[Warning: The following contains light spoilers for Season 5 of Outlander. Read at your own risk!]
Outlander has officially returned, as Starz dropped the Season 5 premiere a few days early in honor of Valentine's Day. The series is returning to its roots this season; a common theme of the four episodes screened in advance for critics is that even when Outlander ventures into darkness, it still remembers its joyous spirit and finds new ways to make even small moments feel sweeping.
The show picks up with the Frasers a few months after the Season 4 finale, with Bree (Sophie Skelton) and Roger's (Richard Rankin) wedding at Fraser's Ridge. It's a joyous gathering that brings all the settlers from the ridge to the big house that Jamie (Sam Heughan) has built for his family on the land granted by Governor Tryon. The wedding not only induces feelings of nostalgia (weddings have traditionally been very fun events for Outlander fans) but also starts the season off on a lighthearted note after three seasons of tragic or stressful beginnings. Even though Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers) is revealed to be alive and well during the festivities, the wedding still brings people together and bonds the Frasers as they prepare for the impending revolution.
After the wedding, Jamie and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) head off to form a militia for Tryon in order to stamp out the Regulator rebellion that threatens the livelihood of the crown. It feels very reminiscent of Jamie and Claire traveling through the Highlands to collect rents in Season 1, but that's not the only way this season feels like a return to form.
The overarching threat is the impending Revolution, with Jamie and Claire trying to figure out the best time to switch their allegiance to the Colonies without jeopardizing their land — much like in the early seasons with the impending threat of Culloden. Meanwhile, Bonnet is the first villain of the series to feel like a true follow-up to the terrifying Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies). The intense emotional grip he has on the entire Fraser family means the hairs on your neck stand up whenever he is mentioned, unlike the more metaphysical threats (time travel, sacrificial witches, Native American spirits) the family has faced recently.
As the Frasers tour North Carolina gathering soldiers (while keeping their eyes peeled for Bonnet), each episode feels like a different kind of adventure. The premiere features the big party, and the second episode finds Claire playing with the boundaries of time travel once again. Meanwhile, Episode 3 feels like a straight-up horror movie. Although it is definitely the same story, the slight changes in tone and style bring a refreshed feeling to Outlander, which is no easy feat for a show five seasons in.
However, while returning to the show's roots feels like a good change of pace from the constant upheaval the narrative has put fans through over the past couple of seasons (moving to America, getting settled on the ridge, Brianna and Roger coming back in time), Outlander should be wary of getting too comfortable or it will start to feel like we've seen this all before. For instance, we've seen Jamie and Claire survive a rebellion before, so how will this time be different? And how will it bring them closer together? These are the questions we anxiously await the answers to as Season 5 progresses.
The Outlander Season 5 premiere is now available on the Starz app, and will officially premiere on Sunday, Feb. 16 at 8/7c on Starz.
TV Guide Rating: 3.5/5