Can you believe it?!?!? Outlander is finally here! Last night was the series premiere on Starz, and as promised, here is the first recap and reflection from TV Heartbeat (Erica) and Written Revelry (Alicia/The Novel Strumpet).
Recap – Pilot Episode “Sassenach”
It’s 1945 and six months have passed since the end of World War II. Frank and Claire Randall are taking a second honeymoon to reconnect after being separated for the last 5 years. Claire spent the war drenched in blood as a battlefield nurse while Frank worked in British Intelligence.
They head to the highlands of Scotland and discover that they arrive close to the holiday of Samhain, a Gaelic festival you may know as Halloween. The innkeeper shows them to their room, where Claire wastes no time in “reconnecting” with her husband. Not that he seems all that resistant. Frank is, after all, fascinated with his family’s genealogy so he needs to get started on keeping the family name going. Cut to the next day…
Claire and Frank go sightseeing and he gives Claire a few history lessons as they explore. A local landmark, Cocknamman Rock, was a common site for English ambushes and they ramble through the ruins of Castle Leoch, which was once the family seat for the MacKenzie clan. Frank gets nostalgic that his ancestors may have walked the halls while Claire, on the other hand, gets frisky. Cut to the next day…
The couple visits the home of Reverend Wakefield, a local historian, who shares some information on Frank’s ancestor, Jonathan Wolverton Randall. Randall was a captain of the dragoons of the English army with a “dashing” nickname of Black Jack Randall. Frank and the Reverend drone on about Black Jack’s history…stationed at Ft. William, possible secret patron in the Duke of Sandringham, blah, blah, blah.
With the talk of ancient Scottish and English tensions, Claire mentions she’s been called a “Sassenach” by a local villager. Reverend Wakefield reassures her it isn’t a derogatory term and it just means Englishman or Outlander.
The housekeeper, Mrs. Graham, brings the men tea and invites Claire to join her in the kitchen. Claire is amused when the housekeeper asks to read her tea leaves and her palm lines for fun. Claire’s leaves paint a very confusing future: headed on a journey, but staying put. Lots of strangers in her future, including her husband. Her palm reads that she’s head strong, great in bed, but has an interrupted lifeline and a strangely forked marriage line.
A little unsettled, Claire heads home early.
Frank, having stayed to talk more history with the Reverend, heads back later and sees a strange kilted man waiting outside their bed and breakfast. The stranger is gazing wistfully at Claire who’s visible through the upstairs window. When Frank goes to confront the guy, he vanishes. Freaky!
Frank starts to wonder if the mysterious Scot is a former patient of Claire’s that’s trying to ”reconnect” with her. Claire becomes upset by his insinuation. Frank apologizes and they, ahem, make-up. After they have moved past the quarrel, Frank reveals that there was tale of a Druid ritual, pre-dawn, at a place called Craigh na Dun. He talks Claire into joining him to watch.
The next morning they hide some distance from the stones as a group of ladies arrive. These modern Druids begin a mesmerizing dance within the circle and around a large stone in the center. With the dawning of the sun, the ritual is over and the participants leave. Frank and Claire take a closer look at the circle and Claire is drawn to some flowers that she can’t quite identify. Before she can look too closely, they need to run off since one of the druids is coming back to retrieve something.
Later that day, Frank heads off to see the Reverend Wakefield and Claire decides to return solo to Craigh na Dun to get a better look at the flower. While she’s there, the big stone in the middle starts to make some weird noises so she heads closer to investigate and, well, when does that ever go well in stories?
Claire wakes up disoriented and heads back to the car to discover that it’s gone. She starts to look around and is startled by gunshots and guys in period costume running by. Confused, she sees some kilted guys being chased by others in redcoats who suddenly start to fire on her. She starts to run and discovers Frank in a red coat.
Frank in a redcoat? What?
Pretty soon, she realizes that this guy, who is the spitting image of Frank, is really not Frank. He introduces himself as Jonathan Randall, Esquire and Captain of His Majesty’s Eighth Dragoons. Could it be Black Jack Randall? Really? Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!
