TV Review: ‘Outlander’ Season 2

'Outlander' is even more lush and
Courtesy Starz

Given that “Outlander” is a feast for the senses, why not dwell on a single image from season two?

One day while visiting the gardens of Versailles, Claire Fraser leans over a floral display, wearing one of the most gorgeous 18th century ensembles ever seen on any screen. As she delicately sniffs the arrangement, she wears a wide straw hat bedecked with flowers, and sports a fitted light brown dress artfully decorated with blossoms in complementary colors. Striped poles hold up the bright awning that shields the bonbon-laden table she lingers near, and despite the rich tableau of flora, food and fabrics, nothing clashes. It’s a vision from a Louis XV haute couture pictorial, color-saturated and sublimely framed.

It’s hard to resist the urge to stop and bask in the kind of sumptuous imagery “Outlander” supplies regularly in its second season, which is an improvement on its strong first go-round. A lavish dinner party full of crystal and silver and a stunning red dress worn by Claire to another Versailles assembly offer more gorgeous details to drink in, and are worthy recipients of the freeze-frame treatment. But it would be a mistake to assume the show is interested in the “let them eat cake” concerns of aristocratic one-percenters.

The high-society life is, in part, a ruse: In season two, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and her Scottish laird husband Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) have borrowed a Parisian relative’s home and taken over the management of his business in order to play strategic games with the elites of the era. And while the show’s agenda dwells on political revolutions, it quietly initiates a pop-culture one of its own: In the way it approaches storytelling and sensuality, “Outlander” has proved itself to be one of the most subversive series on TV.

The clever ruse begins with its packaging. “Outlander” falls into a few different television genres: It’s a sweeping romantic epic and time-traveling historical saga, and it also features the killer gowns, embroidered waistcoats and barbed drawing-room banter of high-gloss period dramas. Like executive producer Ronald D. Moore’s previous show, “Battlestar Galactica,” this one fulfills its genre requirements efficiently while quietly building the foundation for a story that is much more admirably rich and ambitiously humane than it first appears.

To dismiss “Outlander” as “the show with a lot of sex” rather spectacularly misses the point. Lots of programs, especially on pay cable, display writhing bodies and people with great abs getting busy. The mechanical couplings on most of those shows follows a script so rote that it feels as though a couple of centuries have passed since pay-cable sex actually felt edgy, and it almost never seems real.

“Outlander” is different — truly, thoughtfully different. It shouldn’t be revolutionary that it is forthright and honest about female desire; it shouldn’t be unusual that its depictions of a woman introducing a man to various sexual pleasures are sweet and never infused with a sense of adolescent nervousness or condescending mockery. It shouldn’t be odd that women — well, one woman — isn’t an object in this story, but a flawed and believably contradictory subject. There are more memorable female characters on TV than ever these days, of course, but few of them can be found on ambitious dramas that look like a million (or several million) bucks.

Claire’s 18th-century husband is also something of a unicorn on the TV landscape. Sure, Jamie fills out a kilt nicely, but his most beguiling qualities do not reside in his musculature but in his curious and open heart. He likes learning from his wife, whether it’s in bed or at a dinner party. Too many dramas, even post-Golden Age, feature men in competition with each other; Jamie and Claire work and play as equals, but she’s often a little more equal than him, which doesn’t bother him a bit. Despite the fact that she’s driven and stubborn, the show does not reflexively try to take her down a peg for displaying her thornier qualities; sometimes, in fact, they draw the men in her life even closer.

Despite its reputation for sauciness — and it does have fun this season with scenes featuring historical sex toys and the very personal grooming habits of high-level aristocrats — “Outlander” has never shown sex for its own sake. As is the case with the songs in a memorable musical, the couplings always derive from character journeys and usually move relationship stories forward.

In fact, the show’s treatment of sex is really of a piece with its beautifully lit interiors and spectacular locations (it’s stunning to learn that none of the new season was shot in France; locations in Scotland, England and the Czech Republic doubled for 1740s Paris). The way “Outlander’s” directors lovingly frame the Gothic arches of an ancient hospital, the use of color and texture in a Parisian shop filled with herbs and potions, and the warmth of a mahogany table lit by candlelight all bring palpable pleasure  and that is actually the point.

The TV version of Diana Gabaldon’s “Outlander” novels is founded on the idea that sensuality isn’t just an outlet or a relief, but key to the communication of joy, pain, heartache, connection and beauty. The message the show sends is that there can be no true intimacy when the senses are not alive. You don’t remember the dialogue on “Outlander,” because the program, and its characters, communicate in other ways.

