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The sixth season of STARZ’s hit series “Outlander” premiered on March 6, ending two years of what fans dubbed “droughtlander.” This season, based on the sixth novel in Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” series, follows beloved leads Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire Fraser (Caitriona Balfe) as they navigate their new life in the American colonies, facing mounting tensions in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War.
Similar to previous seasons, “Outlander” Season Six succeeds in completely immersing viewers in the time period at hand. Whether it was 1940s England, 1970s Boston, or in this case, 1770s North Carolina, the combination of set design, costuming, and character-driven writing makes the story believable and fully engaging. The show effectively navigates the complexities of Brianna (Sophie Skelton), Roger (Richard Rankin), and Claire’s knowledge of the future, highlighting their struggles and successes assimilating to a time they were previously familiar with only from textbooks.
At the beginning of the season, all is well on Fraser’s Ridge, the family’s settlement: Claire is back to work in her clinic, Brianna is bringing modern inventions to the 18th century, and the settlers are prospering. It quickly becomes evident, however, that conflict is imminent. The happy dynamic is quickly interrupted by flashbacks to Jamie’s harrowing years at Ardsmuir Prison following the failed Jacobite Rebellion and the arrival of fellow inmate Tom Christie (Mark Lewis Jones) on the Ridge.
The arrival of Christie and his group of staunch Protestants immediately presents a challenge to Jamie. Ever the peace-maker and leader, Jamie sets aside their previous differences and welcomes Tom, even aiding the new settlers in building their cabins. The interactions between Claire and Tom, however, are more compelling; Claire’s quick retorts to Tom’s misogynistic comments offer a moment of comic relief to an otherwise heavy show. In episode two, Claire responds to Tom’s comments: “Clearly Saint Paul also met a woman he couldn’t out-argue.”
Besides the ideological differences explored through Christie’s arrival, the first few episodes of Season Six also explore individual characters' attempts to heal following the traumatic events of the Season Five finale. In the dramatic final episode, pregnant Marsali (Lauren Lyle) was beaten and Claire was kidnapped and raped by Lionel Brown (Ned Dennehy). The overuse of sexual violence is a serious issue on the show, and one that seemed to be too quickly forgotten in previous seasons. In this season, Marsali’s husband Fergus (César Domboy) appears to struggle more with the attack than Marsali herself: he falls into alcoholism and attempts suicide, plagued with guilt about not protecting his wife.
Claire also struggles to cope with the immense trauma she experienced despite putting on a brave face for her husband and family, a departure from how previous seasons have addressed rape. She continues to practice medicine, but misuses the anesthetic she created for surgeries, putting herself to sleep when she is reminded of her trauma. This storyline falls flat at times, as it not only seems at odds with Claire’s character but ultimately pushes her experience to the side. “I’m fine, darling,” is Claire’s response in episode one when Brianna brings up the subject, and little changes in subsequent episodes.
This season also continues to explore the relationship between colonists and nearby Native American tribes, a storyline established in previous seasons, when Jamie accepts the role of Indian Agent, a sort of litigator between the crown and the Native leadership. When Jamie learns that Richard Brown (Chris Larkin), the Fraser’s rival and brother of the man who kidnapped and raped Claire, is the alternative candidate, he tells the Governor, “If it’s between me and him, I cannae let him do it.”
Because of Jamie’s diplomatic role with the Cherokees, he and Young Ian (John Bell) must travel frequently to speak with leaders, opening a discussion of Ian’s time with the Mohawk. Both viewers and Ian’s family finally learn more about his experience as a member of the Mohawk tribe, as well as his marriage. He struggles to reconcile his conflicting affiliations, which is a genuinely moving part of the show. Ian is one of the most caring and empathetic characters in the cast, and the episode exploring his story is an engaging one.
Young Ian looks up to his uncle, Jamie, who is almost exhaustingly good in this season. It seems as though he cannot misstep, somehow always taking the lead and saving the day. Despite this characterization of Jamie as eternally good feeling a bit unrealistic, it works. The audience grows to share the same belief as Claire: When Jamie is there, things will work out. This is what makes Malva Christie’s (Jessica Reynolds) claim that she is pregnant with Jamie’s child in episode six so jarring to the audience — it is entirely at odds with Jamie’s character. The showrunners force everyone to question Jamie’s faithfulness, ultimately affirming it.
Jamie’s characterization is also challenged by his political affiliations. In the first parts of the season, it feels wrong that Jamie cooperates with the British government, especially given his knowledge of the impending war’s outcome. This tension is finally resolved in episode f]ive when Jamie joins the Sons of Liberty, immediately singling himself out as a leader in the group. His monologue at the meeting exemplifies the qualities many fans love about Jamie, and serves as a reminder of his background as a leader of the Jacobite Rebellion.
The pace of the season picks up considerably after this pivotal moment as the various plotlines become overshadowed by impending war. The mounting tensions in the colonies finally reach the previously separated Fraser’s Ridge just as Malva’s accusations sow doubt in the community, and Jamie is forced into action. The return of old favorite Lord John Grey (David Berry) further calls back to the urgency and intensity of previous seasons as John raises the stakes of Jamie’s involvement in the rebellion.
Even in its lulls, “Outlander” is impossible to stop watching. The chemistry between its leads, beautiful costume design, and compelling historical setting make it an engaging escape from reality. Even so, it would benefit from further exploration of its many characters’ deep traumas, especially before they are plunged into war.
Outlander is streaming on STARZ. The finale will air on April 24.
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