Outlander series premiere recap: 'Sassenach'

Former WWII combat nurse Claire Randall is transported back in time to 18th-century Scotland.
Ep. 01 | Aired Aug 9, 2014

RIDING IN CARS WITH MEN Claire and Frank cruise the Highlands.

Ed Miller/Starz

If you'd forgotten that Outlander does indeed air on Starz—a network which my colleague Jeff Jensen so eloquently described in his review as one "with a reputation for gratuitous flesh and boning"—this scene serves as one hell of reminder. As the couple explore the castle and descend deeper into its depths, Claire positions herself atop one of the scattered tables and not-so-subtly hitches her skirt to reveal a garter. Frank approaches, and she guides his head between her legs.

Though hardly gratuitous (or lingering), this isn't the kind of sex scene you see on most networks (or even in R-rated movies if the MPAA has anything to say about it). Reviews have heralded Outlander as the "anti-Game of Thrones" and "the feminist answer to Game of Thrones," and in so far as its handling of Claire's sexuality, I'd tend to agree. The female gaze is strong with this one.

But what makes this moment even more intriguing is that it isn't included in Gabaldon's source material. In fact—and without getting too spoilery for non-book readers—the author reveals in a later chapter that Frank never performed that particular sex act on Claire. I can only speculate as to why Moore decided to add it here. Perhaps he wanted to be as explicit as possible about his heroine's sexual agency to further contrast the cruel and misogynistic world she's later thrown into. Or perhaps he wanted to establish a stronger bond between Claire and Frank than the one presented in the books—to up the stakes, as it were. (In just one episode, TV Series Frank already seems preferable to Book Series Frank, right?)

The next day, Frank visits Reverend Wakefield to research his ancestor Jonathan "Black Jack" Randall, a captain of dragoons in the English army, who canvassed the Highlands during the Jacobean rising. He and Claire (and by extension, the audience) are also treated to an etymology lesson: The episode's title "Sassenach" is Scottish for "Englishman" or "at worst, outlander," the reverend explains. Claire excuses herself to drink a spot of oolong with housekeeper Mrs. Graham, who offers to read her tea leaves. She sees a journey. But also staying put. And strangers. But one of them is Frank. Confused, she asks to examine Claire's hand, which also proves puzzling. Claire has two marriage lines. Except the lines aren't broken--they fork.

Frank sets their alarm clock extra early so he and Claire can watch witches (really, druids) perform a ritual in the wee morning hours around the standing stones of Craigh na Dun. And it is entrancing. A dozen or so women draped in billowing white robes and holding torches aloft chant and dance around the outcropping until the sun peaks through the trees. When Frank and Claire linger to investigate their surroundings, Claire spots an interesting flower, perhaps a forget-me-not. But she's unable to pluck a specimen before they depart, so she returns alone the next day to retrieve it. As she does so, the wind suddenly picks up. She braces against one of the majestic stones and the screen goes black. Through voiceover and accompanying flashback, Claire likens the sensation to that of being in a car accident (an interesting visual to eschew the typical swirling time-travel vortex), and she awakens at the stones.

Her car is nowhere to be found.

NEXT: I would walk 500 miles...

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