“Outlander” will air its midseason finale on Sept. 27, and the action-packed hour should certainly leave viewers craving more until the drama returns for the final eight episodes of season one next April.
Ahead of episode eight, titled “Both Sides Now,” Variety spoke to executive producer Ron Moore and star Tobias Menzies (who plays Frank Randall and his bloodthirsty ancestor, “Black Jack” Randall) about the season so far and what to expect in this week’s installment. Read on for more, and come back to Variety on Saturday after the episode airs for a postmortem with the duo.
Back to the Future
Menzies revealed that “this is one of the episodes that departs from the book most because [we] go back and see what has been happening with Frank in these intervening months since Claire (Caitriona Balfe) disappeared, and obviously, that is not in the book. I think one of the things that the writers are trying to do is, obviously, build Frank up, but also to see a bit of Jack in Frank, and to see what happens when Frank is unraveling about it all.” The episode does an impressive job of balancing Frank’s future travails with the aftermath of Claire and Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) wedding, which is “their honeymoon period,” as Moore describes it (complete with both the requisite honeymoon activities and a few unexpected encounters).
Frankly, My Dear…
As the season has progressed, the writers have grown more confident in deviating from the source material — especially when it comes to further developing Frank outside Diana Gabaldon’s novels. Menzies admitted he’s been pleasantly surprised to see the additional scenes for the character as the scripts have come in: “[I’m] enjoying the greater level of complexity that is being drawn out by the series … that’s always very enjoyable as an actor, to be given more colors to play.” Frank’s impromptu proposal to Claire outside a registry office in episode seven was one moment in particular that deepened Frank as a character through a very simple act — a decision that Moore said was inspired by a creative choice he made back in episode one.
“In the first episode I decided that Claire and Frank, in the 1940s, would visit Castle Leoch, so that we would have the fun of her walking through the halls with Frank that she would later in the show walk down [in the past]. Well, now we’d done that and the book chose to have her wed [Jamie] at the same chapel [where she wed Frank], but in our version of events in the show, that would be doing the same beat a second time, so I didn’t want to do it again. It felt like, ‘OK we’ve already done that,’ and if you do it again it starts to get a little cute,” Moore explained. “So then we talked about ‘well, let’s just give her a different wedding.’ The purpose then is, how can we counterpoint the wedding with Jamie? If the wedding with Jamie is going to be this romantic fantasy and it’s going to be the beautiful dress and the candles and the whole nine yards, then her wedding to Frank should be different. Not a bad wedding, but it should be a very different thing. So we said, ‘well, what if they eloped, or if they got married at the spur of the moment and went into the registrar’s office? We can be in London. …’ We had a sense of a big contrast between the two marriages, and that’s why we went that direction. It was great that it was [Frank’s] idea and that he’s tickled by it, and you do like him more.”
Last week’s wedding episode also departed from the book by using a non-linear structure of flashbacks to keep up the momentum of the hour, something that Moore admitted “took a while to break” and required a lot of discussion in the writers’ room. “Once we had the flashback structure then it was about ‘OK, what are the flashbacks?’ We landed on the idea that Jamie would be telling us about what he did on the wedding day to prepare it for Claire and in a way, him telling her all the things he did for her, for the wedding, was also a way of bonding them more closely together. So we approached it from that point of view and then said, ‘if this is the construct then each of the Highlanders who are with them on the road should have a purpose; each of them should have a task: Dougal and Willie will go get the priest and the church, Rupert and Angus will go get the ring and Ned will go get the wedding dress.’ We just divided it up and said ‘each of those will be a little section.’” (And fans shouldn’t fret — Moore promised that we’ll learn about the origin of Claire’s key wedding ring in the back half of the season.)
Then came the wedding night, and, unsurprisingly, Jamie’s first time wasn’t quite the angels singing, fireworks exploding climax that fans might have envisioned when reading the book — entirely by design, according to Moore (although the couple more than made up for it in rounds two and three). “You’ve been waiting for this moment for quite a while and we just wanted it to be real,” he admitted. “If you play it truthfully, the audience can enjoy it more than if you’re trying to over-romanticize it and trying to get all arty about it. He’s being deflowered, she’s really nervous and that’s not going to be the best sex you’ve ever had in your life. So let’s play it for that and play it for fun and play the sweetness of it, the chemistry leading up to it, the disrobing and the anticipation … and then the act itself is anticlimactic and it’s all about aftermath. Once that was done, then they could establish a different relationship, and then the next time they have sex it can be more fun and it can have more elements to it, and finally at the end of the show, you could have something that was more about love.”
Hit the Road, Jack
Shooting has now wrapped on season 1 of “Outlander,” so we asked Menzies about his fondest memories from filming. “I still have very fond memories of when we were first, way back in September last year, shooting all the Craigh na Dun stuff with the stones, and just being in that amazing Scottish landscape. We were all starting out, and if you’d asked me then what this year was going to be like, I couldn’t have told you. It’s been an unexpected adventure, but great,” he said.
After playing both Black Jack and Frank for 16 episodes, Menzies admitted each had their own particular challenges and appeals. “I think one of the challenges with Frank was to draw him out a bit more than in the book, and also that was the first stuff that we were filming. Sometimes I think it’s the hardest thing to get a whole new crew, a whole new group of people and straight away pick it up…. But obviously the Jack stuff has certain challenges of its own. In episode six, there’s a lot of it and [it’s about] pitching it right. Each is difficult in their own very different ways.”
Far from taking a break after his dual roles, Menzies is preparing to embark upon a one-man play called “The Fever” in January at London’s Almeida Theatre. “It’s a Wallace Shawn play. It’s a monologue … it’s only me in a hotel room, and there will be about 25 to 30 people in the audience, and it’ll be about an hour and a half long. It’s a personal project, something that I’ve wanted to do for quite a while, and it’s finally coming to fruition. It’s bloody terrifying, but that’s what I’m going to be doing. I’m not going to be lying on a beach!”
When you’ve watched episode eight, read our “Outlander” midseason finale postmortem interview with Menzies and Moore for intel on the episode’s many surprises.