Monday, September 29, 2014

OUTLANDER: Season 1 Episode 8: Both Sides Now

First off, purists take a deep, cleansing breath! Yes, this episode took some liberties with the book, but all liberties were taken with the blessing of the creator herself, Diana Gabaldon. More on that as we go through the episode.

This episode, liberties and all, worked for me, and by the end it felt like the right place to put the midseason break. Though I may have wailed a bit when the credits rolled because I now have to wait until April for the story to continue. At least that gives us time to re-read the first book and maybe one or two more!

Jamie, we hardly know ye.    OUTLANDER STARZ TV
Jamie and Claire and their growing love and affection for one another were sweet, but there wasn’t enough of it. I still worry that there hasn’t been enough for the non-reader audience to understand Claire’s increasing love for Jamie. Since this great love is the basis for the entire series of books, it is imperative that the audience knows that though she loves Frank, her true, forever love will be Jamie. That needs to be built up a bit more. As I said in my post on episode 6: By this point in the book the reader knows Jamie Fraser to be an excellent man, loyal, brave, strong yet gentle, intelligent, and a man of his convictions. As readers we cheered when Claire was ‘forced’ to marry him. (My friend, Anne Hartley, who also has strong feelings about this, has written a short guest post that I’m including with this one. You will find it at the end. I agree with her wholeheartedly.)

Frank’s search for Claire is what has the purists in an uproar. But as Diana Gabaldon has said, since the book is told from Claire’s perspective the reading audience couldn’t have seen what Frank must have been doing while she was missing. I liked seeing that part of this episode! And while the two of them going to the stones was pretty melodramatic, and made for a midseason cliffhanger, it was still fun. Fairly sure he wouldn’t have heard her calling his name, however. And did you see a little of Black Jack in Frank a few times in this episode? That was chilling. First, in the police station as he coldly put the detective in his place, and later with the con artists in the alley where he lost control and nearly killed the man. And Black Jack was just as vile as ever in this one. He makes your skin crawl. Again, hats off to Tobias Menzies for amazing acting in both roles in this episode!

There is concern that all these Frank scenes are making viewers feel a certain sympathy for him and that people are tending to be more Team Frank than Team Jamie. Again, a little problem with the screen version that isn’t there in the book version. Book readers are always Team Jamie, as if there could be another team!! Ha ha! And it ISN’T just the sex!! (See above comments re the character development of Jamie.)

I loved seeing Claire learning to defend herself with a knife—one of my favorite parts of the book, too. In that scene we not only get the feeling that she’s now fully accepted by the men of the party, but that she, too, is comfortable with them and truly feels like she belongs.

Of course that knife lesson comes in handy very soon after. The attempted rape was handled well. We also get that much needed glimpse of Jamie gently caring for Claire afterward. She’s pissed as hell at him for his inability to keep her safe—an emotion she’ll pay for soon. But it’s a passing emotion—dinna fash yeselves. 

What will you do, Claire?  OUTLANDER STARZ TV
As mentioned earlier, the BIG moment in the episode, aside from the very last moment of the very last scene, is when Claire finally makes it back to the stones and the hope that she can travel back to the 20th century. After weeks of trying to get to them she finally sees the hill and its stones, and suddenly she isn't so sure what she wants to do. A decision is made and she runs for the stones only to have her hopes dashed once more. A lot of melodrama here, but it works.

As if Claire facing one attempted rape in the episode isn’t enough, she gets the attempt by Randall, who dripped with evil throughout that scene. Ms. Balfe’s Claire must be growing on me because I could actually feel her fear and revulsion. But fear not, sweet Claire, your knight in shining armor will swing in through that window and save you from the mustache twirling bad guy!! Oops, wrong story. But, uh, same staging! Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always LOVED Jamie’s rescue of Claire, but that was a little too Errol Flynn for me. Funny that she had mentioned him earlier in the episode!

While this midseason ending episode was oozing with drama and romance, and that touch or two of melodrama, my ABSOLUTE FAVORITE moment was when we finally got to see wee Roger Wakefield!! How adorable is he?! I know many of us were disappointed when there was no mention of wee Roger in the first episode, so YAY for letting him appear in this last episode of the first half of the season!

LONG wait until Outlander returns for the second half. If you’ve never read the book, this would be a great time to do so. It is a rich and thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. If you have read it, time to revisit it. Until April then…

Slàinte mhath!

Anne Hartley’s thoughts on Jamie’s character development:

            In the first eight episodes of STARZ adaptation of Outlander I have loved the lush Scottish scenery, the comradery of the MacKenzie Highlanders and the absolutely perfect casting of Ned Gowan.  Where I think the series has fallen short, to date, is portraying the character of James Alexander Malcom MacKenzie Fraser.

            The casting of Sam Heughan is not the issue.  I feel he embodies the character as I envisioned but the show has given Mr. Heughan little more to do than look good in a kilt (which he does indeed) and make love to Claire(also accomplished admirably). Jamie Fraser is more than that though and it is the depth of this man as written in the books that the series has lost. The lack of development of the Jamie Fraser character places viewers who are unfamiliar with the books firmly in the Frank Randall camp believing he is the great love of Claire’s life while readers of the books at this point were clearly routing for Claire to stay with Jamie because they had already come to know him as a character.

Jamie Fraser’s character- his morality, strength, passion, and heart- are what endear him in the book and what viewers have yet to see in the series.  Dougal, Claire, Frank, Black Jack all have more of a presence so far and I’m hoping the viewer finally gets to meet the real Jamie Fraser in the second eight episodes.

Thank you, Anne!! I agree!!!

Monday, September 22, 2014

OUTLANDER: Season 1 Episode 7: The Wedding


Has everyone’s breathing returned to normal?

The Wedding episode was everything I could have hoped for: romantic, sensual, emotional, dramatic, even humorous at times…it had it all! Though book purists may not have been completely happy, due to some changes that were made from book to screen, (okay, I’m one of those dreaded people), I have to say those changes didn’t ruin the experience. And this is an experience for which I’ve been waiting for nearly twenty years!

I think this particular episode lends itself to lists—of the highs and lows as I see them.

·      The wedding. It was lush, and romantic with the hundreds of candles and gorgeous, rich cinematography. Exactly what this scene required. YAY!! The exchange of vows and blood vow, and the kiss were absolutely perfect. I admit to a few tears.

·      The wedding night nerves. Poor, virginal Jamie. Poor morally conflicted but lusting Claire. Both enter that chamber knowing what needs to transpire, and both are terrified in their own ways. 

·      Jamie telling Claire that he remembers every moment, every second of the wedding ceremony. That isn’t something a man being forced into a loveless marriage says. 
·      Claire is charmed by Jamie as he tells his stories of his family, and as the night progresses she’s surprised by how much she enjoys him and his stories. Leading to…

·      Claire’s suggestion that they go to bed, but not to sleep. Which brings us to…

·      The undressing. How sexy and sensual was that?! My favorite part of the undressing was when he gently untied the ribbon at her neck and his fingers softly brushed her skin. Ahhhh…

·      Claire’s breathing as they approached the moment wasn’t fear, but full on desire. She’s deeply concerned that she’s cheating on Frank, but at the same time knows that this must happen. And she's experiencing stirrings of true affection for Jamie.

·      Jamie’s confusion as to how humans do it. Poor Jamie. He was going to consummate his marriage the way ‘horses’ do it, and after the quickly over coupling his ‘huh?’s and ‘hmmm’s were verra endearing. 

·      Afterwards, when Jamie asks if she liked it. Her initial reaction saddens Jamie, but moments later in a moment of uncomfortable self-awareness, she tells him, “I did enjoy it, Jamie.”

·      Their subsequent lovemaking. When Claire is clearly enjoying herself, Jamie is surprised. Pleasantly surprised. I could see the beginnings of a true and enduring love in these moments when she introduces him to all the joys of the marriage bed.

·      The comedy relief. As Rupert and Angus and Ned were all going about their assigned tasks to get the wedding together, we were treated to some very humorous moments, the best of which was, hands down, Ned in the brothel!! A favorite scene!

THINGS I DIDN’T LOVE, BUT COULD LIVE WITH: (all because I’m a bit of a book purist, don’t you ken)
·      Claire’s and Frank’s wedding. They were NOT married at a registrar’s office! They were married in the same ‘kirk’ that Claire and Jamie celebrate their wedding. Claire faints when she sees the church she’s led to for her marriage to Jamie Fraser, because she recognizes it as the very place where she exchanged vows with Frank, thus increasing her guilt over cheating on him. I loved this in the book, and found it verra moving. So of course I missed it in the screen version.

