It's finally Outlander time! After months of hype, including a pretty heavy marketing campaign at SDCC 2014, not to mention the years that book readers have been waiting for a film adaptation, we are now getting our first look at Ronald D. Moore's Diana Gabaldon's Outlander. Spoilers ahead!
First, full disclosure: I have read the Outlander series of books, and know what's going to happen (with the exception of a few novellas and a graphic novel, but that shouldn't come into play much here). I'll try not to spoil anything, but some of that knowledge may inform my recaps. If you have any specific spoilery questions, post them in the comments; otherwise, let's just revel in the Scottish beauty together.
The first episode, Sassenach, naturally serves to introduce us to the world of Outlander and the cast of characters for the season. First and foremost: Claire!
Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is our main character and narrator. A lot of people have praised Claire and...well, you won't get any different from me. I love her. She's not afraid to get bloody or dirty (likely due to her childhood roaming the world with her uncle, the archaeologist). She's pretty straightforward, strong-willed, and, yes, sexual. You hold a blade to this woman's throat, she's going to spit in your face. You take her to the ruins of a castle on your honeymoon, she's going to seduce you there. You mishandle a patient, she's going to take you to task. She gets mad, she's going to curse "Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ" (thanks to the American soldiers she met during the war). If I have one complaint about Balfe's performance, it's that she can't seem to master this iconic phrase of Claire's. Maybe she'll grow into it.
Claire is on her second honeymoon with her husband, Frank Randall (Tobias "Oh Isn't This Frey Girl Pretty" Menzies). The pair are trying to reconnect after spending years apart during WWII, she a nurse on the battlefield in France, he doing something mysterious for MI6. Both haunted by their war experiences, Claire and Frank are hoping to move forward in their lives, and towards each other.
So, they go to Inverness, Scotland. It's close to Halloween (Samhain), so we get a look at some pagan Highland rituals like coating doorways with blood, welcoming the sun with a dance at some standing stones, and reading tea leaves and palms. During a visit to the Reverend Wakefield, a history buff and friend of Frank's, Claire gets a reading of her own from the housekeeper. Here's a brief synopsis:
The reading does seem a bit odd, and Claire is a bit shaken by it. We, who have seen at least a trailer for the show, know about her "journey while staying put." Frank also has a Samhain moment of his own when he comes across this fellow:
That's a shadowy Highland figure staring up at Claire cursing at the tangles in her hair. Frank goes to confront him and like that, *poof*, he's gone! Who could it beeee? (Hint: It's not Kevin Spacey.)
After some more hanky panky (during which Cait may have inspired me to do 1,000 crunches or...well, let me just finish this beer first), Claire and Frank wake up early to catch sight of a pagan/druid/witch ceremony at Craigh na Dun. Then, Frank goes off to the Reverend's to do more research on his ancestor, Jonathan "Black Jack" Randall, who lived in the 1700s and spent his time trying to rile up the Highlanders to identify potential Jacobite supporters. (I'll save Jacobites for another post - suffice it to say, the English were very concerned about Jacobite rebels.) Claire, meanwhile, returns to Craigh na Dun to collect a botanical specimen, as any botany hobbist would do. There's a roaring sound, she touches a stone, and then...
(If this had been modern times, I would definitely have clicked the button on my key fob and listened for my car beep.)
Claire, in her attempts to find the car, or a road, comes across some funnily-dressed chaps who shoot at her, and meets someone who introduces himself as Jonathan Randall, whom she mistakes for Frank at first.
We haven't seen much of Menzies as Black Jack, but they definitely feel like different men so far. Claire can tell as soon as Black Jack moves that he's not Frank. She proceeds to run away, but doesn't get far before Black Jack catches her, questions her, and attempts to rape her. ("Dashing," forsooth.) Luckily, a wily Scot saves her just in time!
The wily Scot delivers her into the hands of Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish). The men are all suspicious of her, trying to figure out if she's a spy for the English or not. She obviously can't tell them where she came from, so their sense that she's hiding something is correct, but she can't convince them she's not a spy, either. She intends to keep her head down, until they start mishandling an injured man named Jamie (Sam Heughan). This WWII nurse won't stand for that. Claire proceeds to patch up Jamie - twice - and alert the Highlanders to a possible ambush; however, this makes her more of an enigma than ever. But as far as Jamie is concerned, she gains his respect, and maybe a little bit of trust, through her nursing and sheer strength of will.
Speaking of Jamie...let's just look at him for a minute.
Jamie, who shares his plaid with Claire, and has come across Black Jack Randall before - and wouldn't care to again, if he has anything to say about it, or rather, if his pistol has anything to say about it.
Heughan does a good job of mixing rugged charm ("You're shaking so hard you're making my teeth rattle.") and physicality; a good balance is needed to pull off a solid portrayal of Jamie. Overall I think the casting is a success, though perhaps we've not seen enough of the show to make a final call yet.
And so, Claire is in the hands of suspicious Scots, though with a potential ally in Jamie, as the gang arrives at Castle Leoch. Next week - can Claire stay out of trouble, keep the MacKenzies from thinking her a spy, and find her way to the stones, and back to Frank?
Quote(s) of the Episode:
"You'll never manage the next branch of your family tree if you don't show more industry than that." - Claire
"I wasn't supposed to be here. I was an unwelcome voyeur to something ancient and powerful." - Claire
"I'll stake my best shirt she's not a hoor." - Murtaugh
"I don't hold with rape...and we havena time for it anyway." - Dougal
The music during the opening credits, composed by Bear McCreary, was adapted from a song called The Skye Boat Song, originally written in 1884 about the escape of Bonnie Prince Charlie (aka Charles Stuart) after his defeat at the disastrous Battle of Culloden in 1746. McCreary used lyrics from the Robert Louis Stevenson version published in 1908 (item XLII here). Bear McCreary posted a video that includes a live performance by the wonderful female vocalist, Raya Yarbrough.
[ETA] You guys, I almost forgot one of the main characters: Scotland! It's beautiful. That is all.