Outlander Episode 1!!! Review – OMG, It’s Finally Here

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It’s finally here! We’ve squeed, discussed, fangirled, stalked, questioned, and sighed. But it’s finally here – the first episode of Outlander. If you haven’t watched it online or on demand, and are saving yourself for the actual cable TV premier next week, stop here! And come back after that.

OK! Everybody here has seen Episode 1?

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So, what did you think?

I’m walking a fine line here, honestly. A fine, intertwined, overlapping, intersecting line. Do I write about Outlander as a fan of the books who couldn’t wait for this to come to life? Or as a TV reviewer, whose job it is to watch with a critical eye? Oh, heck, I’ll write from both perspectives, since most of you – certainly not all, we hope – have been fans of the books for years. I truly hope that this series will bring many, many new people to this terrific story, and at the same time satisfy the long-time fans!

So, what did I think?

Bravo, Ron Moore. That’s what I think. While it’s not perfect (and the only way it could be perfect would be for me to have done everything, from writing to casting to directing – although since I have neither the skills, talent or money to do ANY of that, it would have no chance of attaining perfection), that’s ok. The first episode is terrific, giving lots of promise that the remaining 15 episodes this season – and seasons beyond – will fulfill the expectations we all have.

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The first episode, though, is heavy on exposition – as it almost has to be, given that the non-fan viewer needs the backstory of who Claire is and why we should be interested in her. And it needs to happen fast, so we can move on. First episodes have a heavy burden – they must set up the world that we’ll be immersed in, introduce characters, give us enough background to begin to base storylines on, and give the viewer a reason to care about this world and the people in it. The quality of first episodes is also sometimes a little lower than subsequent episodes – after all, everyone involved is learning, and this is the first chance they have to put all of what they’ve already learned to use. Subsequent episodes can take advantage of those lessons, actors feel more comfortable in their roles, directors and writers say “oh, that’s what that was,” and we’re off and running.

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I loved the way Claire was introduced. You see her rock-steady but war-weary character, know that she’s caring, experienced, strong. The voiceover telling us that she and Frank only saw each other 10 days in the last five years, and that they expected their relationship to continue the way it had been, but that it hasn’t yet. We see a woman who, as it turns out, may not have the rock-solid relationship that would keep her from falling in love with someone else. Yes, we see how much she loves Frank, and he loves her, but we wonder with her whether she’s perhaps outgrown this marriage in some respects.

Several scenes in this episode are wonderful (I hear you, screaming through the internet, “SCENES???? THE WHOLE THING was wonderful!!!”). Here are my favorite things about Episode 1:

  • Sam Heughan is perfect. From his first glance, I knew this was the right choice. I hope this episode puts all doubts to rest.

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  • The scenery and cinematography is AMAZING. Location shots – Inverness, outdoors – BEAUTIFUL.
  • The dancing at the stones scene is stunning, beautiful and graceful. The music for this scene (and all of the music) is evocative, emotional, wonderful.
  • I love the tea leaves/palm reading scene with Mrs. Graham. Her confusion at the messages that both the tea leaves and Claire’s palm show is clear. If you aren’t familiar with the books, you get a light dose of foreshadowing; if you are already a fan, you nod and say, “I get it!”

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  • After Claire goes through the stones, and is trying to find her way in the woods, and the redcoats begin shooting – Bear McCreary’s music, all pipes and drums, begins at exactly the right moment. In too many shows lately, the music has overwhelmed the action, leading rather than supporting the viewer (if you watched the most recent season of 24, you’ll know what I mean). I felt that the way the music was used in Outlander was just right – long periods without background music, but when it was used, it enhanced every scene.
  • My favorite scene: after Jamie falls off the horse, and Claire asks for antiseptic? disinfectant? Iodine? ALCOHOL? And Dougal mutters, “I’ve never heard a woman use such language in my life.” For that matter, Graham McTavish and the rest of the Highlanders are also wonderful. Rupert’s flinch when Claire puts Jamie’s shoulder back in the socket – exactly perfect.

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  • The scene of Frank describing how he would draw the pattern of lines in Claire’s palm is terrific. His love for Claire is evident. Tobias Menzies was great in his difficult, dual role. As Black Jack, you could see Frank in his face, but it was amazing how different he looked in the two roles.

There were a few things, though, that I felt weren’t as good as they could have been. I’ve already discussed in detail my disappointment with the opening titles – I won’t get into that here. Feel free to read that article. I’m not sure Caitriona Balfe has the emotional range to play Claire, but I will say that in the second episode, that improves somewhat. She’s a fairly inexperienced actor, playing a woman who is definitely strong and opinionated. She seemed too fragile in her opening scenes with the Highlanders – I know that she’s scared, confused, tired – but the bravado was missing. Her “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ” felt forced. She’s a beautiful woman, but I think time will tell us if she’s really up to this role. And as the pivotal character, I hope she is!

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The trip through the stones was disappointing. I read that Ron Moore didn’t want to use CGI, or other sci-fi cliches, but we never got the sense that this was terrifying, difficult, mind-blowing. To describe it as a weightlessness totally downplays the horrible experience that is described in the books. And Claire wakes up as though she’s just had a nap – no indication that the physical effects of going through the stones had any kind of impact.

And finally, despite Moore’s saying in the past that he doesn’t want to “handhold” the viewer, the voiceover at times did just that, particularly the final lines; “and somehow, I knew that my journey had only just begun.”

Overall? I give the pilot episode a solid B+. I know future episodes will show the cast’s growth, and that we’re in for a fabulous trip!

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Erin Conrad