On April 4th, Starz will launch the second season of OUTLANDER, the TV adaptation of Diana Gabaldon's New York Times bestselling novel in which Claire Randall, while on a second honeymoon in Scotland, wanders into a ring of standing stones and is catapulted back in time to 1743. On her website, Diana Gabaldon lists the themes tackled in the Outlander series: "...history, warfare, medicine, sex, violence, spirituality, honor, betrayal, vengeance, hope and despair, relationships, the building and destruction of families and societies, time travel, moral ambiguity, swords, herbs, horses, gambling (with cards, dice, and lives), voyages of daring, journeys of both body and soul…" It's a sprawling array of mega story elements, but the novel and its Starz TV series spinoff do not disappoint. As the hype builds, Unbound Writers Amanda Baldeneaux and CH Lips decided to weigh in on some key Outlander topics: Novel vs. Starz, Claire as Superheroine, and a full-on Smut Ranking of the story's hottest moments.
But first, THE STORY: It's 1946, WWII is over, and Claire Beauchamp Randall, an ex-combat nurse, and her husband, Frank, are on a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands near Inverness. Frank is also doing research on his British ancestor, Black Jack Randall, Captain of Dragoons. While searching for an unusual plant in a ring of standing stones, Claire is hurled back in time to 1743, right into the midst of a skirmish between a band of rebel Scots and a company of British soldiers led by none other than Black Jack Randall. When one of the rebel Scots rescues Claire from Black Jack's malevolent intentions, Claire's wild journey begins. Castles and intrigue and espionage ensue. Claire's practical shrewdness and her 20th century knowledge of medicine get her out of trouble and back into it again, and all the while she is trying to find her way back to the stones and 1946. When she is forced to marry the young Scot, Jamie Fraser, to save herself from the vile attentions of Black Jack Randall, Claire's life is forever split. A fierce, undeniable attraction for Jamie challenges her values of love, fidelity and marriage, and Claire finds herself torn between two different times and her love for two different men.
CH Lips: Overall, the casting on the Starz series rocks. Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser is a hands-down triumph (even if he's not a natural red-head!) Tobias Menzies as Frank/Black Jack Randall achieves a level of intelligent wickedness that goes beyond the somewhat one-dimensional character depicted in the novel. But my gut response to Caitriona Balfe as Claire was tepid at best. I was hoping for a strong female protagonist that for once wasn't a model, someone less long and lanky, less Gwyneth and more Beyonce.
Amanda Baldeneaux: I like the TV Claire. I think Caitriona Balfe mastered Claire's practical character aspects. She's in control of whatever situation she finds herself in, including her own emotions.
CHL: Going back through the book and then watching the same scenes on Starz, I'm realizing that part of my ambivalence about the character has to do with the writing/direction. TV Claire seems to have much less agency and feistiness than book Claire. For instance, in the scene where Claire and Jamie are making love on a hillside and the two British soldiers/deserters ambush them, one holds a gun to Jamie's head while the other is about to rape Claire. In the Starz version it appears as though the guy does rape her, everything goes dreamy slow-mo, and Claire isn't even fighting. Afterwards she's in shock and blank-faced, terribly upset. In the book, the Brit doesn't get as far as rape. After it's all over, she and Jamie actually have wild passionate sex. Not very politically correct for 2015. But the practical book Claire believes that if they hadn't coupled, the near-rape would have been a terrible thing between them. Soon after, Dougal and gang appear and scold Claire and Jamie for messing around, making them wait. Claire begins to laugh hysterically and can't stop. That's her shock response in the book.
AB: I fault the show for adding in a rape to show the danger/brutality that women like Claire faced, and Jamie’s (and Scotland’s) helplessness in the face of British tyranny. I think this is a device Game of Thrones uses a little too liberally, also. I’m really curious how the show's writers will handle the fallout from that scene, since book Claire wasn’t horribly impacted by that trauma (although there were plenty of others, and a scare still sucks). I wonder if they will more quickly ramp up her motivation for rising to heroism later on down the line?
CLAIRE AS SUPERHEROINE
"Really, Claire, ...you are the most terrifyingly practical person I have ever known." -Frank Randall, Outlander.
CHL: In the classic hero’s journey, a strong protagonist always possesses one or several unique skills that set her apart. Claire’s experience as a WWII combat nurse enables her to have knowledge and skills in medicine that no one on the planet in 1743 knew. She’s a brainiac superhero. She reverses the traditional tropes; she is the hero, saving Jamie and the other rebel Scots over and over again. And what’s interesting is that these same skills in medicine also often get her in trouble.
AB: She has the "stomach" of a hero: she doesn't let a fear of blood stop her from helping those who are hurt. And she pays attention to the natural world, the little things: for example, she goes back in time because she wanted to go pick a single flower she saw growing there for her collection.
CHL: The other thing that makes Claire unique to this time is that she doesn’t belong and is constantly, at least in the first part of the book and the first Starz season, trying to return to her time.
AB: She isn’t afraid of any situation: ride around the country on horseback with bawdy men, no running water? Work in a war zone? Storm a castle prison? Ain’t no thang.
CHL: Claire’s mind is always working; she never, ever, ever gives up fighting. There’s a great scene in the book where she’s locked in Black Jack Randall’s office, dreading his arrival, stressing about what he might do to her. She diverts her mind from dwelling on this impending doom by messing with the things on his desk, accomplishing small acts of defiance like sifting the sand from the ink blotter into his wig.
AB: She is not embarrassed or shamed by her sexuality. She never seeks sexual attention through excessive flaunting, but she is straightforward about her desires. The quote above is Frank's exclamation when his roaming hands discover that she's left her undergarments back at the inn.
AB: Where to start?? I loved the wedding episode on the TV show, and the wedding scene in the book. I feel a little bad about liking it, because Claire is in a terrible place - committed to a man she loves and wants to get back to, but in this situation where she has to marry this other guy to save her skin, she also is starting to fall in love with him as he reveals his kind character to her. Diana G went out on new ground with this, showing that not all situations of the heart are binary - there’s lots of grey and muddy waters where emotion is involved, and Claire will love both men at the same time, even as she ultimately chooses one. (I wonder how much of her choosing Jamie was motivated by her knowledge of the history in Scotland, and feeling responsible for Jamie's life in that if she left, he would surely die in a battle against British dragoons?)
CHL: The wedding night also gets my nod for top ranked smut scene(s). Claire and Jamie are thrust into an interesting, awkward situation, Dougal and gang are eagerly waiting for news of the consummation in the tavern below, and over everything hovers the question: How will they handle this? This creates some groovy sexual tension. Gabaldon and Starz both did a great job drawing out this tension as Claire gets solidly drunk while asking questions that delay the inevitable a little longer. When Claire finally makes her decision to consummate, she's in charge and as eager, (well, maybe not quite AS eager, but certainly willing) to engage in the smut activity as Jamie is.
AB: One of the best things about the TV wedding night (was this in the book?) was the first awkward encounter, which then to led to a lusty encounter, which then led to actual love. Way to go, lady producer! Nailed it. Really… they got nailed… (and then Jamie does later, literally - ouch).
CHL: I agree. The tension continues to build. Which is something we don't see in the early smut scenes with Frank. Claire is clearly more randy than the intellectual Frank, which works well in setting up her strong character for the things she'll face in the chaos of a Scotland in revolt and a marriage to the equally strong character of Jamie Fraser.
The Starz Season One of OUTLANDER ends with edges: knives and windowsills. We know where we'll be on Saturday April 4th at 9pm. And we know what we'll be drinking.