The second season of Outlander ended last week, and I wanted to pop on here to throw out my thoughts on the TV adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s Drangonfly in Amber. It was seemingly an impossible task to properly tell an 900+ page story in just 13 episodes; I do not envy the writers’ job! I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous about what they were going to cut, especially after they announced the shorter season. What?! You have a longer book than the first one but are giving it 2 less episodes??? But overall, I feel they did a wonderful job adapting this volume of the beloved story of Claire & Jamie Fraser.
So let’s dive into this together, shall we?
I really liked how they opened in the 20th century like the book, but how they changed it to 1948 instead of 1968. Given the time constraint, they couldn’t afford to give the 1968 Claire/Bree/Roger story any more than one episode. So I completely agree with the direction of not opening with them like the book does, because it would have been too jarring a transition for the audience. Especially when we aren’t given enough time to get to know Bree and Roger and really fall in love with them. We still had the shock of knowing that ultimately Claire and Jamie get separated, but we also get some closure with Frank, which was really nice.
With the book written in Claire’s perspective, we only get her memories of Frank which are given to us in bits and pieces and are obviously not a completely fair representation of what he’s feeling. Tobias Menzies is so brilliant in his roles as both Frank and Black Jack that I was delighted to watch him play out the conflicting emotions waging war in this man who is reunited with his wife who had disappeared 3 years ago. The moment when Claire tells Frank that she’s pregnant was so beautiful and heart wrenching. I love that he first went to pure delight because they had wanted children when they were together before. Then watching that joy transition into such a deep hurt and anger as he realized that the baby couldn’t possibly be his, just killed me. It really gave the audience an opportunity to be reminded that Claire’s passage through the stones and decision to stay with Jamie did not come without consequences. When we’re in the 18th century with Claire and Jamie, it’s easy to forget the man she left behind. But Frank is just as real as Jamie; he’s a good man, who loved Claire very deeply. I really loved that they gave Frank’s side of the story the respect it deserves.
France was a lot of fun, of course. I really enjoyed how they changed the intro song to fit the French theme for the first half of the season, and then changed it for the Scottish battle second half. It’s so fun when shows allow the theme of a season be translated into the intro as well. It just shows how much the people behind the show love the story, because their passion shows in all those little details.
The Faith episode was done perfectly. Just thinking back on it makes tears come to my eyes. Watching Claire sing to baby Faith’s limp body forever destroyed me, as did her screams when she learned that she had lost her first child. Caitriona Balfe’s performance was perfect, from her choice to reach for her belly before completely waking up to the utter emptiness that was in her eyes as she laid there waiting to die herself. Although Claire and Jamie never visit Faith’s grave together in the books, watching the characters have that closure together in the show was a very special moment.
I cannot properly express how much I loathed their decision to put Laoghaire at Lord Lovat’s gathering. They said that they wanted to humanize her; to give her a chance to redeem herself a bit. But it completely goes against her character to show remorse for anything save not being successful in getting Claire burned as a witch and stealing Jamie for herself. Laoghaire is just a complete hag. Sometimes people can turn away from their hag-nature, but more times then not, a hag is just a hag. Laoghaire does not get redemption because she’s just an awful person. Just leave her alone and let her be awful. It was not a nice surprise to have to see her face in a season where I was expecting to not have to look at her. Plus some people might actually feel bad for her, which that cow definitely does not deserve.
The casting for the Bonnie Prince was spot on. Andrew Gower mixed stupidity and naivete into a perfect mixture that made the Prince believable without being an unrealistic caricature, which would have been a trap all too easy to fall into. There were even times when I genuinely felt bad for this young man so desperate to prove his worth to his father and bring honor to his family’s name. But most of the time I was cringing along with Claire and Jamie at what an absolute fool he was.
The Vengeance is Mine episode was such a delight to watch as a book reader, especially since Diana Gabaldon wrote it herself. I knew what was coming, and was on the edge of my seat waiting for the Duke’s fate to unravel. The Duke of Sandringham is the perfect love-to-hate character: so devious and sinister, yet so witty, that you can’t help but enjoy him while simultaneously wishing to see Jamie strangle him. Of course, it was Murtagh who ultimately gave the Duke what he deserved, as was his right. I love how fiercely loyal Murtagh is, so it’s very fulfilling to give him this moment when we see the depth of his devotion to Jamie and how serious he takes the vows that he makes. While I don’t buy that Mary Hawkins would have actually had the stomach to kill her rapist, it was nice to give her that moment anyways.
