With the season of ‘Game of Thrones’ at a end and the premiere of the new season of ‘Downton Abbey’ months away, ‘Outlander’ looks to fill the void of choice period drama. Premiering tonight at 9pm on the Starz channel, ‘Outlander’ promises an intriguing mix of adventure, romance, violence and sex against the backdrop of 1700’s Scottish history.
The first episode opens in 1946 with World War II freshly at a close. Claire Randall, the show’s eyes and ears, served during the war as a combat nurse. Her husband, Frank Randall, served in intelligence, meaning they’ve only seen each other 10 times in the past five years. They embark on their so-called second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands to become reacquainted with one another and the people they are now.
The first half of the episode establishes Claire’s world and current state effectively. She’s confidant in who she is, knowledgeable, and comfortable with her sexuality. Caitriona Balfe (Now You See Me, Super 8) is charming in the role, making Claire a well-defined protagonist. She has a good rapport with Tobias Menzies (Game Of Thrones) as Frank, making it believable that these two do care for one another, but there’s a divide between them.
Frank’s interest is history, which helps the show establish the historical exposition of the area without being long winded. Claire’s new hobby is of the medical use of plants and herbs will probably prove to be a more useful hobby down the line than say binge watching period dramas.
His passion leads them to a rock formation that witches use for a ceremony. Claire returns alone later because of a particular interest in a flower and is transported back through time. The sci-fi twist of events doesn’t happen till after the half way mark of the episode, just enough to get a sense of Claire as a character, her relationship with Frank, and the history of the place. Once she wakes up in the 1700’s things kick off with a bang, quite literally. She stumbles upon a skirmish with a Scottish clan and British troops aka the Red Coats.
Claire soon meets the great great something or another of her husband, Black Jack Randall, and he proves to be a creep. She is snatched up by the Scots and quickly proves her medical knowledge is worthwhile by bandaging up the young Scotsman, Jamie Fraser. Portrayed by Sam Heughan, Jamie is the younger member of the group, not as rough as the rest. Sharing a horse together, Heughan and Balfe play well off of each other, so it will be exciting to see how their character's relationship develops.
It doesn't take Claire long to rationalize her brutal new environment full of kilts and Gaelic; by the end of the episode, she accepts that she is now in a different time period. The show doesn’t forget to lighten the mood in between the drama including a bit with the differences in language of the time periods, but the word alcohol is universal through the ages.
The show employs a voice over which has brought up some debate among commentators online, but for now the technique works, especially when she’s trying to figure out what happened to her and where she is. That isn’t exactly something that can be discussed with men she just met without sounding ridiculous or out of character. It will be interesting to see if the show continues with this technique or abandons it. Given that the source material is a novel, it could be the former.
Beautifully shot with great costumes and set design, the show does transport to another world and era. The actors and story make the world believable and intriguing enough to tune in for the next episode.
Viewers seem to agree. Starz released the episode last Saturday online on Youtube and the Starz website and also on demand through Starz and Xfinity. As of the 7th, 897,362 views had been logged by 606,557 unique viewers. Obliviously some liked it enough for repeat views. Not that should be too much of a surprise as the first novel that the show is based off of was published in 1991 and since then the series has sold over 20 million copies. Given that executive producer Ronald D. Moore had his start in television with 'Star Trek: The Next Generation' and worked on other series such as 'Roswell' and ‘Battlestar Galactica,’ he probably knows a thing or two about passionate fans. Author Diana Gabaldon has been involved throughout the process which should give fans of the novel faith that the show will live up to their expectations. Season one will encompass 16 episodes.
Book lovers, do you think the premiere lives up to the novel? Non-readers, does the show’s premise intrigue you?