Outlander fans, the wait is FINALLY over!
Just Call Me Sassenach
I can’t believe I’m actually sitting here writing about the first episode of Outlander. I’ve watched it several times, and still feel like I haven’t taken it all in. I’ve sat down to write this recap and review several times, and each time I became too overwhelmed with the emotion and sheer number of things swirling around in my head, all clamoring to be said at the same time. I finally had to sit down and watch the episode yet again (no complaints there…) in order to neatly organize and summarize my thoughts on the first episode. As a result, what follows is a play-by-play of the episode, the moments that I absolutely adored, and a few that I didn’t (don’t worry, there weren’t many of the latter).
I loved that the episode opened with the mini-introduction from the book, nearly word for word. Hearing the words spoken over the sweeping shots of the Scottish Highlands was spectacular, and the first of many moments that sent pleasant shivers down my spine. The opening scenes were the perfect introduction to Claire, from her contemplation of the vase and it’s significance, to her days spent as a nurse in the war. Her reaction to the announcement of the end of the war and victory was perfect. The look that crossed her face was one that bordered on disappointment, a look that said ‘Well, what am I supposed to do now?’. Rather than joining in the cheers and celebration, she sighed and took a gulp of champagne right out of the bottle. That is the Claire I know and love, and it was so exciting seeing her come to life on screen in that moment.
I have to take a moment to speak about the song and opening credits, which have received mixed reactions. Perhaps I’m just an overly sentimental type when it comes to music, and especially when it comes to music for Outlander. I’m admittedly biased when it comes to Bear McCreary, as well, having loved him before I’d ever heard of Outlander. That said, I think the opening music and imagery capture everything I love about Outlander in a way I could never put into words. I have watched them more times than I can count, and the effect it has on me has not lessened one iota. I’ve read criticisms that the opening is too melancholy. What?! This is the story of a woman who is torn from her husband and thrown back into the 18th century. She may be one of the strongest, most adaptable women you’ll ever read about it, but it IS sad in the beginning. If you wouldn’t be sad to be torn away from your husband and thrust 200 years into the past into a society where women don’t get to have a voice you need to 1.) seriously reconsider your marriage and 2.) do some research into what it means to be a woman living in the 18th century.
Aside from all that, you should also look up ‘The Skye Song’ and its history, because that may change your feelings on the Main Title. That said, here are the things I loved about the opening credits: The alternating 1740s with 1940s moments, the slow, quiet beginning, the way the music swelled towards the end as swords clashed (perfectly timed) and the way it captured perfectly a woman torn between two very different lives.
I Am Now A “Friend Of Frank”
Claire and Frank’s relationship is given a lot of attention, and I really came to care about him, and understand what he meant to Claire. I sincerely appreciated the time that was spent on exploring their relationship, and found these scenes very sweet and endearing. Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies captured perfectly the awkwardness of a husband and wife who have been separated for so long that they have come back to one another as strangers, two people trying to recapture the intimacy that once lay between them. Claire is immediately established as someone who will adapt to circumstances when she gently shushes him and pulls him down onto the (very squeaky) bed. The scene where Claire and Frank visit Castle Leoch was another highlight of the episode, for…ahem…obvious reasons, not the least of these being Frank’s comment about Claire’s lack of undergarments.
Okay, I have to stop here and talk for a moment about the scene where Claire is brushing her hair and utters ‘Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ’ for the first time. I really, REALLY wanted to like this scene. REALLY. It just seemed awkward, and the line seemed a bit forced. Perhaps it was the lack of lead in, maybe that scene just needed more. It seemed out of place. That said, I loved how Frank’s encounter with ghost Jamie was shot. The whooshing, musical crescendo as the “ghost” brushed past Frank, and the way his face could have almost been visible lent a creepy feel to the scene that was absolutely perfect.
I must admit, I wanted Claire to get just a BIT angrier when Frank accused her of impropriety. She was definitely upset, but I wanted her to be a little more upset. That said, it’s an adaptation, and I won’t dwell on such a small thing. I adored the moment Frank and Claire shared after this slight confrontation and the voiceover as Claire spoke about sex being their ‘bridge back to one another’ made me tear up. There were no moments between Frank and Claire in the book that caused me to react this way, and this is a compliment to the wonderful scripting of the show. Claire’s beautiful, pale pink 1940s nightgown (designed by the spectacularly talented Terry Dresbach) was gorgeous and very old Hollywood. Along with Caitriona Balfe’s performance and mannerisms, I really felt as though I was watching a scene from a 1940s movie.
Craigh na Dun or Bust
The ritual at Craigh na Dun is easily my favorite scene of the entire episode. The darkness backlit by the promise of soon-to-come sun, the wonderful use of luminaries, the way the ritual ends just as the sun rises and the way all the women walk off, chattering inanely, breaking the spell as if something extraordinarily surreal and beautiful hasn’t just taken place. It captured perfectly the vision I had of it while reading the book, and I’ve yet to watch it without tears welling up in my eyes. The music added a surreal, other worldly effect to the scene. More chills.
