TV Show Review

TV Review: OUTLANDER: Season 3, Episode 8: First Wife [Starz]

Caitriona Balfe Laura Donnelly Outlander First Wife

Outlander First Wife Review

Starz’s Outlander: Season 3, Episode 8: First Wife presented one of the series’ strengths, a strength that was impossible to exhibit when the series first began – strong character re-emergences at precisely the right moment for maximum impact. First Wife also presented one of the series’ first narrative missteps, a stumble that occurred in the final scene of the episode.

When Laoghaire MacKenzie (Nell Hudson) showed up in the doorway of James “Jamie” MacKenzie Fraser (Sam Heughan) and Claire Beauchamp Randall/Fraser (Caitriona Balfe)’s room after Laoghaire’s children had entered, it was a jaw-dropping moment.

It was a moment built up to since Claire returned to the past and lowered voices whispered of Jamie Fraser’s second wife. When the iron hammer finally struck the steel anvil in First Wife, it was all fallout sparks, complicated by the presence of two children that had come to love Jamie Fraser and what he brought into their lives – a caring father.

Everyone’s reaction in that room, in that key moment (and immediately following it), were wonderful to behold, while some were more difficult e.g. the aforementioned children – the younger of the two really loved Jamie.

If Claire had never gone into the past the first time (in Season 1), would Jamie have ended up Laoghaire MacKenzie?

Jamie mentioned in First Wife that Laoghaire had been abused by one or both of her former husbands and that when in bed with Laoghaire, she recoiled from Jamie’s touch. For Laoghaire to recoil from Jamie Fraser’s touch, a man she’d wanted sexually and romantically for years, the abuse she’d endured most have been extreme.

Claire’s time-travel changed a lot of people’s destinies, including Laoghaire’s.

If Claire had never gone back in time, Laoghaire might have married Jamie, never married her abusers, and never been beaten. This is all supposition but it made Laoghaire’s storyline that much more tragic. The Butterfly Effect was indiscriminate and took no prisoners when it came to Claire, her time-traveling, Jamie, and Laoghaire.

Unlike the sporadic and indistinct results of The Butterfly Effect in First Wife, Laoghaire MacKenzie’s intention with the musket was clear, though she lacked the necessary resolve – the viewer could clearly see that the musket went off by accident. Laoghaire never intended to kill Jamie or Claire (killing Claire would have just driven Jamie permanently away) but scaring and frightening Claire out of her and Jamie’s life was something Laoghaire was more than capable of carrying out.

Since Laoghaire MacKenzie and Jamie Fraser were estranged and there was no love between them, what exactly was Laoghaire holding on to? A good father for her children? Or was it the idea of Jamie Fraser that she was holding on to, of finally having the man that she’d always desired (though he had only been a shadow of that person since his heart was always with the memory of Claire Fraser). I believe it was a large dose of the latter and small, but practical does, of the former.

Jamie’s lie to Lord John William Grey about not finding Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s hidden treasure during All Debts Paid was transparent but it raised interesting plot-holes during the end of First Wife. Jamie said during First Wife that there was no way that he could have swam from the island with the treasure chest and he was right. If Jamie couldn’t swim from the island carrying the chest, taking away one of his arms that he needed to swim with, how was Ian Murray, Jr. (John Bell) going to swim with the same metal chest? Why didn’t Ian take a small row boat to the island, knowing that he would need it to bring the chest back?

That entire scene in First Wife was Buffoonery 101. Ian going to the island without a boat to transport the chest back made absolutely no sense…unless the viewer considers First Wife‘s clumsily screenwriter. First Wife screenwriter Joy Blake knew that Ian would never make that clearly impossible swim with the small metal chest in tow. Blake also knew that Ian would not need the row boat.

Blake knew all of these things because she was going to make a magical ship appear out of thin air, some of its crew row to the island, and kidnap a boy that they somehow knew would be there at that precise moment, even-though he was from a poor family that couldn’t afford to pay a ransom, and even-though they had his treasure.

I have seen bad writing in television before but the stacking of preposterous story element on top of preposterous story element at the end of First Wife pushed this episode to nearly the middle of the list of worst scenes in a TV episode ever written, filmed, and aired.

Even if the phantom ship appearance is explained in future episodes of Outlander, how does the viewer reason out to themselves why Ian went to that island without a row boat (or some other form of transportation for the metal chest)?

It was a sloppily-constructed scene and I was surprised, given the quality of all of the episodes that came before it, that no one caught it in the script phase before it was filmed. I hope this slop never rears its head again in the series. Outlander deserved better.

