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Love, it seems, triumphed as “Outlander” ended its inaugural season last year. Time-traveling Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and her Highlander hubby Jamie (Sam Heughan) were bruised and battered but hopeful they had escaped a brutal tormentor. The devoted couple devised a smart plan to save the future of Scotland—and celebrated Claire’s happy pregnancy news.

Yet the scars from Scotland fester as they travel to France in Season 2 (10/9c April 9 on Starz). While the action in the drawing rooms of Paris isn’t as robust as the sword fights in the Highland hills, it is equally devastating. If the first five of the 13 new episodes are any indication, executive producer Ronald D. Moore and company will outdo themselves with this sumptuous and provocative sophomore effort.

 

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Based on Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” novels, the first season introduced married World War II combat nurse Claire Randall, who was transported to 1743 when she touched an apparently magical stone at the Craigh na Dun rock formation in Inverness, Scotland.

Fearing she might be killed—or worse—by Redcoat Capt. Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall (Tobias Menzies), she agreed to marry the handsome but virginal Jamie Fraser. (Black Jack, incidentally, is an ancestor of and dead ringer for Claire’s devoted 1940s husband, Frank Randall, also played Menzies.)

While seemingly not a match at first, headstrong Claire and teachable Jamie grew to love and adore each other. Their romance became the series’ biggest draw, and it’s to the credit of all involved that their passion was seen from a woman’s viewpoint—a rarity in television.

That fire hasn’t been extinguished early on in Paris, but it’s fading. The horrible sexual assault and beatings Jamie suffered at the hands of Black Jack still torture his psyche, leaving him unable to be intimate with the woman he adores.

They’re fully united in their mission to infiltrate the Jacobites and derail a planned rebellion against England led by “Bonnie” Prince Charles Stuart (Andrew Gower). They want to stop the Battle of Culloden, which Claire knows from history will destroy Scotland as Jamie knows it.

Still, the emotional chasm between them widens as their spy work wears them down until Jamie explodes in a stunning confession of his private torment over Black Jack’s violation of his mind and body.

“That’s where I’ve been ever since, Claire,” he says. “Naked. Alone. Trying to hide under a blade of grass.”

Heughan comes into his own in this beautifully written and realized scene, matching the luminous Balfe’s performance just as Jamie has grown into Claire’s equal. His achingly open portrayal of Jamie’s troubled soul exposes male vulnerability in a way, again, we don’t often see on TV.

Props to the writers and producers, too, for understanding Jamie’s PTSD wouldn’t disappear quickly, and for showing it in such a realistic way.

As good as the show’s dynamic duo is, Menzies stands out even when he’s not on screen. Showing no fear of being reviled by viewers, he pushed the story into its darkest places as the villainous Black Jack. Yet he revealed a feeling man beneath his cold character’s cruelty. New foes attempt to block Jamie and Claire in Season 2, but the memory of Black Jack blankets the proceedings in dread like no one else can. Menzies’s intensity is on display again, but not how one might expect.

Viewers can expect a more lavish production with the move to pre-revolutionary France’s salons and gardens. The sets dazzle, and costume designer Terry Dresbach has created stunning gowns and equally marvelous male apparel. And no, Jamie hasn’t given up his kilts.

But we’re here for the romance, not the accoutrements. Paris is for lovers, and the Frasers’ love story remains one for the ages.

 

Outlander Season 2 sneak peek

The first episode of Outlander Season 2 will be available starting April 7 on the new streaming Starz app, at starz.com and on multiple TV on-demand and online platforms.