The season finale of Outlander airs this Sunday. The popular Starz series (based on Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling novels of the same name) racks up about 1.5 million viewers each week for its enviable blend of historical fiction and romance, fantasy and sci-fi—think of it like a mishmash of Downton Abbey, Braveheart, and The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but with a strong feminist undercurrent. Unsurprisingly, women make up a huge portion of the fan base.
If you’re unfamiliar with the series, the show stars Caitriona Balfe as British combat nurse Claire Randall (a role that recently garnered her a third Golden Globe nomination), and the story begins with her visiting Inverness, Scotland, with her husband, just after the end of World War II. The pair are attempting to rekindle after their wartime separation and end up witnessing a traditional Druid dance at an ancient mystical site; Claire later returns alone and is somehow transported back to the Highlands in 1743, where she meets James “Jamie” Fraser, played by Sam Heughan. (While Heughan may, at face value, look like mere man candy in a kilt, once you become fully immersed in the show—and you will—you realize he’s so much more. So much so that he’s inspired a legion of fans to dub themselves “the Heuglighans.”)
Once transported, Claire becomes caught up in the Jacobite risings—the attempt by the Catholic Charles Edward Stuart (aka Bonnie Prince Charlie) to regain the British throne for the House of Stuart—and ultimately, worlds and at least one metaphysical plane away from her husband, she falls madly, deeply, and passionately in love with Jamie.
Several seasons in, Claire and Jamie (aka the hottest couple on TV) have been through the ringer. There was the culture shock that one would suspect goes along with time travel, and then lots of flogging, war, prison time, sexual assault, rape, the loss of a child, separation, pirates, smugglers, and smallpox, among their many other trials. At the end of season three, Claire and Jamie arrive (via shipwreck, no less!) on the coast of Georgia in 1767. Season four picks up in the Carolinas.
Right off the bat, there are things not to like: Jamie’s bangs for one, a couple of pivotal miscastings for another, a plantation set (which, FYI, was actually shot in Scotland) that feels a little too Disney-esque, and yes, the fact that at times it can all skew very Days of Our Lives—but the subject matter is still shockingly resonant. In one early scene, Claire and Jamie stare out at an expansive view of the Appalachians, and she speaks about the American dream. She tells him about how the United States will take shape and the immigrants who will inhabit it. She addresses the injustices and barbarianism of slavery and explains how Native Americans, much like Highlanders, will have their lands taken from them and their traditions misappropriated. On the heels of an MLK weekend dominated with headlines about teens wearing MAGA hats facing off with Native American elder Nathan Phillips in Washington, D.C., and legions of football fans still employing the “tomahawk chop” in Arrowhead Stadium, a storyline that touches on the unique struggles of indigenous people feels ripped from the news, even if it’s set in the 18th century.