On the D/L – Outlander
Season 1 Episode 1 – “Sassenach”
Here we have a new TV show from Ronald D. Moore (Star Trek, Battlestar Galactica) therefore giving me enough of a reason to check it out. I’ll make no secret of the fact that I really like Ron Moore as a writer and a producer, the guy is just really talented at whatever he puts his mind to. The TV show Helix was for me less than stellar and Virtuality never made it past the Pilot stage; to say nothing about the lukewarm to terrible reception that Caprica received in the short run that it had. He’s had some rough luck when it comes to TV of late so I’m glad to see that his projects do occasionally find their way to TV screens but is this any good?
Outlander is based on the series of novels of the same name by American author Diana Gabaldon and follows a married World War II nurse named Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) who is on a historical fact finding trip to Scotland with her husband Frank (Tobias Menzes). After witnessing a Druid ceremony late at night, Claire finds herself inexplicably transported back in time from 1945 to 1743 and has to find her way in the past.
This being the pilot, there’s an awful lot of setting up the characters and the situation that will become the hook of the series. We spend a lot of time following Claire and Frank as they visit Inverness and become acquainted with the place and the people. Frank is an avid student of genealogy and is researching his ancestor Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall (also played by Menzes). These scenes tell us a lot about the characters and Claire’s narration helps provide some interesting context to all of this. Hearing her talk about her past is fascinating as well as anecdotes about her relationship with Frank helping us understand how they function as a couple.
Claire comes across as a character with lots of depth pretty quickly and her avid curiosity about the place she’s visiting is something I found very infectious. I particularly liked the description of being thrown through time compared to the feeling of weightlessness she experienced in a car that was falling off a bridge, it thematically ties the two experiences to the past as well as just being a really well written piece of narration. Balfe is very likeable in the role and it’s easy to imagine her carrying this series on her own. Menzes as Frank will need some work, something felt forced about his performance for me and he doesn’t seem to have much chemistry with his co-star. I’m hoping that will come with time or perhaps his ancestor will have more chemistry.
One thing I really enjoyed about this episode was that the supernatural elements were introduced gradually. On first glance Inverness seemed to be a quiet and spiritual town but it didn’t seem like anything supernatural existed. There’s talk of old legends and witches early on but those are mostly dismissed by the characters. This begins to change when Claire has her tea leaves read as well as her palm, both indicating something unusual about her life. Those with knowledge of the impending time travel will understand the allusions but the scene itself is very well done and does a nice job of foreshadowing the event. Following that was a scene where it appeared that Frank has seen a ghost, there was a sense of eeriness to it and the mood was really unsettling. It does a great job of adding to the mystery being presented.
The episode itself looked great, the production design presents the time periods of 1945 and 1743 really well, there’s a clear contrast in design between the two as well as a striking familiarity. At no point did I doubt that I was viewing the same place in two completely different time periods. There was some great imagery in the episode as well from the ruins, the visually distinctive rock formation used effectively for ambushes and the Druid ritual performed at the stone circle on Craigh Na Dun; a hauntingly beautiful scene that helps to build on the spiritual aspect that will no doubt become prevalent.
Not much time is spent in the past but there’s enough to set things up, Claire is told that her life will be punctuated by two marriages but not in any traditional sense; this begins to become clear when she meets the wounded rebel Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) and their chemistry is immediately apparent, it’s obvious who her love interest will be in the past which might create some interesting questions such as whether it’s morally acceptable to cheat on a husband who hasn’t even been born yet. Frank tells her that her being unfaithful would never change anything between them so it seems that she has permission, something I feel that is no accident.
Her appearance in the past is done quite well though I think she should appear more shocked rather than her fairly instant acceptance. Within minutes she seems to have gained the trust of the Scottish rebels with her medical knowledge and her strategic savvy as she recalls the possibility of ambush from the aforementioned rock formation.
Overall, a very strong pilot episode with lots to think about.The character of Claire is rich and interesting with the others doing a decent job of hinting at other things to come. The only weak link in the cast is Tobias Menzes who occasionally feels a little flat in his interactions with Caitriona Balfe. The supernatural mystery angle is played wonderfully and the story is nicely paced with some astonishing production values. I’ll be interested to see where this show goes and since I’ve not read the novels I’m going to be continually surprised Also, any show that mentions clan McKenzie has my vote.