It’s especially tricky for Claire to settle her debts with Brianna. Here, we feel the narrative stress of leapfrogging through time: We’ve seen a bitter Claire and heard Brianna talk about her distant mother, but we only met Brianna when she and Claire were already on the verge of parting, which means their reconciliation lacks some of the weight the episode aims for. (Sophie Skelton does her best as Brianna, but it’s tough to sell a line like: “All my life, Daddy had to look at me and see another man. The man you really loved.”) And it’s very interesting, if not as effective as it could be, to have these heart-to-hearts in an episode that pointedly suggests that history is rarely as honest as we hope.
Still, there are some nice moments between the two of them — even if Claire’s insecurities can tip from touching into grueling. (I could have gone my whole life without being asked to pretend that Caitriona Balfe with a gray streak is somehow less beautiful than regular Caitriona Balfe.) Still, she manages to be quietly affecting in the more restrained beats. When Claire stares at the moon in the wake of Apollo 8, we know she’s thinking of things that orbit and return, and looking for enough resolve.
It’s no surprise she finds it. In fact, her resolve lies at least partly in the destination. At this point, she’s framed as feeling far more comfortable in the past. (When Claire leaves to return to the stones, it’s Brianna who’s in the window of the family home, Roger beside her, already looking more comfortable as head of the family than Claire ever did.)
Some of Claire’s relief in returning is, of course, about Jamie. But there’s also an edge to Claire that falls away when she’s looking into a sky where no airplane has ever flown and walking through muddy streets with more certainty than she’s ever had in the present. It helps that whenever she goes back in time, she carries some foresight with her. When she sets eyes on Jamie, despite reeling from the power of the moment, she knows what she’s walking into. It’s Jamie who’s caught by surprise. And thanks to that charming cliffhanger, this dramatic reunion still holds Claire’s lingering worry: What does their love really look like, after all this time?
• We’ve never really moved through the house in all its glory before, and it’s a stunner. If you found yourself examining the sublime set dressing rather than paying attention to Roger’s presentation of evidence, you’re forgiven.
• It’s safe to assume this isn’t the last we’ll see of that 150-year-old murder victim.
• Slipping the unabashedly-over-the-top “Dark Shadows” into this episode is very well done.
• The Mod jabot on Claire cleverly moves her back into the lines of the past by degrees.
• Related: The Batman montage as Claire sews an 18th-century riding habit almost has to be a wink at the costume designer Terry Dresbach, and I’m fine with it.
• A grieving Brianna ducking into the kitchen to yank on an elf hat and serve room-temperature lobster rolls and cream pie is one of the more surreal images this show has given us.