My love for a good love story is well documented around these parts. And there is no more sweeping love story on television than Jamie and Claire’s epic Outlander romance. Every chapter in their story feels cinematic, so I was thrilled when it was announced that their long-awaited reunion episode, “A. Malcolm,” would be almost feature-length (74 minutes, and I could have watched another 74). Their farewell in last season’s finale was one of my favorite TV moments of 2016, so it was safe to say my expectations for their return to one another were high. But even the (probably too many) hours I spent imagining how the show would depict their famous “print shop” reunion could never have prepared me for how wonderful it would be to see Jamie and Claire—and Sam Hueghan and Caitriona Balfe—together again.
The chemistry between Hueghan and Balfe is something special, and sometimes you have to go without it for a while in order to fully appreciate how much it elevates the already beautiful story they’re telling. “A. Malcolm” asked them to do a lot of heavy lifting—imagine how cheesy some of those lines could have sounded coming from anyone other than Hueghan or how long some of those silent beats could have felt without all the emotions we see so clearly in Balfe’s eyes. And one of the hardest things they had to do in this episode was play this reunion as realistic rather than pure wish-fulfillment. Obviously, both the audience and the characters end up quite satisfied with their return to one another, but it’s not all smooth sailing. There were awkward moments, shy glances, secrets told and some still kept, doubts, anxieties, insecurities, bumped heads, and many other complications that needed to be shown beyond pure relief, joy, and passion, and Balfe and Hueghan gave us a true sense of the roller coaster of emotions these characters were on. It would have been easy to play this reunion as a one-note explosion of passion and longing, but that wouldn’t have felt real. Instead, by infusing this reunion with an honest sense of hesitation, they made it even more beautiful because it was believable.
“A. Malcolm” was an incredibly intimate episode—perhaps even more intimate than Jamie and Claire’s wedding episode because the emotional stakes were even higher. And intimacy isn’t something that can be forced; it lives in the tiny details. And those details were my favorite parts of “A. Malcolm”—the way Jamie kissed Claire’s nose after she thought she broke it, the playful smacks they gave each other in bed, Jamie tossing food to Claire, the way their fingers always interlaced when they held hands, the way Jamie’s nails dug into Claire’s shoulder as they made love and then gently stroked her shoulder afterward, the forehead kisses, the tears in Claire’s eyes when Jaime told her she was beautiful, the way she kissed his stomach as she talked about him being too fit for a printer…All those small moments added up to a picture of a marriage being brought to life again. And I loved that it was brought to life with so much laughter. This reunion could have easily been tearful and intense, but the genuine laughter between them lit up the screen and served as the perfect reminder that love should make you happy—that you should be able to laugh with the person who’s sharing your bed. What made all that even better was the fact that this is a marriage between two people in their 40s who are still capable of having really great sex with each other, which is something that’s not often shown on television.
Both Balfe and Hueghan were at the top of their game in this episode, with Balfe’s gift for vulnerability on full display in nearly every scene. And I found myself completely captivated by the nuances Hueghan brought to his performance. From shy hesitation and downright confusion to near-delirious desire and overwhelming love, he played every facet of Jamie’s reactions to Claire’s reappearance perfectly. And if you didn’t melt a little at the awestruck look in his eyes when he saw her naked before him or get a little hot and bothered by his smile as he told Claire he wanted to eat, you weren’t paying attention. Hueghan did incredible things with just his eyes and his face in this episode, matching Balfe’s gift for nonverbal nuance beat for beat. It’s what made that scene of them undressing each other so satisfying to watch. In the hands of lesser actors with less chemistry, it would have been horribly boring, but watching the two of them watch each other was a thing of beauty that was enough to leave a viewer breathless.
Ultimately, the best example of what these two actors brought to this episode can be found in its early moments, when they were back in each other’s arms for the first time. Balfe’s tears during their first kiss made me an emotional wreck, but nothing prepared me for how stunning Hueghan’s performance in that scene was. The way his small smile against her mouth bloomed into tears of joy and relief as it settled in his soul that she really was there was a truly gorgeous display of raw emotion. And it’s that kind of performance—that kind of emotional intimacy—that allows viewers to get lost in this love story.
What was the best thing you saw on TV this week?