My angle in the Outlander commentary business is to compare and contrast the novel and the television series. I have to admit that this post was far more difficult to write than the first several. You’ll notice that, while I called my first two episode-specific posts “recaps,” I’m calling this one a review.
Recaps are fact-based, a kind of blow-by-blow of how things play out, including only a little bit of writer and viewer opinion. Episodes 101 and 102 made that a pretty straightforward exercise. I had a process that seemed to work pretty well. Listen to and scan through the several chapters that pertain to the episodes in question and take notes. Re-watch the episodes and take notes. Compare, contrast, quip, gush, snark, swoon, and repeat.
To paraphrase Jamie from Episode 104, The Gathering, “Well, that’s verra sound reasoning on your part, Sassenach, or would be,” had these episodes borne a greater resemblance to what could be found on the page.
The Way Out is only passingly similar to the novel, and104 keeps time with the book to a greater degree, but both take some liberties that expand, deepen, and animate the world created by Diana Gabaldon. Because of some bold choices, sure direction, and unfailing support from cast and crew, The Way Out and The Gathering scripts advance the story lines somewhat more succinctly than what the novel prescribes while also create episodic arcs of rising action, climax, and resolution.
I have three reasons for tackling these two episodes simultaneously:
- First: The events that are actually in the episodes are pulled from passages scattered throughout and across several chapters.
- Second: As a matter of housekeeping, doing two episodes this week allows me to arrive at the week before the show’s return having just completed the recap for Episode 108: Both Sides Now.
- Third: Each of these episodes have clear-cut examples that show how changes to the original plot and characters, even fundamental ones, can not only serve the story but, dare I say, improve upon it.
It took my writing this post to realize that Anne Kenney, the writer credited with The Way Out, and Matthew B. Roberts, credited for The Gathering are brilliant. Admittedly, it took my writing this post to learn who either of them are. Anne Kenney is a writer and producer with nearly three decades of experience, including long-term work on L.A. Law, accomplished efforts on shows as diverse as Lifetime’s The Division and the CBS drama Family Law, and standout accomplishments of late on ABC Family’s Switched at Birth. She knows a thing or two about weaving multiple story lines into a cohesive tapestry, and, more importantly, how to write believable, complex female characters living in predominantly masculine settings.
Matthew B. Roberts wrote for the Battlestar Galactica prequel Caprica, which was also created by Ronald D. Moore. Both Kenney and Roberts wrote for Hellcats, a series with which I have to admit no familiarity. We fans owe Roberts a debt of gratitude, regardless. He was the one who recommended the books to Outlander co-executive producer Maril Davis, who, with Terry Dresbach, discussed them with Moore (Thanks to Erin Conrad for this information!).
Perhaps Better Titled “The Way Through”
I have to admit that I wasn’t a huge fan of The Way Out when it first aired, and I know how far in the minority that leaves me. Fan opinion far and wide says that this is the episode in which things finally gelled with the audience. For my part, it was this episode that first made me think about taking to the internet to sort out my feelings about adaptations for television. With all the treasure troves of source material with which to work, I understand having to cut things, but why transpose character traits, invent new plots, or impose seemingly superfluous elements upon the story?
We start in 1939, seeing Claire off to the front lines while Frank acknowledges that, “This is backwards.”
Something akin to it surely did happen, however; it’s background such as this that twentieth-century Claire’s takes for granted. This is the difference between first-person narration from Claire’s limited point of view in a book and television, which is omniscient storytelling by its very nature.
In a smash-cut to 1743, we feel just as drowned as Claire does, the frigid torrents on her head washing away more of her former independence. She’s not even allowed to dress herself, and she is having to consider inviting Mrs. Fitz into her confidence, she being the only other compassionate person she’s encountered, save Jamie. This scene, controversial prior to the show’s airing because it was shown out of context, takes us into Claire’s mind better than any voiceover ever could. She plays out what it’d mean to share her time-traveling secret with anyone, and she arrives at the obvious conclusion. Bad idea, unless her idea of warming up post-bath involves being burned at the stake.
