Tuesday, June 2

Outlander (What Else?)

Well, the first season of Outlander officially came to a close this past Saturday and now we are in Droughtlander until next April. I’m not a film critic or even much of a reviewer of books and movies, but I did come away with some impressions that I’d like to share… or maybe I’m processing... some of the final scenes were...well...traumatic. Anyway, here are my thoughts about Outlander on Starz.

First of all, this series was an amazing adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s epic novel—kudos to Ronald D. Moore for taking on the Herculean task of turning the first book of the series into sixteen hours of compelling television. The cinematography was phenomenal, the acting amazing, and the sets and locations just incredible. I read the books, and even though it’s been several years since I read Outlander, the film seemed to follow the book, mostly. It had to be hard to condense the 600+-page book into a film and choosing what to use and what to leave had to have been a verra hard decision (see what I did there? A little Jamie Frasier…). 

The acting was just astoundingly good—Sam Heughan was Jamie (I wasn’t bothered by the fact the he wasn’t the giant of man that Gabaldon describes in the text) and Caitriona Balfe became Clair from the first scene. Graham McTavish nailed the part of Dougal McKenzie and Lotte Verbeek convinced me as Geillis Duncan, the time-traveling witch who nearly gets Claire burned at the stake. 

I was impressed by all the players, but impressed most by Tobias Menzies, who played the dual roles of Frank Randall (1946) and Captain Jonathan Randall (1743). Menzies gave us the intellectual and somewhat diffident historian in Frank and then made us cower in horror as the brutal and sadistic Black Jack Randall swaggered onto the scene.

And therein, friends, also lies my issue with this otherwise grand series. I could have done without the graphic, sensationalist presentation of Black Jack’s cruelty to both Jamie and his sister Jenny. I understood that Randall beat the crap out of Jamie—but just show me his scarred back, don’t make me suffer through long minutes of the actual whipping, when the time could have been used to tell me more about Jamie or the McKenzies or Clair. I got that he tried to rape Jenny and couldn’t perform—wouldn’t it have been so much more powerful to watch Jamie’s eyes as his sister told him the story, rather than see it in graphic detail in flashback? And most of all, so much good story-telling time was taken up showing graphic details of the abuse and rape of Jamie in Wentworth prison when we could have used the precious time later to expand on the beautiful restoration scene with Clair.

My friends at StoryWonk, Lani Diane Rich and Alastair Stephens, talk all the time about moving the story forward, that each scene should serve the narrative. In this gorgeous adaptation, that didn’t always happen. Sometimes, story was sacrificed for sensationalism and that disappointed me because I simply wasn’t convinced that all the graphic violence was necessary. It took away from the story for me.

However, that said, Outlander remains sixteen hours of the best television I’ve ever watched. I was in from the first episode to the last and I’m in again for new season next year. How about you? Did you watch it? What did you think?


  1. I haven't seen or read (buries head in shame) so I have nothing to add other than that violence is a turnoff to me in whatever form it may take. Great post, though, Nan--makes me think I should try again.

  2. Ah, I loved the books and was afraid the series would be so much less. I especially worried about the casting but I was exceedingly thrilled and surprised by the reality. Balfe and Menzies were wonderful and Sam Heughn is a perfect Jamie. As you said, the scenes filmed in Scotland were breathtaking. They were so meticulous about getting the locations, the clothing, the food, etc. authentic to the time. I wasn't bothered by the violence because it seemed to me necessary to the story for audiences to be shocked into a full understanding of just how terrible the events were in the lives of the characters. The producers could have skirted around them but that technique wouldn't have been as effective as forcing us to face them. I love that they have allowed Claire to be the tough, independent woman she is and that Jamie, who is a product of his time and culture, nevertheless, respects her for that. All in all, just a marvelous program. Hate having to wait for it to begin again...sigh.

  3. I wanted to watch the finale before I commented. And yeah, it was pretty excruciating to watch. But I found it excruciating to read when I read the book, so....And Lord, I love Sam Heughn as Jamie. He is exactly what I envisioned--maybe more so. I basically agree with everything that Vicki said above.

    The violence doesn't bother me because I think it is indicative of that time. But, as a whole I do think cable and not-network shows push the boundaries because they can.

    Suits on USA says "Sh*t" like fifty times an episode. Or whatever the limit is. And sometimes it feels like they're saying it just because they can, not because it's necessary.