Outlander—Here’s to New Beginnings

Episode-116-Jamie-Fraser-Sam-Heughan-Claire-Randall-Caitriona-BalfeLast season, I decided to study how Outlander, the first book in the beloved series of epic novels written by Diana Gabaldon, had been translated from the page to the screen. And I had a blast. I met, virtually and actually, dozens of new friends who share my love for these astounding stories. And I wrote. Okay, I overwrote—hey, I was really into it! But then I stopped.

Episodes 115 and 116 were just too much for me. I had read the chapters in the book, and I watched the shows—I couldn’t not watch them—but dissecting them proved too overwhelming. The tour de force work by every last actor, director, producer, writer, and crew member melded to provoke such a primal, visceral response in me that I was left speechless. And anyone who knows me knows that takes some doing.

Among all the other feelings I experienced, I felt guilty—and my guilt confused me. If the TV show unraveled me, shouldn’t the book have done the same thing? There is nothing lacking—nothing—on the page. I cry every time I read it. So why is it that, when I watched the scenes unfold on television, I didn’t shed a tear? Believe me, I tried. Crying would have provided some release, some catharsis. Instead, I found myself at a place beyond tears. I was bereft on the inside and my body felt like a thin, weathered, stony shell outside—raw, fragile, and numb.

Something finally occurred to me that alleviated my guilt. Unfortunately, it also dissuaded me from reviewing the show in comparison to the books anymore. My realization was this: Television cannot be told from the limited, first-person, unreliable narrator’s point of view, but books can. I’ll pause while you sigh and roll your eyes condescendingly. I deserve that. Duh, you rocket scientist. Of course, I already knew this on an academic level, but it took seeing Jamie suffer and finally disintegrate under Black Jack Randall’s torture to really understand it emotionally.

Here’s what I mean: While Wentworth Prison and To Ransom a Man’s Soul are true to the chapters in the novel, it is not the actual story told in its pages. The story in the novel is about Claire processing what happened to Jamie and helping him convalesce. By relaying her understanding of and feelings about the events to the reader, she evokes our deepest sympathy and makes us imagine the unimaginable horrors Jamie endures. Seeing it portrayed on the screen, however, leaves nothing to the imagination. We’re not just hearing about it second hand; we are there. There is no longer that comfortable distance you can give yourself from the book—no selectively skipped paragraphs or images left hazy accidentally/on purpose.

So, I’m done with book-to-screen analysis. Sure, there are events I can’t wait to see (#honeypot, anyone? and dozens more), and there are scenes I’m dreading even more than those at the end of the first novel/season. The difference between season one and season two, for me, is that I’m no longer concerned about how resequencing, pacing, or any other theatrical alterations compare to the original text, as long as the sum effect feels true. The rest just isn’t relevant to me now. These are remarkably similar stories, but they are not the same, and getting too far into the nitty-gritty of technical details robs me of the chance to experience these characters I adore from an entirely different point of view.

Based on how I handled the emotions of the last two episodes last season, I also know I can’t analyze this season all by myself. With that, I welcome you to join us at medium.com. There, I will be contributing my thoughts to those of two close friends who introduced me to the novels and have their own takes on the show’s highs and lows. Somewhere between our musings, you’ll be sure to find opinions that resonate with your own, and others that spark some debate. Contribute to the conversation, won’t you? I look forward to seeing you there!

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Droughtlander Project

After much contemplation and consternation, I’ve decided to hold off on writing my study/review of the last two episodes of Outlander, Wentworth Prison and To Ransom a Man’s Soul. I want to appreciate the season’s concluding episodes in context with one another and the season as a whole. I’ve been energized by the shorter time frames reviewing the season’s second half, but I am far more pleased by the content and message of my first eight reviews. #DroughtLanderIsComing and with it much time to reflect and consider. I intend to report, glow, and analyze this great story in posts throughout the hiatus. In the meantime,  feel free to share your thoughts on the #OutlanderFinale here. #FreeJamieFraser and #TulachArd

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Printers Row Lit Fest

I will be exhibiting with Rook Creek Books on Sunday, June 7th. I will be at Booth BB near the corner of Polk and Dearborn, under the Dearborn Station Clocktower.

Come see me! I will have copies of Release to sign, and the last of my perfume and tea samples will be available for purchase.

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Outlander: Cosa Nostra—A Study of “The Watch” Episode 113

“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.

There’s been a little tumult about Claire’s medical training not including anything obstetrical. I didn’t think that she’d represented otherwise. Relatively speaking, she was the best-qualified person around to administer to Jenny.

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Outlander: Just Eat Your Cake—A Study of “Lallybroch” Episode 112

Photo courtesy of Emmy Magazine, May 12 issue, via E! Entertainment Television, LLC.