Connection is harder to come by in season two. There are admirably restrained scenes that feature Claire back in 1940s Scotland, and Balfe, whose growth as an actor has been exciting to watch, perfectly captures her character’s lingering pain with body language that pushes away her modern-day husband, Frank (Tobias Menzies). Her flinches wound Frank to the core.

For his part, Jamie, with whom she spends time in pre-revolutionary France, is still dealing with the effects of his season one kidnapping, torture and rape at the hands of his British nemesis, Captain Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall (also played by Menzies). Like Balfe, Heughan’s confidence and range as an actor have only grown with time; always charming, both are now reliably skilled at conveying the doubt and devotion of characters who are continually required to take leaps of faith.

It’s heartening that “Outlander” gives time and space to Jamie’s recovery, but it only highlights the somewhat troubling fact that the show has rarely dwelled on Claire’s need to process the various assaults that befell her after being mysteriously transported to the 1740s. In a TV landscape that already features a great deal of sexual assault (much of it poorly handled), it frankly feels like overkill that this conceit should be such a regular feature of “Outlander.” Though the very foundations of the show strongly endorse the idea of enthusiastic consent — between countries and individuals alike — violent assault heaves into view again this season in yet another hard-to-watch scene, and the aftermath of that moment, which involves a supporting character, is muddled. The fact is, “Outlander” acquits itself admirably in a number of ways, but hasn’t always quite known what to do with this difficult topic, especially when the survivors are female.

One of the things the show does capably in its second season is convey the way well-intentioned people drift away from their moral foundations, even as they find themselves surrounded by the appearance of plenty and ease. If season one was about Claire and Jamie’s journey toward true love (even as poor Frank kept up the search for his missing wife), this year’s tale has Claire and Jamie still in love but sometimes deeply at odds over ends and means.

There’s a picaresque quality to “Outlander” that, outside of the main duo’s relationship, sometimes keeps it from accruing heft and momentum over time. The narrative usually consists of a series of things that happen to the Frasers, and some of those things are more interesting than others. Secondary and tertiary characters come and go, sometimes without having much of an impact or memorable arcs of their own, and well into the second season, there’s not all that much to say about Jamie’s faithful servant Murtagh (the good but underused Duncan Lacroix), except than he’s Scottish and loyal.

The good news is, the supporting cast contains several tasty diversions this season, as if the visual splendor of Versailles and other gorgeous sets and costumes were not enough (costume designer Terry Dresbach has truly outdone herself; Claire’s stunning ensembles recall both Fragonard and New Look-era Christian Dior). Among the silk-clad upper classes, King Louis XV (Lionel Lingelser) comes off as a slacker full of eccentric noblesse oblige, and Andrew Gower is a delightfully querulous and spoiled Bonnie Prince Charlie. Simon Callow returns to chew scenery gleefully as the Duke of Sandringham; there are other noblemen and noblewomen, but who can remember anything about them except their heaving bosoms and well-deployed sneers?

“Outlander” is a circular tale, with Claire traveling between two centuries and two men, which is why, even though season two has fewer slow patches and more sustained energy, it’s advisable to give up on the quest for linear momentum and go with the emotional flow.

Claire and Jamie’s chemistry and confrontations are as effective as ever this season, and Menzies, who plays two very different characters with astonishing perceptiveness and skill, remains the show’s secret weapon. Only someone with a heart made of Highland stone could get through several key Claire-Frank moments without a lump in the throat; the actors’ truthful, quietly raw approaches mesh perfectly to deliver some of the show’s most wrenching and emotionally acute scenes.

The motives on this show aren’t subtle: Characters want revenge, they seek love, they want to protect others, they want to escape via lust or wine, or both. But the darkness and fear threaded through this season’s tapestry gives depth and dimension to the drama’s core optimism.

“Outlander” strikes a rare and unusual balance: It paints with bold colors, and yet it’s true to human complexities that are felt rather than articulated.

“Outlander,” “Catastrophe” and “Happy Valley” are discussed in the most recent Talking TV podcast, which is here, on iTunes and below.

TV Review: 'Outlander' Season 2

(Series; Starz, Sat. April 9, 9 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in Scotland, England and the Czech Republic by Left Bank Pictures, Tall Ship Prods. and Sony Pictures Television for Starz.

