Will War Drive Drive Jamie & Claire Apart? ‘Outlander’s Caitriona

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Filming scenes where all hell breaks loose is all in a day’s work for the cast of the Starz adventure romance Outlander. But filming them while nearly seven months’ pregnant? In Season 6, that distinction was reserved for Caitriona Balfe, who plays time-traveling 20th-century surgeon Claire Fraser, married to Highlander Jamie (Sam Heughan). The good-humored actress describes one of the tougher days toward the end of the shoot, when her bump was biggest: “There was lots of gun shooting—Claire was shooting a few herself—and squibs flying. One of the funniest bits was, I had to get up from the ground, just get up. We did that take multiple times. I was struggling.”

And that’s not the only moment of heart-pounding peril for the residents of Fraser’s Ridge, the thriving 10,000-acre North Carolina settlement. You can blame the era—the 1770s—for some of the turmoil ahead. The eight-episode season (shorter due to pandemic restrictions and Balfe’s pregnancy) is closely based on author Diana Gabaldon’s A Breath of Snow and Ashes, in which the Revolutionary War looms large. The Frasers, granted their land by the British, are on the losing side—and they know it. Jamie is pulled further into the redcoat camp when he is forced into the role of an Indian agent (a liaison between the Crown and Native American tribes). His nephew Ian Fraser Murray (John Bell), who used to live with the Mohawks, assists, but their work could ricochet dangerously. “Jamie has to give the Cherokee weapons and doesn’t know if they’ll be used for him or against him,” Heughan says.

More trouble brews when inflexible, God-fearing family man Tom Christie (Mark Lewis Jones), leader of a group of Scottish fisherfolk settlers, comes to the Ridge. He’s “an old adversary of Jamie’s,” Heughan notes. Both men were held at Ardsmuir Prison in Scotland after the Battle of Culloden more than 25 years ago. “Tom’s a staunch Protestant; Jamie’s a quite forward-thinking Catholic. Flashbacks [show] them at loggerheads,” Heughan says. Adds executive producer Matthew B. Roberts: “We’re taking what’s happening in the Colonies and bringing it to Fraser’s Ridge with the Christies. They’re revolting at the Ridge, and Jamie’s trying to manage that as well as the bigger picture of the Revolution.”

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At least one Christie has seemingly good intentions: Tom’s wide-eyed daughter, Malva (Jessica Reynolds), who shows an interest in learning about healing. “Claire takes her under her wing,” Balfe says. “That brings up a lot of tension [for both women] with Tom.” But it won’t simply be a religious issue that divides them. “All is not quite what it seems with Malva,” Balfe teases. “And it might come back to bite Claire.”

Also, Malva’s stoic brother, Allan (Alexander Vlahos), commits an act that undermines Jamie’s authority, starting a conflict among the Frasers, the Christies and their unsavory neighbor, Richard Brown (Chris Larkin), head of the so-called Committee of Safety—a new self-serving group that will prove extremely dangerous.

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Oh, yes, the nasty surviving Brown brother returns. Richard was already looking to go after the Frasers. In Season 5, his sibling Lionel (Ned Dennehy) led a gang that, angered at Claire’s publishing of reproductive medical advice under a male pseudonym, kidnapped, beat and raped her. After Claire’s rescue, Jamie’s stepdaughter, Marsali (Lauren Lyle), took it upon herself to inject Lionel with poison. (“She feels no regret,” Lyle says.) It’s Marsali’s husband, Fergus (César Domboy), drowning his pain in whiskey for not protecting the women, who leads the couple into a dark period.

Processing that trauma is difficult for the good doctor. “Claire’s putting on a brave face,” Balfe says. “This is something she’s never had to deal with—PTSD.” According to EP Maril Davis, Claire is “trying to figure out ways to self-medicate. The ramifications of that affect her and Jamie.”

The heroic Scot can relate to his wife’s painful ordeal, Heughan says. “Having been through something similar [with Tobias Menzies’ dastardly “Black Jack” Randall in Season 1], he understands.” Despite the stress, the war and the feuds, the couple still find time to be passionate. “It pulls them back to each other,” says Heughan. “The characters maybe don’t have as much stamina, but they still enjoy each other’s company.”

And when they need support, they have the next generation to lean on: Claire and Jamie’s daughter, engineer Brianna (Sophie Skelton), and her husband, Roger (Richard Rankin), who takes a new path influenced by his father’s work. “They are very much the rocks in this season, helping the family,” says Skelton. Plus, they’re trying for another child. That they feel safe enough to expand their family seems like a victory already won for the Frasers.

Outlander, Season 6 Premiere, Sunday, March 6, 9/8c, Starz

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