After keeping us in Fraser’s Ridge for multiple seasons — featuring a slew of frustrating but not always interesting villains, and at the cusp of the Revolutionary War — “Outlander” Season 7 feels like a breath of fresh air.
The season premiere begins where we’ve been before: a determined Jamie (Sam Heughan) with Ian (John Bell) at his side, out to save his beloved Claire (Caitríona Balfe) from being tried for the death of Malva Christie (Jessica Reynolds). Claire, meanwhile, does what she can to survive — and she has truly perfected the art of keeping her wits about her while facing impending doom.
But unlike other seasons that bludgeoned and violated our heroine in unnecessarily graphic ways, we’re given a respite here. Instead, Claire’s looming trial and potential execution are delayed in part thanks to her skills as a doctor and because of the era’s political unrest, with Jamie always one step behind.
As things progress, we’re met with a number of surprises, including some of the best scenes we’ve gotten out of Tom Christie (Mark Lewis Jones), the late Malva’s pious father who spent time in Ardsmuir with Jamie back in Scotland. In fact, for anyone who tired quickly over Tom’s storyline, the first part of Season 7 is when it all starts to pay off.
What does end up being a bit frustrating, however, is the way in which the writers almost gloss over the backstory of Tom’s children, Malva and Allan Christie (Alexander Vlahos), at the start of the second episode.
Seemingly vital exposition is explored too quickly, in flashbacks that don’t take up more than a few minutes. But given the nature of the revelations here, it’s possible this was done as a response to the backlash against gratuitous violence in past seasons. Still, you almost wonder what these characters’ purpose was on the whole, other than to try and fabricate mistrust between Claire and Jamie. This feels especially unlikely given how connected they’ve been throughout the show’s run; a pair who never seem to get so much as a little frustrated with one another, and who have traveled across oceans and time for each other on more than one occasion.
And yes, that level of intimacy continues to be visible in Season 7, though the physical aspect does slow down a bit towards the end of Episode 2.
Speaking of trying to drive a wedge between couples, a certain time traveler whom we last noticed whistling inside of a jail cell in Season 6 also reappears, complicating things a bit for Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and Roger (Richard Rankin). It’s a short-lived complication for the couple that has major repercussions later for others (including Jamie, Claire and Young Ian).
One of those twists ends up unveiling a big secret held by Mr. and Mrs. Bug (Hugh Ross and Sarah Collier), who were first introduced in Season 5. Seeing as we’ve barely seen or heard from Arch Bug since then, and only had a few scenes with Mrs. Bug, the level of familiarity and betrayal felt between the Bugs and Jamie feels a bit off and may feel that way for other Showlanders (a.k.a. fans who watched the show first. The Bugs play a more prominent role in the books, which makes the plot twist seem a little less out of the blue).
Within the first four episodes available for review, we also get to re-meet another old character who will no doubt play a big role as the season unfolds: Lord William Ransom (Charles Vandervaart), the son Jamie fathered long ago. Many years have passed since we last saw young William, who traveled with his father, Lord John (David Berry), to visit Jamie back in Season 4. Now a grown man, he’s joined up to fight alongside the British to squash the rebellion (which will inevitably turn into the Revolutionary War).
Jamie, of course, has no desire to face off against his son (he even says so in the trailer), and begins to make plans to avoid it. In classic “Outlander” fashion, you know he’ll get roped into the war one way or another — which side he’ll end up on remains to be seen.
What we can say is that Young Ian will have at least some connection to William, along with some new characters looking to join the rebellion. We really are finally on the cusp of war, which feels exciting given the show’s epic Battle of Culloden was all the way back in Season 3.
Comic relief finds its way into the new episodes, an aspect of the show sorely missing from its darker sixth season. It’s hard to lighten the mood when there’s so much violence and death, especially after Murtagh’s passing. But there’s a number of lighthearted moments this time around, from the banter between Claire’s fellow prisoners to a delightful scene in Episode 2 where Brianna tries to explain Disney World and Mickey Mouse to Jamie that is equal parts hilarious and tender. Heck, even Tom Christie manages to make us laugh at one point.
Another thing that’s been missing? Changes in time and place — and we get both of those in unexpected ways. We also finally get a brief look at Lallybroch again. Given we’ve only got two more seasons to wrap up the show, it hopefully won’t be the last we see of Jamie’s old stomping grounds.
As for the rest, you can expect the same level of romance and intimacy between our two main couples as they navigate new challenges, especially in their roles as parents and grandparents. It wouldn’t be “Outlander” without it, after all.
The new season of “Outlander” premieres Friday, June 16, at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Starz, with new episodes airing weekly and available to stream at midnight on Fridays on the Starz app and all Starz streaming and on-demand platforms.