Tuesday, August 26, 2014

OUTLANDER: Season 1, Episode 3: The Way Out

While there are plenty of things I loved about this episode, there are also a few things that didn’t sit right with me. Having said that though, I’m still loving this ride. I feel like, through some Gabaldon magic, I’ve stepped inside the pages of her book and I’m getting to live it out myself. And after multiple readings of Outlander, that is some ride!

When I heard Diana Gabaldon speak about the difference between the book and the filmed version, she said more than once that there are scenes in the series that do not appear in the book, but that they could have. I wasn’t sure what exactly she meant by that until I saw the lovely scene of Frank and Claire at the train station. What a beautiful and poignant way to remind the viewer that Claire has a 20th Century husband she still loves very much. I’m a sucker for World War II partings, so that scene tugged at my heartstrings. The scene nicely wove in some foreshadowing, as in when Frank tells her he loves her “stubbornness” and finally says, “Promise that you’ll return to me.” That opening scene is reflected back nicely at the end of the episode as Claire is listening to the ballad about the woman who goes through the stones.

I’m not a fan of dream sequences, be they sleeping dreams or daydreams, so I did not like the fake scene with Claire confessing her truth to Mrs. Fitz. I kept saying out loud, much to the annoyance of my dear husband who is patiently watching these with me, that that never happened! Of course it didn’t, and that does annoy me, but it did begin an important theme that is developed throughout this episode: Claire’s dawning awareness that she could be thought to be a witch. Later, when we see her fighting against the backward, evil priest to save the life of a young boy, we see her marked as a witch when Father Bain says to her, “I can smell the vapors of hell in you.” Witches did not have happily-ever-afters during that time period. You’d better watch yourself, Claire!

Oh, and by the way, that ‘saving the poisoned boy’ scene isn’t in the book. I’m assuming it was placed there to help with pacing, which is something that is proving to be a slight problem as the book is re-interpreted as a screenplay. Yes, I love the books, but I’m the first to admit that pacing is an issue in some of them.

As a reader I never cared much for Laoghaire, but I found myself feeling quite sorry for her in the humorous scenes in the hall with Claire and Jamie. Poor thing. Jamie is so oblivious and dismissive of her. Not only does Jamie ignore Laoghaire as if she isn’t even present, but he tells her he has no memory of her as a young lass and then goes on to tell Claire that when he was sixteen he wouldn’t have had anything to do with snot-nosed children! Yow!

No, Jamie can see little but Claire. And Claire, despite her best intentions, is obviously attracted to Jamie. Once again she has a wee bit too much Rhenish, but this time it leads to a flirtatious exchange with Jamie in the surgery where she sits on The Table! The same table she sat on (ETC.) while visiting the castle with Frank in 1945. I have no doubt she knew exactly what she was doing when she sat there with Jamie. Later, seeing Jamie with Laoghaire evokes some feelings of jealousy, though the voice-over tells us it is because she misses the intimacy with her husband. Yes, she misses Frank. Terribly. But as we know, she is a red-blooded woman who is comfortable with her sexuality. Surely, she’s picking up on the sexual tension emanating from Jamie.

 At the end of the episode we have the gorgeous scene in the hall, with Claire listening to the ballad as translated by Jamie, that is the perfect reflection of the opening train station scene. Not only a roadmap of sorts for Claire to find her way back, but a heavy dose of foreshadowing is present in the lyrics. SPOILER ALERT!!! “…strangers who became lovers…,” “…back through the stones…,” “…took up with the man she’d left behind…”.

How many days until the next episode!?

Slàinte mhath!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


While I loved the first episode of Outlander, I liked this one even more. I already can feel the inevitable sexual tension building between Claire and Jamie, though at this point she is far from recognizing it. Also, the sets, cinematography, costumes, and make-up are sumptuous and are a delight to watch. I find myself needing at least two viewings: one to listen and follow the actions, and one to take in the beauty of the art that is created in each episode.

In this episode we see Claire trying to make sense of her new surroundings, as all the while looking for a way to escape them.

The scene at the fireplace where she’s tending Jamie’s wounds did a lot to begin building the sexual tension, and did a nice job of weaving important backstory into the scene. We now have had a glimpse of Jamie’s history with Black Jack Randall. I don’t know about anyone else, but I could feel each one of those lashes, and flinched each time the whip made contact with Jamie’s back. Randall’s treatment of Jenny was handled well—as in I hated him. Tobias Menzies, (Randall) is doing a fantastic job in the role. I could almost smell the sweat and dirt on him as he held poor Jenny.

