Outlander Starz Series Premiere Review

Tonight, Starz premiered their latest television series, Outlander, with the episode titled “Sassenach.” The television series is based on the popular novel series penned by Diana Gabaldon.

** Warning: This review contains spoilers.

The Outlander series based on the novels by Diana Gabaldon premieres August 9th on Starz.
Graphic courtesy of Starz

Heading the television adaptation is acclaimed Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Helix, Star Trek: The Next Generation). Caitriona Balfe (Escape Plan, Now You See Me, H+) plays Claire, the curious and headstrong lead, whom the audience follows as she “falls through time.” Also among the cast are Sam Heughan (Young Alexander the Great) as Jamie Fraser and Tobias Menzies (The Honorable Woman, Game of Thrones, Rome), doing double duty as Frank Randall/”Black Jack” Randall. Familiar faces James Fleet (The Vicar of Dibley, Sense and Sensibility, Four Weddings and a Funeral) and Graham McTavish (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug, The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes, 24) also make appearances in the first episode.

The series begins with Claire nursing wounded soldiers at the end of the World War II and continues as she is reunited with her husband. After years apart, the couple takes a holiday to the Scottish highlands in order to learn about one another again and to satisfy Frank Randall’s curiosity in his family’s past in the area. As the couple explore the local area, we see a loving couple and Starz proves it is not afraid of sex. As Claire expands on the sexuality of her relationship with Frank, she states: “Sex was our bridge back to one another.”

The introduction of the local innkeeper provides some background on the area and the local folklore. While interactions with the local Reverend and his housekeeper give insight to the term “outlander,” the character of “Black Jack” Randall, Frank’s genealogy and the mysteries surrounding Claire. These scenes communicate the necessary information, even if the writing is a tad heavy handed. What is intended to be foreshadowing is in danger of becoming spoilers for audiences who are not familiar with Gabaldon’s novels.

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Photo courtesy of Starz

Claire and Frank sneak up to Craigh na Dun, a collection of stone megaliths where Druids conducted rituals, to watch modern day Druids carry on the practice. When Claire returns the next day to seek out flowers she noticed on her first visit, she is intrigued by the stones and finds herself waking in another time. At first, Claire believes she has wandered onto a film set as she discovers British Redcoats and Scottish rebels fighting in the surrounding woods. She happens upon “Black Jack” Randall, an ancestor to her husband, Frank, whom she mistakes for Frank at their meeting. It quickly becomes clear this man is not her husband when he attempts to rape her.

Before things can go too far, a Scottish rebel jumps in to save the day and promptly kidnaps Claire, bringing her to a nearby cottage where the rest of his group have gathered. Enter Jamie Fraser, a rebel who allows Claire to treat his wounds. The group agrees to take Claire with them as they flee the area, knowing “Black Jack” will soon be on their trail. Claire proves herself to be an asset as she provides information about a potential Redcoat ambush and treats Jamie for a gunshot wound. While Claire keeps an eye out for an opportunity to escape her captors, she opts to travel with them for the time being. I am sure the flirting between her and Jamie had no influence on her decision.

Starz, Outlander, Sam Heughan
Photo courtesy of Starz

Though there is an obvious romantic story developing, it does not take away from Claire as a strong female character. A novelty when it comes to time-traveling fantasy. Claire is written as an intelligent, no-nonsense, speak her mind, passionate woman who has no problem standing up to men, even under threat of violence. That said, there is a certain romantic sensibility to her free-spirited nature which allows her to easily adapt to the ground shifting beneath her. Despite the trials she faces, Claire is almost hopeful about what the future may hold at the end of the episode, “So far I’d been assaulted, threatened, kidnapped and nearly raped and, somehow, I knew that my journey had only just begun.” I hope the writing will use this aspect to its benefit in assisting the audience to suspend their disbelief and enjoy the story as it unfolds.

On the topic of writing, I have yet to develop an opinion on the series’ writing. I will concede the writers utilize a number of different techniques which makes for interesting storytelling. Exposition in some scenes was overdone. One the other hand, the narration was done extremely well. For example, Claire’s thoughts on the simplicity and import of one’s owning a vase or Claire’s description of a past car accident as compared to the sensation of falling through time. This narration is a lovely reminder to the series literary origins.

Finally, let us discuss music. Bear McCreary has made a name for himself for excellence in music composition with work on Black Sails, The Walking Dead, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Da Vinci’s Demon’s, Battlestar Galactica and many other projects. Outlander is another feather in his cap. The opening theme, The Skye Boat Song, sung by Raya Yarbrough, is a lovely song with Scottish folk influence and a clear example of McCreary’s passion for the period in musical history. I have already seen some debate about whether this song is a right fit for the series. In my opinion, it is. While it does not have the bold assertiveness some may expect, the theme elicits images of the fertile land and quaint villages of Scotland many of us have yet to visit, while imparting a sense of  wonder and excitement. Besides, adding fantastic bagpipes makes a theme epic. Again, just my opinion.

 

Did you watch the series premiere? If you are you a fan of Diana Gabaldon’s novels, how do you think the material was handled in the first episode?  Share your thoughts in the comments below.

2 Comments

  1. Have you read any of the novels? Or, are you now tempted to start reading them?

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