France has not been kind to Jamie and Claire. Their plans to overthrow Charles Stuart and thwart the Jacobite rebellion? Failures. Claire? Assaulted. Jamie? Still recovering from his rape. Black Jack Randall? Alive.

We’re halfway through Outlander’s second season, and while the show has certainly evolved, it’s not necessarily been for the better. What began as a fascinating, sexy, sometimes fun time-travel adventure has become a dark historical downer, with few moments of respite. We’ve stopped asking what terrible thing will happen from one week to the next; instead, we’re forced to wonder how bad things can possibly get while sitting with the uncomfortable knowledge that, on this show, suffering is infinite.

Yet it’s still possible to enjoy Outlander. Let’s not forget: Season 2 began with Claire back in the 20th century, trying to find out if Jamie was dead or alive. We know where this season will end, but we still don’t know how we’re going to get there. Amid the piling-on of terrible events, one after another—not to mention the harpsichord music and the beautiful costumes and the machinations of the French court—it’s been easy to forget that a greater narrative is at play here, waiting to be told.

We return to that storyline in episode 7, “Faith.” It’s 1954, and Claire is in Boston with her daughter, a young girl with coppery red hair. We don’t need Maury Povich to know that, Jamie Fraser, YOU ARE THE FATHER! When Claire divulges that she was in Scotland once, her daughter asks when. “A long time ago,” Claire says. Indeed.

Cut back to the 18th century, where Claire lies in a bloody mess in the hospital, a nun praying over her. When she finally becomes lucid, she realizes she is no longer with child. Mother Hildegarde has to be the bearer of bad news: Claire and Jamie’s daughter was stillborn. Claire becomes hysterical. The next time she is conscious, Mother Hildegarde gently tells Claire she baptized the baby and named her Faith. In the aftermath of her labor, a priest gives Claire last rites as she murmurs, “My sins are all I have left.” This episode is particularly well-written; sharp lines like that are littered throughout.

Claire learns Jamie is imprisoned in the Bastille and that Randall has been sent back to England to recuperate from his groin stab. After she returns home, Claire hears Fergus crying out in the middle of the night and rushes to his room, where—slowly, tearfully—he tells her what happened in the brothel before Jamie challenged Randall to the duel. Armed with this new information, Claire asks Mother Hildegarde for a private audience with the king. There’s a price to pay for royal mercy, Mother Hildegarde warns, and it’s a sexual one.

At this point, the episode devolves into absurdity—but the absurdity is, as always, beautifully presented and treated with the utmost sincerity. It’s true that Louis wants a favor, but not the one Claire assumes. Instead, at the palace, the king leads Claire into another chamber, where she finds Master Raymond and Comte St. Germain. Turns out, the king wants Claire to use her “expertise” as La Dame Blanche to determine if the men, accused of sorcery and practicing “arcane arts,” are using magic for evil rather than good. Is the subplot necessary? Not even slightly, but this episode commits to it with gusto.

Claire, characteristically quick on her feet, takes to her adjudication with aplomb, calling out St. Germain for having her attacked by Les Disciples. After some back-and-forth that just makes you wish they’d get a room and have some hate sex already, Claire devises a test, creating a poison for both men to drink; whoever survives can go free. Master Raymond drinks first, and though he hunches over in pain, he makes it through. He also uses some sleight of hand—when Claire gets the goblet back, her necklace turns black. Somehow, he has laced Claire’s poison with an even deadlier poison.

St. Germain, knowing the power of Claire’s necklace, knows he’s doomed and makes with the freakout. “Oh well,” he says, crying. (Oh well indeed, sucker! Bye!) While his death is somehow the most positive thing to happen in a long time on this show, its narrative purpose is still unclear, especially given the end of the episode. But let’s get there first.

Outlander Season 2 2016Starz

The king, as promised, frees Master Raymond, but isn’t quite ready to pardon Jamie. A king will always be a king, after all, and the carnal toll has yet to be paid. Via voiceover—”I closed my eyes and thought of England”—Claire brings some much-needed humor to the bleak proceedings, and after a mercifully brief roi-dog experience, Louis tells Claire he will indeed issue a royal pardon and send word to the English crown so the Frasers can return to Scotland. (If you’re keeping track, this is the one good thing that happens in France.)

When Jamie does make it home, the only thing worse than his new beard is his explanation. Once again, this tortured couple has a reckoning. Claire tells Jamie about their daughter and what she went through with Faith’s birth and death. She takes the blame for what happened, for putting Frank before their family, for following Jamie to the woods. She declares that the baby dying is her fault. Now, given how selfish she has been, Claire absolutely has some things to answer for—but losing her baby is not one of them.

Rather than ease his wife’s guilt, Jamie says he forgives her, not only for losing the baby but for anything else she might ever do. Claire doubles down on her confession and also tells Jamie she had a bit of royal sex to secure his freedom. (Seriously, even “a bit” is overstating the duration; were the episode in question to appear on a menu, it would rank somewhere south of “single limp jalapeno popper.”) Jamie, for his part, is totally chill about this sliver of infidelity. I love this man, but his willingness to be perfect at all times is exhausting.

Claire asks the question on all our minds: “How can we ever be the same?” This is the very question I asked last week: How does a couple who has survived as much as the Frasers have stay together? Jamie, still with that perfection quirk of his, says they will move forward, bearing the burden of what they have survived. Claire asks, tearfully, for Jamie to take her home to Scotland, and he agrees.

It’s for the best. We can only hope that back in Scotland, there will be less trauma, less misery, less of this couple being forced, time and again, to ask the impossible of each other. Of course, given that Claire ends up back in the 20th century, very much sans Jamie, that hope is rather fragile. But at this point, hope is all we have.

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Outlander Recap: Just Close Your Eyes and Think of Scotland