Saturday, August 9, 2014

In Which I Review Outlander (1x1)

People disappear all the time....

I've been keeping my eye on this series for awhile now. Goodreads often recommends the books to me, though at present I haven't read any of it. The reviews always seem contradictory; either the readers rave about how gorgeous the work is or it gets labeled as self-indulgent soft core porn. Not that there is anything wrong with soft core porn, mind you. So I went into the first episode, "Sassencah," a little hesitant about how interesting the show could be. I knew the basic premise: 20th century wife gets transported back in time to Highland Scotland, meets another man, falls in love, and apparently there's a lot of sex. Take out that last bit, and it could be an episode of Doctor Who. I will say this: I was pleasantly surprised by the pilot. It was exactly what I expected--exposition and set up--but it was enjoyable. I didn't feel weighted down trying to follow plot lines or the history of the main characters. And can we talk about the gorgeousness of the Scottish Highlands? Stunning. The views of Scotland alone might be worth the viewing, if the story does little to peak your interest. The first episode might feel a little sleepy since more than half of it is devoted to setting up the present day story, instead of moving you into the more important past time period after a bit of time travel. But the on screen chemistry of Jamie and Claire is already palpable, to the point where I'll be tuning in again next week. Overall, I'm going to recommend the first episode, though with the caveat that, as I understand the basic storyline, this is a somewhat cheesy romantic time travel adventure. There will be angst and drama. And apparently quite a bit of sex. Explains why it's on Starz at least. 

Quick, down and dirty plot break down. Claire Randell has spent the past five years as a nurse during World War II. Prior to the war, she and her husband, Frank, were inseparable and deeply in love. Frank's a historian by trade and spent the war sending men to their death on covert operations. The war has, naturally, changed both of them, and the strain of their time apart is apparent in the opening few moments where a car ride to the Scottish village feels heavy instead of light and happy. At Frank's suggestion, he and Claire travel to Scotland for a second honeymoon, an attempt to reconnect and rebond. The town Frank has chosen for this honeymoon is a tiny little Scottish village that still practices a few of the old Druid ways, even if most of the residents are devout Catholic. When Frank and Claire arrive, the harvest festival has come around and several doors are lined with blood and it's a time when spirits and ghosts and ghouls come out and play. Halloween, folks. It was a thing long before you dressed up as a sexy kitten and got wasted at a frat party. It's a fairly common polytheistic ritual (side note but no historian worth their weight is going to use the term pagan, though I know Frank in his 1940s mindset doesn't realize why this term is wrong); in order to thank the gods/spirits for a bountiful harvest, you offer up various offerings (sacrifices) and celebrate the end of a season. We don't get to see much of the festival or celebration itself; Frank is far more interested in his own genealogy. In particular, he is looking into his ancestor "Black Jack," a British Captain who plagued the Scottish clans back in the 17th century. The Randall couple explores castles and the landscape and the honeymoon seems to be doing its job--there are 3 sex scenes in the first half an hour, so we've got that going for us.

Side note but seriously, look how gorgeous this picture is! Anyway, curiosity gets the better of Frank and Clarie and they sneak up to an ancient set of stones (think Stonehenge) and watch an ancient Druid ritual that brings the sunrise. This was my favorite part of the episode. I keep using the word gorgeous, but honestly it's the best way to describe it. The music was stunning, the way the dancers moved, the slow rise of the sun over the valley, that feeling of something otherworldly that came across on screen and was reflected in Claire's was all spectacular. The mystic nature of the episode is not only highlighted by this Druid ritual, but in Claire's tea leaves and palm reading. Her leaves are contradictory and her palm reading doesn't fare much better--how can she have two marriages but that aren't divided? I'm sure there is a ton of foreshadowing in this passage but I don't need to worry about it now. While Frank is off doing more research into his ancestor "Black Jack," Claire decides to pay another visit to the stones to look at flowers. There is a very loud windy noise that seems to beckon Claire to one stone in particular, and when she reaches out to touch it, the world goes black. Just pretend the stone is the TARDIS.

When Claire wakes, she's in the same place but something seems off. She can't find her car or the road. Oh. And there are real life Redcoats firing real bullets at her. She manages to run to a stream and finds a man who looks startling familiar. This man looks exactly like Frank, except it becomes quite clear that it is not Frank, but rather his ancestor Black Jack. And Black Jack is not a gentleman. Claire is saved from Jack by a Scotsman who takes her to tiny hut where the other Scotsman try to determine if Claire is a whore or not. Brief aside, but it will take your ear a moment or two to get used to the brogue. Or maybe it was just me, but it is rather thick at first. One of the clansman has a dislocated shoulder and Claire steps in to fix it for him. Yes, this is Jamie. He of the incredibly chiseled face. Seriously, was this man carved from stone? Claire and Jamie are a bit snippy with each other (naturally) but Claire saves the clansman from an ambush and decides not to run away--because honestly, where is she going to go? She can't exactly find a telephone and call her husband now can she? Claire continues to prove her worth to the clansmen and they take her to Castle Leoch and as Claire says, "her adventure had just begun."

 Overall the episode is well done. It's hard to judge a pilot like this because chances are you know the basic story going in. It was sold as a time travel romance story, so you expect that to be set up in the beginning. There are some underlying mysteries that must play out: who was the "ghost" Frank saw in the village? How will Claire and Jamie come together? Can Claire get back to her own time? When Claire's voice over says that she would still make the same choices, what choices are those? Why do I feel like there is something much more sinister to Black Jack than meets the eye? The actors do a perfectly fine job; Claire is particularly enjoyable--smart, witty, independent, and I love that she tells Jamie and the other Scotsman off when they think that her language is less than lady like. I feel really sorry for Frank, if I'm going to be honest. I get the feeling this romance story is really about Jamie and Claire and poor Frank is going to get the short end of the stick. However, Black Jack I can go ahead and hate. Oooh. Contradictions! In short: check it out and enjoy.

Miscellaneous Notes on Sassenach

--Sassenach means "Outlander" in Gaelic.

--I hope they go into Druid myth and ritual more. It's not something I know a lot about (my religion degree does not really extend up to England or Scotland but I've always been curious about it).

--Seriously, the Druid ritual at the stones are breathtaking.

--So much pretty landscape! Have I mentioned that yet?

--Jamie, at the moment, is a wee bit colorless but he was only on screen for about 20 mins so I'll hold tight. Apparently I'll love him by the end.

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