Counting down until the premiere of the 2nd season of Outlander… and what better way to get ready than by rewatching season 1!
Outlander, Season 1, Episode 1: “Sassenach”
The official synopsis, courtesy of Starz:
While on her honeymoon, WWII combat nurse Claire Randall is mysteriously transported back to 1743 Scotland, where she is kidnapped by a group of Highlanders – and meets an injured young man named Jamie.
Claire and her husband Frank are trying to rekindle their marriage, and perhaps start a family, after five years of separation during WWII. Claire was a battlefield nurse, Frank an intelligence officer, and they saw each other only ten days during those five years. Now reunited, they’ve traveled to the Scottish Highlands to reconnect and share a little romance — although Frank seems to be a tad too focused on genealogy when he should be concentrating on his sexy-nightgown-wearing wife.
In the immortal words of Phoebe Buffay:
After a peek at the local Druids dancing (beautifully) on the hilltop of Craigh na Dun amidst the standing stones on the eve of Samhain, Claire returns to the site to pick some flowers, places her hands on the stones, and is transported back through time to 1743…. where she is threatened by none other than Frank’s nefarious ancestor, Black Jack Randall, then rescued by a band of Highlanders.
Between the kilts, the redcoats with muskets, the very smelly smells, and the lack of electrical lights in Inverness, Claire accepts the bizarre truth that she’s journeyed through time. After mending the dislocated shoulder of gorgeous “young Jamie”, she’s taken along with the gang as they flee their redcoat pursuers. Claire shares Jamie’s horse — and isn’t she lucky? He’s both the cleanest and handsomest of the bunch, and also seems to be the only one to treat her with an ounce of respect. (Well, can you blame them? Even in her own time, Claire would stand out as a woman who speaks her mind and defers to exactly no one.)
Claire applies the 20th century knowledge she’s picked up from her historian husband (thanks, Frank!) to warn the Highlanders of a redcoat ambush, then takes advantage of the skirmish to try to flee. Jamie stops her, quite dashingly, and gives her the choice of coming along willingly or being thrown over his shoulder and carried. Back on Jamie’s horse she goes.
The episode wraps up with Claire treating Jamie yet again for his injuries — this will be a recurring theme! — and then arriving back at Castle Leoch with her kilted road buddies.
Can I say — all of them?
More specifics, then. First of all, I’m convinced that Outlander has the world’s most beautiful opening song and title sequence ever:
Second, the visual WOW of it all. The landscapes are gorgeous. The costumes? We’ve only just begun, but the work to make them stunning and historically fitting is remarkable.
Third, for the book lovers, this first episode was a hold-your-breath, edge-of-the-seat moment: Could the TV version capture the magic and the spirit of the books?
Episode 1 answers that question with a resounding YES.
Two other elements that are important to note:
1 – The color palette, as used to emphasize the journey through time. We don’t even really notice how muted the colors are in the 1946 segment of the episode until Claire opens her eyes for the first time in 1743, and we suddenly have these incredibly vivid hues popping from the screen.
2 – Claire’s disorientation is perfectly shown by showcasing her lack of comprehension as the Highlanders around her speak to one another in Gaelic. There are no subtitles — Claire doesn’t understand what they’re saying, and neither do we. It’s a strong but subtle way for the production to emphasize Claire’s isolation, as well as an effective means for putting us in her shoes and letting us see through her eyes.
It’s all about Claire and Frank in this episode, at least while in the 1940s, much to the dismay of book fans who simply can’t stand the idea of Claire with anyone but you-know-who. Claire and Frank get it on… and on… and on… most notably, in the dingy, dusty cellar of Castle Leoch, in which Claire shows no hesitation about demanding what she wants from her husband, exactly the way she wants it.
The show seems to be making a definitive statement from the very beginning that this is a woman who enjoys her body, enjoys being a sexual being, and expects her lover(s) to be both skilled and attentive. You go, Claire!
Claire’s 1940s blue coat outfit is a stunner:
Her white dress is perfect for the transition from stylish 20th century gal to wild woman running around in a shift:
And of course, we get our first glimpse of what a bunch of Highlanders look like when they’re out raiding and rumbling with the redcoats:
Again, book fans may not like it, but the show is making it very clear that Claire loves her husband very much. This is important — we have to believe it, or why would she try so hard later on to get back to him? This episode does a good job of establishing several things:
- Claire’s independence and toughness, as shown by the flashbacks to her unusual childhood and her wartime experiences
- Her strong sense of herself as a woman with sexual desires who’s comfortable in her own body
- Her love for Frank
- Black Jack Randall’s black, black heart… and his reputation
- That Jamie is a fighter, is tough, has a heart of gold, and is a prince among men. (Okay, maybe a bit of personal bias is intruding here!)
“Strange, the things you remember.”
“I don’t hold with rape. And we’ve not got time for it anyway.”
“On your horse, soldier.”
Dougal comes across as dark, mysterious, clearly in charge, but with a sense of honor too. Most of the other Highlanders (in fact, all but Jamie and Murtagh) seem more like buffoons here, and the episode gives us a brief introduction to Angus and Rupert and their goofy behavior. Frank? Well, besides being more excited about old documents than his wife for half of his honeymoon, he does seem to be an upright, decent sort of guy, if a bit unexciting. (Really, you arrive in your honeymoon suite with your amorous wife and the first thing you do is take out a book? Not cool, dude.)
Fabulous opening. This oversized episode (64 minutes) does everything it needs to do — introduces the key characters, the setting, the politics, and the major conflicts; creates drama on a micro and macro level; and leaves us wanting more!