The second season of Outlander is still settling into its makeover, reinventing itself in France. The new setting offers up plenty of potential, and even more gorgeous scenery for the actors to chew, but the show is taking its sweet time setting up Claire, Jamie, and Murtagh’s plan to change history.

My prediction for last night’s episode, “Not in Scotland Anymore” (as if we needed the reminder), was that there would be harpsichord, and a great deal of it. Well, consider me psychic—and I don’t think it’s going too far out on this particular limb to guess that the instrument will haunt us for as long as Murtagh and the Frasers remain in France.

The thing is, no matter how long that proves to be might be too long. For a nation that prides itself on its sensuality, France has managed to destroy whatever sexiness the show once had. Although the episode ostensibly begins with Jamie and Claire making love—Claire panting and breathless as Jamie does the damn thing, his broad shoulders especially, deliciously broad—suddenly it’s Randall’s creepy countenance saying, “Don’t stop,” which compels Jamie to stab his tormentor approximately 33 times, drenching them both in blood. ‘Twas a bad dream.

Meanwhile, the way the show is handling the aftermath of Jamie’s rape continues to impress. It’s refreshing to see that Jamie isn’t able to simply shrug off what he endured—which would be a disservice to the brutal storyline and the realities of sexual violence. That the show is allowing Jamie his trauma is exactly why Outlander is such great television: Even when we’re not enjoying hot actors having hot sex, the show’s sexual politics are leagues beyond most others’.

The morning after Jamie’s nightmare, Claire is forced to explain to her maid why she made her own bed (while sporting a flawless dress). “I’ll endeavor to be sloppier in my personal habits,” Claire huffs. The struggle is so, so real. Being the lady of a great house in Paris and having a devoted staff cater to her every needs? No one’s lot in life is more burdensome. Still, no matter the century, and no matter a woman’s social standing, there’s rigid protocol to consider.

Then, more droning voice-over from Claire as she rides along cobblestone streets in a fine carriage. In reflecting on Paris, however, she remembers the Second World War, while outside her window it’s nearly two centuries before Iwo Jima. It’s a deft example of what makes the show work, reminding us that Claire—and we along with her—know a great deal that her contemporaries don’t. It’s like period drama Jeopardy, allowing us to believe we are smarter than we are. (We’ll take Smugness Born of Perspective for $800, please.)

The plot does begin to inch forward when Claire and Jamie receive a note from cousin Jared, stating that Charles Stuart is willing to meet with Jamie at Maison de Madame Elise. It’s a brothel, of course; no matter the century, men are gonna men. It’s as Starz a brothel as you might imagine: rich and powerful men debauching themselves; ladies of the night wooing those rich and powerful men; and wine and very large dildos available for rent or sale. Stuart waxes rhapsodic about the vulgarity of the French and how they never allow their excellent manners to get in the way of a good time. (He’s exactly what you would expect from someone who believes he is divinely meant to rule England and Scotland: an idiotic asshole.)

Stuart’s mission, beyond finishing his Yelp Elite tour of France’s bordellos, mostly wants Jamie to affirm his right to the throne—and when Jamie refuses to kiss the prince’s ass, His Assness gets pouty, going on and on about how he will unite the clans as a beacon of light because it is God’s will. He also asks Jamie to pay a visit to the French court to woo the finance minister to their cause, and then he’s off to cavort with a woman or three.

Because a woman’s work is never done, Claire determines to get an invitation to court via her new friend, Louise de Rohan. Claire visits Louise in the middle of—well, getting waxed. (Le plus ca change….. Apparently, women have always brutalized their bodies to please men.) Louise gets a Brazilian while Claire gets an idea. History is laid bare. Second-wave feminists weep.

Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), King Louis XV (Lionel Lingelser), and Martagh Fitzgibbons (Duncan Lacroix) in Outlander.Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), King Louis XV (Lionel Lingelser), and Martagh Fitzgibbons (Duncan Lacroix) in Outlander.Starz

That night, Claire removes her robe and crawls into bed next to Jamie, inviting him to feel the results of her new depilation and clearly trying to help him back in the saddle by any means necessary. Jamie is stunned: “Your honeypot … is bare.” A spark sparks, the heavy breathing and wet kissing begins, but then Jamie once again has flashbacks to being raped by Black Jack Randall and the moment is, understandably, gone. We have to wait yet a bit longer for the joyous physical reunion of their bodies, it seems.

Two weeks later, Claire, Jamie, and Murtagh pull out their finest royal-friendly apparel to visit the French court. (The costuming for this show continues to be absolutely on point.) As Claire descends the stairs, men gape for reasons that are unclear for those of us from the 21st century. Turns out it’s décolletage-induced gawp. “We can see every inch of you, right down to your third rib,” Jamie says, stuck in ye olde 18th-century ways, but then they flirt a bit and all is right in the world. One small victory for feminism, one giant step for a woman’s right to wear barely revealing finery.

At the court, harpsichords swell riotously, and bewigged French people in seemingly infinite layers of clothing engage in social pleasantries. A young woman, Annalise, runs up to Jamie, cooing, “mon petit sauvage.” It’s clear Jamie and Annalise have some kind of past, but the scene heads nowhere—at least nowhere beyond forcing Claire and Annalise into being Rivals for a Man’s Affection. Annalise pulls Jamie away to meet the king, who is trying to relieve his bowels in front of an audience. (Apres moi, le deluge.) You never know where a revolution begins or ends.

Finally, Claire gets an audience with Duverney, the minister of finance, while she’s getting some fresh air. Horndog Duverney misreads the moment and immediately begins pawing at Claire. Happening upon the unfortunate incident, Jamie proceeds to toss Duverney into a river. Still in need of a solid feminist education, he blames the dress; Claire, for whatever reason, lets him.

Old enemies are always lurking in this show, and toward the end of the episode, the Duke of Sandringham makes an appearance, loathsome and unctuous as ever. Murtagh readies to draw his sword before Jamie stops him. Apparently, drawing a weapon in the presence of the king means death. Sandringham tries to apologize for his betrayal in the fakest way possible, but he is clearly not interested in redemption, nor does he believe redemption is necessary.

The episode reaches its climax when Claire is alone with Sandringham. It’s an intriguing scene with Claire’s rage seething beneath her skin, wanting to avenge her husband and giving not one damn about propriety or a woman’s place. Before she can really eviscerate the duke, however, they are interrupted by a young man, the duke’s secretary, Alexander Randall—who is, it turns out, Black Jack’s younger brother. Claire, realizing Black Jack is still alive, blanches. The episode ends with Claire in turmoil, wondering how to (or if to) break the news to her husband that their tormentor is alive and well. A beautiful fireworks display explodes over the gardens, and we’re left wondering just how far this show is going to take this rivalry between Randall and the Frasers.

Certainly, there is no limit to suffering, and Outlander seems more than willing to bear that out. Given how the last episode began, we know how the season ends; the question remains as to how we’re going to get there, when we’ll finally get to enjoy Jamie’s brawn in unfettered glory, and—more important—if the show will continue to honor the realities of what Jamie suffered at Randall’s hands.


Outlander Recap: We’re ‘Not in Scotland Anymore.’ No Kidding