The sixth season of Starz’s historical drama–love story Outlander ended with a cliffhanger that suggests its central couple might always be somewhat star-crossed.
Accused of murdering the pregnant Malva Christie (Jessica Reynolds) — who was, in turn, blackmailing her family — Caitríona Balfe’s once-time-traveling doctor Claire Fraser was promised she would both be brought in for a fair trial and have her husband Jamie (Sam Heughan) by her side. Instead, the couple were ripped from each other thanks to the troublesome Richard Brown (Chris Larkin) and his so-called Committee of Safety.
Jamie was forced onto a boat bound for Scotland, which he escaped thanks to his nephew Young Ian (John Bell) and his friends in the Cherokee community. But Claire?
The seventh season of Outlander, which begins airing the first half of its season on June 16, opens with an image of what executive producer Maril Davis called “Jamie’s worst fear coming true”: a close-up of Claire at the gallows and scanning the crowd for Jamie to save her. Instead, she’s forced to her death.
“We open with something that’s really a vision in Jamie’s mind, but [it’s true that] Claire’s in a very precarious situation,” Balfe added. “Because of this war, the general rule of law has been broken down. So in one way, she’s left out to dry in this jail. But in another way, it’s also how she gets out.”
The opening scene also served as a quick catch-up for what’s at stakes for the lead characters of a show that hasn’t aired in over a year (the sixth season, which premiered in March 2022, had a truncated episode number due to COVID restrictions as well as Balfe’s pregnancy with her son, who was born in 2021). It also reminded audiences that the characters are living in America as it gears up for the Revolutionary War; that is, when the courts probably didn’t have time for drawn-out fair and balanced legal proceedings.
Rotten Tomatoes spoke with Davis, Balfe, and Heughan to learn what else is in store this season for this couple who were previously divided by centuries.
There’s lots of reasons to implicate Claire for Malva’s murder. Her apprentice in the arts of medicine and healing was also blackmailing the Frasers; claiming she’d tell people that Jamie was the father of her child. Claire also is the one who found her body. And although Claire’s an accomplished surgeon in circa mid-20th century America and was simply trying to cut the body open to save Malva’s unborn child — well, you try explaining that to a bunch of 18th-century colonialists.
Davis said that the intent was for Malva’s murder to be solved in the show’s sixth season and that she knows “obviously, people want to know who killed her.” So this storyline will be sewn up fairly early in the season.
Closing this chapter will also allow Jamie to get what Heughan described as the “cold vengeance” he felt he needed.
“Amidst all of this trying to save Claire and navigate that, in the back of his mind, there’s some other motive just ticking away that he’s going to deal with it at the right time,” Heughan said.
In the series’ fourth season, shaman Nayawenne (Tantoo Cardinal) told Claire that she’d achieve “full power” when her hair goes white (which is to imply as she gets older). Jamie quotes that line this season. So is it possible that audiences might soon learn what else Claire can do beside travel through time?
“I think, as the season goes on, that maybe some of the more supernatural elements might come into play is a good way of saying that,” teased Balfe.
Jamie and Claire’s grandson Jem, the son of their daughter Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and her husband Roger (Richard Rankin), does make reference to supernatural beings this season. But Jem is also a child who could be making up stories.
“Folklore is a huge part of the Scottish culture,” Davis said, referencing creatures like the human-horse demons nuckelavee. She added that this is also part of the Outlander source material that are author Diana Gabaldon’s books and that “we love the idea of these traditions passing on … and the idea of the future and the past and the old-school ways versus the newer ways and how these things evolve.”
The second episode of the season, which is written by Toni Graphia and directed by Lisa Clarke, includes a sweet moment of father-daughter bonding between Jamie and Brianna. Among some sparkling fireflies, Bree tells her “da” of growing up in the 1950s and ’60s in the United States. These included trips to a magical place called Disneyland where, she explained “stories come to life.”
Davis assured that at least some of the fireflies in this scene were real and not the work of the VFX department. She also talked about the opening titles for this episode, which interspersed the show’s canonical images of women dancing with archival footage of Disneyland.
“We originally had another clip we wanted to use that showed a little redheaded girl running around, and we were really sad we could not get that cleared,” said Davis of an image that would have reflected on the fact that Jamie had missed his daughter’s childhood.
For being a show (and book series) that meddles with time and space and is set before the advent of smartphones, the world of Outlander is pretty small. So it’s not hard to see the foreshadowing when this season’s trailer has Jamie saying that he promised himself he’d never face his now-adult son from another relationship (Charles Vandervaart’s William Ransom) “across the barrel of a gun.”
David said the TV team takes its cues from the books and jokes that they “call it tiny town.”
“We try to figure out ways to make it not feel tiny town … but certain things have to happen for the story,” she said and added, “We’re aware of it. And we’re just trying to do whatever is possible to make it as organic as possible for the observer.”
Since the first episode, Claire has been operating in this world with a medical mindset of how to fix things. She also comes with the training of a 20th-century education. Jamie’s background doesn’t include the same schooling. This season will see more examples of this divide.
“I do think that’s kind of Jamie and Claire’s relationship, [because] Claire is from the future and Jamie is from the past,” Davis said, emphasizing that this indicative of some many themes of the show, be it religion versus science, the future versus the past, or a British versus American soldier.
She said this season will also “examine the Quaker point of view of violence versus non-violence” through new characters Rachel (Izzy Meikle-Small) and Denzell Hunter (Joey Phillips), siblings and medical professionals who are part of that faith.
Jamie and Claire are grandparents. But this doesn’t mean the seventh season of Outlander will (or should) stop the show’s tradition of steamy sex scenes. The important thing, Balfe said, is that these scenes are “not gratuitous” and that “the intimate scenes [are] part of the storytelling.”
“We’re telling the story of a mature marriage,” she said. “They have passion; that’s undeniable. But I think what’s more important is the deep, deep love and the deep understanding they have for each other.”
However, she stressed, the frequency of these trysts might not be what it used to be.
“They are not without the love and the passion still,” she said. “But, also, they’re on the road a lot. So it’s not always convenient.”
The upcoming eighth season of Outlander will be the show’s last with a prequel series about Jamie’s parents, entitled Outlander: Blood of My Blood, already announced.
Davis conceded that, given its period setting, “this whole series is based on the fact that you know Jamie and Claire are gonna die.” How and when are still up in the air, she said and pointed out that “all bets are off on season 8.”
But she added, “I think the natural evolving nature of their relationship … is that they have such an equal partnership [and] that there’s such a mutual respect there, that I’m constantly interested to see how they’re dealing with these situations.”