For the first time, a season of Outlander begins without Claire worrying about traveling through time—whether forward to Frank, or back to Jamie. After years of bouncing between different times and identities, Dr. Randall/Mrs. Fraser chooses to live in linear time… it just happens to be in 1760s North Carolina. America, too, is the first home that Claire chooses—the first place in which she and Jamie must carve out a life, with neither Scottish clans nor French contacts to rely upon. This duality seems to be the theme of Outlander season 4: the choice is yours to make, but your reward may be nothing but hardship, and that’s the American Dream.
Starz screened the first episode of Outlander season 4 at New York Comic-Con. While this is a non-spoiler review, it does touch upon a few minor plot points.
At first, it seems as if “America the Beautiful” might be as slow and languorous a start to the season as the river passage the Frasers and co. undertake later in the episode. Picking up four months after Jamie and Claire are shipwrecked onto the shores of Georgia, the premiere sees them moving through the colony of North Carolina with their usual panache: there’s a hanging, loudly singing Scottish songs at the local pub, crossing paths with charismatic criminals (like new character Stephen Bonnet) and suspicious British officers, and selling treasure in order to secure passage back to Scotland. There’s also the requisite Jamie/Claire sex scene; let me tell you, watching that with 5,000 other people was quite the experience.
Jokes aside, all of these moments demonstrate how, despite being separated for 20 of their 24 years of marriage, Jamie and Claire are working toward restitching their bonds. Last season’s reunion was fascinating in that each had to come to terms with the decisions the other had made while they were apart; both are still stubborn as hell, but now they’re turning that united stubbornness toward the frontier.
In the absence of Brianna—even though, come on, we all know it’s only a matter of time before she passes through the stones, right?—Claire has become surrogate mother hen to a whole brood of young adults: Young Ian, wanting to make something of himself in the New World; Fergus, who will no doubt see his adoptive father Jamie through new eyes this season; and his new wife Marsali, who may have her own reasons to seek Claire’s guidance on juggling identities of woman, wife, and more. It’s a smart move for the series, elevating these characters who are actually not that much younger than Claire and Jamie were in season 1, yet who have plenty still to learn from the time-crossed lovers.
Lest you think that we were well and truly free of Geillis Duncan last season, her actions as the Bakra still ripple through the group, most notably with Ian, grappling with the trauma of his rape and especially his shame at his body responding physically to something that he didn’t want. It’s fascinating that in the world of Outlander, while the women must endure several harrowing near-rape experiences, it’s the men who are actually the rape survivors. Young Ian and Jamie share a powerful moment of understanding, the kind of male vulnerability that should be more present in fiction.
The timing of watching this exchange, mere hours after Brett Kavanaugh was sworn into the Supreme Court, was not lost on the audience. During the Q&A portion, a fan pointed out the timing and asked the cast and crew, “How do you feel about what is happening in our country right now?” The moderator reframed the question as “How do [current events] impact plotlines or tone?”
“Ultimately, the show is about these characters and this story,” said showrunner Ronald D. Moore. “We don’t choose to look at it as a platform for political ideas. But at the same time, all of us live in the world, all of us live in the society, we can’t help but have what happens in the world inform what we do. We try to be cognizant of our audience […] and try to talk with our show and not preach to the audience that this is our point of view. We look at the world that we live in, just like you do, and it can’t help but sort of influence our work. […] I take solace in something Barack Obama said: ‘The arc of history tends toward progress.’ I tend to take that point of view as well.”
It’s the kind of line I could see Jamie anachronistically quoting, had Claire come from the 2010s instead of the 1940s. As it is, the best comfort he can give Young Ian is the reminder that “your cock doesn’t have a conscience, but you have.” The line induced as many giggles as knowing nods, but it’s Jamie trying his best with the limited knowledge he has. I realize that that, more than the Highlander trappings, is what makes Jamie Fraser such a dreamy romantic hero: he’s open-minded enough to believe Claire about being from the future, that often she has the answers he lacks, and that it’s worth trusting her.
Jamie continues to be woke AF in other matters, as well: as Claire unspools America’s life story for him, he thinks to ask about what happens to those who already live here. As we’ve glimpsed from trailers, the local Native American tribes will play some key part in this season, though their presence is limited in the first episode.
“America the Beautiful” could have just set up these character arcs for the season, and it would have been enough. But the New World is often unforgiving, and the choices our beloved characters make can carry severe consequences—two notions that come together in the brutal final scene, scored with one of the series’ most powerful music choices yet. Brave the New World isn’t just a catchy slogan for season 4; it’s the only way that Jamie and Claire will survive.
Outlander season 4 premieres Sunday, November 4 on Starz.
No book spoilers in the comments, please—I haven’t read them, so we’re looking at the series from the viewpoint and knowledge base of the TV series.