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 ProMovieBlogger.com and Trending Awards.com.

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