I have practiced great restraint the past 10 days. Highly anticipating the DVD release of the Starz adaptation of the Outlander books, I pre-order Season One, Part One before its release date of March 3. When it arrived, I held the DVD in my hands, full of anticipation….and put it away until the right moment arrived to watch it. On this cool, rainy evening, reminiscent of typical Scottish weather, I could wait no longer. Tonight, I watched the first episode of the new TV series, titled Sassenach.
Outlander episode 1 stars Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Graham McTavish, Tobias Menzes and Duncan Lacroix. It was directed by John Dahl and the action/romance/sci-fi series is based on the wildly popular Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon. Being a TV series it doesn’t have a rating, however, if I gave it one, I’d rate it PG-13 for mild violence, sexuality and very brief nudity. Each episode has a run time of approximately 1 hour and 4 minutes.
The story begins in England, in 1945, six months after the end of WWII, as Claire (Balfe) an army nurse, and her husband, Frank (Menzies), soon to be a professor at Oxford, embark on a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands. During the five years of the war, Claire and Frank only spent 10 days together. The real purpose of the trip to Scotland is to get to know each other as the people they have become. Frank’s interest in Scotland is history, and in particular, researching his genealogy. His direct ancestor, Captain “Black Jack” Randall, was a British officer who commanded troops in the Inverness area. He is thrilled to discover more information about Jack with the help of a local minister.
Claire, with her medical background, is more interested in learning about herbs and plants that can be used for medicinal purposes. She’s also very eager to reconnect with her husband. The couple happens to be in Inverness during the celebration of Samhain, the Gaelic equivalent of Halloween. Frank’s keen interest in history takes the curious pair to a circle of ancient standing stones, called Craigh na Dun, just outside Inverness. Crouched in tall grasses, Frank and Claire watch as women appear to perform a ritualistic dance in the circle.
That afternoon, as Frank meets with the minister to continue his research on Captain Jack Randall, Claire returns to Craigh na Dun to search for a plant she saw earlier, growing within the stone circle. As she carefully pulls up a specimen, she hears distorted sounds that appear to be coming from one of the stones. She approaches the stone cautiously, and then places both her palms against the surface. Suddenly darkness and dizziness overcome her and she falls to the ground.
When she awakens a short time later, Claire stands up, confused, and hurries to where she parked the car. Except, the car is not there. As she stumbles around, trying to figure out what is going on, she hears gunshots, and sees men in red coats run by. Startled, she assumes she has come upon the filming of a movie. Men in kilts run past, and Claire, thinking it odd that actors would use live ammo, runs as well when a man in red fires at her. She falls and when she gets up, spies a man whom she mistakenly thinks is her husband. Realizing her error, she asks who he is. The man answers that he is Captain Jonathan “Jack” Randall (also played by Menzies). Randall behaves in a less than honorable way with Claire, attempting to harm her. She is rescued by one of the kilted men, Murtagh (Lacroix).
He brings Claire to the a group of men that includes Dougal (McTavish), a stern Scotsman who appears to be in charge, and a handsome young man who has dislocated his shoulder during the skirmish. Jamie (Heughan) allows Claire to reset his shoulder. The clansmen move out on horseback, under cover of darkness, Claire sharing a horse and a plaid with Jamie. As the group heads toward their home, Castle Leoch, Claire knows, as impossible as it seems, that she is no longer in the 20th century, but has somehow gone back in time to the 1700’s. As the tired party approaches the castle, which Claire and Frank had explored as ruins just two days earlier, she muses that her journey is just beginning.
I can’t express adequately how much I enjoyed watching the beginning of this amazing series. Last August, as I explored Scotland, I had just finished reading the first book in the series, titled Outlander. The word outlander means stranger, or foreigner. Sassenach, which becomes Jamie’s affectionate nickname for Claire, is a Scottish word for Englishman. It is normally a derogatory term, but Jamie makes it an endearment. As I rode the tour bus through the Highlands last year, I peered into the darkened forests on either side of the road, and I could imagine Jamie and Claire riding their horses through the fairytale like setting.
Tonight, I watched as the pair did just that. The beautiful scenery stirred homesickness in me, as did the soft burr of the Scottish language. And yet I am so glad I watched the episode after I had the privilege of being in Scotland. It brought memory and recognition to me, rather than just longing. The first time bagpipes played in the soundtrack accompanying the episode, tears came to my eyes. The quality of filming was excellent, the actors perfect for the roles, and I’ve already placed Jamie and Claire, Randall and Dougal (played by McTavish who portrayed the dwarf Dwalin in the Hobbit trilogy) firmly in my mind as THE characters in the book. For I am still reading in the Outlander series, which is comprised of seven books. Making the attempt to stay ahead of the ongoing series will spur me to read a bit faster.
I am very grateful for the release of this series on DVD. I do not have access to the Starz network which hosts Outlander. I have been patiently, yet eagerly, waiting for the release. It was well worth the wait. My dilemma now is whether to savor this DVD, which has the first eight episodes on it, watching one each week. Or to immerse myself in the story and watch it in groups of two and three. I feel inclined to move slowly through the episodes….and enjoy….for it will be at least this fall, if not next spring, before the next DVD will be released, with new episodes. As Claire stated, my journey in this adventure is just beginning. I will savor it.