‘Outlander’ Postmortem: Love And Death In The Time of Smallpox

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Outlander
Outlander

Warning: This postmortem contains spoilers for the “Faith” episode of Outlander, which aired May 21.

“You’re tearin’ my guts out Claire.”

Ditto, Jamie Fraser, ditto. This week’s episode of Outlander — with all of its emotional gut-punches and heartbreaking quiet moments — had us feeling serious déjà vu for that season 1 line. And it wasn’t like we weren’t warned back in January when Yahoo TV sat down with author Diana Gabaldon.

“People who haven’t read the books are in for an emotional ride. There are so many moments and people threatening to tear Jamie and Claire apart, especially while they are in France, and there is one particular episode that demands so much of Caitriona [Balfe] and she does not disappoint from the footage I have seen,” Gabaldon promised. “Even those who have read the series and know generally what to expect fromDragonfly In Amber, I suspect will be thoroughly moved by how the show and the actors handle everything. The events that happen in this episode I am talking about will forever scar and change Claire and Jamie’s relationship so they had to get it right.”

Related: ‘Outlander’ Postmortem: All Hail King Louis XV

We now know what scarring events Gabaldon was talking about: Jamie is imprisoned in the Bastille for dueling, Fergus discloses that he too was raped by Black Jack, Claire has to sleep with the King to secure Jamie’s release — and, most brutally of all, Claire and Jamie’s baby is stillborn. Before the season started, Balfe knew the tragedy that awaited in this episode. “You want to do it well and want to honor the character,” she says. “There’s a lot preparation, a lot reading, speaking to some friends and people I know who’ve unfortunately gone through similar things, and just trying to tap into that and trying to just hold a space for Claire’s grief. That was what I really wanted to do for those scenes.”

Music figured into her preparation. “A Scottish singer who used to be in Cockteau Twins was [in] a band at one point called This Mortal Coil and there’s this song, ‘Song to the Siren,’ which I think was originally recorded by Jeff Buckley’s father, Tim Buckley. It’s just haunting. It’s sort of got this Celtic feel, especially with the way Elizabeth sings it, and it’s about lost love. That seemed like the appropriate thing to listen to at that time. I had it on repeat and it seemed to get me in the right place.”

She was not immune to the devastation the audience experienced either. “When I was given the script that Toni Graphia wrote, I sobbed. Toni has such a beautiful poetic way of writing and she includes things like the blue heron [vision] that are really unexpected,” Balfe says. “It is so relatable, this loss, and their relationship ups and downs in general. After I initially dried my tears… I realized that’s what happens in life. Life has to go on even in horrible situations like war and grief. That’s something that’s so beautiful about our show — you see how relationships still survive.”

One of the most intense scenes involved Claire cradling stillborn infant. Balfe says it was very important for her to nail that initial mother-and-child meeting, which she thought would feel the same whether there was a heartbeat or not. “I think for any parent, that first moment that you hold and see your child, the love rushes. I just felt that that would have been Claire’s initial reaction [to] the beauty of something that you’ve created, especially with someone that you love so much,” explains the actress. “It’s important to allow moments of beauty and love and levity even in grief and tragedy. All of these things come at you together and you have to allow the space for all of those things to shine.”

Outlander
Outlander

Complicating all of the feels was the fact that the ginger was in jail after having gone back on his word not to fight Black Jack. “We’ve always seen Claire as strong and resilient. She can get through anything, but I think here we see that something inside her cracked and that’s gonna remain with her for the rest of her life,” Balfe says of Claire’s feelings of resentment at Jamie’s absence. When she finally tells Jamie what happened, “she cried all the tears that she had, and she’s very stoic,” continues Balfe. “It’s like she’s had to put a lock on her heart. We see how crushed Jamie is by her words at this moment. When someone’s in so much pain, sometimes all they can do is lash out and hurt someone else because they don’t know what to do with it.”

Sam Heughan felt his character experienced the loss a little differently. “The grief of miscarriage is so strange, because it is two totally separate things for the man and the woman. She’s had this grief and lived through it by herself. He’s been in prison. He doesn’t know what’s happened, but he thinks it’s all his fault. And he’s feeling awful because he has not been there and she’s had to deal with this on her own,” he says. “So there’s separate different grief and there’s still a joint grief.” Balfe adds, “I don’t think any couple who goes through that or woman who goes through that, will ever fully recover. It’s not something that will ever leave you. It’s something that really changes both of them.”

And not necessarily for the worse. Says Heughan, “It’s at that point where they realize, well, we can either just give up on this, or we can share each other’s pain and really be the thing that helps each other through it. Out of tragedy comes …” Balfe finishes his thought: “Resilience and love.” Claire and Jamie had to be ripped apart to come back together, explains Heughan: “It makes them stronger all this drama and tragedy. It brings them closer together. And they return to Scotland to be at least together to the end.”

The actors wanted to return to home base almost as much as their characters did, though they were a bit rusty on a few things. “I remember the first day back in Scotland, laying the kilt out, it’s like, ‘Oh God, I can’t remember how to do this,‘” recalls Heughan. Balfe adds, “When we started the day, it was sunny. And I remember everyone in the camera department said, ‘Oh my God. It’s amazing we’re back in Scotland.’ Flash forward. I think it was like two hours, and it just started pissing down. You have to be careful what you wish for.”

Still, she continues, “Scotland is a very healing place for both of them. Something that I thought was so beautiful that Jamie says to her is ‘Neither of us can carry the burden of this pain alone. We have to hold this together.’ That’s the essence of their relationship — no matter what, they have each other, and that’s what’s going to carry [them] through all of these terrible circumstances.” (Additional reporting by Mandi Bierly.)

Outlander airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz.