Boston, 1956. Seven years have passed since the last time we saw Claire. Morning at Chez Settle, and Frank Randall is cooking black pudding in TWO different kinds of fat to try to offset the insidious influence of Madison Avenue on little Brianna.
Claire, still looking crisp and professional, is studying gallbladders, but it doesn’t stop her nabbing a bite on the way to the table. As Frank jokes about either an English breakfast or Dickens as an antidote to Brianna’s excessive Americanism, we get a chance to look at the Randalls closely for the first time since we saw them in separate beds at the end of 302. They are both in crisp white tops and tan bottoms, he a pair of classic khakis and she in a slim pencil skirt. They are clear-eyed and chatty, and for all purposes, a perfectly matched pair. It is only when they begin speaking that the cracks begin to show. Claire, no doubt remembering that this is a person who she used to enjoy spending time with, offers Frank an evening out. She doesn’t have class tonight, she says, why not go see a film about a messed-up family? Or maybe another film about a messed-up singing family?
The bulk of my first impressions have to do not with story this week, but the casting and production. This was the end of the three-episode arc that dealt with the Randall marriage and Claire’s early life in Boston, and to get her back to Scotland, Roger, and the search for Jamie (not to mention to get Jamie through his years of hiding and imprisonment) would take some serious editing. Spoilers ahead for episode 303.
Here are my five initial takeaways:
- Hats off, Tall Ships. I think this episode more than any other to-date shows the successful complexity of what it can be to adapt a book to a series, hit all the high points and still evoke all the emotion of the longer passages and dialogue that can’t possibly be covered fully when working with limited time and resources. Ardsmuir especially, though drawn very sparingly, communicated both its squalor and the closeness of the men in a very sad, very dear way. The Randall marriage, as well, saw a period of eleven years pass in less than thirty minutes, and it felt very real, even if not 100% faithful to the Voyager novel. The economy in no way detracted from the emotional resonance, and that’s worth applauding.
- Okay fine, I get it, LJ fans. I have been through YEARS of people telling me that Lord John is the bee’s knees, and I need to read all his books…and I’ve resisted. I just didn’t see it, and I was holding some of his actions in Echo against him, but David Berry’s portrayal just broadcasts this integrity that I find a really appealing trait in a man who is a well-disguised outsider. Maybe his station in life has afforded him some privilege, but his sexuality has also dealt him very bitter blows, and they have ennobled his character instead of rotting it. He is, in many ways, the anti-BJR. It was incredibly touching to see both he and Jamie find the noble heart of each other, and I look forward to seeing more of him.
- Always take a Murtagh. I’m not ashamed to say I leapt out of my seat like a joyous kangaroo when I heard his voice, and I started flailing my arms when I saw his dear beard and brows. I was so, so, touched that the show brought Duncan Lacroix back for another episode, even if it might be some time before he’s seen again. I know that at some point in life Jamie has to grow to become Murtagh-like himself, but in what has been a very dark first few episodes, it was a welcome ray of sunshine to see such a beloved character again. I hear the rumors about what his role might be in season 5, and all I can say to that is BRING IT. Put him in a pig costume and make him the white sow, I don’t care. I need my Murtagh.
- Poor Frank. Two paths diverged in a wood, and on one was TV Frank. So many differences between these two characters. There is a lot of dislike of Book Frank, and it has seemed to some that the TV version has been sanctified in a way the “real” Frank does not deserve. If I have come away with anything from the show, however, it’s that reality is uncomfortable, and the fact that Claire fell in love with another man doesn’t automatically make the man she chose first into a villain, nor does it make her actions where he is concerned always heroic. There were a lot of shades of grey in the Randall marriage, and I feel like the writers were very successful at navigating difficult subject matter. That scene where Claire’s tear drops on his face, an echo of the same tear he cried the last time she saw him alive? Gut-wrenching. Real. Poetic. I’ll miss the tremendous Tobias Menzies, but I hope to see him in flashbacks.
- Breecyclopedia. There is so much emotional soil being laid down in these first few episodes about Brianna’s upbringing that explains so much about non-Jamie parts of the character. You can count me among the people who never connected with book Brianna, but the show is illustrating so many of the behaviors that I found bratty and why she needed to develop them. Bree is brash and direct because she lived in the shadow of her parents’ false reality. She is emotionally reserved because she saw the unhappiness of unrequited love in not only her father, but also Claire. She is independent because she had a working mother and intellectual father who encouraged her to make her own choices and think for herself, and she is analytical because she has learned to probe situations and people instead of taking what they say at face value. She is in a way not only three people’s greatest hope for the future, but the product of all their past mistakes… and all their enduring virtues.