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Monday, May 20, 2024

Outlander Season 7 Review, Episodes 1-4

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Outlander Season 7 premieres June 16 exclusively on Starz.


Ack, dinna fash, you lovers of Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire Fraser’s (Caitríona Balfe) epic, time-traveling romance. Outlander returns for its seventh season with a decidedly Fraser-forward focus that does a fine job balancing the pair’s penchant for landing in a lot of life-threatening situations, with plenty of charming, domestic moments where their enduring romance really gets to shine. But there’s also a compelling backdrop to play against as the Frasers and their kin are now on the doorstep of the Revolutionary War in 1776. And for those who were sucked into the series for its time-travel weirdness, there’s also a return to the across-time storytelling that was such a satisfying hallmark of the first few seasons. The first four episodes made available for review give closure to some important dangling storylines leftover from season 6, set the stage for more time travel, and introduce new characters that already prove themselves to be provocative additions to this world.

The new season picks up right where the previous season finale left off, with Claire arrested by the British Crown for witchcraft and the murder of her former medicinal mentee. At this point in Claire’s time-traveling existence, “witch” is a familiar accusation since her modern medical skills often confound those who use bleeding to treat everything from pregnancy to gout. But the murderer label is pretty dire, so the first episode, “A Life Well Lost,” spends much of its time dealing with Mrs. Fraser’s predicament in custody, while Jamie and his nephew, Young Ian (John Bell), look for any allies – even reformed enemy Tom Christie (Mark Lewis Jones). It’s an eventful first episode back with some action, familial revelations, and even some sly humor.

It’s an eventful first episode back with some action, familial revelations, and even some sly humor.


The writers don’t dawdle with moving the stories along, either. A lot happens across four episodes, especially with regards to Jamie and Claire’s daughter Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and her husband Roger (Richard Rankin). Like Claire, they’re also time travelers who used the stones to travel from the 1970s to the 1770s to save Jamie and Claire from a documented event that history marked as their untimely demise. Despite making a home in the past with their children and parents, a dire turn of events forces the Mackenzie’s to contemplate a return to their time. It’s a story turn that certainly gives the pair something meaty to play with, and stakes that are independent of Jamie and Claire. And it allows for some parallel plotting, especially in "Death Be Not Proud," that harkens back to its early seasons, which is welcome so deep into Outlander’s run.

As always, the series remains at its strongest when it focuses on Jamie and Claire. Ten years into playing these “old marrieds,” Heughan and Balfe are still the bedrock of series’ best storytelling. The actors have such innate chemistry and have nurtured such a strong bond between their characters that they really know how to sell Jamie and Claire ably navigating a bevy of historical and personal dramas without eliciting audience eyerolls. They come at the more crazy plot twists with subtly or perfectly modulated humor, which is a particular forte of Heughan this season. And then they can turn on a dime to wring every bit of emotion out the more intimate scenes where the couple opens up to one another as they wrestle with major life changes or loss. It doesn’t hurt that their chemistry hasn’t waned over the years either, so when the writers pass out some steamy scenes for the Frasers, it’s still quite potent.

When the writers pass out some steamy scenes for the Frasers, it’s still quite potent.  


This season features a lot of strong support work too, including Mark Lewis Jones, who gets to play some very different notes with the Tom Christie character that we haven’t seen before. In particular, he and Balfe share a series of excellent encounters that flesh out their dynamic in surprising ways. It’s nice to see John Bell’s Young Ian present so much in the core stories too, with some intriguing interwoven storylines, particularly his association with Jamie’s grown son from another mother, William Ransom (Charles Vandervaart). And though they don’t elicit the same heat or passion as Jamie and Claire do on screen, Rankin and Skelton’s Roger and Bree do some fine work, especially in their moments with Heughan and Balfe.

Outlander Season 7 Trailer Images

Aesthetically, Outlander remains one of the most handsome shows on television. Shooting in Scotland for scenes set in Colonial America, every episode feels like it was plucked out of the accurate past, featuring detailed sets, gorgeous costumes (Jamie’s coats are to die for) and natural landscapes that transport you to Fraser’s Ridge in 1776. It’s also worth mentioning the changeup in the show’s opening titles, with Sinéad O'Connor’s heartfelt rendition of "The Skye Boat Song” eliciting genuine goosebumps every episode.

Finally, be warned: if you’re squeamish about blood or terrible depictions of violence that are authentic to the times, the series continues to showcase wounds, killings, and surgeries with shocking detail, just as Outlander creator / author Diana Gabaldon does in her books.

Verdict

The first four episodes of Outlander season 7 sets the series on the right foot for a very strong first half of the season. The storylines still give fans the requisite amount of dire circumstances for Jamie and Claire to overcome together, as well as some jaw-dropping revelations that fit right in with the show’s long history of outrageous plot turns. But more importantly, the writers counterbalance the fraught moments well by giving the Frasers plenty of quiet moments for the audience to revel in their bond which is a particular strength of the show. A more sci-fi mythology driven arc that brings time travel back to the forefront is a positive and gives the Frasers and Mackenzie some fresh stakes. Plus, history is calling with the Revolutionary War knocking at their door, which puts Jamie and Claire in the kind of jeopardy this show does so well.

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