Also, in that same fireside scene, Jamie mentions Claire’s husband and notices her sudden despair. He asks if her husband is not alive. In the strange world that is time travel, it dawns on Claire that NO, he is not alive. But not in the ‘he’s dead’ sort of way, but in the ‘he hasn’t been born yet’ way. That’s only the beginning, Claire!

Mrs. Fitz is spot on perfect, and I had a fresh appreciation for a woman’s need of a servant when dressing as I watched the amusing dressing scene. But, is my memory hazy or has Claire been given far too many dresses? I remember two during her Castle Leoch time, and in reality that may be too many. Her many changes of wardrobe seem an anachronism.

Geillis Duncan. The actress Lotte Verbeek certainly has the spooky, witchy eyes, but I thought she was far too coy and flirtatious in the scene that introduced her. There was a gentle, virginal quality about her, and Geillis is anything but gentle or virginal. I have no doubt they will  make
her everything Geillis should be, but for now I have reservations. Maybe I should review the book—perhaps this is how Gabaldon first introduces Geillis.

Neither hall scene was a disappointment. Claire happily downing the wine, only to find herself far too tipsy for safety, was delightful. And the Laoghaire scene was nicely played, with Jamie making his first appearance as the brave knight in shining armor. Surely that had to impress Claire, despite the barbarism. Incidentally, Nell Hudson who plays Laoghaire looks exactly like I pictured the character.

I felt more sparks flying in the air, as Claire visited Jamie at the stables. And ahhhh…we heard Jamie call her Sassenach as a term of endearment for the first time. Sam Heughan made it ring true. I think I’ll enjoy hearing that in the many episodes to come.

That Jamie is already developing feelings for Claire became obvious when he flinched as she told him she would soon be leaving. He was definitely disappointed. Of course, he needn’t have worried, as Dougal has no intentions of letting her go. No, as Colum said, she is a prisoner ONLY if she tries to leave.

MINOR SPOILER ALERT: When I watched the first episode, I had no inkling that the castle room in which Claire and Frank had a ‘romantic interlude’ was the room where Claire sets up shop as the Castle Leoch healer. I’m surprised I didn’t catch that. She’ll be spending a lot more time at that old table.

MINOR RANT ALERT: Caitriona Balfe continues to grow on me as Claire, though she really needs to eat whatever the 1743 equivalent of a hamburger would be. Caitriona is gorgeous and very slim, but Claire is more robust. She should be slender, but she should certainly look stronger. I’ll get over it. But if they have Jamie waxing poetically, as he does in the books, about her fine, plump, round arse, I will probably laugh. Yeah, I’m just jealous of the lovely Caitriona!

I’m excited for the next episode. And I’m even more excited to hear that after only one episode, the series has been renewed for a Season Two!! Yay! So much more Claire and Jamie to look forward to!

Slàinte mhath!

OUTLANDER DianaGabaldon.com

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

OUTLANDER: Season 1, Episode 1- SASSENACH

Like so many fans of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander book series, I’ve been wishing for a feature film or TV series/mini-series/TV movie version of the books for nearly two decades. So when the STARZ series was announced I started following every press release, casting choice, etc. as I awaited the first episode. I’ll be honest, I questioned some of the choices along the way, wondered about some of the rumors I heard in regards to changes to the story, but in the end I held my breath and hoped for the best. After all, Ms. Gabaldon seemed happy enough with the way things were proceeding.

On Saturday night I was able to release that long-held breath and I am happy to say it did not disappoint.

I’ll start with the one thing Outlander fans were the most concerned about: the casting of Jamie Fraser and Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser. Even Diana Gabaldon had reservations when she heard Sam Heughan had been cast as Jamie. She looked him up on Imdb and pronounced him “grotesque.” But after seeing just a few minutes of him as Jamie she was won over and has been supportive of the choice ever since.

As I watched on Saturday, and again this morning, I felt Sam projected the essence of Jamie. Of course he doesn’t look anything like the Jamie I imagine in my mind—to do so would be impossible. But he is close enough that I can easily suspend any disbelief. He’s strong and rugged, and yet already we can see glimpses of his gentle side. No, Sam isn’t tall enough. This 
Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser: STARZ
was repeated several times by my friends as we watched together on Saturday. But I can live with it. He’s big and broad across the shoulders and looks strong. I’ll imagine him taller. Of course part of the height issue comes from the fact that Caitriona Balfe is too tall.

