Last week, I brought you an introduction to Outlander the book series and hopefully piqued your interest in Diana Gabaldon’s work. The series encompasses not just books, but a graphic novel and now a television series. Produced by Ron Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Roswell), the show premiered in August 2014 on Starz, a venue which allowed the show sixteen episodes to cover the first book of the series and retain all of the (sexy) fun and (historical) excitement it contains.
With that in mind, if you’re more of a fan of the visual or even if you need some help imagining what specifically is going on at any given moment in Outlander, here are ten reasons you should be watching Outlander the television series:
Bear McCreary scored Battlestar Galactica as well as shows like Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Black Sails, and now Outlander. The dreamy opening theme song for Outlander takes the “Skye Boat Song,” a Scottish folk song about the Bonnie Prince Charlie’s escape after the Battle of Culloden in 1746, and reimagines it as a capsule of Claire’s experience. Additionally, he uses traditional Scottish instruments and tunes into the show’s score, adding to and complimenting the experience of watching Claire’s and Jamie’s adventures.
No show is immune from the constant comparisons to its source material. The thing that sets Outlander apart from other adaptations is, while someone who is familiar with the book will notice omissions, the writers have retained enough of the important action and dialogue that someone who hasn’t read the books won’t be lost and instead will be invited in to the story before even opening the front cover. A number of new Sassenachs have come into the fandom because of the show and then stayed after reading the books.
Additionally, the show’s writing has striven to retain much of the necessary information about Scottish history that is critical to understanding the later parts of the overall series, which is critical to setting the show up to last multiple seasons.
The producers took great pains to film the series’ outdoor scenes in Scotland, retaining the connection between book and screen via the immersion in its beautiful Highland setting. The locations help to transport viewers back to the 18th century and visualize Claire’s transition from stranger in a strange land to a woman who finds herself at home in a time and place that shouldn’t belong to her.
Terry Dresbach and her crew of costumers have striven to recreate the wardrobe of the time period. We get to see Jamie put on his plaid and the intricacy involved in the wearing of that traditional Scottish garment. We watch Claire get dressed in the garb of the era, down to the shifts and corsets. Oh, and the apparent absence of underwear for pretty much everyone.
Despite a disappointing lack of Emmy nominations, Outlander consistently has been lauded for the performances its cast gives in each episode. Even though each cast member has a number of acting credits, the majority were not well known to the average viewer, an asset that has allowed each person to inhabit their character free of the associations and assumptions that fame, minor or major, can bring to an actor. Several of the cast members have geek credits to their name as well. Tobias Menzies, who plays both Frank Randall and ‘Black Jack’ Randall, has appeared on Game of Thrones and Doctor Who. Graham McTavish (Dougal Mackenzie) appeared in the Hobbit trilogy as Dwalin. Bill Paterson and Annette Badland both have appeared on Doctor Who as well.
CLAIRE RANDALL FRASER
In compiling this list, it was difficult to come up with ten different things to say because so much of what makes the show great is a combination of a variety of factors. Caitriona Balfe, the Irish actress tapped to play the series’ main character and main narrator, is an example of how all of these elements come together to create a whole. As Claire, Balfe embodies the idea of Claire Randall Fraser that many Sassenachs had. She brings out the 20th century sensibility and inherent stubbornness and fortitude that is Claire Fraser through her performance. The transition between page and screen can be precarious, but all of the show’s elements, both technical and creative, come together to make Balfe as Claire the character we see on the page.
Ironically, even though the casting speculation for the actor who would play Jamie Fraser seemed more fervent and frantic than that of Claire’s casting, Jamie Fraser was cast first! The iconic male lead of the Outlander series is tall, ginger, well-educated, disciplined, and adept at being a leader both on the battlefield and as a laird. When Sam Heughan was cast, complaints abounded – not tall enough, not ginger enough, etc., etc. – but, once Sassenachs saw him onscreen as Jamie Fraser, reservations were cast out the window, especially when we saw him sitting in one, pointing a gun at Black Jack. Just watch so you can see what I’m talking about.
While we’re talking about the sexy, let’s talk about the gaze. One term, the female gaze, has been bandied about in talking about Outlander, but what does it mean? The show has adopted, much as the book series it’s based on has, storytelling from the female perspective rather than the male. The main character and narrator, Claire, is a woman and thus the action, for the most part, is seen through her eyes and, thus, the female gaze is the lens through which we view the story. The sexy bits of the show, necessary in the exploration of the relationship between Jamie and Claire, are seen from the woman’s perspective. The writer and director for Jamie and Claire’s wedding episode were both women. The beauty in Outlander the show is that it retains a key element of Outlander the book: the perspective of a strong woman and the respect for that woman’s voice.
The force that moves us all through life, love, is the center of Outlander. Love for another, love for self, love for family, love for country – the emotion pervades the visual rendering of Jamie’s and Claire’s story. Rather than being told there is love, we are shown it in a variety of forms. The best of all of these loves is the growth of the marriage between the main characters, near strangers at the altar, but subtly hinted at in the early episodes and brought to bloom in the later ones. The gazes exchanged between Balfe and Heughan as Claire and Jamie have prompted a swoon or two on my end and reminded me over and over of the gazes my husband and I have exchanged over the years. It’s one of the elements that keep people coming back to the show over and over.
It’s a show set in 18th century Scotland; of course there are kilts. Happily, we also get to see what the men wear beneath them. But I’ll never tell. You’ll just have to watch for yourself.
Outlander is available on Amazon Prime, Netflix on DVD, and on DVD and Blu-ray via major retailers. Starz has a variety of episodes available On Demand and periodically will run episodes on their channels.
Have you watched Outlander? What do you love about it? Tell us in the comments.