When I heard that Ronald D. Moore, of Battlestar Galactica fame, was adapting Diana Gabaldon's epic time travel romance, Outlander, I knew I had to watch. So I'll be here each week, recapping all the Scottish sexiness for you. Since this is the pilot episode ("Sassenach"), we have a lot to cover, so let's jump right in!
We open on a sweeping shot of the Scottish highlands, all blue sky and green, rocky outcroppings while a voiceover tells us that "people disappear all the time."
Our narrator, a woman, takes us to a crucial moment in her life: we see her from behind — dark curly hair, a blue overcoat, standing in front of a general store while she voices over that she'd never owned a vase, because she'd never lived anywhere long enough to put down roots and acquire real possessions beyond necessities.
The camera pulls around and we see our narrator/heroine, Claire, for the first time. She desperately wants the vase in the general store window, but doesn't buy it. Spoilers, Claire! But maybe it would've changed everything, she thinks. Um, is it ... is it a magic vase?
She tells us that World War II had just ended six months prior and we flash back to a medical tent where Claire, an army nurse, is tending a wounded man. After patching up one nasty-looking wound, Claire wanders away from the tent. Another nurse runs up to her, hands her a bottle of champagne and tells her the war is over. Sweet. A raucous celebration breaks out in the army camp, but Claire, blood streaked across her face, stands on the edge of the revelry, looking thoughtful as she takes a swig of champagne directly from the bottle. This is when I decided I liked Claire a lot.
We're back to Claire in front of the general store window, gazing longingly at the Vase of Life-Changing Significance. But Claire has already spoiled us on her own story, so we know she doesn't buy it. Instead she walks away, declaring that if she could do it all again, she'd make the same choice. Hmm, wonder what that means.
Credits roll! Beautiful vistas! Pretty people! Scored by Bear McCreary!
It's 1946: Claire and her husband Frank are enjoying their second honeymoon in Inverness, Scotland after five years apart, separated by the war. In a completely not ominous turn of events, the inn they're staying in has blood over the doorway. Fun fact: Frank is played by Tobias Menzies, whom you may know as Edmure Tully from Game of Thrones; he was the groom at the infamous Red Wedding, so he's pretty much batting 0-2 in the marriage game. Poor Frank. Poor Edmure.
Frank is a historian so he chats up the innkeeper and learns the blood is a sacrifice to St. Oran and that Samhain, a Gaelic pagan festival akin to Halloween, is just around the corner. Huh, sounds like a promising omen of the marital bliss to come! Claire warns the innkeeper that her husband could hold forth on history for hours. Wow, he must be a lot of fun at parties. If this were 2014 instead of 1946, Frank would totally be the guy who cornered me by the cheese plate and casually chatted me up about 14th century weaponry. NO THANKS.
Once settled in their room, Frank is all "let me unpack my books" and Claire is all "we've seen each other 10 days in five years, take your pants off." Claire is a saucy minx who drinks champagne straight from the bottle and I LOVE IT. But before they get to the getting-it-on portion of the evening, they talk about how much they missed one another. I am quickly filled with shame for assuming Frank is a bore, as he tenderly lifts Claire's hand and tells her he sketched the lines of her hand, over and over, as he missed her, alone in London. I'm sorry, Frank. You can stay. I like you.
The next morning, they drive through the highlands, with Frank pointing out various places of note, like Cocknammon Rock, which British soldiers used as a hiding place to ambush Scottish rebels in the 17th and 18th centuries. Claire VOs -- hope you all like voiceovers, because there's plenty to be had here! -- that she doesn't mind Frank's zealous love of history, since she used to accompany her uncle on archaelogical digs. We briefly flash back to one such dig, where we confirm that Claire, unlike your humble recapper, never had an awkward phase. Damn you, Claire.
