I promised him I would let him go…Outlander episode 2.1

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by Beth Wesson

 

The past two weeks have seen an absolute glut of Outlander related news, articles, interviews, and images.  Which is soooo different from last season.  Back then we scoured the internet for anything about “our” show and anxiously read what few articles there were, hoping that critics and reviewers liked the series.  We dreamed that the world would find out about the wonderfulness that is Outlander.  It took awhile, but what we hoped would happen did happen.  In fact, there is so much Outlander stuff out here right now that I feel slightly overwhelmed!

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The articles I’ve been reading this time around have been absolutely delightful.   They have been meaty, insightful, and VERY complimentary.  For the first time, I feel like the critics “get it”.  And, the outlets that are sitting up, taking notice, and writing about it are getting larger and more numerable.  I’d feel a little sad about the competition for readers except…THERE IS A COMPETITION FOR READERS!  It is everything we fans had hoped would happen for our beloved books and show.  They are getting the attention they deserve.  Despite the “Scotland’s answer to GOT”, “fifty shades of plaid”, “bodice-ripper’ labels  given to the show, people tuned in and …got hooked

When I went to bed after watching the Television Academy’s From Scotland to Paris: A Behind the Scenes Journey with Outlander, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vo0aWxwY2EA I dreamily fell asleep convinced that I had just witnessed something very special. The astonishing level of creativity, skill and …love demonstrated by all involved in the creation of this show was so evident that as a fan I felt proud and strangely emotional. So, after reading all the positive reviews, watching all the insightful interviews, and being gob smacked by the panel, I thought I was prepared to watch the premiere.

I wasn’t.

I’m sitting here trying to find words.  Searching for words that have even the slightest chance of expressing how I felt about this episode.  I’m not entirely confident that I can, but I’m going to give it a shot.

THERE’S A FIRST TIME FOR EVERYTHING

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I’ve always believed that no matter how great a movie or show is, if it is based on a book, the book is always better.  It makes sense.  An author has time and room to give us the details and let us see into what makes a character tick.  I have never seen anything that has caused me to doubt that belief…until now.

Just this week, I wrote an article for Outlander Online  http://wp.me/p57847-jFr that wondered how the beginning of the book would be handled.  How would the audience be told that Claire had returned?  I was concerned because despite our frustration (and downright pissed off at DGness), the fans I’ve talked with thought her opening with Claire in the 1960’s was powerfully discombobulating and kept us wanting to turn the page. As much as I admire Diana’s skills as a writer and adore her books, the TV adaptation told the story of Claire’s return to Frank better. This was so much more powerful and I can totally get why they did it.

As a reader of Diana Gabaldon’s books, I am as fascinated with what she doesn’t write, as much as with what she does.  What I’m trying to express is the idea that sometimes a writer doesn’t give us all the details and lets us try to figure out a characters’ motivation. Like a good author does.  It is often what is not explicitly explained that keeps us all talking about the books, speculating and theorizing. Ron and his writers have the enviable and monumental task of adapting Diana’s books into a visual medium.  They have explained that each episode has a story arc and that to tell the best story sometimes things have to be changed.  I finally get it.

 

HOW THEY TOLD THE STORY DIFFERENTLY, BUT STILL KEPT IT PLAUSIBLE

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I’ve often said that the most controversial character in the book series isn’t Black Jack Randall, or Gellis, St.Germaine, or any other villian.  It’s Frank. Drop Frank’s name into a discussion of Outlander and watch the sparks fly. He is loved, pitied, and hated. But understood?  We have all wondered what Frank felt and thought, why he and Claire decided to stay together, why he got over his belief he couldn’t raise another man’s child, and if he still loved Claire or if he was just doing what he saw as his duty (cuz he’s not a cad). Did he believe her? Ron chose to answer some of those questions in his adaptation and I think the story is the more powerful for it.

  • THEY SHADOWED IT FROM THE BEGINNING

In the very first episode, we saw Frank accept the possibility of Claire being unfaithful. “It wouldn’t be unheard of. Understandable…comfort”.  And, we saw Claire’s indignation over the idea that he would think she could ever be unfaithful,.  “There is nothing you could do to make me stop loving you.”  They foreshadowed his acceptance of the child with Frank’s interest in his own genealogy and their renewed attempts to start a family and then there is… Jamie’s ghost.

