After the diabolical diatribe Malva inflicted on the faithful of Frasers Ridge, is it any surprise that all eyes are on Claire in the wake of the girl's murder?
Outlander Season 6 Episode 7 is the thing of nightmares, and Claire was having plenty of them.
Ironically, "Sticks and Stones" also contained one of the most comical stories that's ever been featured on Outlander, so it was never in danger of being too much to bear.
It's too bad the levity couldn't save Claire whatever comes next. She's not that lucky.
Things have been boiling over for Claire for a while now. She's got so many demons in her closet, and she can't shut the door on them.
Nothing sets her off more than threats to her family, and the faux secret that Malva divulged couldn't have come at a worse time for Claire.
She was already struggling after her latest kidnapping, which only reminded her of all that came earlier -- how they were terrorized by BlackJack Randall, how Geillis lured her into a friendship and stabbed her in the back, and how Stephen Bonnet raped Brianna.
The very last thing that Claire needed was for another person she trusted to toss her to the wolves.
Thankfully, Claire and Jamie have a relationship of the ages, made to withstand time, of all things -- literal time! If they had not just been discussing all that they mean to each other, it could have gone much differently between them after the allegation.
As it is, Claire's psyche has been tricking her outright for long enough that she could no longer perceive fiction and reality. The result was severe self-doubt when it came to the murder.
That damned Lionel Brown haunts Claire, and he shows no signs of letting up, so damaged has Claire become.
Can you even imagine the voice in your head lending credence to all of your self-doubt and self-loathing coming from a man you despise?
Everything Lionel said to Claire was of her own design. She's questioning everything, including her love of family. She's pointing directly at her choice to travel through time as being responsible for all of the bad in their lives.
Of course, it's not that simple. She didn't purposefully make that first trip. But the love she found with Jamie was worth the risk of going back. It's a once in any lifetime love. To disregard it would be as foolish as she sometimes feels, having fallen prey to it.
Jamie: After Wentworth, you found me in the dark. I let you into my mind and my soul. Let me do the same. Dinna lock me out. Let me join you. I canna do that when you put yourself to sleep. We have to face this together. Claire, dinna sentence yerself to crimes that no one is chargin' ye with. If you're selfish, let me be accused of the same crime. I dinna care about the right or wrong of it, so long as you are here wi' me. If it's a sin that you chose me, then I will go to the devil himself and bless him for temptin' you to it.
Claire [sobbing]: I would. I'd do it all again, and more, to be with you.
Common sense would say that Claire's medical knowledge would keep her from bottling up everything inside and carrying the weight of all of their subsequent choices on her shoulders alone.
But there is no common sense when you're destroyed in that way. Too much has evolved, and the longer she's kept it tied up in knots, the less likely it was for things to keep rolling off of her back without harm.
Malva's betrayal was the last straw. It was one too many burdens for her to carry. Claire trusted Malva and let her into her home, her family, and her life's work.
Claire was even willing to concede that Malva did it out of jealousy. What young woman wouldn't want what Claire had with Jamie, her family, her career? But instead of acquiescing to that envy as the catalyst for her lies, Malva doubled down, dragging the Fraser family and their carefully planned life on the Ridge down with it.
So, of course, it was easy for Claire to believe she'd killed Malva. She's lost herself in ether one too many times. She has had multiple devils shouting into her ear.
That common-sense knowledge about dreams and how your brain takes the outside world and twists it into images that feel so real you might have lived it flew out the window.
It was only after Lizzie confessed she had tried to tell Claire what was on her mind (and in her belly) that Claire finally let go of her assumption of guilt.
By then, it was too late. If she'd been more present and held a firm belief of her innocence earlier, she might have put into action a plan to deflect the community's distrust.
Caitriona Balfe's Emmy reel is fully intact, though. She was fully immersed in Claire's pain throughout the episode, and when Claire finally fell apart in Jamie's arms, Caitriona must have been exhausted. It was an award-worth performance, which got an extra lift when she portrayed Claire once the weight had been lifted. It was beautiful.
I can only imagine that her work on those scenes was filmed on different days than the Lizzie and Beardsley brothers scenes because the juxtaposition between the two was too dramatic.
There was a whiff of what went down when Lizzie had a recurrence of malaria on Outlander Season 6 Episode 5, and Kezzie and Josiah rushed in to care for Lizzie.
Something has been growing between the threesome for some time, although an actual threesome and a baby seemed a little far off!
I would have loved to be watching Caitriona and Caitlin O'Ryan as they filmed the scene when Lizzie got ridiculously comfortable talking about what was going on with her and the Beardsleys.
The looks on Claire's face were priceless. They were similar to Jamie's when Lizzie started gushing about her love of two men and that she had no desire to start distinguishing between the two now.
Jamie: You need to be wed. The sooner the better. Which one of them is it to be then, lass.
Lizzie: I canna, I dinna want to choose. I love them both.
Jamie: It's not a matter of who you love now. Ye've a child in yer belly. Nothin' matters but doin' right by it and doesna mean painting his mother as a whore.
Lizzie: I'm not a whore.
Jamie: I didna say ye were, but others will when wor gets around what ye've been up to, lass. Spreadin' yer legs for two men and wed to neither. Now wi' a bairn, and ye canna name its father.
Lizzie: I can name him. His name will be Beardsley. Ye dinna understand. They're one soul in two bodies.
Jamie: If ye care about the fate of that soul, ye'll have those two bodies standing before me, imminently. Now, where are they?
Even Roger, who has just decided to pursue ministry, was dragged into it. Lizzie was very clever to twist Jamie's idea before anyone got wind of it by getting handfast to both Beardsleys.
It's an unholy trinity, certainly. What can I say? The Lord works in mysterious ways.Roger
Those scenes kept this episode from spiraling too far into darkness. They would have been a treat anytime, but here, they were relished.
By this point in Outlander Season 6, everything has changed on the Ridge. Many new residents have joined them, and one who wasn't the most welcome. Fergus and Marsali have left town, and now Bree and Roger are taking themselves to the Presbytery for Roger's education.
Even if it didn't look like war was on the horizon, and Claire might be taken to jail to await (I hope) trial for Malva's murder, the Ridge would be much different.
As it stands now, war IS on the horizon, and Jamie's going to be left holding that bag alone as he tries to prove Claire's innocence. His support system is gone, and enemies are pouncing at the ready.
With one episode left, we don't expect a sweet ending, but then again, Outlander season finales rarely hold much happiness.
What do you expect from the finale? Did Caitriona Balfe's performance knock the wind out of you? What on earth did you think of Lizzie's tale?
You can watch Outlander online if you missed it, and I sure hope you'll share your comments below.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, conversing with cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film with anyone who will listen. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.