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Outlander review: The wedding we’ve all been waiting for

There’s a section in Diana Gabaldon’s first Outlander novel when Claire describes the concept of situational infatuation.

She saw it all the time on the front lines of the Second World War between soldiers and nurses, where an attraction would grow for a number of reasons besides love, mostly limited options and the intensity of the warfront experience. Claire confesses that once or twice, despite how much she loved Frank, she experienced occasional flickers of attraction to other men. She also says that those flickers of attraction always disappeared, because they weren’t based on anything real. They were flickers. They didn’t linger.

Outlander has been slowly building the relationship between Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) for weeks now, and it’s been clear from the start that those same sparks have always been there.

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Over the long, slow night that Claire and Jamie spend in their bedchamber on the evening of their wedding, it becomes gradually clear that the problem isn’t that Claire doesn’t want to sleep with Jamie.

It’s that she does. Very much. That’s where her guilt comes from. Though she may not have chosen this marriage, she’s certainly wanted Jamie for weeks now, and suddenly she’s in a position where it’s not only that she can act on that desire, it’s that she must. There are hundreds of reasons she can give herself for this. To make the marriage legal, to keep herself out of Randall’s hands — these are all plausible excuses for why she has to allow Jamie to take her to bed.

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Underneath that, though, is the simmering undercurrent of want, and it’s why she resists for so long, why she plies herself with whiskey and asks Jamie to tell her stories of his parents, how he grew up, why she needs to spend the first few hours of their wedding night fully clothed and making small talk. If she’d had to marry one of the other men, Rupert or Murtaugh or even Dougal, she’d square her chin and get it over with; it would be a matter of practicality. But instead, it’s Jamie, sweet Jamie with his list of demands to make their wedding special for her, who’s wanted her from the moment he met her and who she’s wanted back, and the fact that she’s so desperately fond of him is more disloyal to Frank than anything else could be.

Their first encounter is cursory, over and done in a matter of moments. Jamie’s a virgin and there’s not a lot of finesse to be had there, and though once is enough to make it legal, their second time is the result of six episodes of buildup. It’s pure passion, it’s joy, and it’s the reason we’re so glad this show is on Starz, because they went for it.

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It’s an arranged marriage. It’s a matter of convenience. But there’s also genuine affection and killer chemistry, and those are the things that Claire’s finally stopped resisting.

Last week’s episode “The Garrison Commander” was intense, brutal in its vivid violence and Randall’s sadistic soliloquy. “The Wedding” was the balm that came after, impeccably structured in a series of quick flashbacks between the lead-up to the ceremony and their wedding night, and while “The Garrison Commander” may well be the episode that the show sends out with its Emmy submissions, “The Wedding” is the reason we’ve been watching. Outlander isn’t a straightforward romance. It’s complicated and messy, layers and layers of these two characters to unpack.

In summary: We are not going to survive this midseason finale. Why do you hate us, Starz?

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