Synopsis: Claire, a WWII nurse, gets mysteriously transported to 18th century Scotland. And thus ends up in the middle of the conflict between the Scots and the English–which is awkward as she’s an Englishwoman who ends up becoming an unwilling houseguest to a Scottish clan.
Series: First half of first season is out, second half airing in April, second season to come.
I’ve Watched: Episodes 1-8
Verdict: Episodes 5-7 = Good, Episode 8 = WTF
First, let’s talk about episodes 5-7, which I wrote about prior to watching 8:
The show is definitely filling a need, and it is good. But it’s also really making me crave an epic fantasy TV series that also takes a more frank and less exploitative look at the more personal factors. (Why HBO, why?) Outlander isn’t quite my preferred kind of show, but it’s so well done, that it doesn’t much matter.
The writers can have their characters sit around a table for an entire episode (and do), and still make it fascinating because of the tension and interplay between them, and the threat of what is going to happen. When our bad guy, Randall, is brought into a scene, there are these dramatic pauses where we’re holding our breath waiting to see what he’s going to do. He’s brutal, but there’s this sense of deliberateness behind this. He’s in control of himself, even when he wants to appear like he’s out of control. So when he takes those moments to wait before acting, there’s no way of telling what he’s decided to do. The threat of what he might do is almost worse than what he does do (from the safety of my screen, anyway–I’m sure Claire and Jaime feel differently).
I feel bad for poor Claire, out voyaging with the men. She seems very isolated in her current circumstances. Even when she connects with people, only Jaime really seems to regard her even remotely as an equal. It’s kinda sad, but it’s also a really nice touch. Of course, she’s isolated. She’s completely displaced from her time. And I like that we get to see that vulnerability, instead of having it glossed over.
The marriage episode was very interesting. I’m impressed with how Claire’s wedding to Jaime–the romantic male lead–is contrasted to her wedding with Frank, whom Claire was forced to leave via accidental time travel. Her wedding to Jaime is definitely the worse of the two–for one, she was drunk the whole time. For another, marrying Jaime was about the ceremony, while marrying Frank was very personal for the both of them. They didn’t even have a ceremony, and it was really sweet. So this is a bold move, having things be decidedly not perfect for the marriage the audience is supposed to be cheering for. And having things be perfect for the marriage Claire lost. It’s awesome.
Poor Jaime is way more head over heels for Claire than she is for him at this point. She’s still mourning the loss of the husband that’s lost to her. And he’s actually dealing pretty well with having an arranged marriage with a woman he’s completely taken with, who isn’t actually there herself. And who is not comfortable with the fact that she’s required to consummate this marriage that they’ve both been pressured into. The episode does a good job of illustrating consent, actually–you wouldn’t think so, due to the very dubious circumstances, but it does.
And as for really bold moments, Claire and Jaime’s first time isn’t that good. It’s awkward. That’s right, the romantic couple in a romance getting together for the first time is awkward. Jaime’s inexperienced, and the show isn’t covering it up–it’s actually shoving it in our faces. And it’s awesome, because despite what we’ve been taught to think, this really doesn’t detract from anything. He learns, things get better, and Jaime isn’t in the least diminished by any of it. And he’s not diminished by not diminishing Claire.
In terms of dumb protagonist moments, I have to highlight Claire’s sympathizing with the Scots over dinner with the English officers who are occupying the area. Claire really needs to stop drinking wine. She says something stupid pretty much every time she does it. There are times you don’t speak your mind (generally when speaking your mind is liable to get you killed and therefore render you ineffective in terms of actually being able to do anything). This is the kind of mistake that requires bravery to commit, but less so intelligence. Which means Claire should have realized (being a relatively intelligent person) that this was the time to keep quiet. It wouldn’t do anything other than get her in trouble–potentially a lot of it–and render her untrustworthy to yet another group of people.
Now episode 8. The lackluster episode of the season.
The main problem in this episode is the last scene–essentially everything with Claire and Randall. One problem (the smaller one) is that Randall loses a lot of that tension that made his other scenes so intense. The other (the huge one) is the second sexual assault Claire experiences this episode. The staging of the scene is almost Game of Thrones gratuitous when it comes to sexual violence–in contrast to the earlier assault which focuses entirely on Claire and her reactions and experiences, in a way that was much more humane.
Seriously, there’s a huge difference between staging the scene from Claire’s perspective and then showing her face the aftermath (her repeating, “I’m in shock, this is shock” was very powerful), and ignoring Claire’s perspective, then focusing the camera on Claire’s body and the men’s facial expressions. I just…what? How is it possible to frame essentially the same kind of situation in both a way that expresses understanding and sympathy and one that doesn’t in the same episode?
Personally, I would have been perfectly happy without either scene, but that’s a me thing. However, the last scene does not belong in this show.
One thing I did really love about that episode was Jaime’s friend, Munroe, who had his tongue cut out by the English. He still managed to communicate fluently with Jaime through a mixture of lip reading and signing–though the show did illustrate the little bit of extra effort that went into using proper nouns, Not a lot of extra effort, and both Jaime and Munroe treated it as par for the course. This is cool because Outlander isn’t erasing disabilities from history (no matter the difficulty we might have discerning how disabilities were treated from historical records, of course they existed), but it’s also treating characters with disabilities like people who can still have lives.
As for Frank and the police, trying to figure out how Claire managed to vanish in thin air…it wasn’t an interesting storyline. And it wasn’t the most believable for me, either. There are plenty of other reasons why someone might go missing without a trace other than running off with another man. Even if the case is determined to be unsolvable, it makes no sense to conclude she must have disappeared without informing any relatives or friends. The scene where Claire is trying to get back to Frank, and they’re both at Craigh na Dun is good, but the rest of the story isn’t so interesting.
Claire: Well, doesn’t it bother you that I’m not a virgin?
Jaime: No. As long as it doesn’t bother you that, I am. I reckon one of us should know what we’re doing.
(–and after they tricked us into thinking the opposite, too. I don’t know if the Starz team or Diana Gabaldon is responsible for that one, but it was crafty either way.)