Crew

Executive producers, Ronald D. Moore, Maril Davis, Jim Kohlberg, Andy Harries, Anne Kenney, Toni Graphia, Ira Stephen Behr; director, Metin Huseyin; writer, Moore; camera, Stephen McNutt; production designer, Jon Gary Steele; editor, Michael O’Halloran; music, Bear McCreary; costume designer, Terry Dresbach; consultant, Diana Gabaldon; casting, Suzanne M. Smith. 60 MIN.

Cast

Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies, Duncan Lacroix, Claire Sermonne, Rosie Day, Stanley Weber, Andrew Gower, Lionel Lingelser, Romann Berrux, Dominique Pinon, Simon Callow

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  1. Embdigit says:

    This made me feel mesmerizing.

  2. createpunch says:

    I like that too! it looks gorgeous to me

  3. Yeah! it’s old fashion and where it has been captured from not coming to mind at this time. but the reality is that in twenty century look gorgeous. zee digitizing

  4. michele says:

    I cried the whole 90 minutes of the season finale! Did Murtaugh die? I hope not, I really liked that chararacter and how Duncan Lacroix portrayed him.what happened to the young boy? I really enjoyed his character also GREAT FINALE!!!!

  5. It is very clear that the creators of the series are trying very hard to target the US market instead of the more sophisticated British crowd. Too bad.

  6. Seriously? Outlander started very nicely. A great story idea and concept. The story could have had amazing potential. A great source of bloody history tangled with the beauty of the place and its tradition.

    Well, as I said, it started very promising. A nurse who tries to cope with the traditions, believes and superstitions of a bygone time. However, it did not take much for the “writers” to realize that it’s so much easier just to rip Claire’s shirt every five minutes instead of actually weaving an interesting story.

    We love British shows because they are such a fresh change from the loads of garbage that is produced in the US. Most period dramas coming from Britain are so rich in history and tradition, they always weaved around many characters and take us from one couple to another family to another individual and as we follow them we learn so much about the dynamics of that time.

    Outlander is about one person, Claire, that’s it. Actually, to be exact, it’s about Claire’s breast.

    The story line is dull and without any purpose. No other characters are filling in and the back and fourth between the two times is shallow and if it was completely ignored it would have made no difference.

    It looks like the original writer quit and someone else filled in with absolutely no idea what to do next.

    We thought maybe season two would offer a change -The creators have a season to reflect on and improve- However, it seems the creators went on a long vacation and decided that naked breast is all they need.

    Poor, very poor

  7. Daonna Deas says:

    We all like Claire and Jamie, with their all-too-human foibles. Both francophones should now be happy as rich wine merchants living a near-aristocratic lifestyle in cosmopolitan Paris. They even enjoy a hard-to-get entrance into the snobbish French court of the autocratic Louis XV. Even the jaded king likes them. Jacobism was popular in France, and, at heart, Jamie is a Jacobite.

    (The landed nobles viewed mere merchants, no matter how rich, as way beneath them socially. There is a quote I read once that when asked why he married the daughter of a wealthy merchant, the French noble disdainfully replied that he was just “manuring his fields” as he replenished his depleted fortune.)

    Claire’s general knowledge of the future should allow them to become billionaires in that era. With enormous wealth at their disposal, they could buy real titles of nobility–not this minor “laird” stuff–and provide generous aid to the soon-to-be-crushed Highlanders. Even if the exiled Frasers were very badly mistreated in Scotland.

    Still, for some quirky reason, Claire maintains her fantastical notion of rearranging the time-line by stopping the crushing of the exhausted and demoralized Scottish Jacobite army beneath the powerful British war machine at Culloden. One wonders if the future time-line is sort of “protecting itself” by piling one impediment after another in her way. Science fiction writers have worked over how paradoxes in supposed time-travel can cancel themselves out. One notion has been that as an attempt to significantly change an event is approached, the difficulty of achieving it approaches infinity. In other words, it cannot be done, and all other ripples rapidly cancel out.

    So, if, say, Claire’s considerable medical skills have saved someone who would have otherwise died within days, and that person now will accidentally kill Napoleon’s grandfather as a baby, the probability of an immediate death instead nevertheless rises for that person, as the time-line’s probabilities revert to what would’ve happened without Claire. Claire may not know this, but most of the patients she cures will soon die anyway, no matter what she has done. The time-line forces itself back to its “reality.”

