For more on the pre-show events, go to: A True Fan’s Perspective on the Outlander Red Carpet Premiere.
NEW NOTE: Ron Moore’s podcasts are now available for free on iTunes.
And now, onto the show . . . [I’ve included WARNING MARKERS below for those who have and have not read the Outlander novel.]
Having seen several trailers and clips of the new Starz Original Series Outlander based on the novel by Diana Gabaldon, you may think you’re prepared for how good this show really is. Let me tell you – you are not. I could use words like amazing, marvelous, and wonderful, but those sound too generic. Let me think of another way to put it.
Rarely does a show break new ground like Outlander does. Certainly I’m part of a biased target audience, but that simply means my expectations were very, very high. Outlander delivered. From the moment you hear Claire’s opening monologue to her closing words, you will be riveted.
But how does it break new ground? you ask. Good question. Here’s my answer:
1. It’s a faithful and respectful adaptation. How many times have we fallen in love with a novel and its characters, only to be disappointed by the adapted version? The team who put this show together did it out of love for themselves, the author, and us. That’s a lot of people to please. Will every single fan be happy with it? Probably not. But don’t be too hard on that poor individual. She’ll come around . . . eventually.
2. Women in movies and television are stronger than ever. Claire Randall is no exception. I’d lay bets on her versus every other heroine out there. She’s smart, brave, capable, adaptable (there’s that word again), and graced with beauty to top it all off. This woman is a role model for young and old, male and female for that matter. I don’t know Caitriona Balfe and never will, but I hope she’s ready for the responsibility. I’d lay a bet on her, too.
WARNING: If you’ve never read the novel, I suggest you skip #3.
3. Men in movies and television are more flawed than ever, making them seem more realistic and relatable. James Fraser is no exception. Handsome, dashing, noble, strong, funny . . . I could go on, but you know how terrific he is. What makes him different? I won’t bring up the V-word because that’s too obvious. Let’s just say we don’t know of any other 18th Century Highland warriors on television with Jamie’s principles, manners, flair for languages, and acumen. Is Sam Heughan ready for the real onslaught of fans? I’ll lay bets he might try to hide behind Ms. Balfe and Tobias Menzies – the man who closes the trio on this perfect time-travel love triangle. Which brings us to –
WARNING: If you’ve never read the novel, I STRONGLY suggest you skip #4.
4. No other show weaves an adventure the way Outlander does. A married woman from one time period is trapped in another with her life in constant danger and her husband’s six-times great-grandfather wanting to rape/brutalize/whip her so she is forced to marry another man she doesn’t love but is certainly attracted to such that it leads to her being accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death until her new husband rescues her, takes her back to the one place she’s been wanting to go but she decides to stay with him which leads to his being arrested and raped/brutalized/whipped nearly to death by her first husbands’ look alike. Nope. Can’t think of anything else out there with that kind of storyline.
5. Lastly, there’s the quality given and the care taken in bringing the above storyline to life. It’s true I’ve only seen episode #101. Call it a taste test. Call it a test drive. Call it what you want. I want the whole pie. I want the shiny new car with all the options. I am hooked again. And now that I’ve seen the first episode, I couldn’t resist creating a new poster for it. So to get things started, here it is:
We all know music adds depth to a performance. It’s sometimes used to hide weak scenes – not the case here. Bear McCreary‘s score was composed by another “true fan” of the story and its characters. You can sense it in every note written – like each word written by Diana Gabaldon.
What a delight it was to hear him play for us live before the start of the show, accompanied by Paul Cartwright. He first played two ancient folk songs used in the series followed by Jamie & Claire’s Theme. Lastly, he performed the song for the opening credits, featuring Raya Yarbrough. Unfortunately, I filled my phone’s memory so the song is cut short by a few seconds. Luckily, Outlander Starz released the opening credits which you’ve probably already watched dozens of times. In any event, both videos are presented below. I recommend you watch them with a box of tissues at your side.
WARNING: If you’ve never read the novel and/or do not want to read specifics of the show, you should STOP reading here.
If you felt something watching just the opening credits, magnify that by at least 1000 to get a sense of how magnificent the show is. Claire Randall’s (Caitriona Balfe) voice greets us from the start and continues throughout the episode but it never pulls us out of the story. It brings us closer.
Flashbacks to her war experience and her time with her Uncle Lamb add an edgier side to Claire than the woman introduced in the Outlander novel. I also found her to be even more alpha in nature – if such a thing is possible.
Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies), on the other hand, is a much more sympathetic character than in the novel. I’d even go so far as to call him shy during the initial reunion with his wife. That pretty much goes away during the sex scenes. In voiceover, Claire admits to using sex as a tool to deal with everything difficult or awkward in their new life together.
Not that we need it, there is a lot of foreshadowing in this episode from Claire’s opening monologue to Mrs. Graham’s (Tracey Wilkinson) tea and palm reading to Frank saying goodbye to Claire. It’s all good, especially for those lucky few who have no idea what is about to happen.
That is something which kept running through my mind as I watched this episode. I wondered what it would be like not to know what was going to happen. Would I like it more or less? I’ll never know, but I envy those folks who will watch this episode with a blank mind.