·      There was no need for the banns. Dougal took care of getting a special license for their wedding to avoid the need to wait three weeks for the banns to be read. (Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are married by a special license in Pride and Prejudice as well, so there is a literary precedence here.)

·      The ring! The ring is supposed to come quite a while later, and the manner in which it happens is lovely and special and now it won’t happen!
·      The pearls!! Ugh. First, that type of long strand of pearls wasn’t in vogue until the 1920’s. He gives her his mother’s treasured choker of Scottish freshwater pearls BEFORE THE WEDDING, as a tribute to his mother and her memory. Not a long strand during sex like some sex prop! NO NO NO!

·      Dougal’s suggestion. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about this. A purist will tell you his suggestion that she now sample some other pleasures never happened. But, I think by this point in the book, readers have an idea that Dougal is a bit jealous of Jamie as he fancies Claire himself, and this scene is a device to let the viewers in on that. It felt right to me, but I know there are a lot of book readers who are verra unhappy with this scene. And by the way, I loved the way he came in to the inn and told Claire he had ALREADY visited Randall and told him of the wedding. Very chivalrous, so it kind of offsets his lewd suggestion that follows it.

All in all a wonderful episode! I’ve watched it twice, so far, and loved it more the second time than the first. It’s a keeper. And I look forward to the last episode before the midseason break. I just hope we get more of the honeymooners!

Slàinte mhath!

Monday, September 15, 2014

OUTLANDER: Season 1 Episode 6: The Garrison Commander

Captain Jack Randall: the stuff of nightmares OUTLANDER STARZ TV

I’m reading the tealeaves, as Mrs. Graham taught me of course, and I see Emmy and Golden Globe awards in Tobias Menzies’ future. His performance in The Garrison Commander, was one of the most chilling I’ve ever seen. As a long time fan of the books, I had a well-formed vision of just how evil Black Jack Randall was, but my imagination didn’t come close to the evil that dripped from Menzies’ every word. He terrified me. And I hate to imagine how well he will perform in episodes we will see in the future. He could bring on nightmares.

Claire’s story arc in this episode takes her from ill-advised glee when she comments that she is at last with her familiar British army, albeit two centuries earlier, —people who ‘look upon her with respect rather than suspicion’—, to fear and loathing as she listens to Randall recount his flogging of Jamie, to shock and despair when she learns she is to marry a man she hardly knows.

Claire is escorted by the army, to Fort William. There, enjoying a lovely, civilized, mannerly dinner with the British officers—like something right out of an Austen movie—the temperature in the room drops precipitously when Black Jack Randall enters it. As her eyes lock with his, she sees her chances of escape to the standing stones disappearing. And yet, she stays loyal to Dougal and the Mackenzies during the dinner conversation/questioning—which I liked, but really wasn’t a wise move on her part.

In fact, throughout that dinner party I was shouting at Claire a lot. Why can’t she be more circumspect about what she chooses to say? This isn’t just a problem with the TV rendering of the book, it is a problem Claire has in the book as well. She’s a smart character, well educated with a lot of worldly experiences under her belt. Why does she say things that can so easily be used against her? A wise person would keep their mouth shut and quietly watch what’s going on, and keep all incendiary thoughts to themselves. Claire is too smart to be acting so stupid.

Though Claire knew that Randall was a bad guy prior to arriving at the fort, watching her dawning realization that she was sitting with a sadist, a truly evil and sick man, was painful. Silent tears ran down her face as she was forced to listen to him graphically recount how he had tortured Jamie. This wonderfully acted, but horrible to watch scene will be an important foundation for much that is to come.

Favorite moments in this episode: Dougal coming into the room as Claire lies on the floor, beaten and battered, and he shoots a look at that poor corporal that could stop a person’s heart. Dougal as the avenging angel—I liked it. Then there was the lovely scene where Claire and Jamie first speak after learning that they must marry in order to keep her safe from Randall and the English army:
“I reckon one of us should ken what they’re doing,” he says after Claire asks if he minds that she’s not a virgin and he answers by confessing that he is one. 