Claire starts to run, but Black Jack stops her with his sword and demands to know her name. She makes a quick decision to give him her maiden name, Beauchamp (pronounced “Beecham” which is how the English pronounce it – and they say Americans butcher the French language!), realizing she can’t use her married name since it’s the same as the guy with the sword at her throat.
Black Jack doesn’t believe her and things get a bit dicey, but she’s saved when a highlander knocks Randall out. She’s reluctant to go with this stranger (we’ll call him Murtagh), but he knocks her out. Seems to be his ‘thing.’
When she wakes up, she finds that he’s taken her to a small cottage filled with Gaelic-speaking Scotsmen. She continues to use her maiden name since she’s not sure if these guys will try to ransom her. Their leader, Dougal, suspects she may be an English spy so they can’t afford to let her go. Still, Murtagh reports she didn’t seem so friendly with Captain Randall, casting some doubt on her being in league with Randall and that scores points in their eyes.
Dougal wants to get the group moving, but they need to fix one guy, Jamie, who dislocated his shoulder. When Claire sees their attempt at shoving his arm back in, the nurse in her steps in to correctly pop his arm back in. That also wins some points in the eyes of her captors. Not enough for them to let her go, however.
Claire is forced to ride with Jamie since he still has one arm in a sling and she can help manage the horse if needed. The ragtag group of kilted men and Claire ride through the night and next day to escape Black Jack’s English patrols.
At one point she notices that they are passing Cocknamman Rock, and recalls what Frank told her about the English ambushes. She mentions this to Jamie who lets Dougal know they may be in for a skirmish.
Jamie dumps Claire on the ground and springs the trap with the war cry of “Tulach Ard!” Sure enough, the redcoats pop out, but the Scots are ready for it.
In the confusion, Claire runs off, but Jamie soon finds her and gives her the option of walking back with him or having him carry her back. She elects to walk. The troop feels a little more positive about Claire since she gave them the head’s up on the ambush, but they still don’t trust her.
They continue riding through the night until Jamie falls off his horse, unconscious. Claire examines him to find a bullet hole and begins to patch him up. The clan is more responsive as they start to respect her skills as a healer…and her ability to swear like a sailor as she wrestles with bandaging up Jamie’s wounds in the dark. (NOT a common trait for women back then.)
They continue on until they reach their destination – a fully functional Castle Leoch. What? Yep, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore!
Reflection – what did we think?
Erica: In this episode, the biggest surprise was a sizable focus on Claire (played by Caitriona Balfe) and Frank (played by Tobias Menzies) in the 1940’s. A great adaptation add since this section is vital to setting up Claire’s character – she’s a skilled nurse and an amateur botanist which are important facts. But the sequence also sets up a lot of her character – she’s independent, capable, passionate and feeling a lost since so much has changed in recent years.
Alicia: The most important thing to establish is the relationship between Claire and Frank. Because Claire’s adventures in the past start pretty early on, it’s imperative that the audience get a feel for the utter devotion and deep love between Mr. and Mrs. Randall. Caitriona and Tobias do a great job. There is an easiness between tinged with a bit of discovery. You can feel the history between them. It’s understated in tone, which makes it more believable.
Erica: There is definitely a nice connection between the two of them. The first time I watched the pilot, it took some adjusting since I’ve seen these characters in my mind for so long. I had always pictured Claire a little more earthy and Caitriona is more ballerina-delicate. But I think she’s got Claire’s intelligence and humor right so I think I just need to adjust and see how she grows with Claire over the course of the show.
Alicia: Caitriona does a great job of playing Claire’s strength and vulnerability. She doesn’t come off as too harsh or too soft which is most often what trips actresses up in these types of roles.
Alicia: Tobias does a good job showing the difference between Frank and Black Jack Randall. As Frank he has a good nature about him and ease, the moment you see Black Jack you see the cold hard eyes, the lack of any sort of empathy.
Erica: There was definitely a shift. Very interesting since the roles I’ve seen Tobias in previously (Game of Thrones, Persuasion), are more Frank than Jack so this is definitely a new side of Tobias!
