After a strong first season, Outlander’s second season was an inconsistent and rocky ride. The first half in France stretched on far too long and made watching it feel like a chore. The show picked up again when Jamie and Claire returned to Scotland, save for that scene where Alex Randall’s death rattles went on for a good twenty minutes. After stumbling in the penultimate two episodes, it ended on a strong finale — barring the fact that it didn’t show the battle everyone had spent all season talking about. Also, Brianna.
In general, Season 2 was not great. But if it brought you down, dinna fash. This isn’t the end for Outlander as a worthwhile show. There’s a host of ways Season 3 can bounce back.
Spend Less Time Away From Scotland
Outlander is more than just a show, it’s an exercise in Scottish Landscape Porn. Sure, we watch it for Jamie and Claire and Murtagh and Rupert and Angus (RIP), but we also watch it for the sweeping shots of the Scottish countryside: The moors, the patchwork green farmland, the bubbling streams, the stone castles — not to mention the immersion into Scottish culture. The show’s popularity has even had a real impact on tourism in Scotland. Shifting locations to France made it feel like a different show — and one we’re not keen to watch. Nobody gets into a story featuring a Highlander in order to see him discard his kilt for pants and doublets. Keep it Scotland, keep it Outlander.
Know Your Strenghths and Weaknessess
Outlander’s first season established it as a show that handles sex in an interesting and subversive way. In other words, it’s uniquely good at sex. Its plot has always been a bit flimsy, but that didn’t matter so much when its strong points were so strong. Unfortunately, Season 2 decided to discard what made Outlander work well and embrace what didn’t, leading to French plotting that was duller than watching plants grow. Season 3 needs to have a firmer grasp on the material’s strengths and tone down its weaknesses.
Keep Murtagh Around
Non-book readers, skip this item if you don’t want a potential spoiler. Murtagh dies at Culloden in the books. He’s also a far less developed and compelling character than he is on the show. The books become borderline unreadable after Voyager partly because the story ditches Scotland — the entire point of the series — partly because of the increasingly silly and contrived plotting, and partly because it trades in old characters for new characters nobody cares about. We’ve grown to care for Murtagh, and if the show discards him along with the other clansmen in favor for more screen time with characters like Brianna, it will be a crippling loss. True Blood set a precedent for keeping an intriguing character alive past his death in the books (Lafayette). Especially if Outlander is venturing into Drums in Autumn territory, in Season 4 it must keep Murtagh to rise above the increasingly flimsy source material.
Have Less Goddamn Rape
Season 2’s depiction of Fergus’s rape was the most egregious thing Outlander has ever done. The writers should have left it as implied and trusted the viewer to get it. There are absolutely no circumstances in which we need to see a child get sexually assaulted on-screen. Unfortunately, if that bothered you enough to consider rage-quitting, there’s more to come. The Outlander books are filled with so much rape. By the midpoint of the series, most of the main characters have been raped. Some of it is intentional, some of it is Game of Thrones style, “oops, I didn’t realize that was a rape scene!” on the author’s part. For Game of Thrones to make sense, we must pretend Jamie never raped Cersei in Season 4, because the writers never intended him to. As a storyteller, to not recognize when you are depicting rape is downright embarrassing.
Similarly, Voyager contains an icky scene where a character we’re supposed to be deeply invested in rapes someone and the story treats it like a non-event. If you continue reading the book, it’s something you ignore in order for it to make sense. The show must edit that out.
Embrace Turning into Black Sails
Outlander’s third season will venture into ship and pirate territory. You know what else does? Black Sails. It’s one of the best shows on TV. It also happens to be better at pacing, plotting, scheming, and characterization than Outlander. Sure, you can’t compare political pirate fare with the highlands, but for period dramas, these are universal traits. Outlander’s third season should look to Black Sails not only as an example for how to depict sea journeys in a captivating way; it should also use the opportunity to get a lesson in pacing and plotting.