As every Outlander book fan out there is doing, I’m cheering that we’ve finally arrived at that most wonderful part of the book. However, for those viewers who have never read the book, these next two episodes could fall flat. Why? Because very little time has been spent on developing the character of Jamie. By this point in the book the reader knows Jamie Fraser to be an excellent man, loyal, brave, strong yet gentle, intelligent, and a man of his convictions. As readers we cheered when Claire was ‘forced’ to marry him. But viewers do not fully know the man that Jamie is, so may feel neither here nor there about their marriage. Also, a few more hints of growing chemistry would have helped. Thank you to my dear friend and fellow Outlander fan, Anne, for pointing this out to me. I hope we see much more of Jamie’s true character in the next two episodes.

I’m taking this week off from my regularly scheduled rant about Claire’s wardrobe. But by the looks of some of the message boards, I’m not alone in my concerns.

The next two episodes are what I’ve been waiting for—I see multiple viewings in my future, as I again read those tealeaves.

Slàinte mhath!

Monday, September 8, 2014

OUTLANDER: Season 1, Episode 5: Rent

“It doesn’t matter where you come from. You’re here now.”

This episode is a pivotal one. Some important, long-ranging themes are introduced in this episode, and if you haven’t read the books before watching the series you had better have been watching carefully.

Rent, the episode and the payment, belonged to Dougal. He’s quickly becoming my favorite character and his scenes in Rent were mesmerizing. We see all sides of his character, and learn a lot about him—he’s easily the most complex character in the series. The first time I read the book I thought he was going to be Claire’s love interest, and right now part of me wishes he were going to be.

We were given a good dose of Scottish history, and every bit of it will be important to the storyline and the characters not only in this first season, but also in seasons to come. The Jacobite Rising of 1745 colors much of Claire’s story. And in this episode we see her dawning realization that she is not on the road with a bunch of criminals, but with Jacobites. Rebels. Men who are ready to fight for a cause they deeply believe in, but which Claire knows is doomed to fail. Just two years into the future, thousands of Scottish men will die in the horrendous Battle of Culloden. Surely some of the men she’s traveling with will be among those killed.

This knowledge presents Claire with the first of many quandaries that will present themselves to a time traveler. Does she tell them? If she does, does that change history? Perhaps not for the better? We see her try to warn Dougal, and then later very openly tell Ned Gowan, though he, of course, assumes she’s speaking from a political belief. Well, she tried.

Scotland! Some of the actors tweeted before the show that the star of this episode was Scotland, and they weren’t kidding. We were treated to one spectacular view after another. But the scenery was juxtaposed against the hardscrabble lives of those living within Clan MacKenzie, and the dreadful treatment they deal with from both the British soldiers and The Watch.  
We get to see Jamie beginning to watch out for Claire. Yay!! There were lots of lingering, almost smoldering, looks he gave her. I’m not alone when I say the scene in the book where she discovers Jamie sleeping outside her door—to protect her—was one of my very favorite, and the scene in the show did not disappoint. He is so gallant, and yummy, and you can just see a flicker of interest in Claire’s face as the scene unfolds. It’s becoming apparent that she isn’t entirely immune to Jamie’s charms.

Ned Gowan!! Rarely have I seen such perfect, spot-on casting. The actor IS Ned Gowan. My friends and I have been eagerly awaiting his arrival to the show (he’s a favorite of most if not all readers!), and as we watched on Saturday night we all cheered that he is the personification of the character as written in the books. Yay!

The woman is on the road! She is sleeping outdoors most nights! Conditions are dirty and unpleasant. But she is dressed like she’s on her way to Camelot for her marriage to King Arthur! No, no, no. She should be dressed like the various village women are dressed—in simple, well-worn clothes that can take the beating living on the road is surely going to give them. And she should be dirty. With plant matter often stuck in her hair. Which is how she’s depicted in the book. END OF RANT.  

Only three more episodes this half-season! Next week’s will be a painful one, but the outcome of it is what we are all looking forward to. From what I have read we will get to see, before the mid-season break, what we are all eagerly awaiting!

Slàinte mhath!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The List: Celebrity Crushes and Free Passes

The List: that compilation of celebrity crushes for whom your spouse must give you a free pass in the extremely unlikely* event that you should meet a celebrity crush who wants to take you to bed.
*It would be more likely that you would win the lottery and get hit by lightning at the same time. That kind of extreme unlikeliness.