Back in 1946, they approach Castle Leoch, the ancestral home of Clan MacKenzie, where it's possible that Frank's ancestor walked the halls — as a British soldier. But once inside, Claire makes it pretty clear that she's not really here for a history lesson, showing off a garter that isn't clipped to anything. Like stockings. Or underwear. Frank smashes every last one of my unfair judgments about his boring, stuffy boringness when he walks right over to Claire, drops to his knees and puts his head between her thighs.
Listen: I can't say unequivocally that Outlander is the feminist answer to Game of Thrones, but onscreen cunnilingus is definitely a step in the right direction. Reader, I applauded.
I know Jamie Fraser is in our future, but I have to be real and say that I'm Team Frank for the moment.
The next day, Frank and a local reverend are poring over genealogical documents involving Frank's ancestor, Jonathan "Black Jack" Randall, who was stationed in Scotland during the 18th century and who sounds like kind of a huge dick, to be honest.
Claire is quickly spirited away by a housekeeper who insists on reading her tea leaves. But uh oh — it's weird, Claire's leaves indicate a journey but ... staying in the same place. WHAT COULD IT MEAN? Alarmed, she then reads Claire's palm. Tracing Claire's "mount of Venus," the housekeeper accurately pegs Claire as a total horndog. (She doesn't guess that Claire likes to bone in places of historical significance, so I guess palm readings aren't 100% conclusive.) BUT Claire's lifeline is weird and split, and her love line indicates two marriages — at the same time. I'm sure it's fine and means nothing, just like the blood above the doorways and the approaching pagan holiday. There's no accumulation of unsettling omens piling up here, guys. Just move along.
Though she's not a believer in superstitions, Claire is creeped out and wanders by a general store window. And here we are at opening scene with the Vase of Life-Changing Significance. Okay, enough! We know: she doesn't buy the vase. Two roads diverged in a wood and Claire didn't buy the vase and now she's gonna fall through a time rift. We got it.
That night at the inn, Claire's lighting candles since the power has gone out. (At this point, the bad omens were coming at us so furiously, I gave up keeping track.) Frank walks in and recounts seeing a dude on the street staring up at Claire, but the guy turned and ... just vanished into thin air. Frank then asks Claire if she tended to any Scottish soldiers during the war who might be looking to reconnect with her ... very delicately implying that she might've been unfaithful, while also preemptively forgiving her. Claire insists she could never be unfaithful and is pretty pissed at the implication, but Frank assures her that it would be completely understandable, even if she had. He then begs her forgiveness. Frank isn't just trying to medal in the Amazing Husband Olympics — he's going for the gold. Cue tender marital sex.
Instead of lighting up cigarettes, Claire and Frank's post-coital activity is sneaking out to see a Druid ritual, done under cover of night. Normal honeymoon stuff. Hiding in the bushes, they watch the "witches" (including the palm-reading housekeeper) perform a complex, beautifully choreographed dance that completes at sunrise. Claire's haunted by the uneasy feeling that she shouldn't be there.
After sneaking away, Claire decides to return to the site of the ritual and pick some forget-me-nots, even though we know she doesn't have a vase to put them in. She's then drawn to one of the big stone slabs at the ritual site. She puts her hands on the slab and BOOM. Time slippage. Should've bought the vase, Claire.
Dazed, Claire wakes up, rises and looks for her car. It's nowhere to be found. Wandering through the forest, she sees what appear to be 18th century British soldiers — and when she realizes they're firing actual live ammunition, she knows they aren't actors filming a movie. Before long, she stumbles on a British soldier who looks just like Frank. But it's not her husband; it's Black Jack Randall, his jerk of an ancestor. Black Jack interrogates and threatens her, and when she spits in his face, he accuses Claire of being a prostitute, which means he feels at liberty to assault and rape her. But he'll have to find some other evil activity, since Claire is swiftly rescued by one of the Scottish rebels and carried off.
