[This is not a spoiler-free review of the episode. If you have not seen the episode yet, read it at your own spoiler risk.]
Episode 702: “The Happiest Place on Earth”
Written By Toni Graphia, Directed by Lisa Clarke
Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ. Brianna (Sophie Skelton) uttered Claire’s (Caitriona Balfe) signature phrase once during this episode of Outlander, and it seems like a good phrase to start with for one of the better episodes in the whole series. Toni Graphia has written for the series since its first season, and she did a fantastic job with Episode 702, “The Happiest Place on Earth.”
The Christie saga wrapped up with a deadly finality with Allan Christie (Alexander Vlahos) confessing what happened to Malva (Jessica Reynolds) to Claire in the cemetery. Those who have read the books knew what was coming. In the middle of pouring out his heart to Claire, the music changes to a sinister tone (thanks, Bear McCreary) as Allan mutters, “Her wee privates were like a flower bud.” Claire’s face changes (especially her chin) to anger. What he confesses triggers a nearby Ian (John Bell) enough to put an end to his vile existence.
One puzzling thing I question is Claire’s narration at the beginning saying that Tom Christie (Mark Lewis Jones) is probably already dead by this time. Not knowing much about the Crown’s criminal justice at this point in history, I assume he has already died because he confessed to a crime. The statement by Claire goes against what she said while in the jail in Wilmington about the courts being closed.
The covert forest burial of Allan by Claire and Ian is interrupted by Murdina Bug (Sarah Collier), but it ends up that Murdina was not Allan’s biggest fan and helps with the task. One thing that stands out in this scene and should not is the length of Claire’s hair. It is much longer in this scene versus the one before and any of the ones after. Continuity issues are a thorn in my side and will frequently take me out of the moment to ponder why something like hair does not match up.
The birth of Amanda, aka Mandy, to Brianna and Roger (Richard Rankin), made up for the mistake of not having Claire and Jamie at the birth of Jemmy. Fans are still salty about that omission. Not long after, Claire discovers that Mandy has a birth defect that affects her heart and will eventually cause her to die. Given that we have time traveling as an option in this show and Claire does not have the skills or equipment to fix Mandy, the decision is made for the family to go back to their own time to fix the wee bairn. By the way, did anyone else get a weird feeling that the birth announcement in Fergus’ paper may come into play with “what Frank knew” in the future, maybe even this season?
While collecting the necessary gemstones for safe travel through the stones in Wilmington, Brianna runs into Lord John Grey (David Berry) and her half-brother William Ransom (Charles Vandervaart). This meeting is Brianna’s first time laying her eyes on William after Jamie told her of his existence. It is a powerful moment for at least one of them, as William is still in the dark about his true parentage. From afar, Jamie spots them with a knowing nod to Lord John. After William leaves, Brianna, ever the modern woman, thinks Lord John should tell William the truth, which does not go over well with him. The complications of inheritance and a title would preclude William from finding out.
The relationship between Jamie and Lord John leads to an inevitably strained situation, given Jamie’s declaration that he will never fight for the Crown. Due to opposing viewpoints and the possibility of committing treason for associating with each other, they break off their communication. With William now in America to fight for the Crown and Jamie on the other side, there will be future meetings, and they might be on a battlefield.
The goodbyes between the Frasers and the MacKenzies, before they go through the stones to save Mandy have to be some of the more gut-wrenching scenes of Outlander. If you think back, Jamie had to do this once before when he sent Claire back before Culloden, and now he is forced to do it again with his daughter and her family. Claire never thought she would see Brianna again when she went back to find Jamie, but she came back to her to save her parents. Now they are saying goodbye again. Fellow readers know what happens in the future of this story, but it is gut-wrenching nonetheless. Jamie and Claire standing near the stones with their family gone is a sobering image, and they are both trying to keep it together.
Empty nest syndrome has come for Claire and Jamie; while one family has gone into the future, Fergus and Marsali are also far away. Their grandchildren have left. Claire grieves their loss like a death, especially Brianna’s, and Jamie supports her as only Jamie could. They are both lucky to have found each other and have the family they created. Loss touches everyone, and Jamie and Claire are certainly not excluded, even though they are luckier than most.
The episode ends with a fiery boom. Wendigo Donner (Brennan Martin) has returned to the Big House in a quest for jewels for time travel. He and his cronies find more than they bargained for with an angry Jamie, who is not too pleased to meet Wendigo considering what happened to Claire, a store of ether, and Brianna’s nifty matches. Prior to the Big House exploding, or at least Claire’s side of things, we find out that the show has indeed left in the story involving the Bugs and the Stuart gold. This inclusion should prove interesting. It at least provided us with Jamie yelling in Gaelic, which we have not seen in a while.
This episode contained several important events in the respective Outlander novels, and somehow the episode did not feel rushed or like there was no time to breathe. It closed out storylines, moved forward others, and introduced an important “new” character. Toni Graphia was able to seamlessly weave all the things that happened in this episode while also giving space for emotional moments for the characters and book-reading audience. Graphia is giving a masterclass in writing with this episode, and this should have been the premiere episode of the season.
While the writing is superb, it doesn’t mean much if it is not carried out well by the actors, and in this case, the actors, all of them, embraced the finality and emotions that were required of them. I have not teared up watching Outlander for some time. The publicity around this series suggests that your heart should burst and your eyes well up with every new episode. Outlander can be a bit overdramatic and can be accused of playing to the reader audience in some instances. Still, everything fell into place with this one, and the emotions transmitted to the audience worked enough to have to wipe my eyes at least once, or maybe twice, for this hour of Outlander excellence.
NEXT WEEK, FRIDAY, JUNE 30, AT 8 PM ET: EPISODE 703: “DEATH BE NOT PROUD”
Synopsis: “Jamie discovers Arch Bug has been keeping a dangerous secret. In the 20th century, Roger and Brianna find a link to Jamie and Claire.”