Outlander, Episode 1: Sassenach
Over the weekend the new Starz original series Outlander premiered, adapted of course from the beloved novels of Diana Gabaldon. First published more than twenty years ago, the eponymous first novel in the series introduces readers to Claire Randall, a twentieth century army nurse who discovers that time, space, and love are much more complicated than she imagined. On holiday with her husband Frank in the Scottish Highlands, Claire is readjusting to life after World War II. As she struggles with her return to normalcy she also must rediscover her relationship with Frank after years of service has kept them apart; but destiny has other plans for Claire, and the mysteries of the Highlands soon sweep her up into an entirely unforeseen adventure: one that lands her in Scotland's eighteenth century. Thrown into a Scotland at the cusp of the second Jacobite rising, Claire’s fate is in the hands of a clan of Highlanders, among them the heroic and disarming Jamie Fraser. As she struggles with her devotion to Frank and her desperation to return to her own time, Claire discovers a new part of herself in Jamie – and a new enemy in Frank’s devious British ancestor. “Sassenach”, the first episode in the lavish adaptation from Starz, first draws us into the world of Gabaldon’s novels as Claire’s haunting narrative unfolds against the staggering landscapes of the Highlands. Its rugged beauty and enduring ruthlessness make the story’s Scottish setting a crucial entity, a character all its own, and its representation here is breathtaking, sweeping the viewer up with the same thrilling immediacy of the books. From the very first frame, we feel that this is truly the sensation of entering into the novels. As the episode’s story, written by developer Ronald D. Moore, begins to explore the warm, tentative reunion of Claire and Frank, we’re soon lost to the wonderful cast and the finitely rendered details of the 1940s.
Caitriona Balfe is dedicated in her embodiment of Claire’s grace, wisdom, humor, and practicality. She’s a heroine for the ages – literally – and Caitriona does a remarkable job of capturing all that makes Claire so special. By the time Claire is thrust into the eighteenth century the viewer is tuned into her emotions, feeling all of the excitement, abhorrence, desperation, and curiosity that rocket through Claire’s world in a flash. Tobias Menzies is also terrific in the dual roles of Frank Randall and his ancestor, “Black Jack” Randall, whom Claire crosses paths with on her journey through the past. In this, Tobias must encompass both the central villain and a central romantic character, a rather rare and challenging prospect, but he does so with grace and eloquence. As Jamie, of course, Sam Heughan superbly personifies the charm, mischievousness, and bravery that make Jamie such a beloved character to millions of readers. Jamie is the sort of larger-than-life literary character that seems impossible to adapt, but Sam proves himself to be a wonderful choice.
Creator Ronald D. Moore really captures the essence of Outlander in just one episode; I can’t wait to see what he and the very talented team do with the rest of the series. The direction by John Dahl is stunning as he utilizes much of the landscape to aid in telling the story. Meanwhile the costumes by Glenne Campbell and Terry Dresbach leave no detail unchecked, especially in regards to the Highlander Scots. One could spend much of an episode just absorbing the story that the costuming tells. The transition from the twentieth century to the seventeenth century is remarkable in part because the landscape barely changes, and yet we feel alongside Claire as though we've entered into a different world. . Accompanied by Bear McCreary’s thematic and quietly chilling score that evokes the cultural history of Scotland, the first episode sets the stage for what promises to be a beautifully rendered imaging of Diana Gabaldon’s timeless creation.
You can catch the premiere episode of Outlander on Starz.com, OnDemand, and on the Starz Play app for free through 9/28 (US only).
Photos courtesy of Starz