Although I hoped Outlander to be a show I could fall hopelessly in love with, the emotional turmoil this passionate tale of love, family and the sacrifices it comes with stirred up was far more than I could have imagined.
Be careful what you wish for. Being absorbed by a tv show is in one way magical but it is also exhausting with all the emotions that comes with it. After being obsessed with Nashville a couple of years ago then by ER after my rewatch recently I felt at peace with watching magical but short and non-addictive 10-episode a season shows. Yet, something within me longed to find another delicious drama that would allow me to dive whole-heartedly into it.
I couldn’t help but laugh and thinking the show should be called Everybody Loves Jamie. Except Claire of course, Jack Randall, Laoghaire and John Grey were in love with him and the Duke of Sandringham.
I’ve never read anything about Outlander, but I’ve seen the title and the romance/fantasy description together with pictures of a past-time world, and have put it in the back of my mind as something to check out when cravings for something juicy surfaced. And so I did at the end of May this year. After watching the first episode, Sassenach, I immediately longed for more. The story of world war II combat nurse Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) – who on a vacation trip to Scotland with her historian husband is hurled back to the 1743 Scottish highland – is gripping, brutal and of course utterly hot and romantic. Based on the novels of Diana Gabaldon, which again I’ve never read, the story is told and unfolds in its own unique way and no, it did not take long until I was back in that bewitching prison of obsession. I’m starting to inhale.
Season 1 and the ever imminent threat of rape
There is something very endearing with the young highlander falling head over heals in love with the somewhat older, experienced outlander literally blowing into his life. With a simple ”aye” from Jamie (Sam Heughan) he admits that things do hurt now when Claire is roughly adjusting the provisional bandages of the gun wound he forgot to mention, she at least throws off part of the frustration of having to ride with this band of highlanders that picked her up. Me, I fell hard and Jamie himself admitted later of course that it was then and there he knew they belonged together.
Although we get the mandatory scenes of titillating attraction deliciously setup, Outlander does not indulge in any drawn-out will-they-won’t-they scenario. Instead the hero and heroine get together rather quickly, in a totally unpredicted way though that makes the union all the more interesting. All that repressed passion that suddenly is not for daydreaming anymore but something that is required to act upon.
The revelation the day after, that this is his goodbye just added utter heartbreak to a scene already both incredibly sexy and sweet.
The sex scenes deserves a whole post of their own, and a lot is obviously already written, but let me just state how ravishing it is that a show about romance and passion not only indulges in those scenes, but makes them important and useful in the way they carefully tell the story. It’s not only how explicit they are, but how expressive, as we we get to behold it all – the foreplay, the act and the finish as well as the pillow talk afterwards. My favourite one is undeniably the one from episode eleven, The Devil’s Mark, after Claire has detailed all to Jamie and they are on their way home. By the fireplace Jamie is sneaking his hand up under her long skirt wanting nothing but giving and watching her. The revelation the day after, that this is his goodbye just added utter heartbreak to a scene already both incredibly sexy and sweet.
Amidst all the captivating highland drama season one convey the horrifying notion of how the threat of rape is always imminent. Although not generally sanctioned by the McKenzies, the clan bringing Claire with them, the risk is still always lurking when the drunken men are around. Then of course with the English red coats in general and Black Jack Randal in particular, the threat is more evident and Claire does not escape it when deserted red rocks find her and Jamie in the highland. But Outlander does not stop there of course.
When Jamie first told Claire that he thought about agreeing to Randalls proposal to give him his body instead of being flogged a second time, I wondered if they really were gonna go there. First it seemed they wouldn’t, but a few episodes later it was clear they would flip the coin and not only go there and show it as explicit as any other scene, Outlander took the terror, the rape and the total surrender further than I could have imagined, making the final one of the most emotionally brutal episodes I ever watched.
