Outlander Season 6 Premiere Sets The Stakes For A Tumultuous New Season

It's been a long time since we've gotten more "Outlander." The sixth season was delayed, like everything, because of the pandemic, but after too long, the show is finally back with the season's first episode, "Echoes." 

"Echoes" is super-sized in a lot of ways — at an hour and 20 minutes, it is long, for one. And in true "Outlander" fashion, those many minutes are packed into a story that spans decades, takes place on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, and introduces new characters while giving us time with each of the Fraser family members. It also sets up the sources of conflict for the season, circumstances that will no doubt create a lot of drama over the season's remaining seven episodes. 

Read on for a spoiler-full discussion about what takes place in the first episode of season 6, "Echoes." 

Back in Scotland, in 1753

"Echoes" starts 20 years before the end of the previous season — it's 1753 and we're in Scotland, and Jamie (Sam Heughan) is serving his time at Ardsmiur prison. We get a glimpse of Jamie's prison life (a rather long glimpse, actually — the sequence at Ardsmiur lasts 22 minutes, a quarter of the episode), and it sets up the character of Mr. Thomas Christie (Mark Lewis Jones), a protestant Scot whose religious fervor grates against Jamie and also gets the preacher special treatment from the redcoat warden.

The Ardsmiur sequence also touches on love, because this is "Outlander," of course. We get a touching scene with a young blind prisoner pining for his love. "What we have known, some never will," Jamie tells the lad, who — given his setup in the show — is very clearly going to die soon. "It's eternal and it's ours."

As expected, the character dies in the next scene when a brawl between the Jacobite and protestant prisoners breaks out and the blind lad, unable to see, is killed by a rock to the head. For the guards, the boy dying isn't as big of a problem as the fact that an older prisoner of not the soundest mind lays a tartan on his corpse, a big no-no at Ardsmiur after the Scottish rebellion. Jamie is Jamie, however, and takes the blame for the tartan and the subsequent whipping.

Christie knows Jamie is taking blame that isn't his  and is also scandalized to see the other scars on his prison mate's back when Jamie takes his shirt off to receive punishment. Only bad men would have scars like that in his view of the world, and he is also appalled that Jamie took the punishment instead of the feeble, addle-minded old man. Justice in the eyes of Christie is black and white and brutal — it must be served accordingly no matter what the circumstances, something that will undoubtedly come back into play later this season. 

Jamie also sees his beloved Claire (Caitriona Balfe) while being whipped, another reminder that this show is about love, y'all, and Jamie and Claire have the strongest kind out there.

We end our time in Ardsmiur with Jamie being Jamie — he ultimately creates peace among the prisoners by saying they are all freemasons (an idea he got when he noticed that Christie and the redcoat warden shared a secret handshake confirming they were as well). Even in prison, Jamie is a leader, something that Christie also undoubtedly envies.

Back once again in the American colonies, in 1773

We then cut to "present day," which for Jamie and Claire and the rest of those on Fraser's Ridge is North Carolina in 1773. We're in America now, and there's a shot of a bald eagle to prove it! And Christie is here as well, about to pay a visit to his old prison pal, Jamie.

It's an interesting choice to spend so much of the first episode at Arsdmiur, but it serves its purpose — we meet Christie and we come to understand his motivations as well his dynamic with Jamie. It also clues us in that Christie is going to be an important character and a big problem for Jamie. And given "Echoes" is a longer episode, the extra time here makes sense, though I was anxious to find out how things are going at Fraser's Ridge.

Once we get to present day, however, we spend plenty of time with the Fraser family. Claire is unsurprisingly still recovering from her abduction and horrific gang rape by the Browns that happened at the end of season 5. (Side note: Diana Gabaldon, the author of the books the show is based on, leans on violent rape way too often to inflict trauma on her characters — there are other horrible things that can happen to people in the 18th century, and I wish Gabaldon didn't have to keep circling back to rape to get the characters we care about to have big, emotional moments. But that's what she wrote, and the show adapts fairly closely to the source material, so here we are.)

Claire is still traumatized but trying to focus on other things, like creating ether in her lab so she can put her patients under during surgery. Jamie is also constantly there for her, of course, and they're still having sexy times, which we get a glimpse of right after Jamie mentions that the new British governor wants him to become the Crown's "Indian Agent," aka the government's liaison with America's indigenous people. The hope is to have them side with the Crown against any possible rebellion, and Jamie says no at first — he's done with being under any governor's thumb.

We also get brief check-ins with Bree and Roger (Sophie Skelton and Richard Rankin), who are adjusting to spending their lives in this time period rather than traveling back with their child to the 20th century. And we also see that Fergus (César Domboy) is a dedicated drunk who may or may not be hurting his very pregnant wife Marsali (Lauren Lyle).

