I’ve never read the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon, so this is a review of the show on its own merits. I admit to being favorably inclined toward the show because of its executive producer, Ronald D. Moore of Battlestar Galactica fame. I’ve seen the first four episodes.
The pilot sets the series up: Claire (Catriona Balfe), a WWII nurse, visits Scotland for second honeymoon with her husband, is transported back in time to the eighteenth century, taken prisoner by group of Scottish rebels from the Clan MacKenzie, and nearly raped by her husband’s lookalike ancestor, a British soldier.
So the Scottish guys who first rescue her from her husband’s ancestor, then knock her unconscious, then keep her prisoner, are very much of their time, with a few differences. Most important, their dour leader doesn’t hold with rape, thus keeping his men at bay. Still, it’s obviously a bad situation. Luckily for Claire, one of their men, Jamie, is injured, and she is able to fix his dislocated shoulder and therefore prove her worth to this group.
Our heroine Claire is not quite of her own time, which comes in handy when she becomes a time traveler. She is sexually assertive; as a combat nurse, extremely cool under pressure; and seems to view her surroundings with an amount of wry humor, an attribute which comes in handy for her in any century. She’s also ravishingly conventionally beautiful, which comes in handy, too.
Claire has many of the hallmarks of a Clairy Sue (for example, she just so happens to have advanced knowledge of herbal medicine that allows her to treat patients without modern medicine), but she doesn’t get on my nerves. I think it’s because even as Claire is casting about for solutions, she seems to keep an ironic distance from the goings-on; she is an observer, like the audience. She’s also not plucky. Also, during Claire’s moments of modern conscience (e.g., when she decries the cruelty of a boar hunt), she is roundly ignored. She’s not really winning hearts or minds.
Now, let’s talk about this guy Jamie. He is a land-owning, educated man who is on the run for standing up to the bad guys. Now he is living under another name. He quickly proves to be very different from his peers: he is chivalrous and doesn’t seem to find Claire’s combination of self-confidence and elusiveness to be offputting, suspicious, or unusual.
Also, he looks like this:
Uh-oh. He’s too handsome. How handsome is he, you ask? Well, I deliberately chose the WORST picture I could find. (Don’t believe me? Check this out.) For me, this could have been a dealbreaker. I’m not a big fan of romantic heroes (I laughed my way through Legends of the Fall, for example), but the ones I do like tend to be ones where the hero is not a Zoolander-esque miracle of bone structure and facial symmetry. So when I say that Heughan sells it, that’s really saying something. Maybe it’s the ginger thing, or maybe it’s the slightly naïve, upbeat aspect Heughan gives the character.
So all in all, I’m enjoying the show, especially Graham McTavish as Dougal — in a show full of manly menly manful men, Dougal is the manliest. He is scary and intense and scheming and it’s hard to take your eyes off him while he’s on screen.
I’m also happy to see Claire’s nascent friendships with other women on the show, including a somewhat mysterious woman who knows even more about herbs than Claire does (she confides in Claire that she uses valerian root to drug her husband at night), and with the woman who runs the household (I’m not sure what her role is exactly, but she’s clearly the hub of all household activity) of the castle where Claire was kept as a guest (prisoner) for a few episodes.
I can’t decide on the pacing of the show. It’s all interesting and I am always surprised when it is over, so there’s that, but I also had a feeling, three episodes in, that we were treading in familiar territory. The inevitable romance between the two characters is not moving quickly, but that might be a good thing. They are gaining genuine respect for each other, and in a nice twist, they don’t have that sexually charged animosity thing going on — they actually like each other and are nice to each other. Meanwhile Claire is establishing other relationships, which allows the other characters to be fleshed out.
Thus far, I haven’t seen anything to offend my feminist sensibilities to the point where I had to stop watching. The hero lays hands on the heroine to recapture her after an escape attempt, but it is clear that he is not going to physically harm her. However, considering that the heroine was almost raped in the first episode and the fourth one, I think it’s a fair bet that sexual assault will continue to be an issue, and that’s a difficult topic for most shows to handle sensitively.
My verdict: Pretty people, interesting settings, gorgeous scenery, fun plot, and good performances combine to make a fun show, but the looming romance and the issue of sexual assault and how it is handled could quickly change that.