Onward to the surgery, where Claire is left to clean up the detritus remaining of Davie Beaton’s former practice. Snaps to the props crew for the woodlice, the apothecary’s chest, et al. I was a little bummed to see that TV-Mrs. Fitz hadn’t set the gaggle of maids upon the space to clean it up on Claire’s behalf, but I suppose this omission further reinforces both Claire’s loneliness and further decreases the feminine presence in her life. No sooner does she see that her erstwhile guards are day-drinking instead of helping her, but she’s summoned to Colum’s chambers.
Whose Line Is It Anyway?
I have some complex opinions about the business of this scene. The interaction with the tailor feels a little contrived, although it gives us the chance to see that degenerated legs don’t keep Colum from bodily threatening anyone whose actions carry even a whiff of impudence or presumption. Finely done. But why change the details of the massage passage? In the book, Angus Mhor massages the base of Colum’s spine because they’ve discovered the benefits of doing so without Beaton involvement. I’m going to assume that Stephen Walters’ delightful portrayal of Angus, while nuanced, wouldn’t accommodate the role of masseur without having him crack (adolescent pun totally intended) jokes about it. Since Colum is already knows this method to be medically appropriate, having Claire not only administer it but improve the technique raises her status above her Beaton predecessor. Masterful.
Earning respect as well as an invitation to the evening’s performance by Gwyllyn the Bard, we cut to the evening. Barring Dougal’s feral cat wisecrack, this scene plays out nearly word-for-word with what’s written in Chapter 8, An Evening’s Entertainment. I suspect that the uprising that would have occurred, had this scene not made it into the show with such accuracy, would have rivaled the ’45. Kudos to Nell Hudson for not overplaying Laoghaire’s “look that could kill.” Best to reserve the full force of that for later on. Moreover, kudos to Anne Kenney for having Claire only loosen the neck of Jamie’s shirt. While ostensibly less satisfying that the book version, where Jamie sheds his shirt completely and asks for Claire’s attention to his injuries, the smolder between just the eyes on these two is enough to send viewers’ hearts soaring. Did I mention that Kenney’s other writing credit in the season’s first half is for 107: The Wedding? Yeah. Homegirl knows how to mete out the heat.
Fast-forward to the next morning, at which time a story line and a symbolic trope are unfurled from the common thread of things not really in the book.
As She Hums the Zombie’s Classic Tune, She’s Not There
Don’t bother trying to find any of the Black Kirk passages in the novel. The closest we come to this whole Science vs. Speculation metaphor occurs in Chapter 24, By the Pricking of my Thumbs. I am going to go by (my own) show-spoiler rules and not discuss what happens in the book, especially since it’s this chapter than lends its name to Episode 110. Perhaps the passage to which I’m referring will make an appearance in the show, although Chapter 24 is a meaty one, with far more going on than a ethical debate about faith, the pagan supernatural, and a woman’s place discerning her opinions about either.
What I will say is that, while this whole Black Kirk story line is lovely to look at and suitably executed, it doesn’t jibe with the source material and is rather heavy-handed. I think it draws both the Church and the Highlanders in lines too simple, ignoring both the Scottish Enlightenment in general and Jamie’s fundamental character specifically. He shares the facts of his education with Claire in Chapter 24, not this early, but readers are always of the opinion that Jamie’s different than the other around him. At the least, we have suitable background on book-Jamie with regard to his soldiering in France, which is shared in Chapter 16, and hinted at earlier still when he talks about the injuries that land him in the abbey at Sainte Anne de Beaupré. Neither of these facts are mentioned in the show, although they do account for why he’s got much shorter hair than virtually everyone around him, save Dougal. I know this borders on nit-picking, but I think we would have been better informed of Jamie’s character if we’d been apprised of these details rather than his tutoring.
Another thing you won’t find (in this book, anyway—forgive my memory, which only vaguely recalls some reference to it in another novel further into the series), is any reference to The Wizard of Oz. While this is timely, as the movie would only be about seven years old to Claire, it seems a little careless of her to concoct a love potion recitation for Laoghaire with such flippancy. Furthermore, the visual cue of Geillis’ red shoes seems a little too on-the nose.
So there you have it. What’d I miss?