April 10, 2016

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Premiere Review: “Outlander”


OUTLANDER:  Saturday 9PM on Starz

OUTLANDER hasn’t been the ratings breakout for Starz that Power has been, but it may be something even more important:  the network’s first real buzz show, one that’s put it on the drama map with its fellow cable networks, and is perhaps poised for a ratings jump in Season 2.  (It’s not an accident that Starz unveiled its new branding and marketing campaign to coincide with the season premiere.)  The time-travel/historical action-romance saga mixes together tropes from enough different genres and with enough style to create a mix that’s unique and addictive even in this genre-happy moment of pop culture.

Although in most ways Outlander couldn’t be more different than series creator Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica, one trait they share is enthusiasm about playing with conventions of pace and structure.  Tonight’s Season 2 premiere, written by Moore and directed by Metin Huseyin, spent its first 40 minutes in a territory it had rarely visited since its very first hour:  the 1940s, from whence Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe), wife of professorial Frank (Tobias Menzies), had disappeared what turned out to be 2 years earlier.  During that time, she’d been living two hundred years earlier, where among other adventures, she had married Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughen) and earned the enmity of Frank’s ancestor Black Jack Randall (also Menzies).

This stretch of the episode, which began with Claire wandering the roads of Scotland still wearing her 1745 garb, was dominated by several lengthy duologue sequences, between Claire and Frank, and between Frank and the local pastor, in whose home they were staying.  These scenes, beautifully played by all the actors, were allowed to run much longer than most TV shows, and certainly most big-screen movies, would permit.  Although the timing isn’t entirely clear, it developed that Claire had returned to the 20th century still pregnant with the child she was expecting with Jamie in 1745, and just as she and Frank had worked out a plan to salvage their marriage (they’d raise the child as their own, and Claire would stop trying to find out what happened to Jamie 200 years earlier), and had moved to Boston, where Frank was taking a position at Harvard–we flashed back to 1745.

At that point, things moved much more swiftly, and in a mere 20 minutes of screen time, Claire and Jamie arrived in France, ready to institute their plan from the Season 1 finale to save the Highlander culture by stopping the Jacobite revolution that would (as Claire knows) result in a British rout.  By the closing credits, Jamie had acquired a new winery profession and house in Paris (both courtesy of his cousin, conveniently headed for the West Indies) as well as entry to the Jacobite inner councils, and Claire had a new deadly enemy, the nasty Comte St. Germain (Stanley Weber), after her diagnosis of smallpox among his crew resulted in the Comte’s ship and cargo being burned in the harbor.

The hour played as prologue to the 12 hours to come, but the through-the-roof chemistry of Baife and Heughen was in place, and Menzies continued to give his characters an absorbing complexity, allowing fragments of Black Jack’s viciousness to pry their way through Frank’s mild-mannered poise.  Since the story is apparently headed for the Franch royal court, the tone of the season is likely to be somewhat different from Season 1’s gritty action, and the structure is different, too, since we’re seeing Claire’s 1745 adventure as a flashback, rather than in her “real time.”  All this seems more like a refreshing than a reboot, though, and Moore appears to have Outlander 2.0 well in hand.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."