Are you all in mourning? Well, have no fear, there will be plenty to read while Outlander takes a sabbatical. Many of you are long time readers of The Big Books by Diana Gabaldon, while there’s been a mob of new fans recently introduced to the world of Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Randall Fraser and James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Waiting for Episode 9 will be like millions of kids going to bed in December asking their parents “Is tomorrow Christmas?”
Back to business. This week’s recap is done by Steve Martorano:
Producer Ron Moore continues to amaze me. Now up to the middle of its introductory “season”, the Outlander Starz series seems to be improving with every new episode.
Not that I fault any of the earlier episodes. I’m simply finding the story has a different feel on the TV screen, as distinct from the feel of reading the book. The characters are all well-casted, the production values are incredible, and what I would consider true to life for the time period. I keep mentioning to my wife words to the effect of, “That’s just how I thought he would look,” (respecting Ned Gowan, the lawyer),
or “The cinematography is amazing,” (in regards to the locations where the show is being filmed).
But now we have come the last episode before the season “break”. In Both Sides Now, the story on-screen is truly coming to life, and increasing in momentum.
Now, let me just let you know up-front, I’m the kind of guy who hates to wade through all the back-story and character building. I think I’ve made it pretty clear in my own posts on the book chapters that long lists of family trees and memory flashbacks have my head spinning at times. The problem is, I know logically that these kinds of things need to take place in order to connect the characters with the various plot points in the story, and to build in layers of foundational information which will show forth in coming chapters (and books). However, that still makes it very challenging for me until the story moves along a little further so we can see how that fleshes out in the unfolding adventure. It hasn’t happened a lot in the book, but the few times it has, it has distracted me a bit from the story itself.
The TV show has been very faithful to the book, and I think Ron Moore has been very shrewd in maintaining much of that minutiae for the first few episodes, because I’m sure this is exactly what the fan base wants to see; however, as I had mentioned in a previous post [chapter reviews on my blog], anyone not knowing the story could have readily lost interest, as not much traction was being gained on the story line. Of course, I think the fans of the series wants to see every thought and nuance represented explicitly on the screen because they have invested so much emotionally in the characters through the book series that they want to “meet” these characters in person, so to speak. Now that the base characters are established and the story is on course, I am thrilled to see the creative stance that Ron is taking the story and representing it in a more dramatic way.
For example, in the wedding episode, he told the story in flashback, which I thought was a very clever way of keeping the emotional connection to the wedding day, but re-living the preceding events through the remembrances of Jamie and Claire on how their day went. Also, he took the privilege of glossing over Jamie’s recounting of his family tree by over-dubbing Claire’s thoughts on causing the distraction so they could become more familiar with each other. These, I think, were different ways of giving the same emotional information.
Now, in the latest episode, he takes the creative stance of splitting the story between 1945 and 1743. Hooray! All through the book, I have been telling my wife that Frank should be represented more in the story, and this unique telling of Frank’s perspective on his missing wife is, in my opinion, exactly what the story required to keep that tension of the double-marriage question in play.
The episode begins with a phone ringing in the Inverness Police Department, which honestly startled me a bit, coming fresh from the richly-painted scenes of 18th-century Scotland in the preceding episodes.
Casting Tobias Menzes as both Frank and Black Jack was a great play, because it helps to keep the audience conflicted about the similarities (through heredity) and obvious dissimilarities through Claire’s experiences with Black Jack. Now that we get to see a bit more of Frank in the story, the connection (and conflict) becomes even more heightened.
Rumors fly about Claire’s disappearance. In contrast to the Police Chief’s conclusion of her most likely finding another man, I especially enjoyed the conjecture of Reverend Wakefield surmising Claire could have lost her way from Craigh Na Dun, and slipped in to the river, floating down stream, but then finding her way out of the river and holing up in a cave somewhere eating fish and frogs due to her military survival training (!)
Mrs. Graham’s delivery of the Craigh Na Dun legend to Frank was, in my opinion, spot on. With her involvement in that spiritual side of the goings-on earlier in the book, she provided a well-placed balance of perspective that continues to drive the time-split dramatics later on.
As the story in old Scotland continues, Claire’s knife training
and subsequent attempted rape at the hands of Redcoat deserters
was very similar to the book. I thought the depiction of her trying to maintain her senses afterwards while realizing she was in shock added a lot of validity to the scene for her character. In the book, she releases the emotion with hysterical laughter. While this could still be a legitimate result of shock, it seemed a bit out of character for someone with such a strong and self-directed psyche.
A now very committed Jamie is determined to keep his new wife safe, and as is expected with Claire’s character, right after he has her promise to stay put until he returns,
she immediately changes the game by heading off to Craigh Na Dun once she realizes where she is.
Then, the big dramatic scene comes with the combined run to the Standing Stones; Frank in his time period and Claire in her time period. To my way of thinking, while outside the box of the original story, this was genius storytelling in the spirit of the book. What better way to keep the connection between Frank and Claire than by having Frank skeptically return to the Stones in his time period,
while at the same time Claire has finally broken free from everything that has held her back and is running towards Craigh Na Dun in her time period.
The overlap was masterfully done with the haunting shouts to each other just enough to tie them together, and yet tragically pull them apart again at the critical moment.
Best of all, the story does not suffer in the least, because Claire still ends up back in Fort William at the mercies of Black Jack,
and the resulting “cliff-hanger” ending with Jamie attempting to save her…
All in all, while I know die-hard fans might disagree, I think the visual medium allows this kind of latitude in the telling of the story, and it helps to keep the same emotions in play, all the while remaining faithful to the richness of the original tale. In reading the book, Diana’s writing is so engrossing that much of the depth of the story builds effortlessly around the scenes; that is almost impossible to translate exactly into another medium. However, with Ron’s creative vision for the story, I’m impressed with just how far he can stretch the storyline without reducing its historic or emotional impact. In fact, I believe in many ways it assists the telling of the story.
I encourage others, even if you haven’t read the story, to engage with this very unique production that has real depth and meaning. While defying conventional description, Outlander proves to be a vivid depiction of the political maneuvering in historical Scotland overlain with the moral questions of war, friendships, and severed relationships through unique circumstances. I’m very much looking forward to future episodes.
Steve Martorano lives in Vancouver, Washington with his wife and four children. You can read his chapter reviews of Outlander here. Photos added by Savvy Santana and are from STARZ and Matt B. Roberts.