  • THEY LET US SEE FRANK WORK THINGS OUT BEFORE OUR EYES

In the books, we never get to see or really know what Frank did when Claire disappeared or how he felt about losing her.  As readers, we became so engrossed in Jamie and Claire’s relationship that we soon forgot about poor Frank.  Diana has revealed more and more about Frank as her series of books has continued, but she is still keeping what Frank really knew and what he felt a bit of a mystery.  In my opinion, what Ron has done is very plausible and not a large departure from the Frank in the books.  Let’s look at the how it went down:

  • Frank does come to Claire after she has been missing for almost three years
  • he is told outside of our hearing that she is starved and pregnant
  • she tells him to leave and that she loves another man
  • she explains what happens and Frank gets angry over her explanation of being carried through the stones
  • he doesn’t leave and agrees to raise her child as his own
  • he moves them away for a fresh start

In the TV series, it happens a little differently, but the pieces are all there. Frank hears her story and although it is a “leap of faith” agrees to “accept’ it.  Knowing Frank, Claire doesn’t buy it and calls him out. He acknowledges that although he doesn’t understand her feelings for this other man, he believes her when she says she loved Jamie. But, he is now, he is there, Jamie is not. He only cares that she is back.  She then tells him she is pregnant and this is the catalyst that triggers his anger instead of when the anger is triggered in the books.  He still had a last straw moment.  She hit him where it hurt the most. Different yes, but, maybe better? Certainly, watching his joy and then devastation when he realized it was a mirage was powerful and echoed back to Wentworth and Jamie thinking he saw Claire and then realizing it was all an illusion. The pain and loss was real.

  • THEY LET US SEE CLAIRE’S STRUGGLE AND JAMIE’S GHOST

Claire’s voice-over set the tone for the episode.  If she could have died she would have. Her anguished screams and sobs let the audience know she has been ripped from Jamie’s side and all is lost. And, then we see Frank… hardly able to contain himself as he rushes into the hospital.

Diana has told her readers to remember that we see things from Claire’s perspective and that Claire has her own self-serving reasons for wanting to believe the worst of Frank. She needs to keep him at a distance, she has a need to feel loyal to Jamie her true love and yet, she loved Frank. I saw that struggle tonight.  Her guilt over what she had done to Frank. Frank’s points about her ring and how her story confirmed that she would never have willingly left him rang true and you could see Claire flinch in the face of it.  She grieves for her lost love and yet, as everyone reminds her he is a ghost. So, when Frank offers up his conditions she remembers her promise and in a last self-sacrificing gesture of love for Jamie she stiffens her spine, lifts her head and  lets him go.

The many symbolic gestures in this episode like the hands transitioning her past and her future, her reluctant hug so like the one Jamie gave her in the Abby, were wonderful. Everything reminded me of something that happened in season 1.  Jamie’s memory, his ghost if you will, continues to wander the streets of Inverness.

  • THEY KEPT IT REAL

I had the opportunity to use the books in a literature class.  The one thing that bothered my students the most about Claire returning to the future to live with Frank was how she could possibly ever look at Frank and not see Black Jack.  I had to agree that knowing that Frank isn’t Jack and that he is not responsible for his ancestor’s behavior might not be enough. I was glad to see the TV series addressed this issue right out of the box.  What I saw in episode one, maybe in part because it IS a visual representation of the story, felt more real to me; more believable.

  • ALL OF IT COULD HAVE HAPPENED

It might not have played out on the screen exactly as it did in the books, but it could have.  The show deliberately connected the dots and fleshed out Frank’s character.  I think it was a smart move.  It all makes more sense, especially for viewers who haven’t and won’t read the books.  This treatment, in my opinion, makes all of their choices more poignant, more honest, and more powerful.  For the first time, I understood Frank and their decision to stay together and why they both did what they did.  I felt his hope (yet, you still wear my ring) and her painful resignation (I promised him I would let him go).

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Kudos to Caitroina Balfe and Tobias Menzies.  Emmy worthy performances right out of the gate. Kudos to Tallship Productions and Starz you’re keeping your word to the fans and …I can’t believe I’m saying this…making a great story better.

 

 

 

 

 

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52 thoughts on “I promised him I would let him go…Outlander episode 2.1

  1. Really insightful. You were able to put into words what was still a jumble of feelings & impressions for me. I found myself nodding my head quite a lot. I hope your Canadian & Aussie readers Holly’s off reading this till tumorrow, though. Another great post!

  2. lmmerrill

    Totally agree with you Beth, fleshing out Frank’s story is one of the best things they have brought to the show and has improved the story greatly. Because she wrote from Claire’s perspective, DG boxed herself into a corner and left much unanswered. And so the legend of “bad Frank” was born. Claire and Jaime’s story is so much more poignant knowing that Frank was a victim in all of this. He wasn’t perfect, but he was deeply human and loved her and loved Brianna as his own. And boy, Caitroina and Tobias burned up the screen.