    Claire is out of her own time, and the unconscious “physics” of the time-line may be trying to expel her. Maybe that is why she keeps meeting near-fatal setbacks. In the end, she IS forced back through the scary and very dangerous time portal. (The mortal danger of trying to pass through this portal is not stressed in the TV version. She actually dreads the prospect in the book.)

    –DD

  8. Daonna Deas says:

    > Portraying Bonnie Prince Charles as a deluded fool is necessary to Gabaldon’s unlikely plot of the Frasers trying to prevent the end-game Battle of Culloden, where an exhausted, demoralized, shrinking and ill-armed Highlander remnant was easily annihilated by the stronger British war machine. Military defeat is not kind to historical reputations.

    But at the start of the rebellion, the anti-Hanoverian magnates supporting the Jacobite cause would not have cared about Prince Charles personality defects, if any. In an age when heads of state MUST be of royal blood, credible candidates to the British throne were scarce, and the Stuarts comprised most of them. The magnates would’ve assumed that the new, insecure Stuart monarch would be guided by THEIR advice, once his bottom was on the thronein London.

    So, Jamie and Claire’s dinner party would not have dissuaded any of Charles’ financial supporters to abandon a cause they had been supporting.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. .

    > Had the now-rich, comfortable, francophone Frasers decided to stay in cosmopolitan Paris to safely raise their children, and used Claire’s general knowledge of the future to become immensely wealthy, they could’ve become the fully-committed Jacobites that Jamie actually was. They could organize and subsidize massive relief to the suffering Highlanders. They could wholeheartedly have joined with the other Jacobite magnates in supporting Bonnie Prince Charles, whatever his ultimate fate. Why not? Jacobism was popular in anti-British France.

    > Considering how very badly the exiled Jamie and Claire had been treated in the medieval-like, sexist and superstitious Highlands, why should they care what happened there? The majority of Lowlanders and many other Scots supported the Hanovers. The fed-up British government was clearly intent on reforming Scotland’s antique model of governance from the ancient, authoritarian clan system into what they considered the modern age. (Of course, it would take many revolutions later to encourage the British Isles evolve to a much more representative structure.)

    The huge British GNP, battle-hardened army and all-conquering navy were so powerful once focused by fear that no French ally was EVER going to be allowed to establish itself on the lands bordering England. The rebellion was doomed from the start: “Never start a war you cannot win.”

    –DD

  9. Daonna Deas says:

    By the way of my last comment, the TV series ignores personal hygiene. (I can’t remember if the books do.) While I realize that in the 1940s, people were probably a bit ripe in the summer’s heat on buses, trains and subways, Claire would have maintained 20th century standards high enough that she’d insist that those close to her keep themselves cleaner. She’d bathe Jamie herself, if need be. And soap his hair, too. And she’d have no toleration for body lice or rank clothing, both being common on everyone in those days.

    (I have heard that the first emissary of the fastidious Japanese to the French court commented on the beauty and complexity of the clothes, the architecture, the music, the painting, the sculpture, etc., but that the people themselves were “filthy and louse-infested beyond belief.” The French used perfumes for a reason.)

    Inadequate 18th century dental care is a subject I do not recall Gabaldon addressing. Claire might’ve been purged of most of her pathogens by the terrifying time portal, so maybe she is now resistant to dental decay. But Jamie’s teeth would rot away eventually, and Claire would make an strenuous effort to have him keep them flossed, brushed and his cavities filled with something.

    (She could invent silver/mercury amalgam for this, hoping that an astounded future archeologist examining Jamie’s obviously ancient corpse would not see that time travel had happened. If a modern government ever found out that time travel was possible….>Ooops!<

    (To prevent this and other anachronistic clues from persisting, a dead Jamie would need to be cremated.)

    In the book "Tai-Pan" the 1840s charismatic and powerful Scottish merchant-prince had been subtly coached by his Chinese mistress to raise his "barbarian's" hygienic notions. So, as he cleaned up, he insisted that his men and sailors did, too. Those who malingered were thown over the sides of his clipper ships and dragged for some miles. Emerging half-drowned, their clothes, bodies, hair and even decaying teeth were now much cleansed by the salty water.