Next to Jamie, my biggest concern was how I’d feel about Ms. Balfe as Claire. And to be honest, the early reports from some people who watched it early were not encouraging. I went into my first viewing prepared to dislike her so much it might threaten to ruin things for me. But she won me over! Yes, she is far too wispy to be Claire, but Claire’s strength and no nonsense attitude come through loud and clear. I’m relieved and believe she will get even better as the series progresses. {Yes, she DOES need to learn to let it rip when she says, “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!”}

The rest of the casting is spot-on perfect, in my opinion, with Tobias Menzies as Frank/Black Jack and Graham McTavish as Dougal standing out from the rest of the excellent cast. Menzies IS Frank/Black Jack and McTavish IS Dougal.

Throughout the episode I had chills up and down my spine at all the right places, occasionally gasped, and laughed where I was supposed to laugh. Some fans have complained that there are scenes that differ from the book, but as I’ve heard Diana Gabaldon say, “It is an adaptation.” She usually goes on to explain that a book and a film are two different forms of media, and what works in one won’t necessarily work in the other. I felt that what I saw in this first episode was a true rendering of the beginning of her novel.

I can’t end this review without addressing a frequent complaint I’ve read on message boards. Many viewers, seemingly people who have NOT read the books, complained that the episode was slow and boring. Honestly, I don’t know how you can begin a 16 episode series based on a 1,000-page book without setting the scene and introducing the characters and circumstances in which Claire finds herself. I certainly did not find it slow or boring, in fact all of us viewing it together on Saturday evening couldn’t believe it when it was over—it seemed far too short.

Finally, the locations used were stunning—I love Scotland—the music was haunting, just as it should be, the attention to detail was impressive, and the overall experience was an excellent one.

I look forward to the rest of the series, and I’m so happy the two-decade wait is over. 

This review is very much centered on the general aspects of the episode as an introduction to the series. Future reviews will be much more specific to the storyline of each particular episode.

Come back next week to read what I think of episode 2.

Slàinte mhath!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Close Encounters with Diana Gabaldon

There are only a few authors out there that would make me act like a fool in their presence. I think I’ve well documented in this space my close encounter/possible Wordstock stalking of YA author Maggie Stiefvater. Not one of my prouder moments, but certainly one of the most exciting.

Last Saturday I had the opportunity to see (in the flesh!) and listen to one of the other authors I’d go all gaga over. Author extraordinaire Diana Gabaldon, of the Outlander books, was the keynote speaker at the Willamette Writers Conference gala. I’ve been reading and loving her books for twenty years and such an opportunity could not be missed.

Having experienced my Stiefvater moment, I prepared myself before attending the gala. Not that there would be a chance to actually meet her, after all this was a large ballroom full of people, and she would be far away on a stage. But just on the off chance I told myself I would NOT be interacting with Ms. Gabaldon. Didn’t want to embarrass myself.

Yeah. Right. That lasted about two seconds. But it wasn’t my fault that she walked right past my table when she entered the room, and sat at the table kitty-corner from mine. I was with two dear friends, and when I saw her I became flustered, and did a “oh my god, look it’s her!” as I watched her walk by with my jaw dropped. Dear woman, she saw me, and my total dorkiness, and smiled at me and said “Hi.” If I wasn’t already a superfan, I would have become one at that moment.

I won’t tell you how my friends and I rarely took our eyes from her as we ate our dinner and listened to awards being handed out.

As exciting as it was to see her, her speech was the true highlight of the evening. Her insights into the craft, her particular writing process, her words of encouragement for new writers, all was inspiring. I left wishing I had taken notes—she had so many valuable things to share.

Later in the evening, after she had signed books, I left the bar where my friends and I were having an after-gala drink, and happened to see her sitting at the book signing table without anyone left waiting in line. I considered walking over and telling her how much I enjoyed her books, but with the fear of becoming a rambling idiot I chose to leave well enough alone. Now, I’m wishing I had. Yes, I might have been that inarticulate fan, but I think every author—even a megastar—likes hearing that his or her work is appreciated.

Maybe next time I’ll practice what I’ll say, so that I can be articulate. But even if I didn’t want to risk it this time, something tells me Diana Gabaldon knew that the crazy woman in the audience loved her work!

Note: I’ve been waiting forever for Outlander to become a movie or TV series, and finally there is one, premiering on STARZ, August 9th. I will be reviewing each episode on this blog. My plan is to post on the Tuesday following each Saturday episode. If you are an Outlander fan stop by, and I hope everyone will comment with their thoughts on the show as well.

Happy Writing!