The hugely popular historical drama Outlander is back with a new season – streaming on Neon now. As Travis Johnson writes, the previous season left us with a lot of questions that need answering…
CW: references sexual assault and rape.
It’s almost Outlander time! Adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s wildly popular series of novels by showrunner Ronald D. Moore (For All Mankind, Battlestar Galactica), for five seasons—and with number six imminent—the series has followed the adventures of Claire Randall (Caitríona Balfe), a World War II-era nurse who finds herself flung back in time to the Scottish Highlands of the 1700s, where she finds romance with clansman Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) and uses her medical skills and knowledge of the future to help him and his fellow Jacobite rebels.
The wary may read the bullet point description of Outlander and come away with the impression that it’s a Mills & Boon type fantasy romance, but the show itself is far more complex, taking in questions of fate, self-determination, and free will, and weaving together a truly epic and action-packed tale that bounces between the 18th and 20th centuries and takes us from Scotland to France to the American colonies in the lead up to the Revolutionary War. For history buffs it’s manna from heaven: the period detail is scrupulous and the production design sumptuous. The period setting isn’t just background for Jamie and Claire’s personal drama, it’s a living, breathing world that we can immerse ourselves in.
As Season 6 opens, Jamie, Claire and their family and friends are making a home for themselves in Fraser’s Ridge, North Carolina, while resentment against the British builds and the Revolution looms larger. But Outlander fans have more important questions on their minds than a quibble over the tax on tea. COVID-19 saw Season 6 long delayed—fans call the wait “Droughtlander”—and these are the quandaries that have kept us up late while we wait for the new season.
How will Claire’s assault affect her?
At the climax of season 5, Jamie and the men of Fraser’s Ridge rescued the kidnapped Claire from the evil Lionel Brown (Ned Dennehy), slaughtering him and his men in the process. Unfortunately, they were not in time to prevent Claire from being raped by Brown and his gang, in the series’ most shocking act of sexual violence to date (Outlander has never shied away from depicting sexual assault in the name of historical accuracy).
How this horrific act will affect our heroine going forward is the biggest question hanging over the sixth season debut, and while Outlander has often addressed the grimmer realities of 18th century life, this dangling plot thread indicates we may be in for an even darker time than usual.
Where will Jamie’s loyalties lie?
We know—and our heroes know, thanks to time travel—that the American Revolution is only four years away, and that the Continental Army will eventually emerge victorious, leading to the formation of the United States. That’s just history.
But the real question is which way will our highlands hero Jamie Fraser jump? Having already rebelled against the Crown, Jamie swore an oath of loyalty after the Battle of Culloden way back in Season 3, but having to fight his own godfather, Murtagh Fitzgibbons (Duncan Lacroix), for the Redcoats and see him killed may have tested that oath to destruction. Besides, Jamie knows that the Loyalists will lose the upcoming war. Will he support the rebels or will his honour demand he keep his oath?
Exactly how much will Claire’s medical practice mess up history?
Claire has been quite forward about using modern (well, mid-20th century) medical techniques on her 18th century patients, and in Season 5 even started manufacturing and using penicillin waaaay before its actual use (1928 if you were wondering). Over the course of the series the threat of being burned as a witch has hung over her, and Lionel Brown’s attack on her was motivated by his belief that she was spreading “dangerous ideas”. Will we see Claire introduce more future medical techniques this season, and if so, how will they affect the world around her?
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What’s up with Ian?
One of the more intriguing supporting characters is John Bell’s “young” Ian Fraser Murray, Jamie’s nephew, who has had one of the wildest character arcs in the entire series. He’s been kidnapped by pirates, sold into slavery, almost killed by evil time traveller Geillis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek) in a magical ritual, and, in Season 4, forcibly adopted into the Mohawk tribe after his cousin-in-law Roger McKenzie (Richard Rankin) killed one of their men.
But now he’s back after two years, sporting a mohawk haircut, facial tattoos, and a thousand-yard stare. Young Ian has always been a lightning-rod for horrific trauma, but it’s clear that something has really wounded him during his time with the Mohawk. We can’t wait to find out what.
Will Bree and Roger stay in the 1770s or return to the 1960s?
And speaking of Roger…
By this stage of the game, Claire is clearly not the only modern person living in the past, and the most prominent pair in the show are Claire and Jamie’s adult daughter, Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and her husband, Roger, who now have a newborn baby, Jemmy. The 18th century being a pretty fraught time to raise a child—Roger survived hanging in Season 5, you may recall – the two decided to return to the 20th century to raise their boy in more civilised times, but for some reason the “magic” of time travel kept them at Fraser’s Ridge. Are they “meant” to be there or simply stuck, and will they try once more to return to the future as the path to the American Revolution inevitably brings more bloodshed?