“Woe betide the man who stands between you and what you set your mind on,” comments Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies) to his wife Claire (Caitriona Balfe) as she prepares to board a train for the front lines. In the opening scene of the series’ third episode, Outlander briefly flashes back to Claire’s original time period to reiterate the one trait audiences have already come to know and love about their heroine: her determination.
Heading into the heat of conflict isn’t something she questions; “welcome to the twentieth century,” she replies when Frank voices his concerns. And, once The Way Out returns to her exploits in 1743, she continues to approach her unusual predicament in the same confident, matter-of-fact, resourceful, insistent manner.
If Netflix were to label Claire's actions, it would be “strong female lead” behaviour. In the process of earning the description, she also offers a masterclass in matters of love and life. Whether she’s massaging Colum MacKenzie’s (Gary Lewis) back to ease his physical affliction, trying to play match-maker with Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) and Laoghaire MacKenzie (Nell Hudson), or fighting to save Mrs Fitzgibbon’s (Annette Badland) ill young nephew after he’s superstitiously suspected of cavorting with the devil, Claire offers lessons we could all heed - even if we’re not unexpectedly, and somewhat unwittingly, pursuing romance two centuries in the past.
Determination is a gift
“Damned if that stubbornness isn’t what I find so attractive about you,” Frank remarks as he prepares to watch his wife go of to battle in the 1900s. “Do you ever sit down, woman?” her 18th century minder asks as she goes about her day, well aware that he has to begrudgingly follow.
Their attitudes may reflect their respective time and the corresponding expectations of women as much as Claire’s enterprising nature, but she’s doing more than just attracting their attention.
Every determined act thrusts her forward: her active duty leads to her post-war Highlands holiday with Frank, and her subsequent spiriting away; her ever-busy 1743 agenda helps her stay in the MacKenzies’ good sway, and, she hopes, find a way home; and both keep bringing her closer to Jamie, the one person that openly appreciates her purposeful ways.
Know when to speak up — and when choose to your words carefully
“I’m not an English spy. I’m from the future,” admits Claire to Mrs Fitz in The Way Out’s first 1743-set moment. It’s a moment viewers mightn’t have expected would occur so early in the series, though the horrified, scared and condemning reaction Mrs Fitz displays — from jumping aback to instantly changing her previously helpful tune — is far easier to predict.
Rest easy, loyal viewers, Claire doesn’t disclose her secret just yet; however she does demonstrate the value of knowing when to speak up, and when to choose your words carefully instead. Her revelation remains a flight of fancy in her head for now, but it sets the scene for a raft of occasions where Claire has to choose between speaking freely and finding the best way to achieve the right result, including enlisting Geillis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek) to save a thieving boy from losing his hand, as well as yet again seeking ever-trusty Jamie’s assistance.
Help others, and you’ll probably end up helping yourself as well
As appreciative of Claire’s resourcefulness as Jamie visibly is, and as obliging when she calls upon him to help, too, two episodes worth of amiable banter and shared glances illustrates that there’s clearly something more that friendship brewing between the new acquaintances.
Claire doesn’t yet realise her feelings, so she doesn’t think twice when she commits to what she sees as a friendly act: encouraging Jamie and Laoghaire’s romance.
It’s not to be, as Jamie would obviously rather talk to Claire. It’s also an overt sign of Claire’s loneliness and desire to connect in the absence of Frank, as she later acknowledges in voiceover. Still, it remains a kindly deed that only endears Claire to Jamie even further.
Of course, that’s not our spirited heroine’s intention, but there’s no doubting that deepening her ties with her closest 18th century ally will benefit her greatly in the story still to come.
Outlander airs on SBS Thursday nights at 9:30pm. Or watch it on SBS On Demand: