“Cosa Nostra” is what the the Sicilian mafia calls itself. It means “Our Thing.” Short of a wholesale abandonment of the source material, Outlander is a show about strong women. Those who read the books are particularly possessive of the story. This is our thing. We guard it fiercely.
This is a new development in the history of television. Network shows certainly doesn’t get this kind of passion. I recently read a cute article in The New Yorker entitled “How the Sausage is Made.” With just the right amount of cleverness and snark, it detailed the way that network television shows make it from the executive retreats, to the writers rooms, to the pilots, to the air.
For as commercialized and imagination-thwarting as the process is today, I am so grateful that, not only is Outlander on Starz, but that it is being made now, not when Herself published her first novel back in 1991. The latitude of the television medium today, compared to even ten years ago, has expanded exponentially. Outlander stands on the shoulders of everything from Mad Men’s period authenticity, to Sex and the City’s female sexuality, to The Walking Dead’s grit. Game of Thrones, while equally groundbreaking (imagine if it were made in 1995!), is firmly in the world of fantasy and comes from a different lineage. Outlander was, then, and is, now, a whole new ball game.
We can grouse now and again about favorite lines that don’t make it to air, and we can momentarily lament the adjustments to character, sequencing, and plot to fit the episodic format and appeal to a wider range of viewers. We loved the story first; when we criticize, we do so do so from the impetus t protect it. I’m not in the camp of “just be grateful it’s being made at all,” but I am firmly in the camp of appreciating what this show is in its own right, as well as what it means for the future of television.
For one thing, it took going back to the eighteenth century Scotland to see mother-positive labor and delivery practices on television this week. For as perilous as childbirth was in those times, and for as precarious as a breech birth is at any time—not to mention without sanitary conditions, access to anesthesia, or a trained medical professional—it was gorgeous to see the walking, crawling, and squatting that is only beginning to make its way back into the mainstream today. The next director to take on shooting a birth scene for film or television will have to think long and hard about whether the tropes of old still apply.