SPOILER WARNING: Do not read on unless you’ve seen “Outlander” episode eight, titled “Both Sides Now.”
It’s going to be a long wait between now and April 4, when “Outlander” returns from its midseason hiatus to resolve the cliffhanger left lingering at the end of episode eight — newlywed Claire Fraser (Caitriona Balfe) has once again fallen into the hands of the sadistic Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies), forcing her new husband Jamie (Sam Heughan) to mount a rescue attempt behind enemy lines. To make matters worse, the only reason Claire ended up back in the Englishman’s clutches was because she bolted back to the Standing Stones at Craigh na Dun to try and return to her first husband, Frank Randall (Menzies) in the 1940s. This can’t end well.
“Both Sides Now” also presented the show’s most notable departure from Diana Gabaldon’s book to date, following a distraught Frank as he desperately searched for any sign of his missing wife back in her own time — something that was never explored in the “Outlander” novel. Variety spoke to both Menzies and executive producer Ron Moore to learn more about the process of conceiving Frank’s new storyline, adapting the book to fit the action-packed hour, and what fans can expect when the series returns in the spring.
Note: Our interviews with Moore and Menzies were conducted separately, and have been combined below, with questions edited for clarity.
Ron, this week’s episode is the biggest departure from the book so far, in terms of Frank’s storyline. What was the process of developing his arc over the course of the hour?
Moore: We were in the writers’ room, looking for how to follow up the wedding show and get to our midseason cliffhanger, so we knew what the Claire story was, but then we started talking about “what else can we do in this hour?” and somebody suggested, “we could pick up on Frank and see what he’s been doing,” which was an out-of-the-box idea because it’s not in the book at all. It was something we had talked about internally and it became an interesting notion to just cut to him at the very beginning and start the show there and see his frustration. Then it became really interesting as we started talking about the counterpoint in their experiences — as Claire is getting closer to Jamie and starting to fall in love with him a bit, we’re going to Frank who’s heartbroken and upset, and it was an interesting juxtaposition of the two stories. All season long it’s been Claire saying “I’ve got to get back to my husband,” and then at the point where she’s actually considering being with this man that she just got married to, that’s when we take the audience to the other side of the equation. It felt like a really good time to do that.
The progression of Frank’s story in this episode, leading to the confrontation in the alley, obviously serves to strengthen the parallels between him and Black Jack, so it feels very organic. But a lot happens in this hour — it’s pretty action-packed just in terms of adapting what’s in the novel, so why did you feel like now was the right time to add that additional character development for him?
Moore: It just felt right. This is a pretty big moment in Claire’s story — because everything starts with the Claire story — the fact that she takes off and runs for Craigh na Dun at her first opportunity, given everything she’s just gone through in the wedding episode, everything she’s just experienced with [Jamie]. We wanted to understand that and we did not want the audience going “God, are you crazy, why would you leave him?” We had to reestablish and really underline Frank, really say “look, this guy is not only a good guy, he’s actually suffering; he’s actually been hurt; he’s actually out there really going through it waiting for Claire; so yeah, she should go back to the Stones.” We wanted that feeling, or at least have the audience conflicted about what they’re rooting for.
In terms of the fight in the alley, Tobias, how did it feel to play Frank unleashed like that, and blur the line a little between his character and Black Jack’s?
Menzies: I think it gives a really interesting dimension to Frank as something that we haven’t seen in the story to date. He’s been relatively contained, and I feel it was a really interesting and good move because it feels true to what that would be like. I’ve never lost anyone or had anyone disappear, but I can believe the impotence that must generate in someone, and especially someone like Frank — who is a man of the world; he’s a spymaster, and I imagine he’s used to being able to sort these things out — [when he realizes] that he is completely helpless. I think you see that all condensed into that moment of attack.
We really get the first sense of how dangerous Frank is after all the experiences he must’ve had in the war, but unlike Black Jack, we also see that he has a conscience afterwards. What went into filming that scene in terms of blocking and preparation and deciding how much brutality was enough for you and how much was too much?
