Outlander: Sassenach (1×01)
Synopsis: 1945 England: Claire Randall reunites with her husband after five years of war. A second honeymoon goes awry when she falls back through time to 1740’s Scotland.
This review, along with the many others that will proceed as the season continues, is written from the perspective of a very new fan of Diana Gabaldon’s book series. I have been reading Outlander recently, and I have read up to and past the events that have transpired in this episode.
So I have to say that Caitriona Balfe was a tremendously apt choice for Claire Randall in this adaptation. It is one of the things that I loved about this pilot episode. Her voice as Claire truly captures a character that I have come to respect while reading the novel. Her interactions with Tobias Menzies as Frank Randall were so great in the episode, not only because I think they accurately portrayed a couple that is healing from the results of a war where they were torn apart, but also because I was not a huge fan of Frank in the book and I found myself rooting for him in this adaptation.
It’s no secret that Diana Gabaldon has been courted for the better part of two decades on turning her beloved best seller into some sort of live action television show or movie. When she accepted Starz’s interpretation, I’m sure there was quite a lot of hesitation and doubt in long time fans at how loyal the television show would be to the movie. But so far, the pilot has been accurately detailed in its representation of the book without being long winded. I feel lured into this world that Claire has so unceremoniously (or rather maybe ceremoniously) fallen into.
Some truly great scenes in this pilot have to be the druids’ dance at the Craigh na Dun, Claire’s scene working unflinchingly as a nurse during World War II, and of course her first interaction with Clan MacKenzie. Not to mention Caitriona’s own melodious voice narrating her thoughts as Claire. Claire Randall is no damsel-in-distress despite having fallen through time to an unfamiliar land, and her confidence in herself as well as her own bravery is something that makes her character so likable. Every scene with Claire is one showing her tough exterior, whether it’s weathering the long arduous travel across Scotland with men she barely trusts or being whisked away by her archaeologist uncle after being orphaned by her mother and father as a child.
The pacing of the episodes slips quickly from the slow leisure that Claire and Frank enjoy in 1945 after the trauma of a war, through to the loud and dangerous world of 1743. The scene in which Claire hears the “buzzing” at Craigh na Dun sounds a little more like a TARDIS as she faints to the ground and wakes up inexplicably in a different world. Through her eyes, the change in time doesn’t seem as absurd as it might. After witnessing the ethereal dance of the druids and the strange mythicism of Scotland, it is not all together impossible that we could have been transported into a time before electric lights and automobiles.
The gunshot we first hear after her transportation is piercingly loud, and instantly sets the tone for the rest of the episode as Claire barely struggles to survive the unfamiliar terrain. We are faced again with the face of Frank Randall, but quickly realize he is not the kind historian we have warmed up to. It is Black Jack Randall, and instead of the academic we get a soldier. It doesn’t take long for Black Jack to show his true colors, almost raping Claire had it not been for a sudden rescue at the hands of a member of Clan MacKenzie.
Taken from one perilous situation to the next, Claire finds herself in a room with almost a dozen men facing a vast unknown but still manages to speak up. The part of her that is still an army nurse and a healer ultimately protects her and displays just how useful she can be. Saving the young Jamie Fraser’s life, she is brought along with the Clan and saves them yet again by spotting a part of the land that she knows to be a popular outpost for the redcoats. She saves Jamie again after he is shot during a scuffle with the British, and shows her medical acumen in quickly dressing his wounds.
The episode ultimately ends with Claire and the men of Clan MacKenzie returning to the castle that she visited with Frank. If there was any doubt in her mind that she was in another time, she wipes it all away and learns to accept her fate.