Outlander – Season 2 Episode 12
“The Hail Mary”
Only one more episode of the second season of Outlander to go and everything is inevitably heading towards Culloden.
Everything about this season has felt inevitable which is exactly along the lines of what had been established since the first episode. Basically, everything is pretty much destined to happen and changing that seems to be impossible. Jamie and Claire’s efforts to derail the uprising by manipulating Prince Charles in Paris didn’t work and now they are in the midst of a War that seems to be going exactly as history recorded it.
It’s a brave storytelling choice to make it clear how things are going to end up as it’s difficult to have that remain compelling as the episodes progress. Outlander has broadly managed to keep things interesting while also being surprising in different ways. Watching everything fall apart around the characters despite their efforts has been oddly fascinating.
Anyway, I should really start talking about this episode. Being the penultimate of the season there are a lot of dangling plot threads that need to be tied up in some way before the show can resolve the major season plot. In man ways it feels like a lot of boxes are being ticked in order to tie up these loose ends. Unfortunately having it feel like that is what they are doing doesn’t make for the most cohesive viewing experience. What was actually on screen was largely excellent but not having it all link together is quite jarring.
The return of Mary and Alex Randall throws a bit of a spanner in the works of Claire’s plan to make sure that Frank is born…or so we think. Alex is deathly ill but Mary is committed to marrying him and she is pregnant with his child into the bargain. The problem here is that “Black Jack” Randall is due to die in the upcoming battle so doesn’t have time to impregnate Mary and have Frank eventually be born.
Of course, what this really points to is that Randall was only recorded as Frank’s ancestor and didn’t actually father a child with Mary. Considering Frank is the living spit of “Black Jack” Randall it doesn’t quite add up and feels like a bit of a cop out to create a last minute twist but the actual drama of the situation works really well.
Alex wants to ensure that Mary and his child are looked after in the future so having his brother assume the responsibility of protecting her makes sense for him. We know Randall to be a monstrous human being but Alex sees a different side to him as shown by the natural and brotherly way they interact. Alex calling him Johnny provides a very quick snapshot of the kind of relationship that they have. Alex’s relationship with his brother is shown to be really interesting and complex here.
Prior to this it was difficult to understand how Alex could simply ignore all of the terrible things his brother has done but that is largely answered in this episode. Alex is far from ignorant of everything his brother does but he makes a conscious choice to see them as two completely different sides of the same man. This is how he is able to have such a high opinion of his brother as he sees the terrible things he does in terms of another persona that he never comes into contact with. Claire even falls victim to this a little bit when she refers to the awful things Randall does as “impulses”. She sees his compassionate side when it comes to caring for Alex and believes it to be genuine.
It’s entirely possible that she is only seeing things this way to help ease her guilty conscience. Mary is a kind and innocent person who doesn’t deserve what history seems to have mandated for her. It could be that Claire chooses to see some redeemable qualities in Randall so she doesn’t have to feel so bad about leaving Mary with him. It doesn’t put Claire in the best light but her motivations are easy to understand. Her response to Murtagh’s offer to protect Mary by marrying her proves that but it’s interesting that Murtagh calls her out on that. Being Randall’s widow puts her in a far better situation than a Highlander who has nothing. It’s a simple fact of life and Murtagh can’t deny it but it’s also clear that Claire is doing this for her own selfish reasons. I wonder how she would be acting if she wasn’t sure that Randall was going to die during the battle of Culloden.
Any scene that is shared by Claire and Randall is excellent. Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies are two of the most talented performers on the show so there is a lot of weight to any of their interactions. There’s a lot of history between these characters and a deep hatred from Claire’s point of view but there is also complexity added by the fact that Claire needs him. She is able to appeal to his better nature by framing it in such a way to be about helping his brother. It largely works but there is a powerful reminder of Randall’s sadism when he savagely beats the dead body of his brother.
Colom MacKenzie also returns in this episode and allows his relationship with Dougal to come to some sort of a conclusion. It’s not a great conclusion because Dougal seems to fit into where the plot needs him to most of the time but Graham McTavish does a really impressive job making it convincing. There is an implied complexity in the relationship as Dougal monologues while Colom meets his end. It does suffer from a lack of development but the implications of Colom leaving his sole heir to be raised by Jamie are interesting. We also find out that Geillis had a son who is still alive. I imagine that’s one for season 3 as there probably won’t be much time in the next episode to deal with that. I am still really interested in Geillis’ and what led her to where she ended up so hopefully that will be explored.
The mechanics of the actual War are left in the background for the most part. This episode seems more about tying up loose ends and moving the pieces into the positions they need to be for the final battle. There is another significant time jump as told through Claire’s narration and everyone is pretty battle weary by this point.
Culloden immediately seems like a terrible idea as pointed out by Jamie who says that it’s perfect for the British. A massacre is inevitable and this is the last chance to stop it. There are a lot of largely uninteresting scenes where Prince Charles talks tactics and Jamie does what he can to stop the battle which results in failure. It’s smart to keep this in the background as the characters are far more interesting but it all feeds into this feeling like a tick box exercise so that the next part of the story can be told.
One thing that is working wonderfully is Rupert as a character. He is entirely defined by his grief but I am impressed by how realistically that grief is being presented. It won’t ever go away and certainly isn’t getting any easier. That is the reality of War on a very primal level when there are personal losses.
A solid episode with some meaningful interactions but an overall sense that loose ends were being tied up before the finale. As such the episode feels like a collection of scenes rather than a cohesive whole but I was still invested in much of it, particularly the situation involving Mary and Alex. The finale doesn’t air until July 9th so I’ll be sure to pick up with my thoughts on the finale at that point.
- fascinating character moments
- the cost of war being shown on a deeply personal level
- excellent performances
- an overall disjointed feel to the episode
- some dull strategy based scenes