In a world that needs healing

Hank Stuever

THE WASHINGTON POST – For the greatest escape in times of unsettling emotional needs, what embrace could feel more satisfying than that of Starz’s romantic, time-hopping drama series Outlander?

Fans have been saying as much for years, happily falling into the attentive, 18th-Century arms of Scottish highlander Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan).

Or into the arms of his brilliant wife, Claire (Caitriona Balfe), a doctor from the 20th Century.

Or maybe there’s a way to just squeeze in between them – an Outlander cud-dle sandwich.

Working its way through Diana Gabaldon’s popular novels, the show is well in its fifth season.

Set in North Carolina circa 1771, where, improbably (but intriguingly), the Frasers are caught up in the early skirmishes of the coming Revolutionary War. You ask: How does a story set in Scotland wind up here? Oh, my dears – it’s beyond complicated.

Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan in a scene from ‘Outlander’. PHOTOS: THE WASHINGTON POST
Sophie Skelton (L) as Brianna, and Caitriona Balfe as Claire

To be entirely honest, the current season reveals that even Outlander can occasionally lose some crucial steam, dragging along with a story line in which Jamie has been unwillingly ordered by British authorities to form a militia to aid the redcoats in their dogged pursuit of a revolutionary upstart (Duncan Lacroix) who happens to be Jamie’s godfather and sworn protector.

A far more interesting and topically prescient thread can be found, as usual, in Claire’s world. A couple of seasons ago, she returned to Jamie from 1969, where she was working as a surgeon in Boston.

She was ultimately followed to the 1770s by her adult daughter, Brianna Randall (Sophie Skelton), who was followed by her estranged Scottish fiancé, Roger MacKenzie (Richard Rankin).

They’re all now trying to make a peaceful life for themselves in the newly established colonial farming community Jamie has dubbed Fraser’s Ridge.

In addition to a thousand chores, Claire has become the village’s designated medic, treating injuries and ailments and also performing the occasional tonsillectomy or appendectomy, with only 18th-Century technology to assist her.

Although he marvels at her skills, Jamie long ago learned to refer to his wife as a “healer”, because no woman in his time can be seriously considered as a doctor. She knows so much more than they ever will, yet, for her troubles, she’s been accused of witchcraft or, worse, watched helplessly as her diagnoses are disregarded.

“I’ll leave you to wage war with your wee invisible beasties,” Jamie tells Claire, as he prepares to head out to work the land. A line of coughing villagers are waiting outside the door to see her.

“Bacteria,” she reminds him. “It certainly feels like a war.”

The people of Fraser’s Ridge hold Claire in high esteem, though they laugh off her sound medical advice, preferring superstition, bloodletting and bogus elixirs.

Claire’s had enough. She starts cultivating mould samples under glass, in hopes of making an effective dose of penicillin. Under an alias, she circulates a list of good health practices (wash your hands!), which winds up being printed in a local newspaper and roundly dismissed as the work of a crackpot.

“It’s bad enough that I’m fighting the disease,” she says at one point. “But I’m also fighting the cure.”