Outlander Series Premiere Review: Hurtin' Highlander Meets Sassy Sassenach

By Lily Sparks

Aug 10, 2014

Outlander S01E01: "Sassenach"

The first thing we learned about Claire Randall, protagonist/proxy of Starz’s new drama Outlander, was that she has seen some shit. She has rolled up her sleeves to the elbow and plunged her hands into a man’s thigh, then washed down the smell of rancid blood with cold champagne. Claire Randall was a war nurse who was in the thick of it, and though she may look as refined and ethereal as Cate Blanchett, she is as strong as a statue of Cate Blanchett carved out of solid steel.

This initial impression was reinforced by a peek into her adolescence: Growing up in the tow of a globe-trotting, anthropologist uncle taught Claire a very specific set of skills—skills that allow her to adapt quickly to new surroundings. Like lighting a cigarette directly over a dig site for an anthropologist who is apparently none too concerned about ashing on ancient artifacts.

So this is a strong lady who is strong in a real sense; she’s not inexplicably good at karate or laying out 250-pound men with a single punch—rather, her strength comes from mental fortitude and her battlefield surgeon skills. Also she sometimes wishes she was settled enough to own a vase. Also she’s on a second honeymoon with a man she married right before the war, who she really hasn’t seen for five years. Also their libidos don’t quite seem to line up?

Claire said sex was the one thing they were rock-solid on, but as a casual observer, let me tell you, Frank Randall just did not seem as DTF as Claire. Sure, he was happy to have some sex, but he approached a tryst in the basement of a ruined castle with all the passion of someone taking a multivitamin before work. Also they’d chosen their honeymoon spot so Frank could investigate his genealogy alongside a parish priest. “Honey, you go on ahead to our honeymoon suite alone, me and Father Whatshisface are going to keep sorting through these yellowed clippings in this damp-ass living room” may as well've been an actual line.

The town itself had an unapologetic Wickerman vibe. There was blood splattered across the lintel of their hotel for good luck or something, and the whole population (including the parish priest) was super excited about Samhain. Can I just say, it’s about my dearest wish to do a three-month stretch in this kind of place, a cozy, casually pagan village. 

On the night that Claire was home all alone in her cold, empty honeymoon suite while husband Frank was peering over some mouldering parchment receipts from his ancestor Captain “Black Jack” Randall, a ghost appeared. A sexy ghost with a penchant for rakishly tilted toques. Frank saw him melt into the night and was like, “Yo, a ghost?”—or perhaps a man PRETENDING to be a ghost!?!?!?!

Frank basically confronted Claire about it, like, “We were apart for five years, maybe you had some affairs during that time? Also maybe one of the guys you effed followed us to this small-ass town and is watching you through the windows? NBD, just wondering.” Claire was shaken by this because it revealed to her that Frank might've had casual liaisons during their separation, whereas she emphatically had not. Maybe this explains why Claire was hurtin’ for some giddyup times and Frank was making a scrapbook of 18th-century relatives?

Anyway, the pair decided to do some birdwatching, except instead of hiding in the bushes and looking at birds, they were going to hide in the bushes and look at people. Up by the standing stones, some pagan types did a ceremony on Samhain, and while it was a sacred religious moment to the pagans, it was also just some jolly good fun to old Frank, and who doesn’t like a lantern dance?

Claire felt a little bad about spying, but also deeply moved, but also like, “Hey cool flower” about a random flower she saw among the standing stones. Later when she found out that Frank was going to shine his shoes or count every grain of salt in a saltshaker or whatever instead of spending some time with her, she decided to go up to the standing stones alone to snatch up that supercool flower. 

She put on a ravishingly gorgeous dress—like you do for a hike—sauntered up to the standing stones, picked a flower, and suddenly the rocks were screaming. Screaming!

Then we’re treated to a music-video quality slow-motion 1940s car crash that was meant to show us what the feeling was like when Claire touched the screaming stone. It was a little abstract and absolutely gorgeous, and without any cheesy blue AfterEffect flourishes, it was clear that Claire had somehow Transitioned, perhaps in Time. 

This was easily the most elegant depiction of time-travel I’ve ever seen. I’m not a fan of continuous voiceover narration by a main character, but I prefer it to a wavy dissolve when it comes to explaining supernatural elements. Well done, Outlander.

Anyway, Claire woke up in the middle of a battle and IMMEDIATELY lost her belt and button, like you do.

She then stumbled across Frank in full fancy dress, but it turned out it was NOT Frank in full fancy dress... it was his ancestor, Black Jack Randall, and Randall’s first instinct when stumbling across a fellow countrywoman who was clearly completely disoriented was to rape her. So, way to immediately establish a character’s story drive: This dude is a maniacal sexual predator, gotchya. 

