[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Outlander‘s season two finale, “Dragonfly In Amber.”]
And with that, the “Droughtlander” begins again.
Saturday’s super-sized Outlander season two finale finally caught up to where the premiere began: Jamie (Sam Heughan) forced Claire (Caitriona Balfe) to go back through the stones to her first husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) for her own safety before the disastrous Battle of Culloden began. But the 90-minute episode actually picked up in 1968, 20 years after Claire reunited with Frank. She had returned to Scotland with her grown daughter Brianna (Sophie Skelton) after Frank had passed to attend Rev. Wakefield’s (James Fleet) funeral, and there, the two women met his son Roger (Richard Rankin), who is actually a descendent of the Mackenzies.
Back in the 18th century storyline, it was the morning of April 16, 1746, when the Battle of Culloden was set to happen. Claire wanted to poison Prince Charles (Andrew Gower) so the rebellion would die before the battle could even happen. However, Dougal (Graham McTavish) overheard Claire and Jamie planning the assassination. Enraged to hear such treason, Dougal tried to kill Jamie, but Claire stepped into the fight and helped Jamie stab Dougal instead, instantly killing him. Horrified at what they did, Claire and Jamie sent Fergus (Romann Berrux) away from the battle with the deed to Lallybroch, giving it to Jamie’s nephew and keeping it in the family in case something happened to him. It’s then, while trying to convince Claire to go back through the stones to her time, that Jamie dropped a bomb on her: He had figured out that she was pregnant again with his child. Armed with that knowledge, Claire agreed to go back to Frank for the safety of their child, and after sleeping together one last time, she went back through the stones.
Back in the present day storyline, Claire returned to the Culloden Moor 20 years after she left Jamie. When Claire found the Fraser headstone, she broke down in an emotional speech to the deceased Jamie, telling him all about their daughter’s life. But Brianna was suspicious of her mother’s constant disappearing acts, and enlisted Roger in helping her figure out what happened between her parents back when Claire and Frank stayed at the Reverend’s place, before Claire traveled through the stones. While going through Roger’s father’s journals at Oxford, Brianna ran into none other than Geillis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek), although she went by the name Jillian Edgars now, since it was before she traveled back in time.
Later, Brianna and Roger learned from the journals that Claire went missing for three years, and from that, Brianna figured out her father wasn’t Frank Randall. She confronted her mother, and so Claire finally confessed to her all about Jamie, but Brianna didn’t believe her. That’s when Claire saw Brianna’s pamphlet that Jillian had given her and recognized Geillis from her photo, and while she tried to see her, her husband told Claire that Jillian had left him weeks ago, and Claire knew she was planning to go through the stones soon so she stole Jillian’s journal detailing her research about Craigh na Dun.
When Brianna later asked Claire to tell her about Jamie, Claire also got to educate Roger about his ancestry, since it turns out that he’s the descendent of Geillis and Dougal. The trio then went to confront Jillian/Geillis to confirm Claire’s story, knowing she’d be at the stones, but by the time they arrived she had already murdered her husband since she believed she needed a human sacrifice to go through the stones. Brianna, Roger and Claire witnessed her disappearing through the stones, and so Brianna finally believed Claire’s story. And to top it all off, Roger discovered research from his late father that revealed Jamie Fraser escaped execution after the failed Battle of Culloden. Hopeful that she could find Jamie again, Claire decided to go back through the stones herself.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Outlander executive producer Ron Moore about the emotional season two finale, what changes were made from the page to the screen and what he’s most looking forward to bringing to life in season three.
Since you altered the structure of the beginning of the season, how did that affect the way you told the story in the finale?
I had the finale planned out pretty much at the beginning of the season. When we were talking about the beginning of season two, I just felt that right away, starting in 1968 wasn’t going to work on TV. It was too big of a leap to go from Claire and Jamie on the ship sailing off to France to suddenly go to 1968, with 20 years passed and Claire is now in the 20th century, she’s a doctor, she has a grown daughter, Jamie’s dead, Frank’s dead. It’s like, whoa. Too much for the audience to take in one big swallow. So I decided to start more chronologically in the premiere with Claire returning to the 20th century, which in and of itself is a huge leap. That’s an enormous thing just by itself, so let’s do that. And so when would we get to the 1968 story that book readers are expecting? That’s how we decided to get to 1968 at the end of the season, way back at the very beginning of the season. And then I felt it would be powerful to intercut that with the last moves of the 18th century story, so while you’re watching Brianna realize who her real father is, and Claire is realizing that maybe Jamie didn’t die after all, we’re cross-cutting that with the 18th century story when they arrive at Culloden Moor with Jamie’s goodbyes to Claire and all that.
Did you discuss with author Diana Gabaldon about the way you were structuring the season? It was a pretty massive change.
No. She sees all the story outlines and all that, so she knew as it was happening. She liked it. She thought it was smart. She totally got behind my choices.
We finally learn that Claire is pregnant again only when Jamie is convincing her to go back to Frank for the safety of their baby. Why did you want to wait until that scene to reveal that she was pregnant again when it actually comes earlier in the book?
