What we do get is one last round of Claire and Frank, as satisfying as it is painful. Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies make the most of the sort of intimacy that can grow in even a bad relationship — things might be awful, but at least you’ve been through those terrible things together. When Claire gets jealous that Frank has moved on, it surprises them both, but not us. Of course Claire is terrified to be abandoned, even by someone she doesn’t love anymore. Frank, who was abandoned long ago, tries to keep things wry (“Green ain’t your color, Claire”), but Claire is so startled by her own feelings that the injury seems fresh, and she’s not equipped to deal with the sting.
It’s a wonderful shade to her character, but one of the problems with speeding through this arc so briskly is that we jump straight to the breaking point. Keeping up the pace of this season clearly requires a wrap on this chapter of Claire’s life, but given how much the fights crackle with pent-up tension, it seems a shame to skip past the vaguely fond years to the last days. When Frank snaps, “You’re not as good an actress as you think you are, Claire,” we don’t have much to go on in terms of how close he is to hitting the mark. (Balfe saves it with her incredulous stare and her guilty startle.)
That sense that there’s a missing stair extends even to Claire’s last goodbye. Again, Balfe sells it (with a fantastic assist from Bear McCreary’s mournful score), and it’s an affecting moment, equal parts guilt and regret. But Claire’s tearful promise that Frank was her first love would be even more bittersweet if we’d had a greater sense of how, or if, she had already mourned that loss. Instead, like so much else, it slips into the lost years.
Still, this episode is more effective than the last in getting us where we need to go next. There’s still more setup than payoff, but it’s enough for now to leave Jamie on a hilltop looking down at a kinder prison, and Claire at the doorway, hemmed in by the frame, coming to terms with her memories for a moment before she moves on.
• David Berry does a very good job, but this show has framed homosexuality so awkwardly I’m not sure if it matters. Jamie is so staunchly hetero, and Randall was so obviously monstrous, that the impression of “predatory gayness” and Jamie’s lingering trauma has left John Grey to pick up somebody else’s mess.
• Murtagh and Claire’s friendship was always a highlight, and his excitement at the mere suggestion of her is a nice callback.
• Speaking of: Claire’s White Witch reputation is alive and well, which seems worth noting.
• “Forgive me, Claire, if I don’t risk everything on your promises.” This is a brutal thesis statement for why their marriage crumbled, on both sides.
• I laughed out loud at Claire’s offer to see “The Searchers” or “Carousel,” two of the most pointedly wretched movie choices possible. Nailed it, Claire.