While we’re on the subject of Murtagh, I have to say that I really didn’t like that they had Jamie tell him that Claire is from the future. Murtagh’s loyalty makes him who he is. His loyalty is so strong that he doesn’t require all the information from Jamie, because that’s how much Murtagh trusts him. So he helps Jamie in trying to prevent the Rising, not because he suddenly understands the intricate reasoning behind it, but because he knows that Jamie would only do such a thing if he had very good reason to. To have a person in one’s life who trusts you with their life like that is so very rare. So it was disappointing to me that they took that away from Murtagh. He never needed a reason from Jamie to do anything, save that the request came from him. That was good enough for him.
I still cannot for the life of me understand why they changed the timing of Colum’s death. In the books, Colum dies while the Scottish army is “winning” the war. He dies before he can give his order for his troops to not join the Rising. So after he dies, Dougal becomes chief and leads a substanstial amount of Mackenzie men to join the Bonnie Prince Charlie’s cause, along with a significant amount of money which Geillis Duncan had admitted to stealing last season. I kept waiting for them to reveal the reasoning behind their change, but it never came. I’m currently reading the 5th book, where we finally learn what happened to the mysterious gold from France that never made it’s way to the Prince. So especially knowing what I know now about that, I really don’t understand that change. But…we’ll see.
The one benefit of the show’s timing of Colum’s death was that it allowed them to show the parallel between it and the death of Alex Randall. Both stories revolve around brothers, but both sets have completely different dynamics. It was so beautiful to watch Dougal, who is such a beast of a man, wrestle with his hurt and grief. Then to have the very opposite reaction from Black Jack when his brother dies was very effective. Of course in the books, the death of Alex is the one moment in Jack’s life when we see him as a vulnerable human and he does not punch Alex’s dead body to a pulp like he does in the show, but rather breaks down and weeps. But he’s such a horrible person, that it’s completely believable for him to react the way that he did in the show. Since they had the parallel between the sets of brothers, it served the story better to make that change.
I’m not gonna lie–I was pretty nervous going into the season finale. They hadn’t covered any of the 1968 story line yet and still had to cover Dougal’s death, Jamie signing over Lallybroch to his nephew, arranging to send his troops away via Murtagh, and most importantly, Jamie sending Claire back through the stones. It helped to know that they had 90 minutes to wrap it all up, but as a book lover who understood the importance of all there was left to cover, I was nervous. I still wish they would have had more time to devote to Roger and Bree, because we really didn’t have enough time to get used to them, let alone get emotionally attached to them enough to care about their character arcs. But, I was really impressed with how well they were able to fit all of the major plot points into 90 minutes. They managed to establish two future major characters, kill off another major character, and separate our main characters and do all of it justice. Quite the feat.
However, my biggest criticism was the pacing of the episode. I felt that all of the Culloden story line lost it’s urgency because of all the cutting back and forth between it and the 1968 stuff. While both story lines were suspenseful in their own rights, the suspense was paced differently. Culloden very much had a fast paced life-or-death suspense that fueled it, while the 1968 story has the slower how-is-this-all-going-to-piece-together suspense. It would be like trying to cut between an American football game and a baseball game. It’s impossible to stay invested in both simultaneously because the pacing of both games are on opposite sides of a spectrum. So I felt that it did neither story line any good by cutting every time any momentum was built up. Dougal being killed by Jamie was such a high point and it was the catalyst that started the chain of events that immediately followed it. But they lost that momentum every time they cut. By the time Jamie and Claire are at the stones, the audience should feel the metaphorical clock ticking away. We should practically be able to hear the ticking. Our hearts should be racing. But you can really only achieve that if the story is being told at a pace worthy of the level of urgency. Honestly, I don’t feel like I was nearly as upset at watching Jamie and Claire part on the show as I was when I read it in the book. But my lack of emotional response had nothing to do with how the actors played the scene. Sam Heughan’s silent tears as he helped Claire touch the stone were immensely touching. I truly believed that Claire really would have rather died with Jamie than leave him. Unfortunately the bad edits ruined the beautiful work that the actors were doing.
I think it would have been better to start the episode in 1968 the way that they did, but stay with that story line until Bree calls Claire out of the true identity of her birth father. Then once Claire sits down to tell her daughter her story, cut to Culloden and stay there until Jamie sends Claire back through the stones. Then finish the rest of the episode in 1968. That way the two story lines are still intertwined, but without them having to compete with each other.
The biggest disappointment was the decision to change how Claire finds out that Jamie survived Culloden. I won’t spoil it for anyone who might be reading this who has not read the books, because they might squeeze this other thing into the next season. But it’s so important that she sees “it” because of revelations that we learn later. So, I really, really hope that they put “it” in.
So there it is, my fellow Outlander fans. What did you think of this season? If you are also a lover of the book series, were there any major disappointments for you?
I am so excited that the show got renewed for two more seasons, and can’t wait to see how they adapt Voyager.
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