TV INSIDER – Before dawn on a freezing morning last winter, Outlander stars Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, who play soulmates Claire and Jamie Frasier, arrived on set in the rugged Scottish countryside to shoot a heartbreaking scene for the Season 2 finale. The pair soon got chills—and not from the cold.
“When the sun came up, there was this magical layer of snow,” recalls Heughan, who makes fans swoon as the heroic 18th-century Highlander in love with feisty time-traveling former WWII battlefield nurse Claire. “The whole place looked like a Disney set. It was perfect for such a powerful scene,” Balfe adds.
But the action on Outlander, as fans well know, is far from Disney fare. This season has seen the couple challenged by a move to France, the fallout from Jamie’s rape in prison, the devastating loss of their child and now the impending Battle of Culloden, a clash between Scotland and England that will kill thousands and wipe out Highland clan culture, which the duo failed to stop. “Jamie thinks he’s going off to die [in battle],” Heughan teases. “His hand is forced and some of his actions have dire consequences. Ultimately, he and Claire get trapped.”
The action in the supersized 90-minute finale cuts between Claire and Jamie dealing with a disastrous chain of events leading up to the war in Scotland and incidents that happen more than two centuries later, in 1968, when a middle-aged Claire visits Scotland with her 20-year-old daughter, Brianna, or “Bree” (Sophie Skelton), whom she has raised with husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) despite her undying love for Jamie.
To prepare to play an older Claire, Balfe watched films starring some of her favorite actresses—Charlotte Rampling, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep—and compared performances they gave in their twenties to those later in life. Balfe changed the register of her voice, deepening it to give her character more authority, and she even tweaked her posture. “I was interested in how she carries herself, how the weight of experience rests on her,” Balfe says. “In 1968, Claire’s got all of these memories flooding her mind. Everything is unnerving her.”
Claire’s distracted mood doesn’t sit well with Bree, who is suspicious. “She thinks her mom’s lying to her,” Skelton says. “Bree’s a very logical person. She majored in history! And she’s strong-willed.”
The mother-daughter tension builds to a powerful argument. The scene, created by writer-producers Toni Graphia and Matthew B. Roberts, was penned before the rest of the script so it could be used to audition actresses for the part of Bree. The moment will be familiar to readers of the bestselling Outlander novels—but not an exact copy. “We’re very mindful of the mass of loyal book fans,” Roberts says. “We try to give them what they want, just not how they expect it.”
The quarreling mother and daughter get a mediator in the form of another new face in the series, a grown-up Roger Wakefield (Richard Rankin), whom viewers met in previous episodes as a boy in 1940s Scotland. “Roger’s intelligent both academically and emotionally, and he’s quite charming,” says Rankin, a Scottish actor who grounded himself in the role by spending two weeks in the Highlands before shooting began and found a visit to the Culloden battlefield “deeply haunting.”
Roger is instantly smitten with Bree, and the two soon join forces to unlock some secrets from the past. “For her, it’s more about the excitement of solving this puzzle,” Skelton says. “Bree isn’t very easily swept off her feet.”
A good portion of the finale, however, deals with Claire’s inner emotional life in 1968 as she revisits some of the places she knew with Jamie in the 1700s, including their onetime home, a now dilapidated Lallybroch. “It was really sad because it looked so abandoned and discarded,” Balfe says. “It’s the tragedy of time and what it does to places.”
No matter how time and fate conspire to drag Claire and Jamie apart, “This is a love story. They’re lovers who are meant to be together,” Graphia says. “It’s safe to say they’ll always find each other. We just don’t know when, where and how.”