Don’t we all have a List? I was chatting with a dear friend, whom I thought I knew as well as I know myself, and was shocked to discover she did not have a List! This led to a full explanation of the workings of The List, how many people can be on it, how it can be updated, how someone can get cut or another person can be inducted. The List is dynamic by definition—never static. This friend is an excellent learner, and in no time she had compiled a rather lengthy and diverse List. I was so proud of her.

When girlfriends and I share with one another who makes up our Lists, I try not to be judgmental. Everyone has her own tastes. (Except for a friend who lusts for Pitbull—I’m sorry, I really don’t get that!!) But when it comes to my husband’s List, I feel the need to persuade him that certain choices are not worthy of his List. Or that his taste and judgment are poor. Yes, I like to tell him who should and should not be on his List. Isn’t that what a good wife does?

My List, of course, shows excellent taste. Being the anglophile I am, 90% of The List is made of men from the U.K. and Ireland. Recent inductees include the very fine Michael Fassbender and Idris Elba. Richard Armitage made the list a couple of years ago when I discovered that he IS my vampire, Gabriel Augustine. (from my novel) Since then Mr. Armitage has held a Top Five position, along with the likes of Colin Firth and Liam Neeson.

Fantasy is a wonderful thing. Writers, who spend so much of their lives living in imaginary worlds they have created, tend to have rich fantasy lives. Do YOU have a List? Please feel free to share who might be on it—as long as it isn’t Pitbull.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

OUTLANDER: Season 1, Episode 4: The Gathering

First, let me say I love this series, have waited for it or some version of it for nearly 20 years, am still entranced by the story, and will forever love Jamie Fraser. However, having said that, this particular episode was not spectacular—overall. There were bits that were good and necessary to the telling of the story, but there were quite a few things I didn’t care for.

But before I begin on any of the specifics of this episode, I feel it necessary to address a larger problem about which some faithful Outlander readers have their panties in a wad. Especially a friend of mine, who first brought it to my attention. The problem: the time of year in which the story in set. In the book, Claire travels through time on Beltane, May 1st, not Samhain, October 31st, as in the TV series. Scottish clan gatherings traditionally took place in the summer, and the lairds went on the road to collect taxes during the summer as well. The summer season and its better weather were the reason why, of course. That the TV series has flipped the timing and seasons has some people a little ticked off. But as I suspected, and told my friend, the producers got the okay to begin production at a time that would have meant waiting several months before beginning filming if they were to keep to the book’s timing, and that wasn’t acceptable. And I for one, am glad they didn’t wait. We would still be waiting for Outlander to begin.

Now, for this episode specifically—there was way too much fluff and padding. The oath taking ceremony was fun to see, but the long, lingering camera shots of the crowd were unnecessary. Ditto the hurling game with Dougal and Jamie fighting it out. The boar hunt and Geordie’s death are important to the character building of Dougal and his relationship with Claire, but it could have been tightened up. As I watched this episode I found myself worrying that the viewers who had never read the book would be getting bored and tune out.

From my perspective, the goal of this episode was to show the growing respect that Dougal and Claire have for one another. It did that well. There’s a lot of change in their relationship in this episode, beginning with the drunken Dougal trying to have his way with Claire, to the almost tender moment at the end when he’s thanking her for her kindness to the dying Geordie. During Geordie’s death scene, we get Dougal’s ‘save the cat’ moment, as we see a caring, gentle side of him. Claire’s impression of him changes a little right there.  Later, when Dougal says to Claire, “You’ve seen men die before—and by violence,” and she answers, “Yes, many of them,” we know they have a new understanding of one another, and a new respect. It is due to this understanding and respect that Claire now feels safe to travel with Dougal when he tells her she will be going on the road with him.

Very little of Jamie in this episode, but some nice chemistry was evident during the stable scene. And my heart melts a little every time he calls her Sassenach.
Claire’s looking for this road trip to finally give her the opportunity to make her escape and find her way to the stones and back to the twentieth century. I’ve been looking forward to the road trip because I think it’s where the story really begins! I can’t wait for the next few episdoes!

A BRIEF CONTINUATION OF AN EARLIER RANT: What is with the spectacular wardrobe Claire is wearing? She’s supposed to be wearing a couple of old cast-off dresses, not a new dress every day, let alone an elegant gown to the oath taking ceremony!! She looked regal at the ceremony! That is just wrong.

Note: Did everyone catch Diana Gabaldon’s very brief cameo? I loved Mrs. Fitz’s snarky remarks to her!!

Slàinte mhath!