The book was very similar in its structure, in that Jamie is the one that tells the reader that this is happening. But what we did is slide it a little bit further down so it was much closer to the very end of the season. It felt to us that if you put that in earlier, it kind of colors everything that took place after. They start talking about the baby, where she’s going to have the baby, would she stay or would she go? We didn’t want to be in the middle of that discussion while everything else was going on. So we opted to make it one of the last pieces of the puzzle, playing that Claire has this suspicion but she’s not quite sure, so she doesn’t want to bring it up now because she knows that Jamie would most likely send her home and she’s determined to stick with him no matter what. Meanwhile, he’s figured it out on his own and he’s holding it as his trump card, that if things go bad, he’s going to pull it out at that moment to force her to return to the stones. It’s playing both characters a little cagey in terms of her pregnancy and each holding their cards until the last moment.
The circumstances of Dougal’s death turned out a bit different in the finale than how it played in the books. Why did you make those changes to that scene?
The one thing we did change is that we had Claire participate a little bit more. The scene reads fine on the page, but when we came to dramatize it, we quickly realized that in the books, it literally just looks like Claire is standing and watching throughout the entire fight and Dougal’s death. That didn’t feel right dramatically for our characters. We wanted to see Claire take part in it more and be more active in that scene. And also, seeing Claire and Jamie work as a team one more time before they split up, this was the perfect opportunity for that.
It’s interesting to note that they didn’t get far in their plan to assassinate the prince, whereas in the book, they had decided against their plan before Dougal walked in on them. Why did you accelerate that scene when that change completely alters what Claire and Jamie were planning to do?
For that scene, you had to see Dougal overhear something that was damning in order to get Dougal to where he needed to go in his rage. If they had already decided against it, what was it that Dougal heard that made him come into that room with blood in his eyes? What sparked the fight in him that leads to his death? Again, because it’s a TV show, you have to let the audience see that they were being overheard and even though they hadn’t made a definitive decision to do it yet, what Dougal heard was enough to get him to go in there and want to kill them. We just had to parse it out a little finer than in the book.
Since half of the finale takes place with Brianna and Roger, were you nervous at all about how the audience will accept the actors that you chose for those roles?
Definitely. It was a big piece of casting and they’re important players going forward. It wasn’t just a guest-star; they are new members of the family that you’re going to live with for quite some time. We wanted to be careful, but we found two great actors who had great chemistry together and with the other members of the cast. So once we cast them, we all breathed a sigh of relief.
How did having that extra 30 minutes affect how you told the story of the finale?
It made everything so much easier for us. There was a big chunk of story that had to be told and everyone recognized from the beginning that that was the case. Starz was actually the one who said from the beginning, “Look, if you need more time for the finale, just let us know. We don’t have a problem with that.” So we all agreed that 90 minutes was going to be set aside for the finale pretty early on. That gave us more freedom with the structure of the story. We didn’t have to cram everything into a neat, 60-minute box. The 1968 story alone is a lot for the audience to take in. There was so much to accomplish in that story so the extra space was necessary.
Is having a super-sized episode something that you’d want to do more of in the future?
It depends on the story. Not every story demands or even benefits by it. Longer is not always better. Sometimes, it’s just long. Other times, you do need it. Like for instance, [episode] 207, the episode where Claire lost her baby and the scenes in the Star Chamber. The first cut of that episode came in at an hour and 20 minutes. I called Starz and they were fine with that episode being an hour and a half if that was best for the show. But what happened is, once I got into editing the footage, tightening scenes and keeping the dramatic pace up, that episode came in at an hour and five minutes. So telling the best version of that story ended up not needing the extra time. Having the flexibility to do a super-sized episode once in a while is nice, but we don’t try to go there unnecessarily.
Diana [Gabaldon] gives us so much in the books that you can probably make 10 series and the fans would watch it all,” producer Matt Roberts says of a possible Lord John spinoff. “]
What did you want to achieve with that final shot of Claire looking hopeful at the stones, realizing she has to go back in time?
We really wanted to set up the promise of season three with that shot. And of course, to make it cinematic. It turned out beautifully, having the show come full circle to Craigh na Dun once more and the fate of the characters and the future of the story depends once more on traveling through those stones. It was a great opportunity to do something really visually powerful, and I love how it came out.
What scene are you most proud of from the season two finale?
The scene at the grave with Claire finally visiting Culloden Moor. Claire talking to the headstone and telling Jamie all the things he’s missed. It was an amazing performance by Caitriona and just such a powerful, powerful moment for the whole show.
In the finale we learn that Geillis believed you needed a human sacrifice to go through the stones, but with Claire, obviously she didn’t need that both times she went through the stones. How much of the rules of time travel did you discuss with Diana?
We did have a conversation with Diana and she explained her rules of time travel to us. We tried to translate that into something the audience can wrap their minds around on the show. Her rules of time travel have evolved and are spread out over many books and many characters and many scenarios. We needed to really understand both what Claire thought and what Geillis thought in this episode, so we honed in on a couple of things. There are still a couple of things for Claire to figure out and discover as we move into next season though.
How far into planning season three are you?
We’re pretty well into it. We have scripts for the first few episodes and stories broken somewhere into 10 episodes. We’re already in preproduction in Scotland. We probably won’t start shooting until late August, early September.
What storyline are you most excited to bring to life in season three?
It would be great to do the ships. I’m a big ship person. I mean, my company name is Tall Ship Productions. It would be fun to get to do rigged ships and go on sea voyages and go to Jamaica. It will be a big blast to do this new chapter in the saga.
What scene are you most proud of from the entirety of season two?
The Star Chamber scene was pretty much a high point of the season.
What did you think of Outlander‘s season two finale? Let us know in the comments section.