Menzies: We shot a lot of it, so that it could be done in the edits, and obviously, the creative team would pitch it depending on how things were looking. So I think we shot enough that it could be as brutal as they wanted it to be, and obviously then they could draw it back. That very much is informed by the rest of the scenes building up to it, how much or not you show of that. In a way, I think the biggest sell really is the moment — because the attack on the guy’s obviously visceral, but very blurred with the rain coming down on him — but the moment when he takes the girl’s throat, I think, was still a moment of Frank regaining control of himself.
Mrs. Graham gives Frank an explanation for Claire’s disappearance by telling him about her belief in the power of the Stones, prompting him to visit them near the end of the episode. Do you think there was any part of Frank that believed her, or was it more of a last-ditch effort because he’d exhausted every other option?
Menzies: It’s probably the latter. He’s a rationalist through and through, I’d say. He’s not a particularly romantic spirit, and so I think when he hears that story, there’s a point when you see him and it’s almost as much about the disappointment of where his life has ended up, that he’s sat here listening to this, and it’s this straw that he has to grasp onto. I think what drives him back there is actually as much about the longing he feels — I don’t think there’s a great deal of expectation. But then there’s this strange [experience]; he hears something, but I don’t think he knows what it is. But I always thought it was more about letting go and catharsis, rather than a literal belief that he would find her there.
Speaking of the Stones, it was a really powerful moment, seeing Claire escape to Craigh na Dun and almost manage to connect with Frank through time somehow — it felt like it could’ve been lifted straight from the book, even though it was completely new. Ron, how did you develop the idea for that almost-reunion?
Moore: It was something that came out of the writers’ room as we were breaking the episodes for season one. We were going through them and we started talking about episode eight; we knew it was the midseason finale, we knew what the cliffhanger was going to be and we just started thinking about what that episode could be. The deeper we got into the conversation and talking about Frank and how it would help us with Claire’s story and move the audience’s allegiances around, it just built naturally to the point of “wouldn’t be cool if he went up to Craigh na Dun at the same time she was going up?” You could just see visually what a great cross-cut that would be and that provided the climax, and then we could still get to the cliffhanger of the season right after. It was a very organic process because once we started talking about it, we all just fell in love with it.
Tobias, can you talk about filming that scene from a logistical standpoint? Were you and Caitriona shooting it separately or together?
Menzies: We were shooting at the same time. It was quite technical. The director had these little shots — because you know, there’s the shots that you see Cait being taken away, and then you pan across the rock, and on the other side of the rock is Frank with the car in the same shot, and so that was a lot of timing. I think that it’s a very eloquent piece of filming. My main memory of it is just spending a lot of time shouting at this mock-up of a rock and wondering what it was going to look like, because it was one of the more esoteric moments of Frank’s journey.
Ron, the episode is one of the most brutal so far, with two instances of Claire almost being raped. Obviously, both are pivotal moments in the book, but coming so close together they really highlight the danger and cruelty of the world she’s still trapped in, and it makes for a fairly dark episode. Was there any hesitation about including both in the same hour, or was it just a case of trying to be faithful to the flow of the book?
Moore: We never seriously considered taking either one out because they were both important to the storyline as laid out, because the deserters’ near rape in the meadow is a key component to the relationship between Claire and Jamie and it plays into the next episode, 109, on top of the second half, so that was an important element. Obviously, Jamie coming in when Randall’s about to rape her was also a key thing that had to happen, so yeah. The fact that they’re both in the same episode is just the way the story was given to us and so we wanted to keep going down that path.
Fans have a long wait between episodes eight and nine when the show returns next year — what can you tease about what we can expect from the next episode and the second half of the season?
Moore: We will resolve the cliffhanger; you’re going to see the fallout in the relationship between Claire and Jamie as a result, and eventually we will return to Castle Leoch.
Menzies: The adventure continues to rumble on in many surprising and varied ways. Claire goes on the road at one point in a sort of song and dance troupe with Murtagh. We see Jamie’s background, we meet his sister… there’s plenty of story to go.
“Outlander” will return for the second half of season one on Sat., April 4 at 9 p.m. on Starz.