Wait For It…Wait For It
Speaking of chills (and there were a lot, because, well…OUTLANDER), the last scene between Frank and Claire before her fateful trip back to the stones is so well done, and another moment that brought me to tears. I loved Claire saying ‘Shall I meet you for dinner later?’ (because we know she won’t), and the way she pulled Frank back in for one more kiss, everything slowing down as he pulled away, and the contented smile on her face as she watched him go. It felt like an intimate moment crafted for the fans, those of us in on the secret of this enormous thing that is about to happen.
Toto, We’re Not In Kansas Anymore
I could not be happier with the way Ron Moore chose to handle Claire falling through time. I loved that the music stopped, and the screen went black. I loved that he chose to use the car crash as the visualization, rather than trying to make it more spectacular. The scene was kept simple, and left the time travel as just a necessary element of the story, rather than trying to make it more fantastic or glamorous. I especially loved the wind and discordant music in this scene, and the way it edged into a screech as Claire touched the stones.
The shift from muted tones to rich, vibrant colors when Claire awakens beneath the stones is still one of my favorite elements of the episode. I also loved the way the camera became shaky, with leaves obscuring the view of the scene at many intervals. It gave a sense of confusion and disorientation, and it put me right there with Claire, struggling to get my bearings and grasp the surroundings.
Hit the Road Jack
Claire’s meeting Jonathan Randall (Black Jack Randall) for the first time was brilliant. This was another moment where the music just stopped, creating a foreboding air and sense of menace. Tobias Menzies portrayal is so spectacularly opposite of the sweet, loving character of Frank, the mark of a truly talented actor. In the way that he immediately made me love Frank, I immediately detested Jonathan Randall. Okay, I already detested Jonathan Randall. But Tobias Menzies really made me want to punch him in the face. Well done. Also, the drums leading up to this scene were amazing.
Meet the Highlanders
Let’s face it, the scene in the cabin is iconic. Any Outlander fan knows that this is the scene that started it all, the scene where Claire came to life and asserted herself as a modern woman who would refuse to behave. The misogynistic times she so suddenly finds herself amid are captured perfectly by the way the clansmen so casually discuss her status as either a lady or a whore, and the way Dougal states offhand that he doesna hold with rape…and, anyway, we havna the time for it.’ The latter of these evidently being the chief concern.
King of Men
As expected, Jamie (Sam Heughan) quickly takes over the scene. When he and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) appear on screen together, everyone else nearly fades away. They speak volumes with their looks and eye contact, and these are the moments where you will be unable to look away, even for a moment. The chemistry between these two actors is incredible, they ARE Claire and Jamie. Jamie’s gaze and focus does not leave Claire for even a moment in this scene. Sam Heughan has clearly done his Outlander homework, and it really, REALLY shows.
My first favorite Jamie quote of the episode came when he attempted to get his plaid loose to cover Claire, responding to her protest that she isn’t cold he responds “You’re shaking so hard it’s making my teeth rattle.” Said with that wonderful Scottish burr and slightly crooked smile, this was the moment where I really started to swoon.
The Perfect Claire
The scene at Cocknammon rock was another highlight for me, and using the flashback to Frank telling Claire about the English using it for ambushes was so clever. Claire demonstrated, once again, her ability to adapt and think on her feet in this scene. When confronted by Dougal as to where she’d heard the spot might be used for ambushes, she quickly responds “the village.” But not so quickly that you don’t see her wheels spinning as she grasps for an acceptable response. Another testament to Caitriona Balfe and her talent, yet another reason why she is the perfect Claire.
I Volunteer as Tribute!
Okay, this is the spot where I get uber, super fangirly. The scene where Jamie catches Claire trying to escape is one I could watch a thousand times (I’ve probably come close to that, already…). Rather than write about how much I love this scene and why, I’m just gonna let this meme I made express it for me:
“Thank you, Sassenach. Truly.” *Melts*
After this comes my second favorite Jamie/Sam scene, when Jamie falls off his horse and Claire discovers the gunshot wound he’s been concealing. After some hilarious banter in regards to disinfection, iodine and germs, as well as one of my favorite lines from the book about St. Paul minding his own bloody business, Claire and Jamie share a moment that is my favorite of the entire episode. This is another scene where Jamie’s inability to take his eyes off Claire is evident. Claire reaches out her hand to help him up, and Jamie says “Thank you, Sassenach. Truly.” I’ll admit it, I could listen to that line on repeat a thousand times, if not more. Beyond that, it’s a wonderful, touching moment in the scene where you can see these two people have placed a small amount of trust and confidence in one another in a world where trust and confidence are hard fought and sorely earned. It’s the first moment where you see that Jamie and Claire recognize something kindred in one another. I choked up when Claire reached out her hand to help Jamie up, every single time I watched it.
What’s a Girl To Do?
The episode ends with the arrival at Castle Leoch, as Claire contemplates being there with Frank and struggles to come to terms with remembering “something that hasn’t happened yet.”
My final complaint about this episode is that it’s over, and I have to wait to watch the next one. In the meantime, I will continue to watch the premiere over and over again.