Quick sidebar: Casting Tobias Menzies as both Frank and Black Jack is at once genius and evil. While it's patently unfair that good guy Frank has to share a face with such a villainous douchecanoe, it does put an "evil" version of Frank in the past to make the choices Claire's about to make a little more palatable. I feel so manipulated and I'm enjoying it.
Claire is being held in a cottage with men speaking in both Gaelic and English. They quickly identify her as a "sassenach" — an outlander — but aren't quite sure what to do with her. To my great relief, their leader says he doesn't "hold with rape" when it's suggested (again) that Claire is a prostitute. The men leave her be as they debate about the injury of one of their warriors, a strapping young fellow named Jamie, who's sitting by the fire. Claire, who's seen plenty of war wounds, cries out and insists that she help relocate Jamie's shoulder, as his buddies are doing it all wrong. Claire pops Jamie's shoulder back in and cobbles together a makeshift sling from a belt. Claire's a boss.
Jamie is grateful that Claire has so kindly and efficiently tended to his shoulder and while Claire appears to be all business, Jamie stares a smoldering hole right through her. Sparks, they are flying. When they leave the cottage and Claire can't see the shining electric lights of Inverness even though Jamie assures her it's straight ahead, she begins to truly grasp that she's not in Kansas anymore.
Taken hostage by the group of rebels, Claire is forced onto a horse with Jamie, who gallantly offers to cover her with his plaid blanket, as they ride through the rain ("You're shaking so hard, it's making MY teeth rattle.")
Jamie has piercing blue eyes and is covered in rain and has the most beautiful lilt to his voice. I can feel my Team Frank resolve weakening.
The next morning they pass by Cocknammon Rock, which, Claire remembers from her trip with Frank, was a prime spot for British soldiers to hide and ambush Scotsmen. She immediately warns Jamie, who confers with the rebels' leader. The leader is suspicious of how exactly Claire has this knowledge, so she tells him she heard it in the village and not, you know, 200 years in the future. Jamie unceremoniously dumps Claire off his horse as he and his brethren ride into battle.
Claire takes off running, but it's unclear where exactly she hopes to go. Jamie circles back on his horse and finds her. "Lost your way?" he asks. Claire notes what appears to be a fresh wound on his shoulder, which Jamie brushes off. He orders Claire to get back on the horse, but she's having none of it. And when Jamie brandishes his sword, she calls his bluff — "Go with you? Or what? You'll cut my throat?"
"No," he says, "you can walk or I'll pick you up and throw you over my shoulder."
This was when I quietly nudged my Team Frank signs underneath my bed.
But Claire's will is stronger than mine — she's not charmed; she's furious as she gets back on Jamie's horse under duress. She chides Jamie for aggravating his shoulder injury in battle, but he says it couldn't be helped — if he didn't move his shoulder, "I'd never have moved anything else ever again." He offers Claire a pull from his flask to ease her hunger and she reluctantly takes it.
It takes a while for Jamie's high spirits to flag, as it isn't until nightfall that he falls off his horse, weakened by blood loss. Claire jumps down and examines his injury, which apparently now also includes a gunshot wound. She demands the rebels hand over the flask, disinfects Jamie's wound and rips clean strips of cloth from her dress to bandage him up. Once Jamie regains consciousness, Claire's all too happy to tell him what an idiot he is to push himself so far when he's this injured, swearing a blue streak in the process. Jamie gives her another smolder-stare, shocked at her feistiness and totally, obviously smitten.
Claire wants Jamie to rest and regain his strength, but he tells her Black Jack Randall won't give up so easily. She patches him up well enough to keep riding, and he smolder-thanks her. And for the first time, Claire seems just the tiniest bit won over. "On your horse, soldier," she says, attempting to return to war nurse professionalism.
The next morning they ride to Castle Leoch, the site of her recent/very far future interlude with Frank, and Claire realizes that while so much has happened to her in this journey into the past, it's really only just begun.
Next week: More cunnilingus in Castle Leoch? We can only hope!