Category Archives: Outlander

Of Things Dropped and Lost

Outlander  3:1      By: Eleanor TyJamie_and_Black_Jack_1024x680

The third season of Outlander has so far been stunningly wonderful, almost as good as Season 1. My complaint about Season 2 was that, among other things, it lacked the emotional highs of the first book/season, and it was not strongly focused on romance. Season 2 featured lavish Parisian costumes, a lot of Jacobite plotting, but did not have the excitement of Season 1.

Well, so far, Season 3 looks very promising. Perhaps Ron Moore heard his fans’ complaints because even before Episode 5, the famed print shop scene, there is already plenty of scenes of bedroom ardour, though in unexpected places. What works particularly well is the constant juxtaposition between scenes of Claire in the 1940s and 50s with scenes of Jamie in the 1740s and 50s.

2 (Two), 20 (Twenty), 200 (Two Hundred) and 2,000 (Two Thousand)

The first few episodes have concentrated on the 2 (two) people we care most about: Jamie and Claire and how they have spent their nearly 20 (twenty) years apart, even as they are separated by 200 years (2 centuries) of historical time.  The cause of their separation was Claire’s foresight, her knowledge that nearly 2,000 (two thousand) Jacobites would be killed or wounded in the brief battle at Culloden in 1746 and afterwards by British soldiers who shot stragglers. The producers and writers seem to have made the most of twos and pairings, doubles and echoes to remind us not only of the dual time scheme which underpins the whole series, but also of scenes in previous seasons.

Screen Shot 2017-11-06 at 10.17.45 PM

“Of Lost Things” is the title of the fourth episode, but it describes the general tone of the first few episodes of Season 3. Loss becomes an important theme. After all, Voyager, the book and the third season of the show, begins with Jamie buried alive amidst piles of bodies, those of Scottish Jacobites with whom he fought.  Initially, Jamie wakes believing he was in Hell or Purgatory (Voyager Chap 1).  His semi-conscious attempts to remember the fighting shows the horror of the slaughter of men, mowed down by muskets. Apparently, according to Murray Pittock, a scholar of Jacobitism, the battle wasn’t quite a victory of muskets over swords, since the Jacobites also fired many rounds at the British. In any case, it was a devastating loss for the Scots. Most of the Scottish soldiers are dead, and the Redcoats are using their bayonets to kill any still alive.

Things Dropped

When the men come to take Jamie away from the battlefield, the precious piece of amber that was a wedding gift drops from Jamie’s kilt. The loss of the amber, like the dropping of Claire’s wedding ring during her wedding night, is suggestive of the loss of a way of life. For Claire, it meant a new beginning with Jamie, but here, for Jamie, it means the end of his life with Claire (at least for now). The close-up of the amber on the ground signals a profound loss which will last for two decades.

Screen Shot 2017-11-06 at 9.09.53 PM

Purgatory, which is believed to be an intermediate state, is an apt metaphor for the twenty years Jamie and Claire spend apart. When I first read the Outlander series, I thought it was awfully cruel of Diana Gabaldon to not allow the main characters the leisure to enjoy their youth, continue the passion, bring up Brianne, as other couples do. But Gabaldon seems to believe in Catholic punishments and purifications before paradise. There is much suffering, and even ghosts.  The ghost of Claire haunts Jamie in the battlefield, just as Jamie had haunted Claire in Inverness during her second honeymoon with Frank.

Claire and Frank couch

Gabaldon’s Voyager goes from Jamie in the battlefield to Roger, Brianna and Claire searching historical records, but the adaptation opts instead to recreate scenes of domestic life for Claire and Frank which are presented mainly as flashbacks in the book. These domestic scenes flesh out the ways Claire has been living: viewed in one way, it is a pleasant middle-class life with her husband, the professor, but viewed in another way, it has been a kind of tensed, waiting state. Within her, Claire feels an emptiness, a longing that she cannot share with anyone else. Claire and Frank try to carve out an amiable relationship based on their mutual love for Brianna but their marriage and their sex life are strained.  As Frank later remarks, their bedroom is already “crowded.” Claire exists, but rather like in limbo, not fully with Frank yet not with Jamie.


Where’s the Sex? Outlander Season 2

        Like many avid Outlander fans, I have been watching the Second Season waiting and wondering when the show was going to soar, not just entertain, but lift us up to those high emotional ecstatic states we loved in Season 1. Though not every episode was equally intense in Season 1, there were enough dramatic and romantic “highs” to keep us wanting more. Unforgettable scenes we watched over and over include: Claire setting Jamie’s dislocated shoulder (1.1); Claire cleaning Jamie’s wounds by the fire (1.2); the Wedding vows and the unparalleled sex scenes (1.7); Claire’s choice to stay in Craigh na Dun (1.11); Jamie’s rehabilitation after his rescue from Wentworth (1.12). Along the way were many amusing and suspenseful scenes. Who can forget precious lines, like, Dougal’s “the idea of grinding your corn does tickle me“ (1.6), and Geillis’s dramatic confession at the witchcraft trial (1.11). Outlander Season 1 was an extraordinary show that made us see the visual and aural possibilities of adaptation. We didn’t just imagine but saw Claire’s nursing skills and Jamie’s fighting abilities in action. We were presented with an example of how a dramatic TV series could enrich and add to our favorite novel.

We have now watched 12 episodes of Season 2, and there have been a number of high moments, but were they as dramatic an experience? In Season 2, the best episodes seemed to cluster in the second half while a number of the early episodes in Paris and about politics felt rather flat.   The most dramatic moments were tinged with sadness in Season 2. They include: losing Faith and the graveyard scene (2.7); Murtagh’s revenge on Sandringham (2.11); Claire ministering to Alex Randall and his deathbed wish (2.12); Colum’s plea to die and his deathbed wish for his clan (2.12); the death of Angus after Prestonpans (2.10); Claire’s traumatic flashbacks to World War II in the training camp (2.9); the attempted rape of La Dame Blanche (2.4).

From my lists of favorites in each season thus far, there is a marked difference in tone and content between the First and Second Season, where romance, love, and passion of Claire and Jamie featured much more prominently in First Season. In the Second Season, the dramatic moments often included loss, grief, and the demise of secondary characters like Alex, Colum and Angus. Having read Gabaldon’s books and knowing the history of Culloden, the Second Season seems to have nowhere to go but downwards to its tragic conclusion.

Yet, in Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber, there were some passionate, and many tender expressions of love that didn’t make it to the screen. One scene that broke my heart (and might yet be included in the finale) occurs in the kirkyard of St. Kilda (Chapter 5 My Beloved Wife). Because of the rearrangement of the opening of the book in the show, this scene might not have the impact it did on Claire or the reader if it is shown.


There are also a few romantic scenes in the book that many readers have highlighted in Facebook groups or in Goodreads. One occurs when Claire compares her self to Jamie’s petite ex-girlfriend, Annalise.

 “Well, I’ll tell ye, Sassenach, ‘graceful’ is possibly not the first word that springs to mind at thought of you.” He slipped an arm behind me, one hand large and warm around my silk-clad shoulder.

“But I talk to you as I talk to my own soul,” he said, turning me to face him. He reached up and cupped my cheek, fingers light on my temple.

“And, Sassenach,” he whispered, “your face is my heart.”

It was the shifting of the wind, several minutes later, that parted us at last with a fine spray from the fountain. We broke apart and rose hastily, laughing at the sudden chill of the water.

Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber, Chapter 11 Useful Occupations

        Another scene between Claire and Jamie occurs when he still has nightmares about what Black Jack did to him and does not understand how love can be so closely linked to violence:

Jamie says, “Claire. To feel the small bones of your neck beneath my hands, and that fine, thin skin on your breasts and your arms…Lord, you are my wife, whom I cherish and I love wi’ all my life, and still I want to kiss ye hard enough to bruise your tender lips, and see the marks of my fingers on your skin.”

To which she replies:

“Do you think it’s different for me? Do you think I don’t feel the same?” I demanded. “That I don’t sometimes want to bite you hard enough to taste blood, or claw you ’til you cry out?”

I reached out slowly to touch him. The skin of his breast was damp and warm. Only the nail of my forefinger touched him, just below the nipple. Lightly, barely touching, I drew the nail upward, downward, circling round, watching the tiny nub rise hard amid the curling ruddy hairs.

The nail pressed slightly harder, sliding down, leaving a faint red streak on the fair skin of his chest. I was trembling all over by this time, but did not turn away.

“Sometimes I want to ride you like a wild horse, and bring you to the taming—did you know that? I can do it, you know I can. Drag you over the edge and drain you to a gasping husk. I can drive you to the edge of collapse and sometimes I delight in it, Jamie, I do! And yet so often I want”—my voice broke suddenly and I had to swallow hard before continuing—”I want…to hold your head against my breast and cradle you like a child and comfort you to sleep.”

My eyes were so full of tears that I couldn’t see his face clearly; couldn’t see if he wept as well. His arms went tight around me and the damp heat of him engulfed me like the breath of a monsoon.

“Claire, ye do kill me, knife or no,” he whispered, face buried in my hair. He bent and picked me up, carrying me to the bed. He sank to his knees, laying me amid the rumpled quilts.

“You’ll lie wi’ me now,” he said quietly. “And I shall use ye as I must. And if you’ll have your revenge for it, then take it and welcome, for my soul is yours, in all the black corners of it.”

The skin of his shoulders was warm with the heat of the bath, but he shivered as with cold as my hands traveled up to his neck, and I pulled him down to me.

Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber, Chapter 17 Possession


It is not possible to show every scene from Gabaldon’s novels, but I highlight these passages to make a point. The lack of sex and romance scenes in Season 2 was a choice (or inadvertent slip with so many different writers?) that the producers made. I am still glad that Season 2 gave us lavish Parisian costumes, and made the mud, the starvation, the history of the Jacobite rebellion come alive. But I also wished that more time was devoted to what Gabaldon readers really enjoy, namely the interaction between Jamie and Claire, their domestic trials and their passions, and yes, the sexual “conversation” between them. We are grown-ups… we don’t need the cutaway shots and the fade to black!

 By: Eleanor Ty


The Anxiety of Reproduction: Patrilineage in Outlander

Episode 206 ended with Captain Black Jack Randall bleeding from his groin and Claire Fraser losing blood from her pregnancy. Jack Randall’s wound threatens his masculinity and his ability to father children, while Claire is in danger of losing her baby. These two seemingly unrelated events are symbolic of the larger political issues of heredity and 18th century notions of patrilineage: lineage based through the paternal line.

from lochiels

What pushed Claire to 18th century Scotland initially was her husband, Frank Randall’s search for his ancestor. Outlander is a novel about roots and the anxiety about losing one’s heritage, family, or clan, as well as losing the rights to one’s line. At the political level, Charles Edward Stuart, also known as the Young Pretender (pretend: to claim to be someone) is also concerned with patrilineage, his right to rule Scotland and England because he was the eldest son of James Stuart, the Old Pretender, whose father had been King James VII of Scotland and King James II of England. King James had ruled England briefly from 1685-1688 when he was deposed because of his Catholicism.

The anxiety about reproduction and family affects Claire’s thinking about Jack Randall because she believes that were Jamie to kill Black Jack, her husband, Frank would no longer come into existence. But this kind of thinking proves false, because as an individual, Claire is powerless to change history as it is recorded.

This is why it is so heartbreaking to watch these episodes. There is a sense of foreboding and doom that underlies the glitter and costumes and small talk in Paris. In the domestic world, as in history, conflicts are not magically resolved, as in fairy tales. There is much tension, unhappy consequences, and often lots of violence. But as the story unfolds, what we discover is that patrilineage does not necessarily ensure that the best man rules the country and that “father” can be performed in various ways.


All the World’s a Stage: Outlander 202/ 203

I hold the world but as the world, …
A stage where every man must play a part,
And mine a sad one.

Shakespeare. The Merchant of Venice. I.i.

Outlander in Paris has exceeded everyone’s expectations in terms of costumes, set design, and casting (see Linda Merrill).   The streets of Paris with their exquisite carriages, wigged footmen, the palace of Versailles with its the great hall are all splendid and magnificent thanks to the work of Jon Gary Steele, Gina Cromwell, Maril Davis and others. Terry Dresbach has outdone herself in costumes for both women and men – lace, frills, embroidered waistcoats, breeches, headdresses, caps, and of course, the sumptuous and lavish dresses with their wide panniers. The newest cast members, playing Mary Hawkins (Rosie Day), Louise de Rohan (Claire Sermonne), Master Raymond (Dominique Pinon), Le Comte St. Germain (Stanley Weber), and Mother Hildegarde (Frances de la Tour) are all marvelous and just as we imagined from reading Dragonfly in Amber. Even though the scriptwriters have taken some liberties with time, and the compression of certain scenes, the script remains fairly close to Gabaldon’s novel.

So, why are we feeling that the first few episodes of Season 2 have left us feeling a bit flat? I was very reluctant to admit this to myself, and noticed that other fans and bloggers have politely tried to not express disappointment by suggesting that the episodes needed a second viewing, or that it is getting better (Candida’s Musings , Erin Conrad). The truth is, the opening three episodes do not match in intensity or narrative interest of the first Season. In Episode 202 “Not in Scotland Anymore,” there were too many new characters being introduced. The episode served as an exposition, as in the first scene of a play, where background information is given. We learn about the reasons why Claire and Jamie are staying in France and about the sophisticated lives of Claires’ French friends, their different approaches to hygiene. In Episodes 203 “Useful Occupations and Deceptions,” while Claire and Jaime play a larger role than in the last two episodes, their relationship is visibly strained. The episode focused on politics and financial concerns again, and on Claire’s boredom and need to find herself a useful occupation as healer.

Claire red dress & Jaime copy

One reason for this feeling is that these episodes mirror Diana Gabaldon’s somewhat meandering and rambling novels after Outlander (Book 1). Gabaldon’s novels are full of subplots, incidental characters who sometimes become important, but sometimes stay as minor characters. But we also know that the last hundred pages of the novels tend to become faster paced, major things happen to major characters, and the loose ends are often tied up in unexpected ways. So, we will have lots of action to look forward to, as the season should play itself out this way, too.

Another reason that we are somewhat less engaged with the series right now is that our beloved characters, Jamie and Claire, as well as many of the other characters we meet, are not acting the way they usually do. So far in Season 2, the romance between Jamie and Claire has been strained, held back because the producers decided to represent Jamie suffering from trauma. In addition, both Jamie and Claire are engaged in a game of duplicity: trying to be sympathetic to the Jacobite cause and yet secretly plotting for its failure. This deception causes tension not only between them, but also between them and other characters like Murtagh, Jared, Prince Charles, the Minister of Finance, Frances Duverney, and others. It is as if we have entered a world where everyone is like the snake-like Duke of Sandringham, whom we do not trust. In Paris, all is glittery, but not everything is golden.

Claire red dress stairs up.jpg

Episodes 202 and 203 highlight the theme of deception. For example, upon meeting Alexander Randall (Laurence Dobiesz), Claire finds out that Black Jack Randall is alive. But she withholds this vital piece of information from her husband, for fear that he would either go into a relapse or risk his life in order to seek vengeance. Jamie is forced to entertain and carouse with noblemen and the Prince in brothels, coming home late at night reeking of smoke and cheap perfume. This Jamie is very different from the sincere, brave, and romantic young man we fell in love with in the first Outlander book/season. The part that he has to play is a “sad one,” especially as we know what happens to the Scottish clans at the Battle of Culloden.


Even Master Raymond, who is Claire’s friend, has his secrets. Claire sees The Comte at his shop, not sure how well the two of them are acquainted. It is to him that Claire confesses that her life has become more conventional since she has been in Paris. Out of her time, and out of place, we know that Claire deplores convention. She is a twentieth-century woman who has found her calling in helping others. Now pregnant in Paris, working as a healer in a charity hospital is not what Jamie wants her to do.


The necessity for deception is highlighted when Jamie hires Fergus, the French boy who steals from patrons at Madame Elise. The fact that Jamie and Claire now have to resort to the help of a pickpocket in order to help them with their plan to thwart the Prince suggests that in Paris, we have left the pastoral and innocence of Scotland and entered a world where “all the world’s a stage, / And all the men and women merely players;/ they have their exits and their entrances” (Shakespeare, As You Like it, II.vii). It is an intriguing world, but not entirely enchanting or uplifting.

By: Eleanor Ty


Mirrors in Outlander 2.1: Through a Glass Darkly

By: Eleanor Ty

For now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then shall I know, even as also I am known.

I Corinthians 13:12

dark glass

In modern versions of the bible, glass is translated as a mirror. The first episode of the second season of Outlander plays with the two senses of the word “glass.” It is full of mirror images and reflections, as well as veiled and imperfect fragments or parts, as if we can only see through a darkly tinted glass. The reflections remind us of a number of scenes from the past, and highlight the motif of the double.

Claire stones

“Through a Glass Darkly” begins with Claire lying dazed and confused in the midst of the standing stones, a scene which recalls the very first episode in Season One. This time, however, Claire has come back to her own time, something she so desired when she was first transported to 18th century Scotland. She finds Inverness in 1948 as disconcerting as she first found the Highlands of 1743. She is bothered by the radio and the street noises outside her room. When her husband Frank approaches her, she flinches, which is later echoed when Jamie, too, flinches at the touch of Claire. Though now two hundred years apart, Claire and Jamie are both troubled by memories of Jack Randall.

Claire hospital

The other very deliberate echo (noted also by Erin Conrad) is the hand reaching for Frank / Jamie which is featured in some of the covers of Season One DVD and soundtrack. This image of the hand has always been about choice, about Claire’s divided loyalties and her reaching for newly discovered desires. In this episode, Claire reaches out her hand to Frank as they step out of the airplane into their new lives in Boston. The scene cuts to a flashback of the time when she and Jamie step out of the ship to begin their new adventures in France. Season Two promises to be about both sets of adventures.

Reaching out

Claire airplane

           The biblical quotation of the “glass darkly” is followed by one of the most famous passages in the bible. Often used in weddings, 1 Corinthians 13 reads: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.” Before this verse, Paul talks about the importance of love in this epistle: “love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy…. bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 4, 7). Claire has two husbands, and both of them love her in the way that Paul describes. Jamie sacrifices himself to save her, and Frank is willing to take her, in spite of the fact that she is pregnant with another man’s child. Both men, mirrors of each other, are willing to believe, hope and endure.

In Season One, especially in the last two episodes, many fans were unhappy with the producers because there was too much Tobias Menzies as Jack Randall. I, too, felt that more time could have been devoted to the Claire and Jamie love story. But here, in this first episode, I was completely enthralled by the depiction of the tension and relationship between Claire and Frank when they reunite. Ron D. Moore managed to write a script that filled in some of the gaps left by the twenty-year leap in Diana Gabaldon’s opening scene in Dragonfly in Amber. In her book A Theory of Adaptation, Linda Hutcheon notes that, “as a process of creation, the act of adaptation always involves both (re-)interpretation and then (re-)creation” (8). As Becky Lea writes, “The opening episode belongs to Menzies, enduring just about every emotion required in that initial forty minutes” (Outlander Season 2, Episodes 1-2 Review). Beth Wesson says, Moore’s adaptation “connected the dots and fleshed out Frank’s character.”

Frank tears

Among other fragments of his life that Frank reveals in this episode is his desperation, doubt, and confusion about Claire’s disappearance. He wonders whether she has been kidnapped or whether she has run off with another man. But most poignant of all is his revelation that he had himself tested, and has discovered that he is infertile. The possibility of infertility was discussed by Claire and Jamie earlier in Lallybroch, when Jamie accepts that he might not have natural heirs. In both scenes, the question of lineage is fraught with emotion and heartbreak. After all, the whole adventure would started with Frank Randall’s interest in his family history, and with his interest in his ancestor, Black Jack Randall.

Diana Gabaldon has said that she is not interested in writing a modern romance, but that her books “deal with an ongoing relationship between two decent people who already love each other – there’s no falling in love, getting acquainted, now we like each other, now we don’t kind of conflict” (Diana Gabaldon FAQ). While her comments apply primarily to Claire and Jamie, this episode, with its focus on Frank and Claire, promises to show the “mirror” relationship, the story not developed in the novels by Gabaldon.  In his adaptation, Ron D. Moore re-interpreted and re-created husband and wife relationship, showing the ways a couple has to deal with the surprises and pain that life often brings. There are rich possibilities to come.

In Season Two, Claire, Jamie, Frank, and Black Jack Randall will all find that they only know parts of the story, and that it is only with time that history will come to reveal itself. The doubles and the mirrors show the link between the past and the present, the blurred boundaries between romance and the everyday, the messiness of what we like to see as truth and falsehood, good and evil.

Claire pox.jpg


Claire & Jamie harbour

Works Cited:

Gabaldon, Diana. Dragonfly in Amber. 1993.

Hutcheon, Linda. A Theory of Adaptation. New York: Routledge, 2006.