Outlander Review: A Time-Traveling Sassenach

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In the opening moments of Outlander, with a gorgeous view of the Scottish Highlands, we hear the following voiceover…

People disappear all the time. Young girls run away from home. Children stray from their parents and are never seen again. Housewives take the grocery money and taxi to the train station. Most are found eventually. Disappearances after all have explanations. Usually.

And we’re off onto the first episode of the long-awaited Outlander. Earlier this week, I posted 9 things you need to know about the Starz adaptation of the Diana Gabaldon novel - but we now get to see what all the fuss is about.

My episode recaps will be less about recounting every plot moment that occurs and more of a hope to strike up discussion about what we’re seeing on the screen, how the book is being adapted for the series and, just maybe, how beautiful and sexy the leads Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan happen to be.

So read on and feel free to leave comments below about what’s working and not working.

Outlander Art

Claire: Like the best written productions, you get a sense of who someone is in just a few moments and so seeing Claire in action as a nurse in the war flashback is perfection. This initial exposure to her shows us a strong woman who is not phased by blood from a soldiers open leg spraying across her face. We also glean without being told that she will prove to be a force to be reckoned with. 

The war is quickly over and while everyone celebrates you can see on Claire's face that this might not the best news for her. Had she now lost her purpose? Or is there another purpose lying ahead? Note that Balfe plays every note beautifully throughout this first episode from her wistfulness when looking at the vase in the store window in the beginning to when she’s arriving at Castle Leoch at the end. We have a star in the making, people.

The war had taught me to cherish the present because tomorrow might not ever come to pass. What I didn’t know at the time was that tomorrow would prove less important than yesterday.


The Randalls: It’s such a smart choice that Claire and Frank’s relationship is in many ways as new to them as it is to us. We get quite a few scenes with them in this first episode and since we’re told they haven’t been together but 10 days during the course of the war, they are stuck with the task of finding each other again emotionally. So, what better way to start than physically? As Claire tells us, sex is their way back to each other and they get in some sexy time pretty quick, (And don’t think I didn’t notice that the three times the Randalls engage in sexual activity in the pilot, Claire is the one to initiate it. I like this woman. A lot.) But we're supposed to like Claire with Frank and we do.  

Sex was our bridge back to one another. The one place where we always met. Whatever obstacles presented themselves during the day or night, we could seek out and find each other again in bed. As long as we had that, I had faith that everything would work out.

Claire voiceover about Frank

Un-Supernatural: Outlander may be the most un-supernatural supernatural show ever made for television. We’ve got ghosts, psychics reading tea leaves and palms, Halloween and, of course, time travel, yet if someone called Outlander a sci-fi show, you’d think they were crazy. That said, with the TV adaptation’s pedigree, namely executive producer Ronald Moore (who revived Battlestar Galactica to much acclaim ten years ago), you’d think there would be more of a sci-fi feel to it but that just shows just how much respect Moore has for Gabaldon and her beloved novel series.

Thankfully, when Claire does move from the 1940s to 1740s (1743 to be exact), there’s nary a CGI effect in sight and the show is grounded firmly in a reality we can relate to and feel familiar with.

Time Travel A Go-Go: If there’s but one minor problem I have with the first Outlander episode it’s that it takes a while for us to have Claire go back to 1743. 38 minutes give or take. It’s a minor complaint because it’s not like seeing Claire interact with Frank, having Claire’s tea leaves and palm read (Hi, Mrs. Graham!) and hearing bits of history that will crop up are a waste of time. On the contrary, we’re getting bits of information (like the Cocknammon Rock) that will end up helping Claire when she ventures to the past.

Also, as Claire's narration at the top of the series tells us, disappearances usually have explanations but we don't get one in this first episode. Will we get one later? Time will tell but I'm not holding my breath that we find out anytime soon.

Black Jack Randall: Like all good villains, we hear about him in the present day and know he’s one bad dude so when Claire comes face to face with him, it doesn’t long to realize the lore about the series' big bad is right on the money. As Claire says, he’s definitely  not Frank though the resemblance is evident (is Tobias Menzies the male Tatiana Maslany since he plays Frank and Jack so distinctly different? Bravo, Mr. Menzies!).

In Claire’s first moments with Black Jack, he holds a sword to her throat and, even after hearing she’s someone else’s wife, he decides her rough language makes her a whore and attempts to rape her. That is until she’s saved by Murtagh, who is one of the good guys with the MacKenzie clan. Of course, he has to knock her out to keep her from screaming and giving them up to more red coats but, well, better than having sex with the ancestor of your husband, right?

Ladies and Gents…Jamie Fraser! Now, when Claire (and the audience) first lay eyes on Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), he’s the injured party and she’s proactive in helping fix his dislocated shoulder. While it’s not a glaring element to the show, it’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time we’ll see that Claire has many traditionally masculine traits and Jamie has some that are what stereotypically are attributed to women.

For example, he’s vulnerable and wounded when we first meet him and is at her mercy when she fixes his shoulder. Sure, the men in the McKenzie clan are going to be suspicious of this strong-willed lass who knows a thing or two about healing people, swears like a sailor and is wearing less-than-traditional garments but she also proves herself to help the group stay alive, which will keep her protected. We'll see more of Jamie's vulnerability beyond the pilot and there's a great moment of revelation for his character in episode 2. (Which means, comes back next week for that review!)

Now if you won’t walk, I shall pick you up and throw you over my shoulder. Do you want me to do that?

Jamie to Claire

1743 Dreamboat: There’s not a lot of who Jamie Fraser actually is in this first episode but that’s not entirely a bad thing. We see that he’s likable, honorable and has manners (he actually thanks Claire for fixing his shoulder! Jamie was raised right!). And, as we know, the greatest romances aren’t rooted in the physical so the fact that Jamie, unlike many of the men we meet, doesn’t regard Claire like a whore or a piece of pretty subservient meat speaks volumes for his character.

And, yes, Jamie - and Hueghan - is definitely easy on the eyes but we see that he’s also strong and commanding when he needs to be, like when he commands the attempting-to-escape Claire to come with him. Again, his reasoning for her coming is less because he’s the man and she should obey but more because he (and, let’s fact it, she) knows she’s safer traveling with them than being out on her own. Let the shipping begin!!

Finally, at the end of the episode, we arrive at Castle Leoch and, as Claire says, the journey is just beginning.

I’m hooked.  Are you??

Sing me a song, of a lass that is gone.
Say, could that lass be I?
Merry of soul she sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.

Theme song to Outlander


Sassenach Review

Editor Rating: 4.5 / 5.0
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User Rating:

Rating: 4.5 / 5.0 (66 Votes)

Jim Halterman is the West Coast Editor of TV Fanatic and the owner of JimHalterman.com. Follow him on Twitter.

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Outlander Season 1 Episode 1 Quotes

Sing me a song, of a lass that is gone.
Say, could that lass be I?
Merry of soul she sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.

Theme song to Outlander

The war had taught me to cherish the present because tomorrow might not ever come to pass. What I didn’t know at the time was that tomorrow would prove less important than yesterday.