  3. Cathy

    Well Beth you did it again…you stole my words. That first episode was brillant. What amazing writers and ACTORS. From Claire’s devasting scream at the loss of Jamie and Frank’s reaction to the pregnancy. So believable. The writers, director, producers and actors were beyond great. My heart broke for Frank. I am so looking forward to see what other brilliant things are to come. I hope eveyone willlet the people who make the decisions, Starzs, Sony etc. how much they need to invest in this production. Again thank for your excellent, as always writing.

  4. Racquel Morgan

    Thanks for your insight, always love reading your thoughts. Do you think she has the carved J? And do you think they could have raised Bree with her still knowing her real dad was dead, like Roger? Frank scared me when he was about to hit Claire. I also didn’t appreciate Frank being presented as a saint in most instances. Being the Jacobite scholar that he was, how does he burn such valuable clothes?? He should have given them to the Rev. I was also disturbed that Claire was so willing to remove Jamie’s ring when she never removed Frank’s. One more question. Why do you think they went back in time at that particular point? Loved the way they did it but couldn’t understand why that particular point. I also enjoyed Murtagh’s part in this. I know this may sound like I didn’t like the episode but I do and have been watching it continually !!!

  5. Barbara Brown

    I’ve always said that the episodes allow me to answer my “What if….” questions when I am rereading one of the big books. So the series adaptations never bother me and I don’t compare anything to the books. You are spot on that this episode also allowed us to go “off page” and know the things, and thoughts, that were happening out of sight from the book.

    And we are the richer for 201.

    Enjoyed your picture in New York and so glad you made the trip!

  6. Patricia Hare

    I have been waiting since last night to see what you had to say. Thanks, you did not disappoint me ! I agree that this episode put all the characters and their emotions right out there for us to experience. The acting was superfine and drew us into the characters and back to the story. All very award worthy. I cannot wait for next Saturday.

  7. Beth, I watched the ep on Weds and have had time to let it percolate. I fully intended to watch it last night but circumstances prevented it. Even so, it’s a mark of how powerful the episode was that everything you note is still so crystal clear in my memory! Another point that I noted that harkened back to S1 ep1 was Frank’s response to Claire’s use of the word “ghost”. He momentarily looks startled; thinking back to the ghost of the Scotsman below her window in Inverness, perhaps? This Frank, a more sympathetic Frank, I could actually imagine Claire choosing to stay with. In an interview I saw, Tobias referred to Frank’s love for Claire as a “flawed, compromised but no less remarkable kind of love…”. I must say I have to agree. And as to Raquel’s point about the burning of the clothes, for those of us who’ve read the books, we know what Claire’s last act in 1746 was before her return. The fact that he took a deep whiff of the clothes indicates to me that Frank, too, knew what her last act was and the burning of the clothes within her sight was as much symbolic as practical, not just mean. Thanks again for always adding to my enjoyment of the show. Hope you’ve warmed up and dried off from your Tartan Day Parade adventure!!!

    • Judy11

      Excellent point about Frank smelling her clothes – I was thinking of getting her scent – but your explanation is so much better. And yes, he should have been able to tell that. That then gives credence to why a scholar would burn such valuable historic treasure.

      • Peigi

        Can’t you just see Frank’s professorial wheels spinning, verifying that the clothes are real, and maybe her story is too. But his emotions fight with any possibly reasonable interpretation and response. (crumbs of BJR’s tendencies in his family dna, though at several removes?) Tobias was masterful in his portrayal.

  8. Gisele Pozark

    HI Beth,
    You hit the nail on the head again. I love the JC story, they are soul mates in every sense, but Frank and Claire did love one another. Is the hatred of Frank because we want to see Jamie and Claire or is Frank Bad? I’ve always thought he was misunderstood. I like the way Rom Moore wrote this. There is so much more, but enough space here to write all my thoughts. Kudos for a great episode.

  9. Joni Moore

    Thanks, Beth. Another great summary. I was aghast to see that some viewers had ‘FF through the Frank parts’ because they don’t like him. Whut?

    I also love that DG doesn’t over write her characters. She gives you just enough to let you speculate and wonder about motivations which has caused lots of entertaining discussion. Claire gives Frank the same smile, just before the transition, that she gives Jamie at the port in Le Havre. A ‘not so sure how this is all going to work, but let’s give it a shot’ smile?
    Also noted that the promise to leave Jamie in the past in answer to Frank’s request was made to Jamie, not to Frank. Loved the touches of Black Jack in Frank especially the teeth sucking before he walked out the door. Tobias did a superlative job with his characterization of Frank and Ron just defies a description from me. I’ve always given Frank a nod for raising Brianna as his own and truly loving her. Knowing the source material so well, including what’s to come in later books…Ron sets so many things in motion. (Not removing Jamie’s ring vs. not removing Franks later on.) Jamie’s father’s ring, etc.