There was a flood of new, mainstream reviewers talking about Outlander this week (E! has been on it from the start, but they’re the ones who broke the newest pictures on Thursday, the scintillating one above included). The attention is GREAT news for our series—the payoff for not only a quality show but an extraordinary, inhuman volume of PR work. All of the articles and interviews have boggled my thoughts about last week’s episode, though. It’s tough to take in and process the myriad reactions there were to Lallybroch.

That’s another difference between a television review and a storytelling study (I laid out the main differences, as I see them, in last week’s post). If I claimed to be a true reviewer, reading other critiques before writing my own would be like scamming the exam answers over the shoulder of the brainiac in seat next to mine. As it is, I’m studying how this great story is reaching and affecting its audience, as much I’m examining the adaptation on its own merits. As Maurice Sendak said: “There’s so much more to a book than just the reading.” That’s just as true about good television.

You can have your cake and eat it too, if you choose to
The most vehement opinions, both in support of and disparaging of Lallybroch, are coming from those who read the novels. With each passing week, the “that’s now how it was in the book” outcry is escalating on one side, while the “Everything is Awesome!” automatons on the other side are deriding anyone with anything bad to say. Both reactions are natural, even valid within reason. Viewers, regardless of the book familiarity and life experience they bring to the show, are becoming more invested as the stakes and tensions continue to rise. Deviations from expectations become personal, causing any number of minimizing (“Everything is cool when you’re part of a team!”) and maximizing (How dare my favorite line be omitted from the novel, and has anyone noticed that Cait’s too tall and doesn’t have whisky-amber eyes?) defensive patterns. Yes, I went back to my Psych 101 notes to look up those terms.

Recognizing the flagship series for which Basket of Kisses was founded, I think it’s high time to look at how Outlander‘s doing in two psychological categories for which Mad Men set the standard: patient plot weaving and nuanced character development.

There’s also the coping mechanism similarity for both lead characters.

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Outlander: Bismillah—A Study of “The Devil’s Mark” Episode 111

To say that The Devil’s Mark was a show bursting at the seams is a gross understatement. I agreed with what Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore said in his podcast; each of three events within it—the trial, the revelation, and the decision—didn’t merit their own episodes but were a challenge to execute within just one. Since the episode aired last Saturday, much has been made about expansions and diversions from the source material. I’m usually a big ol’ fan of these woulda-coulda-shoulda moments on screen, but it’s my opinion that unnecessary, languorous passages nearly suffocated the story line this time around.

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy?
I got the idea for the name of this post in a somewhat flip and passing thought. I’m in full-on geek mode while writing these posts, but I like to keep it light, too. That’s especially true when an episode this heavy is on the docket.

When Father Bain (Tim McInnerny) implores his congregation/audience at the trial to expel him from the parish, I couldn’t help but think of these lyrics:
Easy come, easy go, will you let me go?
Bismillah! No, we will not let you go. (Let him go!)

It’s a tricky gambit to invoke the much-beloved Bohemian Rhapsody lightly. What’s more, I’m a middling Queen fan at best. I wouldn’t identify as a fan whatsoever, were it not for how awestruck I am by the groundbreaking artistry and singular talent of Freddie Mercury. While arena rock just isn’t my bag, I can absolutely appreciate that what both the band and its lead vocalist created was not only best-in-class, but legendary. Nothing like Queen ever existed before, nor will anything quite like them ever be created again.

I have no good reason for including this picture, except this guy looks like Dave Grohl, who once said, “Every band should study Queen at Live Aid. If you really feel like that barrier is gone, you become Freddie Mercury. I consider him the greatest frontman of all time.” I know it’s a stretch. Did I mention that he looks like Dave Grohl, though?

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Outlander: You Had One Job—A Review of “By the Pricking of My Thumbs,” Episode 110

In my last post, I called attention to the number of parallels among the many Outlander characters’ plot lines. I get to do something similar this week, except instead of plot lines, By the Pricking of My Thumbs delivers a cavalcade of parallel character traits. Namely, we get to see how single-mindedness plays out, for better or for worse, in service of the story.

We’re ten episodes into the season, now. The main characters’ attributes, motivations, and nemeses are largely established. For the most part, the screen adaptations from the novel are not only true to the source material; they enriched by virtue of the visual medium. Whatever few deviations or simplifications there have been, the show has committed to the choices and, essentially, been internally consistent. Ronald D. Moore talked at PaleyFest this April about how, once something new is established on the show, the production is beholden to maintain that new trajectory. This mischief is managed almost entirely, but there are a few instances that leave me a little puzzled as to their purpose and effectiveness.

The Best Part of Waking Up
Scene One is probably the most book-accurate scene of the episode. Butterflies, indeed! Jamie has taken to the ways of love in short order; quite the quick study, he. Let’s just call this the first occasion during the episode in which a character is single-minded in his mission.

What was I saying? I lost my train of thought entirely. Let’s move on…

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