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Rollo Tomasi

A Political Science and MBA grad who started FilmBook during an eCommerce B-School course in 2008. Cinema and TV addict. Former writer at Empire Movies, Blogcritics, and Alternative Film Guide. In addition to writing for FilmBook, he also edits the copy published on the website, manages its writing staff, manages the back-end operations, site finances, its social network accounts, and works with publicists, actors, and companies on press coverage and promotions. He has also created and Trending

  • Blacklanderz™

    Joy Blake and the other writers did not write a ‘sloppily-constructed scene’. And, there was nothing to catch in ‘the script phase before it was filmed.’ You should pose the question regarding the scene to Diana Gabaldon; that’s what/how she wrote in the book – Ian not having a row boat to the island, the pirate ship magically showing it and the pirates kidnap him. It’s just a plot devise Diana used to move the story in another direction.
    Now, Jamie and Claire begin their search for young Ian.

  • Joy Blake did write a sloppy scene.

    Diana Gabaldon did write a sloppy scene. Just because Gabaldon is a published author does not make her or her writing infallible.

    Scenes and events written in a book do not always translate well to the screen, whether that is on the big screen or the small screen.

    Superhero costumes look great in a comic book but when they are translated to a film, they look idiotic hence why they are drastically altered and made to look realistic when filmed.

    When you read that scene in the book, it made sense. Gabaldon successfully created a picture in your mind, a picture in your mind that worked for you. You saw nothing wrong with it. That was your perception of that scene (in the book), your review for it.

    When that scene was translated onto the small screen, happening exactly as it happened in the book, that scene did not work. That is my perception of it, my review for it.

    Based on what was on-screen in First Wife, explain the following to me:

    1. Where did that ship come from? It literally materialized out of thin air. Claire and Jamie are looking directly at the island and then a giant ship appears on-screen. How is it possible that they didn’t see that ship approaching from a long ways off?

    2. “It’s just a plot devise Diana used to move the story in another direction.” Does that make it a well-written plot device? Just because Gabaldon came up with it?

    3. How do you swim with 45 pounds in one arm (taking that arm out of the swim), weighing you down in the water? How do you make forward progress in the water when the iron chest that you are holding is pulling you underwater every second (plus fatiguing the holding arm)? Ian nor Jamie were Navy S.E.A.L.s.

    When I saw that scene, I immediately thought of these issues with it. Blake didn’t or just didn’t care (i.e. slop). Gabaldon didn’t, her editor didn’t, or both of them just didn’t care (i.e. slop).

  • distachio

    Jamie didn’t lie to LJG. That treasure wasn’t “The Frenchman’s Gold.” I’m sure you’ve been watching this show long enough to know that the narrative sometimes deliberately misleads the viewer, only to explain later via flashback or through character reveals. It’s the same way with the books. You will find out who put the treasure there later, but it wasn’t the gold purportedly sent by King Louis for Charles Edward Stewart’s cause.

    I get it about the box — Ian couldn’t possibly swim with it. To be fair to Diana Gabaldon, in the book, Ian was only to get a couple of gems but leave the box in its hidden spot.

    The “phantom ship” was simply behind the island and not visible from Jamie and Claire’s vantage point until it emerged on the side. Living near the ocean, I’ve seen that phenomenon scores of times from my balcony. First there’s nothing there; your attention goes elsewhere for a minute; you look again and suddenly there’s a boat. Happens almost daily in these parts.

    The crew DIDN’T expect Ian to be there. They were sent there to get the treasure, and again, the who and whys of this will be revealed in a later installment. Ian was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

    As for why they didn’t use a rowboat: It was a very remote location and there was no dock or harbor with boats nearby. The moors of Scotland consist of very rough terrain and there were certainly no roads in the area at that time. Even if they’d managed to get a rowboat there, they would then have had to get it down that rocky cliff/hillside and into the water. Ummm…nope. Only realistic option is to swim.

  • Sassycatz

    As was explained above, the ship was anchored on the other side of the island, hidden by what was left of the castle that was built there. They just didn’t see it until it moved, which also happens in plenty of war movies, featuring naval battles, as I recall. The pirates are not on the island for Ian. It was just an unfortunate turn of events that they were there at the same time. Finally, I don’t think Ian was meant to carry the whole chest but, instead, what was in it. And there’s no reason to believe, he didn’t have a pouch or sling or some other “bag” slung around his neck and shoulders which would hold the treasure. As for the lack of a boat, the island is meant to be very secluded with rugged terrain around it. Not very easy to get a boat down there, especially if you want all this to be done without alerting anyone.

    To be frank, the story is a bit different in the books, and Jamie, Ian, and the rest of the Murrays, et al. have a bit more experience with going to this island to retrieve bits and pieces of the treasure.

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