Outlander: First Episode Review

When watching Starz Outlander, it’s impossible to NOT be captivated by the breathtaking scenery of Scotland and the beauty of the incredibly talented actors on screen, but Ron D. Moore, the show’s producer, has carefully crafted a masterpiece of impressive depth that goes far beyond the superficial… no matter how amazing that first glance may be.

And trust me, it IS amazing… Have you seen Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe? Exactly.

After watching the first episode four times, I am still overwhelmed in trying to decide where to begin in reviewing it… there’s just so much incredible content to explore.
Start by reading my Detailed Synopsis Of Episode 101 so you’ll see what I mean.

Readers of Outlander by Diana Gabaldon will be thrilled to know that the series clings to the original story, based on what I’ve seen so far. Ron D. Moore also reassures that although the series may deviate from the book at times, it will always return to the main plot line. That being said, the writers have supplemented the original content with additional scenes that truly enrich the story. One of these scenes shows Claire’s time working as a field nurse during WWII. Her tenacity and decisive practicality shine as she handles dire situations and effectively illustrates the strength she possesses. One newly created scene takes place in Castle Leoch, in which Claire and Frank explore its ruins. Seeing this place before she travels back in time evokes a feeling of déjà vu as we watch her return there with the Highlanders and Jamie.

A crucial, noticeable difference in the screen adaptation of Outlander is the depiction of Claire and Frank’s relationship. Even though they’re navigating a period of reconnection, their interactions reflect a more loving, playful, and sexually passionate relationship than the one that exists in Gabaldon’s novel. This transforms the more clinical tone of their book relationship into one that will actually tear Claire between two men and their very different worlds, instead of pulling her between true love and a sense of duty to return from where she came. As the story develops, this will intensify the important decisions Claire must make, which will be truly fascinating to see. By upping the intensity in their relationship, Moore deepens the emotional investment we have in her 20th century marriage, and Claire’s fate. Thanks to brilliant acting by Heughan and Balfe, as well as the incredible dialogue written by the executive staff, the budding chemistry between Jamie and Claire is palpable. We witness the effective ignition of the slow burning flame that will continue to grow between them, and act as a worthy opponent vying for her attention as well as her place in time. Creative decisions, like these, made by the production executives elevate the viewing experience from the audience watching a historical drama to feeling like they are actually living in it.

The show captivates the viewers through establishing a personal relationship with Claire and achieves this feat through several strategic tactics. Claire’s speaks directly to the audience through frequent voiceovers, which builds a sense of intimacy as she confides her private thoughts and feelings to them. Her periods of voiceover silence force the audience to focus intently on the action taking place onscreen at the same time. Just as we, the viewers, have the benefit of Claire’s knowledge, we are also at the mercy of her ignorances. This can be seen when all of the Highlanders in the crofter’s cottage are speaking rapid Gaelic, and Claire has no clue what’s being said. To extend the sense of isolation and confusion she is experiencing to the audience, there are no subtitles translating the Gaelic to English. At the Outlander World Premiere in San Diego, Ron D. Moore discussed the decision to withhold subtitles. This creative decision illustrates the brilliance of his plan to cultivate intimacy between Claire and the audience, and it WORKS. Caitriona Balfe’s stellar acting seals the authenticity of this bond. When her face reflects the internal dialogue of her mind the audience can feel her emotions themselves.

The amazing soundtrack by Bear McCreary and the skillful timing of sound effects emphasizes the action onscreen. In doing so, it causes the mind of the spellbound viewer to react as Claire reacts to various situations. Her emotions become our emotions. And I mean, who wouldn’t want to be Claire, as it is?! She’s an amazingly beautiful, strong, intelligent woman on a fantastic adventure. One great example of this phenomenon occurs with the loud boom of a gunshot that breaks the silence of her stunned reverie, following her fall through time. It startles the audience as well as Claire, and the music that soon follows mimics her hurried attempts to escape the confusion of battle. This part of the soundtrack includes frantic Highland fiddling that halts when she runs into Black Jack Randall at the water’s edge, which elicits a shocked, confused response from the audience as Claire sees what she thinks is Frank, her husband. Another powerful scene enhanced by the show’s music occurs when Claire and Frank watch the Druids perform their Samhain fire feast ritual at Craigh na Dun. The otherworldly quality of the music, and it’s haunting beauty, illustrate the link that these women possess with the spiritual world, and Claire’s voiceover mentions that she feels like an intruder but couldn’t break away. Just as witnessing this spectacle makes the hair on the back of her neck stand up, the chillbump-inducing music evokes a sense of reverent awe and fascinated curiosity in the show’s viewers.

Terry Dresbach’s intricate costume designs for both time periods are crucial in mentally transporting the audience to the place in time on screen. One absolutely brilliant design choice, which I have seen her discuss in various articles and via twitter, can be seen in the white, lightweight dress from the 1940’s that Claire is wearing when she falls through the Stones into 1743. The dress not only had to be believable as Claire’s modern day dress, but also needed to be passable as a “shift” of undergarment that a woman would’ve worn in the period of time to which she travels. It also adds to the complete confusion over her true identity in 1743 as the men try to puzzle out why a woman would be running around in the woods, alone, in her shift if she wasn’t a “whore”.

The extreme efforts that the production/set crew has put into managing the difficult filming environment, and the lengths that the cast has gone to in order capture this excellent material is astonishing, and yields an amazing product for our enjoyment.

The richness of the first Outlander episode will leave the viewer both sated and hungry for more, regardless of whether they’ve read the books or not. This series will both delight current fans of the Outlander novel and win over viewers that are completely new to this epic story.