Luckily he was warded off by a Scot who swooped in to save/kidnap Claire and take her forcefully back to a peat-thatched cottage. And there, sitting by the fire, was a handsome, vulnerable young man, one Jamie Fraser, who needed the medical assistance only Claire could provide. His friends were about to pop his arm into his socket in such a way that they might instead snap that shit in half, and Claire intervened.

First of all let me say I thought Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan exhibited immediate, fantastic chemistry. Well done, Outlander casting director, because this is pretty key. And Claire, Lord love her, set Jamie's arm with minimal damage. For this act of kindness karma gave Claire a seat astride Jamie's horse, cuddled up in his plaid and chest muscles, for the next two days. 

On the road, Claire saw a rock formation and remembered some of the boring trivia Frank quoted to her about redcoats ambushing Scots around there, and she warned everyone that redcoats might be in wait up on the rock. Immediately everyone was like, “HOW TF DO YOU KNOW THAT?”—but just then they were ambushed, as she predicted, and Jamie threw Claire into a small creek for her own protection, which is actually the best call in the circumstances.

Free from her captive Scots, Claire made a break for it (“Time to go back... to the future! By running? ID even K”) and ran smack into a blood-drenched Jamie, fresh off the most recent skirmish, who threatened to physically carry her back with him to the waiting Scots. This bit was a bodice-ripping Highlander genre moment if ever there was one, make no mistake, but the actors gave it an elevating gravitas—and kudos to Claire for not making him actually throw her over his shoulder like an indignant, time-traveling Jansport.

Although she had got every reason to be mad at him for overpowering her, A) he got her some booze, and B) she found out he had a ball through his shoulder he hadn’t been telling anyone about. Just when we thought Jamie couldn’t be any more heartbreakingly vulnerable, he was faint from blood loss and groaning on the ground.

One problem I had with the first Outlander novel, which was perhaps exacerbated in seeing its events unfold onscreen, was that sometimes it seemed like Jamie’s physical vulnerability was supposed to make him more appealing to us and to Claire. 

I am not particularly comfortable with what goes into fetishizing a strong man who’s  physically incapacitated. We often see it in action movies: Some woman sets to stitching up a gunshot wound or pressing cheesecloth against a tiny forehead cut ("Now, this is going to sting a little bit...") after a guy fights with, like, 200-foot-tall robots. However, Jamie and Claire's predicament went beyond, “Ooooh, things are gettin' steamy in the first-aid tent,” because Jamie was literally falling over.

A delirious dude with his arm in a sling out in the wilderness doesn’t make me think, “Poor baby needs sexy nurse times” so much as, “This dude has no real agency right now and he is in extreme pain. Deactivate all ladyboners.”  Even if Claire the character was 100 percent invested on a purely professional level with Jamie as a patient, it felt like we as an audience were expected to melt at the “Hurtin’ Hunk” trope, and it was frankly too much hurting for me to handle. 

Does the natural sympathy for an injured person add to an overall sense of goodwill and protectiveness toward Jamie? Sure. Just like classic Disney animated characters never have a mom so we feel protective of them right from the start, meeting someone who is essentially maimed wins him my sympathy points. It’s efficient storytelling, but I still have to point out that the Hurtin’ Hunk trope is the worst. 

Anyway. After the group decided to push on despite Jamie's gunshot wound, Claire learned that Black Jack Randall (her husband's ancestor and doppelgänger) was fixated on capturing Jamie, setting up our ongoing conflict. Our premiere episode ended with the Scots riding into the resurrected Castle Leoch. Who can kick that out of bed? I need to see inside that castle. Will you be there with me next week?


... Book fans: Are you appeased?

... Hurtin’ Hunk trope: Are injuries sexy? Am I overthinking this?

... What was your favorite part of the premiere? 

... Best time-travel segue ever? If not, what is your favorite time-travel segue ever?

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  • WWStarBuckD Oct 25, 2014

    Oooooh it's a book~!!! *pulls up Amazon*

    This episode got me hooked.

    Nice review, I was laughing so hard, #myside

    DTF? looks like someone misplaced thier panties~

  • pebermynthe Sep 19, 2014

    I might be really late to the party, and someone may already have said it , but - regarding the hated trope, which I also hate, in this one instance I actually saw the usefulness in him being seriously hurt. NOT because I have a thing for injured people, found his pain sexy or even remotely attractive or anything like that, but because it gave Claire an actual, legitimate reason to keep seeing him, once they got to the castle. If he'd only broken his arm or something, she could've been like "Here, I've set this shit, don't use it for the next 18 days. Everything here is clearly under control, and my help is not desperately needed. - Now, guys, has anyone seen a time machine?". He had to be so seriously injured that it seemed beyond reasonable for Claire to be forced into (continued) action/medical follow-ups. I don't know about nurses and Hippocratic oaths, but surely, the principle still applies? Her priorities had to widen beyond "get back to the 40's" - and Jamie's injuries widened them so she cared about his health, too, then about other people in the castle's health, and so on. Didn't she become invested in the plight of these people, because her nursing-skills initially forced her to, via Jamie's injuries? Good lord, I sound like such an asshole. I would like to repeat, that I am in no way defending what I still think is a pretty stupid trope.

