Last 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!