Warning: SPOILERS for Outlander Season 1 & 2
The first two seasons of Outlander have finally come to U.S. Netflix, which means a whole new wave of viewers will watch as Claire Beauchamp makes her trip backwards through time... and be either terrified of having her fate spoiled, or consumed with a need to know: does Claire ever get home again? Without ruining anything too important, we're here to help. But fair warning: it's not really the question that audiences should be asking.
Since the entire premise of Outlander (like the novels by Diana Gabaldon upon which they're based) begins when Claire falls through time from 1946 to 1746, the key question is also the most obvious: Does Claire ever travel back? Following the rules of a standard time travel TV series or movie, one could argue that question is what the story is about, more than any other distraction along the way. The good news, which those reading this article can pass on to their spoiler-free watching partners, is that viewers who accidentally see that question answered will think it means more than it actually does.
As for offering a definitive answer to new Outlander viewers, who really do want to know if Claire's story ends in the modern day, or the past? That answer--like Claire's story as a whole--is a lot more complicated.
Claire's Return Isn't The Spoiler You Think It Is
To put it perfectly direct: Yes, Claire does return home through the stones at Craigh Na Dun. And if you ask the question after the first episode or two of Outlander's first season, it will appear that by saying that, we've revealed a massive twist, ruined the suspense, or at the very least dampened the surprise. But Claire is determined to return to her husband Frank in 1946 from the very first moment she realizes what has happened. She even sets her mind to returning to the stones after just a handful of episodes. And unlike other science fiction stories, at no point does the show create conflict out of trying to understand the time travel, or even figuring out how to "activate" the stones for a return trip (the stones work the way they do... And that's pretty much it).
The real threats facing Claire are far more pressing, as she is suspected of lying about her origins and travels, swept up in a building rebellion, and faced with uneducated people need of her gifts--and of course, the red-haired hunk whom she can't help but acknowledge a romantic attraction to. The events of the first season have little to do with Claire's actual return home, instead observing her putting down one root after another, until the last thing the audience actually wants is for her to throw it all away and return to the present day.
As a result, the first season actually builds towards the best possible twist it could deliver. Claire returns to the 1940s, alright. She just does it in the first scene of Season 2. Which makes avoiding any obvious spoilers beyond that bombshell a lot easier than new fans will think.
The Show Doesn't Stop When Claire Comes Back
Hopefully, those who have sought out this answer to have their anxiety, or curiosity eased can stop searching for more (but if you want detailed spoilers, the show is currently finished its fourth season, so you've got options). Because far too many fans fell behind on Season 1 or 2 of Outlander before learning about Claire's return home, and assumed the entire series had been spoiled. After all, if the show is about a woman sent back in time trying to get home, the entire point of the story is working her way back. Right? In today's world of episode-by-episode hooks, mysteries upon mysteries, and an unattainable MacGuffin (the Iron Throne, for instance), that is certainly the case.
But for Outlander, that's far from the truth. And nothing demonstrates that better than the official promotional photos for Season 3 showing Jamie on one side of the magical stone, and Claire on the other, back in clothing fitting her modern era. Because as important as Claire's return to the modern day may be--which it certainly is--the question of whether or not she returns is soon replaced with the need to know why she ultimately chose to. That's the question that every viewer asked in a panic when Season 2 began, but it was also the one that the writers of the show built the entire season around answering.
Outlander Is More Than a Time Travel Mystery
The difference between 'keeping viewers watching to know the answer' and actually 'telling that as the story of the show' is a subtle one, we'll admit. But as Netflix viewers will discover upon watching the Season 2 premiere episode, the entire narrative structure is split: between the returned Claire appearing exactly where she went missing years earlier, and continuing her travels with Jamie in the past, just as blissful and hopeful as when the first season left them. And within minutes of basically revealing how Claire returns to her time, the differences between Outlander and other 'mystery box' shows made in Lost's image become obvious.
The first season of Outlander is built on the suspense and drama of Claire's possible return home. Season 2 replaces it with the mystery of what happened to cut her Scottish romance short, and send her back through the stones she had seemingly left behind. Season 3's narrative changes the formula yet again, and Season 4 continues the story into equally surprising new territory. But with each new season, the 'suspense' of Claire getting back to the 1940s seems less and less important. It was merely the question viewers THOUGHT they should be asking.
So now that we've answered it, hopefully new Outlander viewers can breathe a sigh of relief, and settle in for a show they'll stick with for more than just the chance to see the mystery solved.