The cast and crew of “Outlander” traversed a narrative minefield in the seventh episode of Season 2, titled “Faith,” as Caitriona Balfe’s Claire Fraser was quickly forced to rebound from the despair of losing her baby to the high-stakes tension of an audience with King Louis XV (Lionel Lingelser), in which she attempted to earn freedom for her incarcerated husband, Jamie (Sam Heughan), as well as save the lives of her friend Master Raymond (Dominique Pinon) and nemesis Le Comte St. Germain (Stanley Weber).
Showrunner Ronald D. Moore explains how the pivotal “Star Chamber” scene came together through five key contributions behind the scenes as part of our Emmy season feature, Anatomy of a Scene.
Toni Graphia, writer
The script was a delicate balancing act, according to Moore, and Graphia fought for it from the get-go. “We broke it together as a staff, and I think the element that we worked over the most and kept going back to and reworking was what happened within the Star Chamber itself, trying to make sure it was clear what everyone’s motivation was, why Claire was doing the things that she did. When you went to voiceover, what was the king’s motivation? What did Claire think was happening? When did Raymond put the poison in? There were a lot of mechanics involved in that scene, that just meant it got reworked several times before it was even drafted.”
“Toni’s first draft was really good. My big note for her for the second draft was, ‘it’s really not about Claire sleeping with the king.” That plays a pretty big element in the book; [Claire and Jamie] have a pretty big fight about it, but I said “for the TV show and for what we’re doing, nothing in this episode is as big as the loss of the baby. Go back and just dig deeper and make it about the loss of the baby.’ And she just took that note and embraced it, and dug really deep, and the second draft was amazing. I remember she was in Scotland and we were both there, and I just walked into the writer’s office and hugged her and kissed her and said, ‘oh my God, it’s a beautiful piece of work. I’m so proud of you.’ I’m still blown away by what she did. The second draft was just an amazing piece of writing.”
Metin Hüseyin, director
A returning director from Season 1, Hüseyin had already helmed some complicated episodes in Season 2, including the opening two episodes of the year. “Metin had done a fine job,” Moore says. “The cast had a great affinity with him, a great relationship. And it was complicated material, and the culmination of a lot of things through the course of the season that he’d already been intimately involved with, so that just seemed like a no-brainer to us.”
The layout of the Star Chamber set also required a knowledgeable hand, Moore explains: “It was a difficult set to shoot in because of the design. It had unique lighting challenges to get the shafts of light coming down from the stars. It took so long to rig it that you didn’t really want to do a lot of different setups. It was a very long scene, so the production requirements forced Metin into a certain style of direction; he just couldn’t afford the time to keep playing around and resetting things.”
Jon Gary Steele, production designer
The striking look of the Star Chamber set was conceived by Steele (who told us more about his design process in our recent Artisans video). “The very first conversation we had was very conceptual. He asked me, ‘tell me about where this room is in the palace, and how old is it? Is it a room that’s been converted to this purpose? What’s the feeling?’ Because the show has always been at pains to be authentic as possible, and in this instance I said, ‘This one should have a certain heightened quality to it, it’s mystical, magical, and let’s say that this room was purpose-built for this, by his grandfather who built Versailles,'” Moore recalls.
“The next conversation, he started telling me he had these big plans, and he wanted to do a dome and I was like, ‘Really? Because you know it is just one scene?’ He’s like, ‘yeah, trust me,’ and then he brought me down and showed me a three-dimensional model that he’d had built in the art department. This is one of the things I love about our art department — they build actual models, not just all computerized stuff; there’s actual models to look at. And I saw it, it had the dome on it, and you can bend down and look through the doorways and he said, ‘now, it’s going to be expensive…’ He was just so passionate about it and he really believed in it, and I just said ‘okay, let’s do it, spend the money, let’s build it.’ I think he was a little surprised I said yes, too.”
The end product was clearly worth the expense. “It’s a gorgeous scene and a gorgeous set,” Moore observes. “I’m struck by how well you see it. A lot of times you go on the set and sometimes it’s not shot correctly, or we don’t use most of it … this was an instance where you saw the whole thing. You saw the dome, you saw the fires, the brassieres, and the columns, and the depth, and the floor decoration. Suddenly you’re disconnected from Paris and you’ve just entered this other reality that you had no idea was right behind that door.”
Michael O’Halloran, editor
Because Hüseyin filmed the Star Chamber scene all the way through in long, unbroken takes to maintain the emotional intensity, the episode also required careful editing from O’Halloran. “It was a difficult scene to cut because there weren’t that many takes, and sometimes the eye lines don’t match up on these long masters because people just forget where they are,” Moore says. “If you’re not running the scene over and over again, suddenly you’re trying to cut them together. That took a lot of time and effort.”
Terry Dresbach, costume designer
The costumes on the show are almost characters in themselves, diligently created by Dresbach (who also happens to be Moore’s wife), and her team. In the case of the Star Chamber scene, Moore notes, “It’s a dark set, but those costumes provide a lot of color, interest and detail — a lot of bling in the room. The most important thing about the costumes in this scene, like in every scene, is that they so quickly define the characters. Claire’s dark dress anchors her at the center of things, and she’s been put at the center of things. The king is still wearing that long robe, so he’s the only casual one here, but he has the most power.”