The first episode of Outlander premiered last week on Starz, and bloody hell, I guess my Saturday nights are officially booked for the next few months. Episode two airs tomorrow night, so join me, ye bonny wee lassies and laddies, as I review what made the first episode so verra special.
(The first episode is still streaming for FREE on the Starz website, but all further episodes will require a subscription to watch.)
Claire and Frank Randall are celebrating the end of WWII with a second honeymoon in order to reconnect after spending the past five war-torn years apart. Claire had been a combat nurse, Frank had worked in the intelligence office, and now they’re earnestly trying to get back to regular life and patch up their intimacy issues. So they hightail it to Inverness, Scotland, where they were married years ago and where Frank has ancestral roots.
One day Claire visits the local ancient circle of standing stones (a Stonehenge-like group of big rocks) and BAM! Travels back in time. She’s totally confused and panicky, of course, especially when she encounters a man who looks like Frank doing his best impression of a Revolutionary War soldier. She figures out that this is not Frank in costume, but actually Frank’s 18th century asshole ancestor, Captain Jonathan Wolverton “Black Jack” Randall. He attacks her, but she’s rescued by an extremely dirty, kilted man who delivers her to a group of fellow highlanders hiding out from the British soldiers. Their leader, Dougal MacKenzie, is awfully suspicious about what an English lady is doing wandering around in the middle of a highland skirmish (and Claire’s odd clothing and modern swears like “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ” don’t exactly help her case), and he and his pals label her a “sassenach,” which basically means unwelcome English jerk.
Luckily Claire’s 20th century nursing skills allow her to win a slight measure of trust with these crusty Scots – she doctors up one of their wounded, a young man named James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser (JAMMF, to all you rabid book fans, myself included).
Despite using her futuristic knowledge to get them out of a couple of tight spots, Claire is essentially a prisoner to these guys and the episode ends with them taking her away to Castle Leoch to decide what to do with her.
Book vs. TV
So far it seems we’ve got a pretty faithful adaptation of the source material on our hands. The only significant difference I noticed is that TV Frank is a little less suave and assertive than book Frank. Both versions are somewhat dweeby history buffs, but book Frank has a distinctly self assured, scholarly arrogance about him that was missing on screen.
As far as the casting goes – I love everyone! Although I am ever so slightly hesitant about Tobias Menzies playing the dual roles of Frank and his 18th century ancestor, Jack. So far the actor has done a fabulous job of portraying scholarly Frank (with what the script has given him, at least), but I’m not yet buying the bad guy Jack role. Granted, Jack was only on screen for about 30 seconds in this first episode, but I sensed a hammy villain vibe that I hope will even itself out with further screen time. We’ll see.
Caitriona Balfe is doing Claire nice and tidy so far – strongwilled and irreverent and a heroine who has the guts and gumption to unexpectedly travel through time and mostly keep her cool. And Sam Heughan as Jamie, well. Aside from being so goddamn cute, what with the floppy ginger mop and Scottish brogue and all, he’s captured the youthful sincerity and complexity of one of the most beloved characters in historical fiction, all in less than half of one episode. Good job, Sam. You are so cute.
Frank and Claire are both desperately trying to reconnect after spending most of their married life in separate countries, and they very sweetly get it on several times before Claire accidentally jets on back to the 18th century. These scenes provide great background for their relationship and characters and all, but (MINOR SPOILER ALERT) let’s just bring on the JAMMF already, because no one really likes Frank anyway.
Jamie’s first appearance over 3/4 of the way through the episode was awesome, but I really admired the early scene of Claire kneeling in front of the standing stones, distinctly uneasy but unaware that the time traveling shit is about to hit the fan. The super creepy and ominous groaning, chaotic sound effects accompanying her fall through time provided wonderful atmosphere to a scene that could have been overdone and cheesy, but instead came across as perfectly unnerving.
So, did you watch the first episode? What did you think?