Claire's brutal attack at the end of Season 5 may drive a wedge between the beloved couple.
It's been a while since Outlander has aired new episodes, so you would be forgiven if you had forgotten what happened when the Season 5 finale aired in May of 2020.
Claire (Caitriona Balfe) was kidnapped and brutally sexually assaulted, and while her husband Jamie (Sam Heughan) saved her and did away with her attackers, she was clearly deeply affected by what happened to her. Now, in Season 6, Claire and Jamie must come to terms with her PTSD, and while this kind of trauma isn't new for either of them, it might just be a final straw.
"When we first meet [Claire in the season premiere], obviously on the surface, she's putting on a really brave face, but underneath, there's a lot of pain," Balfe tells Metacritic. "Claire generally is able to compartmentalize and move on, and I think, to be honest, it's not just the rape and attack of last season. I think there is a compounding of trauma that's been building up layer over layer over the years, and after a certain time, you can't just put a lid on things."
Claire makes a couple of "missteps," as Balfe puts it, on her journey toward recovery, including the fact that she does not open up to her loving husband.
"I think he's watching out for her and he's giving her space to deal with it," Heughan tells Metacritic. "I think he thinks if she's got problems, she'll come to him and talk about it. Unfortunately, this time, she doesn't, and it gets in between them."
Plus, there are a whole lot of other problems going on at Fraser's Ridge, as usual.
Here, Balfe and Heughan talk to Metacritic about Claire's recovery, some new arrivals at the settlement, and just how much more trauma is in store for the Frasers.
Claire is not used to other people having to take care of her and is used to being the one doing the caring. Does she take well to the new dynamics?
Caitriona Balfe: No, it's completely not in her nature. And I think if you talk to anyone who knows doctors or anyone in that field, that's one of their traits, right? They're really good at looking after people, but terrible at being patients. And Claire's no different. She's not used to asking for help, and she's not used to self-examination because she's never really had to do it before. And that's a product of a number of things — a product of her time, a product of her profession, and just a personality trait. So, it was such an interesting challenge for me in terms of, how do you unpick a character like that, and then how do we rebuild her? It was challenging, but in a really exciting way.
How do Jamie and the other people around her respond?
C.B.: Trauma and these kinds of events, they don't just affect the person that's directly involved. There's repercussions beyond that. And I think with her marriage, the moment you start hiding a part of yourself, that's when not necessarily friction or tension comes into play, but you start to lose your connection with somebody because you're hiding something. And I think Jamie can understand. Obviously he's been through his own experience with this and he knows that she's struggling, but he also knows that she might just need time. I think that's what he's sort of grappling with, like, "Do I wait? Do I let her come to me? Or do I have to step in?" He's got so many other things going on at this point, so he's not quite aware of the magnitude of her distress. But once he becomes aware, I think it's actually quite beautiful how he steps in and how he's really the key to her overcoming this.
Sam Heughan: We're used to Claire being able to deal with any situation. She gets over whatever has happened and just moves forward, but this time, she's really struggling. I think he's aware that it's affected her, but he's allowing her to process it. But he's also distracted. He's got a lot going on. He's dealing with the political situation and siding with the Crown and the British, and he's been given the task of being an Indian agent. The war of independence is coming, and he's trying to do the best for everyone on the settlement, and then we introduce Tom Christie, who as we find out is also kind of an adversary, or certainly a troublemaker. So there's a lot that's taking Jamie's eye off the ball.
Why do you think Claire is hiding her struggles even from Jamie?
C.B.: I think this is about her inability to open up and to be vulnerable. As much as she knows he would be there and he would love her and all that, I think she's not allowing herself to even acknowledge how much pain she's in. And it's only when she does, it's only when she really lets herself feel it and let go a little bit, that then she's able to open up to him. And as soon as she does, that is the key to her being able to move on.
With so much going on this season, how are they doing as a couple?
S.H.: I think the great part of our show is that we're always following their story and how their relationship is strong. They always have each other's back and they support each other, and the reason Jamie isn't prying into her wellbeing is because he expects her to come and tell him if she's struggling, and she doesn't, and that does become an issue for the two. But I think they are good together. If it wasn't for the war and the Browns and the Crown and everything, they would be great. They just want to be at home and live domestically, and I think we get some moments where we're with Jamie and Claire just at home in quite domestic situations, and it's really nice to see those moments where they're just having a cup of tea.
What can you say about the Christie family and what happens when they arrive at the Ridge?
S.H.: The Christies, they're not very fun people. You wouldn't invite them around for dinner. I wouldn't advise it. There's past history with Jamie and Tom, and obviously religion is a part of it, but it's more of a tool for Tom. Tom is just using it to control people, including his family. He's stuck in his own ways, and Jamie is trying to go up against him or control him. There's a lot that goes on with this family, and they really are the beginning of the undoing of the Frasers actually, so just wait until the Christies really get going.
C.B.: I mean, Tom arrives with all his fire and brimstone and really kind of fundamental religion, and that is something that in the beginning sort of bemuses Claire, and then she finds it really tiresome. Because he's somebody who doesn't regard women as having an equal say in anything, which gets Claire's shackles up. And then he's so suspicious of anything to do with learning or expansion of your mind in terms of science or anything like that, so it's a very tense situation, but she sees [Tom's daughter] Malva as a really bright light, and she sees her hunger for learning and desire to expand her horizons, and she understands what a sort of tough situation she's in and how oppressive her father is. So she tries to help there and take Malva under her wing, and of course that doesn't go very well.
Jamie seems to be struggling with how much he knows about the upcoming war. Do you think it's helpful to Jamie to know so much about the future, or does it make it harder for him to make decisions?
S.H.: It's the age old problem that Jamie and Claire have. In the past, they tried to change [the future]. They tried to actually stop it. Now, he's just trying to play the right side, and the bigger picture is that he knows he needs to be on the other side. At what point does he jump? He knows he can't just do it now because he has to look after his extended family. So yeah, he is in a real predicament, and I reckon if he didn't know the future, it would be easier.
It sort of feels like the characters on this show couldn't be more traumatized, but I'm guessing they can. How much worse do things get this season?
S.H.: I wish I could say it's gonna be great, but it is not. But I think it's really interesting. Everyone's storyline is followed through a bit more. I think in a weird way, despite being a shorter season, it's bigger. Everyone's storyline is fleshed out. The first episode is a feature-length episode. But yeah, it's tough. Everyone has been affected and there's decay. Things are starting to unravel at Fraser's Ridge for everyone, for the family, but also the bigger picture is the war, which is coming. So, it's about to really implode.
Is there a part of the season you're most looking forward to the fans seeing?
S.H: I can't wait for them to really see towards the end where things get really dark, because you're just going to be like, "No! Why! What the hell? Why is she doing that? Why is he doing that?" There's just so much that happens. It's huge. I think the finale is a really great finale and we had a lot of fun shooting that. It really ramps up, but don't worry, there are some nice moments as well, before it all goes to hell.
Outlander Season 6 premieres Sunday, March 6 at 9 p.m. on Starz.
Get to know Caitriona Balfe:
Other notable projects Balfe has appeared in include Belfast (Metascore: 75), Ford v. Ferrari (81), The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance (82), Money Monster (55), and Now You See Me (50).
Get to know Sam Heughan:
Other notable projects Heughan has appeared in include Men in Kilts: A Roadtrip with Sam and Graham (Metascore: 82), Any Human Heart (54), The Spy Who Dumped Me (52), and Bloodshot (44).