Even though I have lots to do, all I want to do right now is watch Outlander, the TV series adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s best selling novels of the same name. I admit, I’m late to the game, but I was busy, or in the middle of watching other shows, and a plethora of other reasons, or excuses. But I told myself I had to at least check it out, see if it was any good because Ronald D. Moore, creator, showrunner, and executive producer of my favorite show, Battlestar Galactica, (as well as producer of Star Trek TNG) is the showrunner, and executive producer of this multi-genre series that involves time travel, historic fiction, and romance.
Just a heads up, there are a few light SPOILERS in this article, but nothing too revealing.
The main character, Claire Randall is from a time period where women were considered unequal to men, and then she gets thrown into a time period where women were considered even more inferior. I wasn’t sure if Claire would be a good protagonist. I assumed her societal environment may have conditioned her to be more submissive, but she turned out to be quite progressive for her time. In fact, Claire had such an unusual upbringing, traveling with her uncle, that it led her to be independent, forward thinking, brave, and adventurous.
The first part of the very first episode starts to set up Claire’s conflict. We see the very ordinary British life and nice, but unadventurous husband that she’d be leaving behind in contrast to the exciting, dangerous, beautiful, and yet sometimes barbaric Scottish world she’d soon be transported to.
One of the most significant aspects of the story is set up when Claire drinks Oolong tea with the housekeeper, Mrs. Graham, who reads her tea leaves, then her palms. Mrs. Graham sees that she’s going on a journey, although she’s staying put. And that Claire has 2 marriage lines, although they aren’t broken. They’re forked, foreshadowing that Claire’s travel to the past will involve a chemistry with the Scottish clansmen, Jamie Fraser.
One of the show’s main conflicts is based on the fact that Claire is an outsider, or as the show’s title points out, an “outlander” in more ways than one. The tension between the Scottish and the English in 1743 affects Claire’s relationship with the MacKenzie clan, who allow her to stay with them as a “guest.” Since Claire is an English woman, many members of the MacKenzie clan aren’t sure if they can trust her, and some go so far as to believe she’s an English spy. She tries to gain their trust by using her medical knowledge to heal sick and injured members of the clan.
Claire is also an outlander because she doesn’t belong to the same time period as the MacKenzie clan. Since Claire comes from the 20th century, a time period where people have come to put faith in science and medicine, she doesn’t share their views on superstition, and stifling religiosity. When a young Scottish boy starts displaying symptoms of hallucination and illness, Claire doesn’t share in the clan’s priest’s view that he’s been possessed by Satan. She believes he’s become deathly ill from eating poisonous leaves, putting her at odds with the priest.
As mentioned earlier, Claire is a woman ahead of her time, in both the 20th century as well as the 18th. This definitely makes her an outsider amongst the Scottish clan who aren’t used to a woman who doesn’t like to follow orders, thinks for herself, often times outsmarts the men, and even bosses them around from time to time.
Claire doesn’t share the clan’s perspective on violently stern disciplinary actions. When a young boy gets punished for stealing, Claire thinks it’s barbaric that his punishment could be getting a hand chopped off. Even when they decide to go easy on the boy, and nail his ear to a post instead, Claire involves Jamie in a plan to free the boy from what she feels is an unjust punishment.
Although it’s a love story, it’s not one of those sappy types of romantic stories. There’s so many dimensions to this TV show. Claire also gets to witness the Scottish uprise against English rule in the 18th century. Since she’s from 1945 originally, and knows how it will all turn out (she was a nurse at the front line of war, after all) she wants to stop the Jacobite rebellion, preventing war from even happening. Claire wants to change the course of history!
So, if you like time traveling, or historic fiction, or stories with romantic tensions, or even if you don’t like any of these things, I suggest you give this show a try. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. I know I was.