Mr. Christie is back and Jamie isn't happy about it

But the focus of "Echoes" is on Christie coming to Fraser's Ridge and hoping to settle there. Roger, hearing Christie is from Ardsmiur, welcomes Christie while Jamie and Claire are out, and Jamie is not happy about it when he comes back. The leader of Fraser's Ridge can't turn Christie and his congregation away either, however, so Jamie allows them to settle there.

We hear Jamie talking to Claire about Christie in bed later that night as he recounts his experience with the preacher in Ardsmiur. It's here we get another sexy scene when Jamie says he saw his love while being whipped at the prison for the tartan "crime" he didn't commit. "You are always with me," he tells his beloved wife. "Sometimes, I think you're an angel, Claire," he adds, just before the show's requisite sexy times commence.

Sexy times can't last forever, however, and we are soon back with Christie's folks. Jamie talks of making cabins so people don't freeze to death, but Christie is pretty focused on building a church, which Jamie is simply not interested in. Christie knows this but still presses, because in addition to being a man of the Lord he's also kinda an a-hole. Fergus also wanders through the encampment visibly drunk, which is another example of devilry for Christie.

We also meet Christie's two children — a young man and woman named Malva and Allan (Jessica Reynolds and Alexander Vlahos) who seem eager to please. The man goes hunting with Ian (John Bell) and they have a run-in with the Browns' "committee of safety" who take a particular interest in Allan's gunpowder horn.

The Browns are back too, unfortunately

Meanwhile, back at Frasers Ridge, there's a feast happening. The local redcoat, Major MacDonald, is back and tells Jamie he offered the job of Indian Agent to Richard Brown (Chris Larkin), the leader of the unimaginatively called Brownsville settlement. Jamie doesn't love that, and he really doesn't love it when Brown's "safety committee" shows up unannounced and accuses Allan of stealing that powderhorn, which, in fact, he did.

It's here we find out that Christie's view on justice and punishment remains the same as it was in Ardsmiur. Christie wants his son violently whipped for the offense. We also find out that his wife/their mother is dead and "burning in the fires of hell," according to Christie, so that relationship didn't end well, it seems.

The Browns agree to have the boy get ten lashes, and Jamie agrees and does the deed himself, albeit with the "gentler" tool of his belt rather than a whip. The Browns are begrudgingly satisfied and head off, but Jamie is anything but — he tells Major MacDonald that he'll be in the Indian Agent if the choice is between him and Brown.

The Browns coming to Fraser's Ridge also visibly and very understandably upset Claire. She rushed inside when they arrived, and the end of the episode has her waking up at night after having bad dreams about the trauma she went through. She tells Jamie she is going to make some tea, and we get a monologue of her talking about ghosts coming unbidden from dreams and silence, and how we haunt ourselves.

Claire's solution that night to stop the haunting herself is to take the ether she newly created and pass out into a dreamless sleep. It's set up as an ominous thing, and it seems likely that she'll be turning to ether too much as the season goes on.

And so the first episode of season 6 ends. "Echoes" was an episode full of moments that make this show so beloved — the undying love between Jamie and Claire and ample time with them and their extended family at Fraser's Ridge. It also sets up the hardships they'll undoubtedly face together this season, and I can't wait to find out how things unfold. 

Other thoughts

  • The sixth season, like those before it, has an updated theme song! Composer Bear McCreary has given us yet another adaptation of the original song about a lass who is gone. This time, however, a man starts out singing the tune, using lyrics from the Robert Louis Stevenson poem "Sing Me A Song of a Lad That is Gone." The score then becomes a duet with a female voice, ending with orchestral and hopeful fanfare. It's a great version of the opening sequence, and another unique take from the show's previous seasons.
  • Claire and Brianna had a mother-daughter discussion about recovering after rape. It's a necessary scene, but it still makes me hate that they now have both experienced that, especially when Brianna says she's so glad her mother didn't lose her heart or her spirit. Claire is clearly still suffering though, as the ending scene makes clear.
  • Fergus is a nasty drunk and a terrible husband and father. I hope he gets his act together soon — Marsali deserves better.
  • I love how this episode just hammers home how much of an a-hole Christie is. The scene where Claire is stitching up a relatively minor hand-wound with Jamie looking on not only makes his jerkiness clear but also shows how insecure he is because he knows he's not as strong of a leader as Jamie, and it sticks in his craw.
  • That whole American Revolution is coming ever closer ... I wonder how close it will get this season.

New episodes of "Outlander" drop on Starz on Sundays.