Outlander is a story about a WWII nurse named Claire Randall. After the war ends, she goes on holiday to Scotland with her husband Frank, whom she has been away from for five years, in an effort to reconnect. Frank is a history professor and he is there to research his family history. On Halloween, they visit an ancient site with Standing Stones on the hill of Craigh na Dun, similar to Stonehenge. There they witness a beautiful and ancient pagan ritual. Claire returns the next day and hears a humming coming from one of the stones. When she touches it, she is transported back in time to the 1700’s. There she is attacked by the British and is taken in by the Scottish Clan MacKenzie. She then must wrap her head around what has happened and learn to survive in her new reality.
Outlander is a wonderful mashup of several different genres. At it’s heart, it is a historical piece that also centers of romance. But obviously there are also strong elements of adventure and sci fi/fantasy. So far, it is an extremely character driven show. It moves along at a snail’s pace for much of the episode, but it does pick up considerably when she travels back in time. Yet, that doesn’t mean the slow part of the show was bad. The character development was wonderful. Claire narrates her own story and I found myself quickly becoming endeared to her. In a surprisingly short time, we intimately understand her relationship with Frank and what the war had done to them both as individuals and a couple. The slow period also gives us copious amounts of details that will come into play as we get further into the past. Frank goes over a lot of his family history, and it all comes back into play later as Claire meets an ancestor of his and saves the Clan MacKenzie from a British ambush based on the knowledge she learned from Frank. It’s a wonderful example of slow, but terrific story telling.
The setting of the show is wonderful. The costume designs are excellent and the landscapes of the Scottish countryside are beautiful. It felt like I was watching Braveheart again when Claire goes back in time. The Clan MacKenzie are a treat with their authentic Scottish accents and provide several needed comedic moments. The music is fantastic, and as you would suspect, filled with bagpipe music. In a character driven show, the acting must be great, and it certainly was. Graham McTavish stands out as the leader of the Clan MacKenzie, Dougal MacKenzie. But the star of the show is also the best part. Caitriona Balfe is absolutely brilliant as Claire Randall. With very little prior experience, and being known mainly for being a high end fashion model, she handled herself like a season acting veteran, in what is sure to be a break out role.
Overall, I really enjoyed the first episode of Outlander. I have no idea how the many fans of the book series will like the show, as I’ve never read the source material, but standing on it’s own, its a very engaging story that quickly drew me in. It has a lot of similarities to the British mini-series Labryinth that the CW aired a few months ago, only with much, MUCH, better acting. Due to it’s character driven narrative and very slow pace, I doubt this show is for everyone. But to me, the first episode was terrific. That coupled with the popularity of the source material, the critical praise, and the fact the Starz generally does an excellent job with their original programming, I am very excited to see where Outlander will go from here for the rest of the season.