In the first episode of Starz’s new drama Outlander, titled “Sassenach,” the beloved, best-selling series of books by Diana Gabaldon are brought to life. “Sassenach” introduces viewers to Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe), up-ends her world by throwing her 200 years back in time, and provides enough intrigue, adventure, and elements of different genres to keep viewers invested, especially those such as myself who have not read the novels.
The episode opens in 1945, in the immediate aftermath of World War II. There is a flash back to Claire as a nurse. She sees people celebrating V.E. Day. The initial opening of the show is shot in a sort of greyish, brownish undertone, lacking in any sort of brightness or color, which would fit with the destruction and somberness of that time.
Throughout the episode, Claire’s omnipresent narration explains events and her feelings. While voiceover narration may not be every viewer’s cup-o-tea, the books are lengthy and very descriptive. When voiceovers are woven throughout the episode and add backstory or context to characters and plot, as I think it does in this case, I do not have a problem with it. With time constraints and with lengthy character exposition of novels obviously being in need of trimming, I think it allows the viewers to see more insight into Claire.
Claire and her husband, Frank Randall, travel to the Scottish Highlands on sort of a second honeymoon. The viewers see them being intimate and see their love, though there is also a stilted awkwardness to Claire and Frank’s relationship. We learn that Frank is a historian. My favorite elements of the show are the historical references – whether they describe actual events, the pagan history and holidays once prevalent in Scotland, or otherwise. Frank points out to Claire, Cocknammon Rock, a craggy-looking rock structure which in the 17th & 18th century, British army patrols would wait for Scottish rebels to ambush them.
While Claire and Frank are at the home of the local reverend, the housekeeper reads Claire’s palm. Her “lifeline is interrupted or in “bits and pieces” and her marriage line is divided, which means two marriages. This scene was a bit of not-so-subtle foreshadowing to Claire’s forthcoming time travel.
The pace of the show during the first-half portion of the episode was a bit slow moving and I was left wondering when they were going to get to the time travel. However, I do understand the need to develop backstory and character and set up the main plot rather than just throw viewers into it. Too often, television and films do not take the time to sufficiently develop those important elements.
Claire and Frank see a group of what look like Druids come into the stone circle and do a ritualistic dance. They’re mesmerized by it. The shots used in these scenes are beautiful especially the use of lighting as the sunrise. Later, Claire returns and when she touches the center stone, something happens and she’s transported back in time. Claire wakes and goes to leave, but the road is not there, the car is not there. The scenery is much greener and brighter.
This is one issue I had in general with the time travel portion – Claire’s lack of alarm or particular urgency that she’s not in 20th century Scotland anymore, but in 18th century Scotland instead. Was she not afraid? Alarmed? On the other hand, it is one of the aspects I enjoyed about Claire’s character, is her quick thinking, her wit, her smarts, her assertiveness.
Claire hears a bang and sees red coat soldiers. Claire sees a man who looks like her husband Frank, but it is Jonathan Randall, Captain of the King’s army. Before Randall can harm her, the Scots arrive and save her by taking her hostage. The leader of their group, Dougal, and the others are skeptical of Claire, trying to ascertain who she is and what side she is on. One of their soldiers, the roguish, dashing red-head Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), has a dislocated shoulder, and Claire’s training as a nurse kicks allows her to help. Claire can’t stay out of things or stay quiet.
The group sets out for another destination. Claire is riding in front of Jamie on his horse. While they’re riding, she recognizes Cocknammon Rock and remembers what Frank had told her about it being used for ambushes by British soldiers. She warns her rescuers/captors. They are ambushed and Claire escapes, only to be recaptured by Jamie. I had to roll my eyes a little bit at the obviousness of the setup of sexual tension between Claire and Jamie in this scene. That said, there is a good chemistry between Claire and Jamie that I want to see more of how this relationship develops. Is Jamie to be the “second husband” that the palm reader foretold?
Jamie is shot in the melee, and Claire, is tending to his wounds. She asks the Scottish soldiers for basic medical supplies, disinfectants, etc., and they have no idea what she is talking about until she mentions alcohol. I like Claire’s sass, wit and lip she gives them. Claire insists Jamie needs rest, but they press on until they reach what looks like the castle Claire and her husband explore in the future.
I am looking forward to the next episode and I hope that we will continue to see more of the history behind the Jacobite uprisings in Scotland in 1743, as well as seeing how 20th century Claire continues to navigate her way around 18th century Scotland.