With the last episode of Outlander not airing until May 30, Stephanie and I decided it was time to look back and pick our top winning and losing moments for Outlander. So much has happened in this first season. First Claire traveled back through time by touching Standing Stones, leaving behind her husband and their 1940’s era. The Stones carried her to 18th century Scotland and things only got crazier from there. Since her arrival, Claire’s barely escaped being raped multiple times, she was nearly burned at the stake for being a supposed witch, and she was married off to a Scottish laird, Jamie Fraser, for her own safety. And that’s only a handful of things that have happened during this season.
On top of many exciting plot twists, Outlander has done a terrific and unusual job of keeping the show focused on Claire. Strong men may come and go on Outlander but in the end, Outlander is all about Claire, what she does, how she feels, and how everyone is affecting her great story.
Let’s start with five of Outlander’s best moments:
Stephanie: Given neither of us were die-hard Outlander fans before the series started, it’s safe to say we weren’t going to be upset by Jamie or Claire not looking exactly as we pictured them. Both leads are well-suited for their parts, and in particular Caitriona Balfe who plays Claire. While her character is 27, the actress herself is a little older, and for me that really sold me. She’s captivating with an emotional maturity, and I’m so glad they found her. All of the supporting cast from Jenny to Dougal are excellent, but by far the most memorable is Tobias Menzies who plays the sociopathic torturer Captain Black Jack Randall, and also Claire’s future-past husband Frank.
Catherine: It’s Balfe as Claire and Menzies as Randall/Frank who make this show. I can’t imagine Outlander without them. And even though Outlander centers heavily around Claire and Jamie’s steamy relationship, it’s the relationship between Jack Randall and Claire that has intense fire and energy. They’re electrifying whenever they’re in the same room together. It’s a shame that Jack is so evil but I’m guessing that’s what makes their scenes so riveting. It’s Good vs. Evil playing out on screen and both bring terrific nuance and feeling each time.
4. Beautiful Period Settings
Stephanie: Outlander is shot beautifully. From lush landscapes to dank castle interiors, the show immerses you in the experience of 1700s war-torn Scotland. Somehow the era is simultaneously unromantic while still hanging on to a bit of that whimsy and romance. Much like Jamie and Claire, the settings have their dark scenes, and their beautiful moments. The opening credits are perfect.
Catherine: The landscape is a character of its own on the show. The characters’ lives are ruled by weather and the difficulties of travel and it’s not hard to see why. A summer of bad weather means everyone could starve and with no paved roads in Outlander, it’s just endless trails of mud. Whenever the characters are outside, which is often, the sky, trees, and hills fill much of the screen. The weather sits like a mood over everything and it’s one of my favorite parts of the show.
3. Fabulous Clothing
Catherine: The work that’s gone into the show’s costumes is incredible. There wasn’t much fashion preserved from 1700’s Scotland, so Outlander’s clothing designers had to take educated guesses at what the Scottish people were wearing at this time. And they did a superb job. Every dress Claire wears is my new favorite and I love how the color of everyone’s clothing fits right into the landscape. Claire wears the best little shawlettes to keep her throat and décolletage warm and there’s a new one for each episode.
Stephanie: The costuming is wonderful. I love the gritty look a lot of the highlanders have, and Claire’s natural make-up free look. I’ve seen a lot from knitters on the scarves and shawls. I would wear any and all of them.
2. Complexities of Marriage
Stephanie: The heart of Outlander is an old romance trope: a marriage of convenience. Jamie offers Claire marriage as a means to protect her, given she’s literally wandering in what’s viewed as undergarments, alone in the highlands. The reality of that marriage is not a happily ever after, though they have their moments working toward that, through constant obstacles. Most romances on TV and in movies end with a couple getting together, so seeing their struggle play out is refreshing.
Catherine: There were many scenes that showing Claire and Jamie hanging out and enjoying each other’s company. I can’t think of any other show that does this with a couple and I loved it. Plus, there’s many scenes of Jamie listening to Claire and believing her. Her story is pretty far out there but for all that, it’s refreshing to see a man believing a woman when she speaks her truth. And last but not least, let’s not forget the honeymoon night. Though there was plenty of naked Claire in the shots, there was also plenty of naked Jamie– thereby winning over many a feverish female heart to undying love of Outlander.
1. Female Centered Storytelling
Stephanie: We’ve discussed this regularly in our recaps. Claire and the women in the cast have so many opportunities to decide their fates and step up to mold the story, exceeding beyond the era’s limitations. While Claire struggles against living in an era two hundred years in the past, she learns from other women like Geillis and Jenny how to use the power they do have to gain small freedoms. Their power merely fighting off bad guys, but thinking ahead, being decisive, and making choices in the best interests of themselves and those they love. This is probably the biggest draw to the show, in my opinion. Well, maybe second to shirtless Jamie.
Catherine: Outlander is a story about women. The men run around, killing each other and causing issues but everything comes back to Claire and what she choses to do. She has male allies but since her female allies have less power, the power they do wield is more fascinating. They’re cunning, covert, and often overlooked by the men. A great example of this is Jamie and his sister Jenny. He went on the run and when he returned to Lallybroch expected to be dubbed lord of the manor instantly, overlooking the massive job his sister undertook in running Lallybroch while he was gone. He finally thanked his sister for her work but it took some pains on her side to get it through his head. Without her, Lallybroch would have not have been there for Jamie to return to.
On to the worst list. While a few annoyances immediately sprung to mind, we both had to work at finding a full worst list. Let’s say worst is more what stood out to us as either not quite working, or common frustrations.
5.Claire’s Disinterest in Scottish Culture
Catherine: It never ceases to amaze me how Claire is utterly uninterested in the culture she’s been thrown in to. She does not study Gaelic (even Jamie nudged her about that) and for a daughter of an archeologist, she only has a glimmer of interest in relics presented to her.
Stephanie: True. This is an aspect I haven’t noticed as much, and I suppose I chalked it up to Claire feeling displaced and wanting to return back to her era. Now that she’s committed to staying with Jamie in the past, I’d like to think she’d adapt more.
Stephanie: I’ve heard this criticism of the books. I think the show has taken strides to paint Captain Randall as a truly disturbed psychopath that is less demonizing of his same-sex attraction and more focused on his sadistic fascination with Jamie all these years.
Catherine: The show gleefully embraces Claire’s cross dressing but every homosexual man presented is a creepy jerk. The Duke of Sandringham was fun but he was slimy and Captain Randall is the worst yet. There’s been no positive representation yet of a gay person.
3. Women’s Bodies Constantly Exposed
Catherine: The bodice ripping finally got to me at the witch trial scene. There had been plenty before with Claire constantly getting her clothes ripped off but Geillis did an amazing strip down to a murderous audience and it was finally too much. The constant exposure of vulnerable women bodies to violent men was little more than shock value.
Stephanie: I saw the witch trial scene as Geillis’ final spectacle to give Claire an out from the chaos, but yes, the literal bodice ripping on the show makes for some truly uncomfortable moments. My least favorite was Captain Randall’s physical assault on Claire right before Jamie comes to find her.
2. That Spanking Scene
Stephanie: It’s in the book, so not really the show’s fault. Or is it? The scene changed a bit by having Jamie give a remorseful, explanatory speech to Claire after he punished her like a child. Did it work? What didn’t work for me was the attempt to make the scene lighter with the jovial music while Jamie chased Claire around the bed. Claire wasn’t being playful, she was terrified.
Catherine: Balfe, who plays Claire, did not perform the scene like it was fun and playful. She acted like a terrified woman trying to survive and hold onto a sense of self. By doing so, Balfe took a stand for what the scene is to her. The playful music did not lessen the look on her face nor her attempts to defend her body. Balfe carried that scene and showed the viewers how messed up non consensual punishment truly is. That scene from the novel was never going to be easy and it wasn’t.
1. Constant Torture
Stephanie: Catherine, I think you mentioned that so far there was one lone episode where a woman wasn’t threatened. Threats, whippings, spankings, murder, beatings–for all the empowering moments the show provides, there is equal amount (or more) violence. For what many view as one of the modern era’s best romances, the violence is near constant and dark.
Catherine: Violence against women is a constant on the show and much of it appears for shock value. It’s a the biggest issue I have with Outlander and I’d like to see a lot less in Season Two. Besides violence against women, there’s also a lot of graphic violence, notably in the last episode, Wentworth Castle. I made it through the torture scenes somehow but afterwards asked myself if there was any point to seeing all the violence. It has shock value but little else.
Outlander has made terrific strides in presenting a story from a female viewpoint and all that viewpoint entails. But it falls into the cable show pitfalls of too much violence, homophobia and an all white cast. Season 2 is already in the production and with all the show has already done, there’s good hope it’ll do even more.
Catherine Eaton is a contributor to The Stake. Catherine is a writer living in a western suburb of Chicago. She blogs over at sparrowpost.com and enjoys foraging around the neighborhood in her spare time.
Stephanie Scott is a Young Adult writer living in the western Chicago suburbs. Library superfan, award-winning TV-binger, and she just might be your cat’s new best friend. She tweets at @StephScottYA.