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Wednesday, 1 October 2014


I am literally going to fall asleep for an hour immediately after posting this, guys.

Series 1.

What is it with Americans and Scots? I swear – and wtfbadromancecovers on tumblr will no doubt back me up with an immense body of evidence – that the US is obsessed with Scotland, despite the fact that most Americans have never set foot in it, and would probably end up remarking 'how lovely it is here in England' and getting shanked by an annoyed Glaswegian if they did.

Outlander, the TV adaptation of a rather long book series that goes horrifyingly off the rails after the first book, is the embodiment of this strange obsession. Its main character is English nurse Claire Randall, fresh back from WW2 and going on a trip to Inverness with her husband. Claire's life is thrown into disarray when she touches the magical stone circle of Craigh na Dun (which is fictional, and not to be confused with all the actual stone circles in Britain) and she is teleported back in time to the Scottish Highlands a few years before the Battle of Culloden, one of the most well-remembered battles of the Jacobite Uprising of 1745.

In this strange new time, she quickly finds herself embroiled in a romance with Pretty Young Jacobite Jamie, and in a rivalry with Black Jack Randall, her husband's evil identical ancestor.

He has a ten minute monologue about whipping. He's that kind of

There's nothing more I can say about the plot because there isn't really an overarching plot. For a series based on a book, this story is very episodic. While Claire has the overarching goal of returning to Craigh na Dun, most episodes revolve around some particular smaller issue: An upcoming festival, a child being poisoned, repeatedly being railed by a Scot, a charming dinner with some Redcoats that quickly turns into an interrogation by her nemesis. It creates the sense that nothing is really happening, because whatever happens, Claire quickly returns to a limbo state of being where very little has been achieved. Even when she finally reaches Craigh na Dun, it's entirely by accident, and her not travelling through it is the result of poor timing as well.

Also, I should mention here that this is at least somewhat Doctor Who fanfiction, and frankly the adaptation is missing a trick by not just going all the way and having Peter Capaldi drop in to yell at Claire about how she shouldn't try to lie so much when almost everyone she meets has a near supernatural ability to detect dishonesty. I bring this up in large part because the trend of writers adapting fanfiction into original stories needs to stop, and partly because that having been said, Steven Moffat could learn more than a couple of things about writing romance from Ms. Gabaldon.

It would've been extremely easy for Gabaldon to play the 'fate' angle that Moffat seems so fond of, and she stalwartly avoids doing so, instead focusing her energies on the culture clash between Claire's modern-ish sensibilities (and her rage and exasperation at the people around her) and Jamie's modern-for-a-1700s-Highlander sensibilities (and his utter bewilderment at everything ever). It's a solid basis for a romantic plotline, even if the conclusion of said plotline - Jamie and Claire wed and within an episode are enthusiastically cooling their claymores with each other – is rather abrupt and a little forced.

But, then, I suppose, this is Happy Objectified Scotsman Thursday: The TV Series of the Game of the Book of the Blog Series, and they'd gone six episodes with hardly any objectified Scotsmen.

How alarmingly clothed you are.

Where the series really shines is not in the interactions between our romantic leads, but between Claire and her archnemesis, Black Jack. The series does occasionally try to play him off as Jamie's archnemesis, and it's utterly unconvincing, with Jamie instead being more of a waifish damsel figure. The writing and acting is at its best during these scenes, as the two attempt to outwit each other, with Claire usually at a disadvantage due to the setting. Unfortunately, they happen so very rarely, with the two having only two conversations and one very brief and violent interaction in the first episode.

(Further sidenote, Claire's insistence that there will never be a Stuart on the throne is made deliciously ironic by the fact that Prince William, who will one day be king, is a Stuart – and not just that, but can claim well over five lines of direct descent from Stuart kings.)

There's a strong supporting cast, and the series makes good use of setting, and certainly it's not a bland show – which it so easily could have been – but I can't help but feel like it's lacking something. A certain sincerity, perhaps, since it reeks of fetish, and its treatment of the political landscape of the time (which is a major part of the series, not just me grousing) is cartoonish at best. It romanticises the Jacobite Uprising in a way that actual Scots don't, framing it with the same rosy light that Americans view the American Revolution with for reasons baffling and largely related to being kinda racist, and with which nobody else views anything ever.

Looking stylish, Claire.

I did enjoy the show, far more than I thought I would: I went into it with every intention of hating it, and it did win me over. But it's a guilty pleasure, or as close to a guilty pleasure as I'm capable of having, because I do chafe at the amount of historical revisionism and weird Scot-fetishery afoot here. It's only eight episodes, which is why I will give it my recommendation for you to check out, but had it been any longer than ten, I might not have.

The series will be returning in Spring of 2015, and that's fine, but I won't be especially missing it until then. What's really of interest to me is how they intend to adapt the later books in the series, because seriously, those sound terrible. Truly terrible.

Also, for god's sake, can you stop saying that 'sassenach' means 'outlander', people. It means 'English person', it is literally derived from the word 'Saxon'.

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