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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?

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 5/30/2015

Season 1 : Episode 16

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