    –DD

    • sara says:

      Dental care and personal hygiene are subjects that Gabaldon adressed in spades in her novels. Claire is sort of hygiene fighter in those books, she introduced Fraser/Murray clan to the idea of brushing their teeth, and Ian humorously notes in one of later novels that she practically bullied them into more healthy diet and better dental hygiene, and that’s why he still has all of his teeth intact as a middle aged man. Claire also turns into stomatologist for one chapter of book 7, and she meets a lot of people in XVIII century with dental decay, though of course not everyone back then had rotten teeths. One advantage XVIII century folks had in this regard – they definitly used to eat much less sugar.
      Lack of personal hygiene and terrible urban sanitation – DG started to tackle those issues early on. But it’s also clear than not all bad hygiene habits steam from ignorance – sometimes it was simply impossible to wash and bathe given the circumstances they were living in (a cottage in a forest, in the middle of the winter, anyone wants a bath?lol)

      • Daonna Deas says:

        Thanks for the clarification about the books and their mention of Claire’s efforts to improve personal hygiene. I read the books years ago, and had forgotten. The situation is not addressed in the TV show.

        It is a fair enough observation on how difficult it was to bathe and wash clothes in those days. Heavy buckets of water had to be hauled in. Likely, it needed to be boiling to help get some of the grease and grime out of the fabric. Shrinkage of woolens was feared. Lye soaps were far less effective and much harsher than our detergents are today. Even primitive dry-cleaning was a century in the future. River and pond water was often polluted by animal and human waste.

        Bathing passed in and out of fashion in Europe, as in some ages intelligent people feared it actually caused disease! (Microbes were unknown, of course.) One source I read recently said that the rise of linen’s use over woolens affected frequency of bathing: the easier-to-clean linens actually made less-frequent whole-body bathing easier: the linens carried away much of the general skin grime to the laundry. (Using basins, faces and hands, crotches and underarms WERE rinsed frequently through the ages.)

        Deodorants were unknown. Perfumes, spices and flowers and were used by those who could afford them to mask the worst odors. But when everyone is “ripe,” it is less noticed.

        Tooth decay was dealt with by removing the affected tooth, creating a gap. (I had read once that in the 19th century, the wealthy might have ALL their teeth removed in favor of dentures. Like Claire’s aristocratic Parisian friend Louise’s bikini wax, I do not know if this really happened.)

        At the Parisian chapter in her life, Claire is a skilled combat nurse, but is not a dentist. It is not clear in the long saga as her skills later become enhanced that she includes elemental restorative dentistry, like filling cavities.

        Academia discusses the effects of technology on reducing the drudgery that women have had to endure over the ages. Washing machines; hot water heaters; plentiful, clean running water from taps; and detergents are some of it.

        –DD

  10. Daonna Deas says:

    Claire and Jamie have always been Gabaldon’s interesting characters. The rest pale in comparison. Gabaldon has wasted a lot of their time-lines as she has pursued trying to make the secondary characters as appealing.

    Some suggestions:

    > Let’s have an in-fill book about the orphaned young Claire, who apparently led something of an “Indiana Jones”-like life as an assistant to her eccentric uncle, Quentin Lambert Beauchamp, an archeologist and historian. This could cover her life from age 5 or so, when a befuddled Lambert took his precocious niece on his extended travels across the sprawling British Empire, to her joining the British army as a young nurse. There is a great deal of potential, there, which could include Claire’s growing interest across a wide spectrum of cultures in the mysterious arts of healing, her future avocation.

    TV viewers know by now that a saddened and desperate pregnant Claire returns through the terrifying and extremely dangerous time portal to 1948, hearing the howls of all the ancient ones still stuck there who never quite had what it took to make it across.

    She then moves to Boston with Frank. I do not think it gives much away to note that Claire continues to enhance her considerable medical skills in Boston, taking a residency at Massachusetts General Hospital as she becomes a full-fledged MD and a skilled surgeon.

    > Let’s have an in-fill book about Claire’s stint in WWII. We know little about it but that she was a combat nurse, presumably in “Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service.” A lot happened in WWII. Also, midway through the war, the British (1941) and Americans (1944) granted military rank to all active nurses as officers. So, although Black Jack Randall as a line officer could not have conceived of any woman having any kind of officer status and outranking men, Claire’s mindset would.

    Even more so than shown, she would see herself as his rank–or higher–and not be inclined to take any domineering guff from Randall, even if she had only been a staff officer and not a line officer like him. (But then again, she doesn’t take any guff from Randall, does she?)

    By the end of WWII. the competent and determined Claire might’ve risen to the “Senior Sister” rank equal to “Captain” and maybe even to a “Matron,” equal to “Major.” Here were the ranking:

    Sister = Lieutenant
    Senior Sister = Captain
    Matron = Major
    Principal Matron = Lieutenant-Colonel
    Chief Principal Matron = Colonel
    Matron-in-Chief = Brigadier (a sort of one-star general)

    –DD

  11. Daonna Deas says:

    Some have quite properly winced at Black Jack Randall’s extended, mind-damaging torture of Jamie at Wentworth Prison, seemingly truncated from (days? weeks?) in the TV version. That was too graphic, even truncated.

    But readers of the books will have sensed that Gabaldon intentionally plans to have everything bad that happens to some of her leading characters, happen to the others, too. I cannot remember from the books whether Claire is actually raped by the army deserter before she knifes him in the kidney. (Her traumatized pacing afterwards suggests that she was, but it is ambiguous in the TV version whether it is after a rape, or after her first intended killing of a human being, or after both that is troubling her.)

    The point is: Gabaldon uses frequent threat of rape as a plot device. So, she needs Jamie raped; and only a bisexual psychopath like Black Jack Randall has the necessary physical equipment to do this. (Having Jamie raped somehow by a maniacal woman would be risibly absurd.)

    So, Randall is not some kind of gay nightmare. Instead, he is an equal-opportunity bisexual abuser who gains sexual satisfaction from humiliating his victims with physical pain and submission, be they female or male. He would really, really like to brutally rape the feisty Claire, too, if he could break her will in the process, as he did with Jamie.

    (As readers know, an upcoming particular hero of Gabaldon’s in this series is Lord John Grey. He is gay. Later, Lord John bulks even larger in “Outlander’s” proliferating plotlines. Gabaldon has even given this secondary character his own series of books, as a sort of aristocratic mystery-solving detective type, I think. Maybe Gabaldon is channeling a military version of Dorothy Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey, the detective… )

    As readers know, every significant character in the long “Outlander” series is severely traumatized at some point or another. Every one. Severely. Depending on that deserter’s stabbing mentioned above, Jamie may be the first….or not.

    — DD

  12. Daonna Deas says:

    I have enjoyed Gabaldon’s books and TV show about the plucky English Claire, the intrepid combat nurse and accidental time traveler.

    However, some comments need to be made:

    > Claire’s scheme to prevent the Battle of Culloden would be fantastical, even to her. After the whisky wore off, Jamie and the practical Murtagh would dismiss the notion as absurd. While contemplating such a project might arise when they were scooting for their very lives from a very hostile, rustic and even superstitious Scotland, why would saving the remnant of a losing Jacobite army appeal to them?

    A pregnant Claire is looking for a comfortable domicile where she can safely raise her family with Jamie. Once they had morphed via Jared’s generosity into wealthy haut bourgeois wine merchants, and gained favored access to the French court–very hard to do–she has then found that spot in cosmopolitan Paris. They even have soap and toothbrushes there! And bathing once in a while seems to have been coming back into fashion, if the king’s comment to finance minister Duvenay were an indication.

    > With Claire’s general knowledge of the future outcomes of the epic struggles between the British and French empires, Claire and Jamie could easily convert their new bourgeois fortune into millionaire and even billionaire status. They could become the Bill and Melinda Gates of the 18th century, far better able to direct humanitarian aid to the soon-to-be crushed highlanders, or pay the many bribes necessary to get many of the Jacobite prisoners released. Signing over Lallybroch to Jenny or Ian would’ve prevented the potential of a future confiscation. (Like the majority of Scots did during the failed Jacobite uprising, these Frasers could’ve stayed neutral and dodged participation.)

    > Now, according to Wikipedia, “laird” is not a noble title, something the snobbish ancient-regime French aristocrats would’ve known. (The title refers to the current proprietor of the land; it is not legally, i.e., automatically hereditary like a true title of nobility tended to be. It seems to be the equivalent of the English “squire.”) So, Jamie and Claire would only be addressed as “Monsieur et Madame Fraser.” (“Mr. and Mrs. Fraser.”) But as plutocrats, they would be able to buy a much loftier and truly noble title, likely from the French king, but possibly from the Pope or even the Old Pretender James, who WAS recognized by the French as having royal powers as the true king. Their life as rich exiles in Paris would be very satisfying compared to rubbing elbows with the bumpkins in Scotland. And they soon would’ve “kenned” this.

