Outlander (2014) s01e05 – Rent

New (credited) writer—Toni Graphia—same boring director, Brian Kelly. There are multiple points in this episode where it’s obvious all “Outlander” needs are actually creative people involved. The episode has a bunch of future flashes to historian and genealogy buff Tobias Menzies mansplaining history to wife Caitriona Balfe, lessons, and experiences she’ll remember a couple minutes late every single time in the past. Balfe’s on a rent-collecting trip with Graham McTavish and company. There’s Sam Heughan, of course, though the show continues to forget they’ve established any chemistry between the pair and then the regular C-listers.

Grant O’Rourke, Duncan Lacroix, and Stephen Walters are the C-listers. If O’Rouke and Lacroix have ever been named, I’ve long forgotten. Walters is memorable because he’s the rapey one, though this episode seemingly rids itself of that “subplot”—subplot, vague threat, what’s the difference—once and for all. Potentially for the betterment of the show. If Balfe’s not in physical danger at all times from her de facto compatriots, it’s a lot more entertaining.

There are a few significant developments this episode. First, Bill Patterson joins the cast as a learned lawyer working as a bookkeeper for McTavish on the expedition. He and Balfe bond over poetry in the first scene. Balfe’s reading of it is so bad it seems like it’s voiceover, but it’s not. She’s reciting to the lake; he overhears her, they talk poetry and asthma; fast friends. We know they’re fast friends because the narration tells us so, with the writing on it… well, not better exactly because it’s still reasonably awful, but at least the tenses agree.

On the road, Balfe discovers things she didn’t know about her hosts (or captors), stuff they don’t want her to know, so they talk in Gaelic around her because she can’t understand it. Then, in a particularly good scene—well, some of it—Balfe gets pissed about it. The scene goes slightly to pot, but it’s the first time “Outlander” ’s had Balfe think through a situation. At least without the narration doing all the work.

There’s also a scene where she bonds with some local women, which plays like a “Horrible Histories” scene before introducing guest star Tom Brittney as a British officer who takes an interest in Balfe’s situation with the Scots.

As usual, there’s good acting from McTavish and Patterson’s excellent in a thin but omnipresent part—he makes a lot of out it—and the change in tone in the second half works. Right up until the profoundly cheap cliffhanger.

“Outlander” isn’t really getting better, but it’s getting less bad in some good ways. Though Kelly’s direction is a snooze.

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