  • opalemeraldcat Sep 09, 2014

    You've done the furthest analysis of the "Hurtin' Hunk" trope I've seen so far! Thank you. To be honest, this went far further than the usual macho stuff you see, and seeing as he's the love interest and she's the main character, played off differently. But yes, I do have a problem with it. I think it was dealt with well here, no panning shots of his chest or anything. (Some directors pat themselves on the back for "fan service" made possible by sadism, e.g. Teen Wolf's torture scenes, the comments about "We gave you a shirtless scene!" for Sebastian Stan's Bucky Barnes, who was being very tortured then and that is not enjoyable.)

  • Katerine_M Sep 07, 2014

    Just watched the pilot episode online (through the Starz website) for the first time today, and really enjoyed it. Wish I could watch the rest of the series, but it looks like I'm going to have to wait for it to come out on DVD, which it hopefully will. (Seriously, why don't they even allow the option of buying episodes online? No, you must have a subscription to a cable provider. What about subscribing to just Starz Play? No, you must have a subscription to a cable provider. GET WITH THE TIMES, STARZ!)

    Loved the chemistry between Claire and her husband, and Claire and the hotty Scot (whose name I don't know if we ever even learned in this episode). Love where the plot is going.

    Love the attention to detail, the filth of the people, the clothing, the shiny, pristine, perfectly-groomed horses with filthy people riding atop them... well, maybe not that last part, although the horses were really, really pretty...

    (Sorry, I just happened to notice during one shot where the horses were walking right by the frame, and couldn't help noticing from that point on).

    Regarding the "Hurtin' Hunk" trope... I don't think that we're meant to think of him lying unconscious on the ground as "hot," especially when we're experiencing the story vicariously through Claire, and she's being completely professional. Rather, the purpose of having him be injured is to set up an environment where, even when Claire is under suspicion (from the Scots' perspective), he could realistically be seen developing feelings for her. Since she probably saved his life, three times in this episode alone, and didn't have to do that, any of those times.

  • Gmoakes01 Sep 02, 2014

    Is there a way to actually watch an episode on my iPad through this website ?

  • marcusj1973 Aug 19, 2014

    "Then we’re treated to a music-video quality slow-motion 1940s car crash that was meant to show us what the feeling was like when Claire touched the screaming stone. It was a little abstract and absolutely gorgeous"

    Up to this point, I liked Outlander, but wasn't blown away. I figured, at worst, it would fill the gap of period drama that my current schedule lacks...and then this scene happened. WOW! Similar to some of the cool factor from Inception, "waking up mid free fall" might be the coolest way to describe a feel of complete confusion I've heard in a LONG time.

    I dunno where the series is going to go, but from here on in, I'm watching.

    "This was easily the most elegant depiction of time-travel I’ve ever seen."

    Thunder stealer


    For reasons only my immature brain can explain, that and "Lady Wood" make me giggle every time.

    "Deactivate all ladyboners"

    Adding to my giggle list

  • ngreen Aug 18, 2014

    The reviews seem positive but it's Ronald D Moore.

    Yes he makes great TV but watch any of his shows for long enough and they turn out to be a subversive religious mind-bleep.

    DS-9, Sisko. Roswell, Max. BSG, Starbuck. They all turned out be Jesus - immaculate conceptions, resurrections, power to heal etc. Ugggh.

    Worst of all, in BSG he promoted religious genocide. "God" made the Cylons commit genocide against the 12 colonies because they were "wicked". And then after being chased by said Cylons across the depths of space... the surviving humans eschew technology, embrace "God" and settle on Earth.

    Apart from being completely absurd the obvious and undeniable message in that ending is that religious genocide is ok, and I ain't buying into that.

    No more Moore for me.

  • WildPict Aug 16, 2014

    I tried it out and sorta' liked it, though I hadn't expected to. I think what I liked the most is how they fleshed out Claire's life in the 20th century, before they threw her into the 17th. Then they made the 17th century so realistically grimy and mucky, that I bought the story. I'll keep watching and see if it can keep holding my interest.

  • Pawtley Aug 14, 2014

    Lily!! LIVING for your photo recaps of this show!!

  • EmmaDanks0 Aug 12, 2014

    I'm enjoying every aspect of this show, yes it is slow to begin with but the viewer has to remember that it's a romance story- those typically are slow paced. The scenery and the score is magnificent, although the opening title does hark back to the 90's. I will continue watching and will probably read the book.

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