Neither had I imagined finding such an intriguing, passionate and heartbreaking story. I honestly hold season one of Outlander the most brilliant and beautiful season of any show. Of course it’s not only about Jamie and Claire, although I never gonna hear another ”babe” or any first syllable based nickname from boyfriends sounding very loving, cute or romantic again – sassenach is the only term of endearment that will do the trick now. No one could ever make anything sound so sweet, loving and admiring as Jamie does when he calls Claire, his precious outlander, just that. Outlander is also such an adventurous and dramatic escapism that make British history in general interesting and the story of clan life in particular.
Season 2 and the sacrifices you make
Watching Dallas as a young teenager, Bobby and Pam became my first obsession and the start of my fondness of marriage drama. It has never been a common dramatic focus in tv shows, never seen as interesting enough I assume. But done right of course it is and lately it has changed and marriage dramas have popped up in the most intricate forms, like spy drama The Americans and the zombie comedy Santa Clarita Diet. I did not expect a marriage drama from Outlander, yet, that is what I surprisingly got.
The fear of loosing yet another child aided the noble idea of sending pregnant Claire away to be with Frank. Anything to protect her and the unborn child this time as he failed to do before.
The second season starts off, first shortly with the one with Claire and Frank then more urgently, the one with Claire and Jamie in Paris. Watching Jamie flee into the lying, cheating, manipulative world of brothels and Bonnie Prince Charlie, with the attempt to avoid the Scottish uprising, desperately trying to forget the brutal sexual trauma he almost did not survive hurts to watch. So does Claire’s story of how she is totally alone – as women in one way alway are – while going through the motions of pregnancy, in her despair and with her grief.
The way Outlander tells the most painful stories with help of flashbacks accentuates the emotional turmoil. We don’t learn the full account of what happened between Jamie and Randall in until Jamie tells Claire the story. In the same way in Faith, we don’t get the last gripping details of Claire losing the baby until she tells the devastated Jamie, who by his own fault was imprisoned. Both feeling hopelessly at fault for what happened, Jamie suggest the only way to move forward is to bear the burden together as they go back to Scotland. The mid-season finale left scars.
The second half with all the preparations and the actual war against England shows how everything you want comes with sacrifices. War comes with it of course – to win something you will lose something, usually someone – so does love and life. The fear of losing yet another child aids the noble idea of sending pregnant Claire away to be with Frank. Anything to protect her and the unborn child this time as he failed to do before, thinking he is bound and proud to die on the battlefield.
But Jamie gets to live, he survives Culloden Moor and against all odds the following hanging, but the price of most likely never seeing his child and wife again is already paid.
Season 3 and the families you build
Although both the start and end of season two give away the beginning of season three I didn’t quite realise that Outlander would go there, 20 years ahead, making Jamie and Claire middle-aged. It was a bold move, but of course it is the only thing that would make sense in making the fantasy real. When raiding through the episodes of their separate lives and reunion I realised I was not taking it in proper and I actually had to take a break. Not all shows can lightly be binged in a few days or weeks. There has to be time for processing and reflecting. After returning to a few days later to finish season three the whole season caught up with me and I felt gutted by the way it’s all about family. The family you build when you cannot have your own, like Frank do, or the one create when you cannot be with yours, like Jamie do.
Again Outlander never doubts what it is about and gives Claire and Jamie no less than 30 uninterrupted minutes of intimate relationship drama that includes food, conversation and sex in rounds
The long sought-after reunion in A. Malcolm was given just the time and space it needed. Again Outlander never doubts what it is about and gives Claire and Jamie no less than 30 uninterrupted minutes of intimate relationship drama that includes food, conversation and sex in rounds adding on depth and details of getting to know each other and that desire again. But any form true love demands its sacrifices.
The decision to ship Claire back to the future to raise Brianna with Frank seemed urgent at the time, but now it comes back to bite Jamie. It makes him bitter and although he probably mostly blames himself, he repeated takes it out on Claire with phrases such as ”when you left me” and statements like ”but I didn’t get to raise her, did I?” At the same time Claire is blaming him for trying to have some kind of life after being on the run, in prison etc. Again, the only way to get over their sorrow bitterness is to carry also this burden together.
It is easy to think that it’s all serious passion and drama, but Jamie has not lost his sense of humor and tries it on – “whisky is a liquid, no? – when once again having his wounds tended by Claire, before embarking on the tale of a lonely man wanting a chance of becoming a husband and a father.
Just as women live under the threat of being raped, men live under the threat of not getting to raise their children. The child goes with the mother, whether it is for safety or because of class, marriage status or other. Jaime does not get to raise any of his children, or see them even, but he takes care of others coming his way. Already in Paris the brothel orphan Fergus was added to the family, then Marsali and her sister back at Lallybroch and finally the adventurous young Ian. It hurts worse than a bayonet in the heart when Claire of all people reminds him of that he is not the boy’s father.
Jamie’s season three journey from the dead man living in a cave, through prison life and stable work, watching his kid grow from the sideline or not at all and finally trying get build a normal life is nothing but heart-rending and when the saving young Ian at the end was a fact it was impossible to stop those happy tears.
Season 4 and finding where you belong
Of course the show had to go to America, or The Colonies as it still was. I love how it kept teasing us about Brianna then just threw in the oh so anticipated return of Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) instead. In the next episode John Grey showed up with William in toe, which made for one very memorable scene – maybe because I did not expect it at all – the conversation between John and Claire on his near-death bed. It’s easy to think Claire is the perfectly cool, British woman, but she is not. She is jealous, we’ve seen it before, and John calls her out in it. I never thought of her seeing John as a rival, but of course, he is in love with Jamie and raising his child, at the same time as Jamie sees him as a dear friend.
When we get to meet Laoghaire back in Scotland in the following episode and the obvious fact she isn’t over Jamie, I couldn’t help but laugh and thinking the show should be called Everybody Loves Jamie. Except Claire of course, Jack Randall, Laoghaire and John Grey were in love with him and the Duke of Sandringham was an additional bloke having expressed his fondness for the redheaded man. On top of that we saw the random woman at the silver smith flirting very overtly with him and judging by the way he brushed off Brianna in that funnily mundane and odd first meeting, this is something that happen regularly.
Murtagh is finally finding somewhere he belongs and so is actually young Ian in such a riveting story.
It doesn’t take long from when grown up Brianna arrives until the trials and tribulations of parenthood makes things go haywire. Suddenly Jamie and Claire are not the confidants they usually are and It’s incredibly sad, because the actions are so damaging. For the second time the different times and cultures clashes big time. Brianna has to decide where she belongs, but she is not the only one on the path of finding that answer.
Season four seems to be about finding where you belong. Mr. Willoughby or Yi Tien Cho, who had been lost since leaving China found his place with Margaret already at the end of season three, Murtagh is finally finding somewhere he belongs and so is actually young Ian in such a riveting story. Fergus is struggling to fit in with his severed arm, but with Marsali and Murtagh’s help he now also knows where he should be. That Jamie belongs with Claire, he knew from day one, but he is still on a journey of parenthood as well as on which side of the law he wants to be.
Claire realises already in season one where she belongs, although she had to reconfirm it when coming back. In season four it’s more about settling down together in this new place to call home and Claire somehow serves more as a catalyst to Jamie’s journey than so much doing one herself although of course she is faced with sacrifices and traumas of her own. So who was it, the highlander peeking at her window in the pilot? Who was there to collect her? Because that is what happened, isn’t it? He came to pick her up, to ensure she came back in time, because she had a place and a purpose there. Time to exhale, but seriously, I’m so ready for season five.
Outlander is a Starz original.
Appendix. So, I’ve been told that it’s Jamie’s ghost we see in the pilot coming for Claire, and yes, rewatching Both Sides Now, the drawing at the Inverness police station looks like Jamie for sure, except for the bonnet, which he seldom wears. Someone else does though and in my imagination it is someone else who we see:
Outlander: The one that comes for Claire
For more Outlander: Outlander