Being such a fan of the entire series of novels, I thought it would be difficult – if not impossible – to forget about Claire and Jamie’s unbreakable bond. But the way this story introduces the characters, I was very sad to see Claire and Frank separated. No offense to Ms. Gabaldon, I did not have that reaction in the book. I was swept away by the romantic adventure while reading it the first, second, third, etc. time, but I was never eager for her to get back to her own – especially after she fell completely head-over-heels in love with Jamie.
The ghost scene. I did not watch the version leaked online because I wanted to see it in the context of the show. Am I glad I waited. For folks watching it in ignorant bliss, they have no idea who is standing under Claire’s window, watching her brush her hair with a snippy “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.” And the first time you read the book, you don’t know who it is.
For me, it was very emotional watching it and knowing. There’s an element of heartache and suspense. You want Him to turn around but then again – you don’t.
Surprisingly, perhaps the most beautiful scene in the first episode is the “witches” dancing around the stones of Craigh na Dun. The music, choreography, photography, and editing could not have been more perfect. It was breathtaking.
Claire’s time travel through the stones was a tricky scene to handle. We all wondered if it would be laden with special effects or visual effects (at least from my perspective). I’ll admit, at first I didn’t entirely like how it was visualized. But now that I’ve had time to think about it, I realize how relatable and intelligent the choice was to do what they did. It’s one thing to write about chaos and quite another to show it. Bravo again.
The scene of Claire’s arrival in the 18th Century has been the most promoted by the producers. Of course, it’s a major transition in the story, and it’s wonderfully done. The loud boom of the first shot made everyone in the theater jump, then Clair is on the run from the Redcoats. Finally, we come to that awkward moment, “Frank?”
Not that I didn’t like the scene between Claire and Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies), I thought the book presented it as scarier, more menacing and longer. In the show, it feels a bit truncated. Go ahead and boo me if you want for saying anything remotely negative, but I feel how I feel. I wanted to be more frightened for Claire. I wanted more Black Jack Randall. Be careful what I wish for, right?
The big moment. We come to the scene in the stone cottage where Claire faces the large bear who turns out to be Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish) and his band of merry Highlanders. Small squeals went up around the theater at the sight of Jamie (Sam Heughan) on a stool by the fireplace. The men speak Gaelic all around Claire, throwing her into even more confusion although she’s figured out by now she’s no longer in Kansas.
The language was fascinating to hear, naturally and fluently spoken by the actors. I wanted subtitles but at the same time I didn’t. I understand we are viewing this world through Claire’s eyes and must stay with her. It wouldn’t be right to know and understand more than her and would probably have taken me out of the story as well.
The scenes between Jamie and Claire were a testament to Mr. Heughan’s and Ms. Balfe’s acting abilities. We’ve come to know the public side of Sam and Caitriona through interviews and social media. They seem to be fun-loving and playful people with a fantastic camaraderie. I didn’t think about any of that while watching them on screen. They were simply Jamie and Claire .
I don’t want to ruin anything by giving away too much about the first episode – exactly what happens, where it ends, etc. So, I’ll stop here to make mention of the costumes, make up, and hair.
We’re not supposed to notice such things and usually only do when it’s poorly done. In Outlander, there’s a certain flawlessness represented in the 1940s – exactly how I picture it. While we don’t spend the entire episode there, we stay long enough to appreciate the dramatic shift from one time period to another. It’s not just a difference in look but attitude as well. And it shows. There’s no time for hygiene and daintiness for the MacKenzies or Claire.
The network and producers know the “true fans” will keep watching and recruiting, but will the show attract non-Outlanders? I think it will. It’s exciting . . . fresh . . . beautiful . . . suspenseful . . . stimulating . . . and different from everything else out there. Of course, I haven’t seen absolutely “everything” out there, but I’m confident in my statement. The stars aligned to make this show happen. Once the perfect casting choices were made, there was no stopping it.
Congratulations to all involved, especially Diana Gabaldon, Ron D. Moore, Maril Davis, Matt Roberts, John Dahl, Terry Dresbach, Bear McCreary, Jon Gary Steele (Production Designer), David Higgs (Director of Photography), Àdhamh Ó Broin (Outlander dialect consultant) and the entire cast and crew. Their hard work and dedication – blood, sweat and tears – show in this episode. I can’t wait for Episode #102: CASTLE LEOCH.
Things I didn’t like about Outlander:
You thought I was going to say “nothing,” didn’t you? Well, you would be wrong. Here’s my main complaint. It was too damn short! I think a 2 hour episode each week would be much better. Yes, I know it would cost more and take longer to shoot, produce, and pipe together. But a girl can dream . . .
Another thing I didn’t like about Outlander is that I couldn’t stop, rewind, pause or replay. Of course, that will be rectified once it actually airs, so I’ll forgive them that one.
And finally, what I most disliked about Outlander is . . . nothing. There. Are ye happy?
For a closer glimpse of Jamie’s many faces, check out Jamie’s Top 30 Looks for Outlander Episode #101: SASSENACH.
Outlander Episode #102: CASTLE LEOCH airs on the Starz network on Saturday, 16 August at 9:00 pm EST.
For more on the pre-show events, go to: A True Fan’s Perspective on the Outlander Red Carpet Premiere.