    > As much as we all like the plucky Claire, except for the 200 lashes that the brutal Randall had inflicted on him as a teenager, all of Jamie’s near-fatal experiences in life since have occurred since Claire dropped in from the ether. Without her around, Colum might well have succeeded in maneuvering Jamie into the lairdship even against Dougal’s opposition. In any case, he wouldn’t have ended up being gruesomely tortured over an extended period by the psychopathic Randall.

    > And no army captain like Randall on low-status occupation duty would dare try to rape or in any way abuse the nephew (Jamie) or niece (Jennie) of THE Mackenzie, if the castle-occupying Colum was indeed the overlord of the entire clan. The Mackenzie laird sometimes carried the truly noble title of the Earl of Seaforth, and, if so, Letitia was the Countess of Seaforth. The Mackenzie lands then may have had 1.5 million souls; a significant GDP; and great strategic and political importance. Dougal’s tax entourage would have had scores of guards as his wagons brought in a fortune in revenues, the equivalent of many millions of modern dollars.

    A single letter of complaint by Colum to the government in London would’ve abruptly ruined Randall’s career, no matter how protected he was by the villainous fop Sandringham. And London wouldn’t have cared a whit about some supposedly murdered common soldier as a felony chasing Jamie. It would all be swept under the tartan, so to speak. (Common soldiers were often recruited from the gutter-sweepings of the cities, and were considered insignificant scum until hammered into strict obedience by a brutal army culture.)

    > Don’t forget that Jamie’s living grandfather is Simon Fraser, 11th Lord Lovat, another powerful lord. So, London would be doubly wary of countenancing his abuse by some lowly captain of dragoons.

    Daonna Deas

  13. Elena says:

    The TV series, Outlander, is based on Diana Gabaldon’s book series. I would advise everyone to read the books in addition to watching the TV series. Ms. Gabaldon has her PhD. and is an accomplished educator and researcher. The TV series is excellent but the intricate and historical facets of Claire and Jamie’s relationship shines so much brighter in the books. Women in the 17th and 18th Centuries were nothing more than their husband’s property, hence, Claire and Jamie being exceptions to the rule of the day. Black Jack Randall is an extremely sick sadist, but there is an interesting back story to be found. I reiterate, and emphasize, read the books as the TV series is one of the best book to screen adaptations.

  14. Han says:

    There’s way too much rape in outlander. Will not watch again.

  15. Cori says:

    I’m completely over both of Tobias Menzies’s characters on Outlander. Ron D Moore has saied that he wanted to follow the book, but Outlander isn’t about a love triangle. Enough already!

    All the actors on this show are really good, it would be nice if some others got a little credit for their work as well.

  16. Sharon Grant says:

    I am an almost obsessed Outlander fan. I believe the show is one of the best, most addictive ever on television and have been struggling through Droughtlander like so many others reading all of the books multiple times, re-watching Season 1 on Starz (to which I subscribe because of Outlander), and on DVD. Like so many of us, I have waited almost a year for the continuation of the series and to see Jamie and Claire again. I was disappointed with the first episode, but am still very hopeful for the second season as a whole. Looking at the sets and costumes, I think ultimately the time it took to bring Season 2 to our small screens will be worth it. But, for the first time, I think Ronald D. Moore got it wrong in episode 1. Just as we were afraid he might because of his apparent near obsession with Tobias Menzies. He changed the focus of the beginning of Episode 1 Season 2 from Claire and Jamie to Frank. It was a showcase for the amazingly talented Tobias Menzies, but lost the focus and heart of the show which is the love story of Jamie and Claire that transcends time and distance. We waited for Jamie and Claire. It isn’t that he changed the order of events from the book version. We began in the 20th century in Diana Gabaldon’s book Dragon Fly in Amber, too, but the focus was on Jamie and Claire. It took place after Frank’s death when Claire brought Brianna to Scotland to tell her about her father (focus Jamie) where they met Roger Wakefield the little boy in the Wakefield home now also grown and an historian like his adopted father. Roger will become an important character in the future of the stories. They are all 20 years older. Claire has kept her promise to Frank to raise Brianna as his own and now she wants, needs to tell her the truth about the father whom she, Claire, has loved and treasured all of this time but believed to have died at Culloden. The focus is on Jamie and their relationship. When Claire talks about their time in Paris it is in telling the story of her father to Brianna. Focus Jamie and Claire. So when it finally gets to the scenes in Paris and their failed mission to stop the battle from happening it is a beautiful transition. Here we have her stepping from an airplane with her hand outstretched towards Frank and, time shift, Jamie takes her hand and we jump back to the 18th century. What is she doing in her own time as we enter her journey in France, standing on the steps of the airplane? Is it that brief a foray into the past that it only takes a momentary pause? In the book she is seated comfortably over several days relating the story to a stunned, angry, accepting Brianna and Roger. But the point is, the focus was on Jamie and his relationship with Claire all the way through even when he wasn’t present. He was there. That is what we waited for, at least what I waited for. Jamie and Claire. In the television version the focus of episode 1 for almost half of the time is Frank and Frank’s reaction to Claire’s reappearance and pregnancy. It is beautifully acted by both artists, Claire’s abhorrence of Black Jack Randall’s look alike, and Frank’s reaction to her story and her pregnancy. It could not have been better in terms of performance of the actors, but the focus shifted to Frank and Claire and their relationship. Can Frank accept the pregnancy? Will Frank and Claire regain their own intimacy or forge a new relationship?. That relationship was a post script of sorts in the book series told in small pieces throughout the long story of Claire and Jamie during their years of forced separation. We were not hit over the head with it. We found that they could not go back to their previous closeness because Jamie was always present in the middle. Diana gave us enough so we understood the dynamic, but didn’t dwell on it because Frank and Claire’s relationship is not the heart of the story or stories even as it influences Claire’s journey. The journey is about Jamie (played to heart melting perfection by the equally as amazingly talented, if seemingly under appreciated Sam Heughan) and Claire. I sincerely hope that from this point forward the attention returns to this timeless and beautiful love story of Jamie and Claire and, well you know, it is time travel so hopefully even in the television series we can expect a return to the 18th century for both of them..