    There’s more than one way to get to your destination and Ron just showed us completely satisfying alternate route.

    • I can’t imagine FF through ANY part! lol I “rewind” to watch parts multiple times. Don’t think I’ve ever used the fast forward button. I also loved the Black Jack touches…the way Frank stretched after being up all night talking with Claire. Kinda made me shudder.

  10. Peigi

    Yours is the first recap I go to. Excellent as always!
    Question: can you explain what it was she was searching for/found and put into her bodice at the beginning?

    • Have you gotten a reply already? If not, I took it as supposing to be Jamie’s father’s cabochon ring-but if it was, then they couldn’t use it in later seasons like in the books. Hmmm…

      • Debra LeClair

        I thought that same thing! He has that ring throughout the books – it’s kind of an important point. And where are the pearls that Jamie gave her as a wedding present? They are just as important! Just a few details that I noticed! Other than that I loved the episode and cried along with everyone else and sighed when they showed Jamie, like everyone else… 🙂

      • Ooo, good question about the pearls-though they could probably manage getting them back in the story some way when needed. Not so the ring, I’m afraid. Well, we just need to trust in our writers & producers- and we still have Diana’s books! 😊

  11. I know I’ve said it before, but I’m a literary purist. I prefer the ’95 version of P&P because it’s so true to the books. I hate the Gwyneth version of Emma because omg… I was so worried over how they would deal with the time travel for that reason.
    I shouldn’t have been. They can still use the book’s POV at other points in the show. But how they fleshed out Frank is awesome. I still don’t like him, but I get his position more.
    One of the lines that stuck with me (and for the life of me I can’t remember which book it was in) was where Claire says she can’t separate Frank from Jack because of how much they look alike, and how she can see some of Jack in Frank. The hospital scene from S2:E1 shows her flashbacks. There are hints in other books that show that Frank KNEW and believed her – and yet punished her – because of his jealousy.
    I actually put off watching this episode because I was scared. I saw the “DG approved the changes” and panicked.
    However.
    Within 5 minutes I saw and connected with Claire’s grief. (Been there, done that, have the Death Certificate.) I’m excited for the rest of the season. My biggest fear now is that they will have to rush it because of the limited number of episodes.

  12. Really well put. No need to worry about competition for readership, I think. Your perspective is unique and speaks to the hearts of longtime fans and lays things out beautifully for new ones.

  13. Very nicely expressed, Beth. To be honest I’ve been leery of engaging in the Outlander fandom because of the rabid nature of some (many) fans who want the TV series to provide in visual form, an exact replica of the books. I have been in a fandom where there was such vitriol over deviations that I wore me out.

    I just saw the episode and like you I appreciate the efforts of RDM, the writers and most especially Tobias Menzies in bringing Frank’s anguish to life. Tobias’ performance was the standout in this episode I think because he had more to process and accept that any other character including Claire. She lived it, he had to believe it and learn to live with the aftermath of her experiences.

    I am truly looking forward to this season.

    P.S. I still haven’t watched the last three episodes of last season. I’m not sure I ever will. The book description was horrific enough. I’m not sure I can watch it in living color.

  14. As always – great insight! I’m one of those that may not always LIKE what DG did, but it is HER world so that is ‘right’. Having said that, I love getting the different perspective from Ron & the writing team. Fleshing things out and giving bits we couldn’t / wouldn’t see from Claire’s perspective. I am absolutely loving that aspect of the series….that and Bear’s music. OMG the man is a genius…. I challenge everyone to read his blog about the episode and then watch again really paying attention to the music. Wow!

  15. In analyzing why Frank continued to be devoted to Claire I think most people forget or leave out religion. Frank and Claire are Catholics. In 1947 divorce was forbidden, under penalty of excommunication, by the Catholic religion. It was also frowned upon by society in general. Claire would have been a scorned women and Frank would have been look at as a cad. So religion and society would have played a big part of them staying together.

  16. Excellent article. I always had a soft spot for Frank now I know why. You really nailed it. So much to absorb and I’ve read all the books over and over and love the way the TV version is being presented. I’ve been a devoted fan since books first came out. So excited about this series and all the old and new fans. Thank you.

