Outlander is back! The season premiere, “America the Beautiful,” is just the mix of loyalty, treachery, tragedy, and redemption that we’d all hoped it would be. Now that we’ve all had a chance to watch it, it’s time to condense all those feelings down into just two categories and 650-ish words. For those new to the FanFest coverage, we call these our “Skins vs Swords” recaps. Each episode gets a score based on how it handles the “skins” (the relationships, people, and emotions) and the “swords” (the action, schemes, and literal swordplay) of the Outlander world. Colonial America is the land of opportunity and the writers have taken every opportunity to deliver us a great season opener.
**Spoiler warning! The following recap may contain spoilers for episode 401. Do not read further if you have not seen the episode and wish to avoid spoilers.**
Skin Score: 10/10. There’s a lot to discuss here (like that riverbank camping scene, and Fergus and Marsali’s announcement, and Rollo…) but there’s one scene that shows just how well Outlander handles complicated emotions and relationships. Jamie and Ian are digging a grave for Gavin Hayes when Ian’s surroundings trigger an immediate and violent flashback. He is instantly mentally back in Geillis’s room in Jamaica, once again her prisoner and at her mercy. Physically, he is running blindly through a graveyard in North Carolina, searching for a shelter that doesn’t exist. It’s only when Jamie catches him and makes physical contact that Ian comes back to reality. Even after Jamie and Ian talk, it’s clear that Ian will be dealing with this trauma for a long time yet. One conversation did not erase what Geillis did to him, just like one confession to Claire did not erase what Black Jack Randall did to Jamie back in season one.
And here’s the really important thing- this scene is exactly how Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) works. The flashbacks aren’t always predictable, as even the most unrelated situation or unseen trigger can cause them. Reality fades away as memory takes over, and you need someone there to remind you of where you are. The biggest comfort comes from knowing that you are safe and not alone. As someone who has struggled with PTSD for eight years now (although from a very different cause than Jamie and Ian), it’s refreshing to see it shown correctly and with such honesty. This scene alone earns the 10/10 this week. Although meeting Rollo helped too.
Sword Score: 6/10. There is a little bit of action here, but most of the episode plays out to set up the rest of the season. Hayes meets his end at the hangman’s noose, which is a harsh reminder that the New World isn’t a safe one by any means. Just in case Jamie and his crew missed that lesson, Stephen Bonnet is there to remind them several more times. Stephen escaped being hung, but his near-death experience doesn’t seem to have changed him. He uses Jamie and Claire to get him back to his gang of outlaws in the woods by appealing to their senses of honor. Just a few days later, he bursts into the cabin of their riverboat and steals all their jewels and cash, including Claire’s wedding ring. Jamie and Claire had just decided to stay in North Carolina, flush with cash from selling the ruby and a promise of land of their own. Now they have nothing but each other. Luckily for them, they’ve proven time and time again that that’s all they need to succeed.
Overall, this is a solid start to the season. What the episode lacks in action, it makes up for in character development. New land, new faces, new adversaries, and new life mean that this season will be anything but old news. Speaking of news, remember to check back here to FanFest.com for weekly episode previews and recaps. Let us know in the comments what parts of the premiere have you the most excited.