  17. Sonya Heaney says:

    “wearing one of the most gorgeous 18th century ensembles ever seen on any screen.”

    As long as you don’t care about historical accuracy…

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  20. ELLyn Radson says:

    Thank you for an insightful piece. Finally someone “Get’s It” !

  21. Hols says:

    Tobias Menzies is a world class actor. As good as Cumberbatch any day.

  22. iamtrue2bill says:

    This review echoes my feelings about this show. The sumptuous costumes, well-detailed sets, gorgeous photography, beautiful locations, and wonderfully talented actors make this well-written, well-directed series a delight for the senses. I am awaiting the new season with great anticipation. This is a wonderful way to escape the present, visit the past, and be treated to a story of love, lust, danger, and courage that is truly well done.

  23. DND says:

    Doesn’t Variety have editors? This is the longest non-review I’ve ever seen. Please don’t call it a review if it’s just a long article about the show. I would have known to skip it then.

  24. Alichat says:

    “Claire’s 18th-century husband is also something of a unicorn on the TV landscape.”

    Well….he’s Scottish and the national animal of Scotland is a unicorn. ;-)

    • Well, it’s as much an article as a review. A true review would probably contain spoilers (esp. since season 2 hasn’t premiered on TV yet) and I can already hear people scream “Spoiler!”, so I don’t see your point in this.

      • Alichat says:

        Actually, it is a review of Season 2. Most TV critics were sent the first 5 episodes of season 2, but could only get those after agreeing to a spoiler policy Starz has in place. So there’s not a lot she could reveal in this review in any specific detail. She mentions items in the review that might be spoilery to some, such as fans who have not read the books, but would not be revealing to those of us who have. As for my unicorn comment, she mentions he’s a unicorn in the TV landscape. Jamie is a Scotsman, the Scottish national animal is a unicorn, therefore that is why he’s a unicorn in the TV landscape. It was a joke, hence the winking smiley at the end of the sentence.

  25. LAT says:

    Wonderful review. The show you describe contains most of the reasons I love the books and now the series. Thank you.

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  27. holwoodfan says:

    Great, insightful review. Thanks!

  28. Tracy Chaput says:

    You have to remember this series is based on books and Ronald D. Moore & Co. have been trying to stick close to the original story.

  29. barb stegun says:

    Maureen, you haven’t read the books of Diana Gabaldon, have you? May I suggest you do and thus you can better define this marvelous story. Ronald D. Moore, cast and crew are just terrific and have brought it to life for those of us who have. Here’s to “Voyager”.

  30. Outlanderfan says:

    Tobias Menzies is extraordinary in Outlander. He’s tremendous as Black Jack and Frank. About time he got his own lead show. He’s been tremendous over the years in shows like Rome

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