Alicia: Sam Heughan does a fantastic job of bringing Jamie to life. I think he captures Jamie’s strength and naivety, passion and playfulness wonderfully.
Erica: Well, we didn’t see much of Jamie in the pilot so I think Sam was fine so far, but I want to see more before I officially pass judgment. I liked him, but Jamie is a complex character so it’s too soon for a verdict yet.
Alicia: All three had large shoes to fill and in my humble opinion, they have done it well.
Erica: I think they are definitely all on track. Pilots are hard since the show is finding its voice – directors, writers and actors. My take is all the right ingredients are there. The more I watch this episode (I think I’m on four times now), the more I like it. Whew and yeah!
Alicia: They handled the time travel quite well. In the books it was a visceral experience. Claire talks about the pain and fear involved, and the show did its best to capture that in pictures.
Erica: It definitely wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was an elegant way of not putting in something manufactured that disrupts the very organic and authentic feel of the show.
Alicia: The cinematography is stunning! I mean the shots of Scotland make me ache to go back. It’s hard to capture the beauty of that countryside in pictures, but the show has done an incredible job in helping you get the feel of the sweeping landscapes, gorgeous colors and the lushness of nature.
Erica: I’ve visited Scotland before and never made it up to the highlands. I had a great time in Edinburgh, but I think I missed the best part of the country! Adding it now to the bucket list…
Alicia: Most of my issues come with little nitpicky things, like why does Claire’s belt suddenly disappear when she tumbles down a hill? A belt wouldn’t just go flying off. And what happened to her watch? You know, those types of things…
Erica: My main concern is whether or not Claire’s voiceover needs to be so prevalent. The books are first person so the voiceover fits, but I don’t think they need so much of it. Perhaps they needed more in the pilot to set up her perspective and can back off a bit more as the story progresses.
Alicia: All in all I’m very pleased with what I’ve seen. Nothing feels heavy handed and I really love the fact that they are not subtitling the Gaelic. It really puts you in Claire’s head (just like the producers intended).
Erica: It did take me a second viewing to let go of the images in my head, but I’m also really happy with how this show is coming together. I think non-book readers will love the story and book readers will be in love with seeing Claire’s journey from a new medium.
—–BOOK READERS DISCUSSION – (Spoiler Alert!!)———————————
Alicia: I like that they don’t give hints of anything between Claire and Jamie at the first other than a woman trying to survive and a guy who’s been tasked with watching a …”guest” shall we say. A lot of other shows would do things that are the equivalent of blazing neon signs saying “HEY PAY ATTENTION TO THESE TWO” but once again there is a good understated quality.
Erica: Agreed! That’s part of what makes Outlander an atypical romance – it’s a bit more unpredictable since not glaring obvious about the fate of these characters. Also, it helps get the audience to root for these kids to get together.
—–END OF BOOK READER DISCUSSION ——————————————————
Alicia: Now I have a whole week to wait for the next episode…whatever shall I do?!?!
Erica: Watch the pilot again, right? Or chat about it with friends and fellow addicts!
What did you guys think of the show? Will you be tuning back in?
You’ve read what we think, but how did you like the show?
Book readers: How did the show match up to what you envisioned in your mind? (Please keep the comments spoiler-free!)
When you comment below, please identify yourself as a book reader or if you’re new to Outlander and tell us what you think!
Need an extra incentive to comment below?
What to take home some great Outlander prizes?
Here’s your chance to win a package of wonderful Outlander swag, courtesy of Starz! This month’s giveaway starts today and will close September 5th. This lovely prize pack will include the following:
1 Outlander/Real Men Wear Kilts shirt (XL)
1 Outlander tartan bandana
1 Outlander/Slainte Mhath! shot glass
1 Pocket Jamie
1 “Summer of Sassenach” Outlander pin
To enter, just use the rafflecopter below! Each week, you can add more entries by participating in our weekly Outlander recap and reflection discussion.
(This contest is open to US residents only. Sorry! If there’s a big enough demand, we may open up one of these monthly giveaways or hold a special one just for our overseas friends. Let us know via email or the comments below if there’s enough demand!)
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