Is there any better way to kick off an episode of a period drama than with a good old-fashioned tarring (or two, or three)? What “Outlander” fans probably weren’t bargaining for, though, was that the opening scenes with the Regulators would be some of the least bloodthirsty of the night. “Between Two Fires” dug deep into the season’s thematic exploration of identity and bloodlines, once again placing Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) in the middle of the Red Coat drama as he strove for the impossible task of keeping his word while also ensuring everyone’s safety.
To be fair, it’s a situation he’s faced before, although until now it’s always been from less of a high horse. Having dealt with Red Coats of all sorts in his time, it’s downright naïve for the Scotsman to believe he can change the system from the inside out, as he was clearly trying to do in the many philosophical scenes with his sword-wielding companion. It took the death of an inmate without a trial, and learning that his godfather (Duncan Lacroix) was the one to lead the tar-tossing, to come to the realization that this American Revolution is happening whether he likes it or not — and right now he’s a traitor to both sides. Considering no-shot Roger (Richard Rankin) is his number-one guy back at Fraser’s Ridge, and Murtagh’s camp is larger than he previously thought, that’s certainly worrisome. But what else did people have to do back then but to fight for their honor and a cause? The worst is surely yet to come.
Speaking of Roger, last week’s underlying exploration of modern masculinity bubbled to the surface as he struggled to find his place in the past. He made his concerns known to Bree (Sophie Skelton) as she proved to be the better shot of the pair, and he finally pleaded his case for returning to the present. For her part, Bree had a hard time accepting the idea of leaving her true family now that she’s finally been reunited with them, and didn’t want to entertain Roger’s very real concerns. Yet, at the same time, she’s secretly grappling with fears of the potential return of her rapist, Bonnet (Ed Speleers). Unbeknownst to the Fraser crew, the pirate confirmed he’s definitely still alive at the episode’s end when he slowly — and graphically — sliced the nose from a guy’s face who questioned his honor at a bar. He’s a father now, you know, and killing the guy outright just wouldn’t be a patronly example.
Bonnet’s inevitable return to make a claim to his son is as good a reason as any for Bree and Roger to stuff Jemmy’s pockets full of precious gems and hightail it to the stones, but Roger turning to Claire (Caitriona Balfe) to make his case was another example of how Roger doesn’t truly know his wife — or how to fit in during the 1700s. His powers of research and lack of killer instincts are utterly useless, but his time might be better spent trying to improve his current situation or finding safety for his family rather than griping to his new mother-in-law.
Besides, Claire has other things on her mind, like how to convince people in the past that her new-age medicinal talents are the real deal. As a healer of the era she’s long used to her methods being questioned and finding a way to work within the status quo, something she exemplified this week by writing out recommendations for the settlers from a fake doctor. However, taking her skills to the next level and trying to recreate penicillin and performing secret autopsies make for a different story. For one, it’s dangerous and could undermine all of the work Jamie has been doing if caught. And it certainly puts her new apprentice, Marsali (Lauren Lyle), in a tough spot too.
But Claire is also playing God and potentially rewriting more than a century of history — that has to result in some next-level kind of butterfly effect. It’s interesting to think of the possibilities in those terms, but for now the real question is how will playing mad scientist affect Claire in the near future as she begins performing actual surgeries. Whether they’re successful or not, from an emotional standpoint there’s no going back from a risk like that — you’re either devastated or encouraged to push the experiment further and further. It’s tough to say how much more mental strife she and the rest of the Frasers/Mackenzies can take at this point, but considering this is only the second episode of the season, the answer is potentially a lot more.
“Outlander” airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on Starz.