  17. nanci712

    You’re in my head again, girl! Love this post. I still have issues with book Frank but I truly respect tv Frank very much. You’ve done another excellent job of fleshing out the who, what, why and when’s for me. I love the books and the show so much and truly enjoy and appreciate their differences. I find the show refreshing and the fact that Ron has added more Frank is more than fine with me. In my opinion, Episode 1 was a smashing success, and Bear McCreary’s music was the cherry on top! In closing, thanks for being in my head, my friend. 🙂

    p.s. So happy to have finally met you!! xox

  18. JL Wilfred

    Another great blog, Beth. I love reading your opinions on Outlander. I share quite a bit of your opinion, especially about Frank and Claire’s story. Ron did a fantastic job. I watched it three times over a course of 2 days…this is why it’s a fantastic show all on it’s own.

  19. Deanne

    Well put! Don’t worry about blog competition! I find yours to be the most insightful and respectful of the material, players, and process. You also give me the most food for thought when so many just want to bash the adaptation.

  20. Love your thoughtful analysis. This was a brilliant start to season 2. Starting with Claire’s return gave those who have not read the book the “wait, what just happened?!” feeling from the book while giving a nod to the readers, who felt like insiders. Also, it was a great way to explain Claire’s motives for both staying with Frank and not telling Briana about Jamie for later in the series.

  21. Cynthia Peterson

    Excellent article and you gave me some extra food for thought. I was one of the many who first watched it Thursday when it came out in STARZ streaming. I have say I was gobsmacked and in tears almost the entire episode and I watched it over and over that day and Friday. Didn’t watch it Saturday until the official premiere and I still sobbed in some places. It was beautifully done and you’re right about Cait and Tobias. Right there was enough Emmy material for the season! And Bear’s music was so perfect. My goodness – you’re right – there are no words.

  22. Wonderful show! I had been a tad concerned about how the series would attempt Claire’s return, but I needn’t have worried. I actually thought that the way it was done, was less jarring and confusing than the book. Cudos to the writers, cast and crew. Finely done!

  23. Diana

    Now that I have found your blog Beth, I’m working my way backwards through your posts. I love how you write, weaving different disparate bits into a whole. I like the way you think!

    Having a bit of hindsight now with the season halfway over I am starting to find it interesting to read reviews where they are getting impatient with plots or characters not getting quick resolution (Mary’s rape – Have they just dropped her out the window? Fergus’s rape – will they just ignore him as well? The whole dark magic plot – is that going anywhere? Les Disciples – that’s not resolved….) while at the same time often complaining about episodes being over-packed with plot. Patience my dears…the season is not over. I will watch curiously how they respond as all is revealed. I wonder if that is an ingrained critics response to the kind of TV they’re used to; quick, easy and tidy. They will have to re-calibrate for Outlander’s longer arc. There were quite a few reviewers over the last few episodes who were getting cranky about Claire’s recklessness and after EP7, while not apologizing, seeming a bit abashed about the price she paid. Where’s this whole Paris scheming going? Re-watch EP1, you already know the answer to that. A huge price to pay for naught.

    I really like how Ron started this season, it made me appreciate Frank and he broke my heart after Claire told him all. I’m not a Frank fan (still not) but I don’t dislike him in anyway. Book Frank felt very much like an after thought, a plot device to get Claire to the stones. He felt distant and distracted to me. There was very little at the beginning of Outlander to get me in his camp, which is why I never connected emotionally with her urge to get back to him. I wonder if it’s a cultural thing. That stiff-upper-lip British reserve which Frank embodies. I wonder if British fans view Frank differently than American fans do. Do they have more empathy for him? Compare that to Jamie who is much more like an American in his openness and emotional presence. I get him right away.

    I also liked the change to why Claire never looked for Jamie until after Frank died. The book reason never rang true for me, just another plot device to keep them apart for 20 years. I love that it’s a promise she makes to Jamie and then Frank. THAT rings true.

    I did NOT like that she was so willing to take off Jamie’s ring when she’d always kept Frank’s on. But again maybe that ties to the promise she made to Jamie to forget him. She never made that promise to Frank.

    Thanks again for your writing and letting me ramble on here.

    • Everybody is picking my Brain tonight! Just reinfocing what I’ve been thinking. watch for the new post weds ! Have you followed the blog so you can get email notifications? If you are working your way backward good luck! LOL! I’ve written over 170 articles in 2 years! i have a few favorites. I like the one I wrote for episode 11 and the one on the Watch and Terry Dresbach put my article about the costumes on her post and Diana has put several of her FB page but she really like the one on Lalleybroch.

      • Diana

        There will be plenty of time after S2 ends to slowly wander through. Looking forward to your post tomorrow.

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