do more than play the woman’s role and that doesn’t sit well for her. She is not one to sit around and gossip in the lady’s drawing room.”
Claire does not take the “conventional” corner she is being pushed into well. The feeling is summed up so deliciously in the scene with Master Raymond in which she says, ”I am an unusual lady. At least I used to be. Ever since I came to Paris, my life has gotten more and more conventional by the day as I suppose have I.”
Balfe adores that scene. “It’s a great moment, and Master Raymond is a kindred spirit. Claire had more freedom in Scotland. She was an outsider, yes, and that came with dangers, but she didn’t have to live by the rules of Scottish society. She’s under more constraints here. Women are supposed to be pretty ornaments relegated to the drawing rooms, drinking tea, and gossiping. She feels frustrated and handicapped because she’s unable to [enjoy] her outlets for creativity and her calling for healing.”
So naturally Claire is thrilled to find an outlet at the hospital. “She finds her purpose again,” says Balfe. “She begins to feel useful and like a vital human being again.” Unfortunately, as we saw in the episode, her new gig tasting urine and lancing boils — and the time it takes her away from the home — frustrates Jamie and pushes them even farther apart. “Jamie sees that as sort of a betrayal because he believes he’s out working on the mission, and she’s just going off to sort of almost enjoy herself,” Heughan says. “I guess if he was to sit down and think about it for a while, he would realize that she needs that. But it’s tough, this world, and it’s not conducive for a good relationship.”
But never fear, Outfanders: Heughan promises that there is light at the end of the Chunnel. “Spoiler alert: The catalyst to the recovery of their relationship is coming. All this drama and tragedy them brings them closer together again, and [someone] turning up fires off all these things and It makes them stronger.”
Outlander airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz.