Outlander: Season 1 pt.1
Entertainment venues such as television and film traditionally follow trends that resulted in the same themes being explored by different programs. While police procedurals, detective mysteries and medical shows seem to never fall out of favor there are a few that adhere to a more cyclical nature. Among that category you will find the science-fiction staple of time travel in the period drama. The problem with either of these formats is they tend to be potentially very expensive. With the time travel motif different sets must be constructed each time period required by the story. With the drama set historical background is the need to meticulously adhere to the costuming, setting and vocabulary of the era. To attempt to combine these two approaches to storytelling would on the traditional paradigms be considered highly improbable. That is until the recent major change in how televised stories are distributed. The cable networks and streaming video services entering the fray, niche programming is now possible and greater funding can be targeted to very specific types of programming. One of the premium cable networks that may have been a bit late to the game has certainly made up for it, Starz. Now a subsidiary of Anchor Bay, this network has gained a reputation for historically based series, most notably the sword and sandals oriented, ‘Spartacus’. The construction was brilliant juxtaposing elements of videogame violence, sensual romance and political intrigue, during its fourth season run the series introduced the Starz network to the public with flair. That brings us to the series under consideration, ‘Outlander’. At this point only the first part of the first season which encompasses the initial eight episodes with the second part of the season set to restart in April.
Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) is a woman living in England in 1945. After five long years at the front husband, Frank (Tobias Menzies), returns home for long overdue honeymoon. During the war Claire work as an Army nurse tending the unending stream of severely wounded soldiers. While on holiday and decide to return to husband’s ancestral land of Scotland and by some unknown means Claire finds herself transported back in time to 1743. Dressed in a somewhat flimsy gown and English woman in such a tire alone on the Moors understandably attracts a lot of attention, not all of it conducive to her good health. Such flimsy fabric does not fare well in such a rough terrain and over the course of the first episode is ripped stained and padded eventually having to be discarded altogether. A little point like this has a twofold purpose. It sets the stage for the importance of costuming within this drama and demonstrating that the ball for realism has been set exceptionally high right from the start. Several scenes this commitment to realism displays why it could only be produced by a premium cable channel. A scene were a man is being punished by a flogging is not what we have come to expect in depicting such corporal punishment. Usually a man is just tied to a stake or bent over a rack and whipped resulting in till shouts of pain and a face contorted in agony as red stripes appear on his back. Here the totality of such punishment is evident as blood slung out of the wounds along with slivers of flesh and muscle. In an equally brutal treatment the primitive status of battlefield medicine is depicted as a man has his leg amputated. Not only is this far removed from the procedure as would be done today but is more brutal than was even seen in the battlefields of the American Civil War. A dull saw rips its way through the limb and what seems to be a gruesomely slow procedure. The patient is an unimaginable agony, conscious throughout.
A series such as this cannot depend upon the principal characters no matter how talented they might be. Each character is a perfectly cast as possible with talented performers who are dedicated to putting themselves into the persona of characters several centuries removed from our time. One of the most stellar examples is, Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), a man some 10 years younger than Claire becomes a steadfast ally in the past. Jamie is a wanted man, a dissident where shown his disdain against the occupying British Army on one too many occasions. His arch nemesis in this deadly situation is British Captain Jonathan ‘Black Jack’ Randall, an ancestor of Clair’s husband, Frank. Both men all played by the same actor, Tobias Menzies. Husband had wanted them to travel to Scotland that he could get in touch with his ancestry. It would appear that he never had an idea that one of those ancestors is a cruel and sadistic man. The writers make certain that this is understood by the viewers by having his first encounter with Claire turn into an attempted rape. This incredibly heinous event sets the stage will develop into a masterful tapestry real threads of powerful emotions and intense psychological impact of woven together. Here is a woman who is not only suddenly out of time, trapped in a world where women a little more than property. Claire, in a heartbeat went over self-assured, professional woman, a nurse to find herself in a culture where even her body is not her own. To make this even worse a man who looks exactly like her beloved husband is now a monster attempting to rape her.
With only eight episodes in this first part of the season, there is a need for an economy in storytelling that imposes a restriction that few series have ever managed to overcome. Fortunately, the showrunner of the series is one of the great storytellers of our time, Roger D. Moore. Although best known for his reimagining of the camp 80 series, ‘Battlestar Galactica’, he turned it into one of the most powerful series ever to appear on television. It took something that was largely played for laughs and imbued it with a psychological and emotional tour de force. With his credits extending to what fans consider some of the best seasons of ‘Star Trek: the Next Generation’, the team melodrama oriented ‘Roswell’ and the brilliant but canceled period dark fantasy, ‘Carnivŕle’, RDM not only has a proven track record but a legion of fans fully devoted to his work.
As to be expected by any series crafted by the inimitable RDM, ‘Outlander’ is an exquisitely textured series, wonderfully layered so that the storylines and around each other in a mesmerizing dance completely enthralled the viewer. I have seen some that of white in this series to the HBO juggernaut, ‘Game of Thrones’, but in many ways this is an unfair comparison. Whereas Game of Thrones several point of view characters, Outlander condenses the focus to Claire. With no way of knowing how or why she was brought back in time she finds him emotionally sent the split between her relationships in the future and those she is forming in the past. Basically the love triangle is created where the points reside in different centuries. The costuming is so perfect that it demands to be considered a character itself. As you watch you cannot help but to feel rough wool that offers but slight protection from the bitter cold of the Highlands. There are several ways to purchase this season one part one but if at all possible goal for the Collector’s Edition. The case makes a suitable addition to your shelves and anticipation of part two release there is a place holder that can be removed so you can have the full first season in one place. 32 page booklet is more than just a nice piece of fluff, it generally add something to the experience of watching the series.
Collector's Edition Features: