Outlander on Starz took us on a voyage across the seas and into uncharted territory this week. The show has also provided my maiden voyage into fandom and it has been a trip filled with treasure troves of unique opportunities to learn about film-making. Terry Dresbach, the costume designer for the show, has been very accessible to fans who are genuinely interested in what she does and how she does it. She has been open to questions and very generous in sharing the thoughts and the work that goes into creating for the show. Because of Terry’s generosity, I’ve learned that costume designing is about supporting the story and helping to develop the characters. I’ve learned that costume designing isn’t about parading pretty clothes across the screen, unless that is what the story warrants. I have learned that costuming is storytelling. And, this week, Terry once again proved she is a great storyteller.
I’m constantly amazed at fans who aren’t willing to give the story time to develop or wait to see the costumes in context. Terry often takes a lot of flack for PR pictures or magazine photo shoots that show the characters in costumes ahead of airing or styled for the shoot. If you hung around social media this season, you couldn’t have helped but notice that there was a kerfuffle over Claire’s non-period blouse and a scandal over what shall forever be know in Outlander lore as “Beltgate”. The now infamous “Batsuit” has had its share of critics. Terry’s choice to have Claire make her own dress was a departure from the books and one given much consideration and deliberation. She thought about the story and Claire’s place in it. Terry asked herself what she would she do if she was traveling back in time for a second time. What would Claire do to prepare herself for circumstances, difficulties, and needs that she could anticipate having. The result of that thought process was a suit made of raincoats with secret pockets. The suit was a wonderful mixture of available modern materials made to look as period appropriate as Claire could manage. Her period inappropriate blouse was deliberate. It was a nod to the story and Claire’s character. She wore a blouse she borrowed from the daughter she was leaving behind. She was wearing a reminder of her daughter on her skin. I can imagine that for awhile the clothing even smelled like Brianna. I am called back to Jamie sniffing Claire’s arasaid at the stones in the Culloden flashback. Brilliant, but the thought that went into that garment doesn’t stop at utility and sentimentality, it becomes a metaphor for Claire’s personal journey.
Terry’s design told us Claire’s story layer by layer.
The Claire at the beginning of the season is a Claire who has repressed feelings and a Claire who has deliberately disconnected parts of herself, especially those parts that she closely associates with Jamie like her sexuality. She has wrapped herself in her work and her identity has been shaped by her identity as a healer. She has closed herself off to protect herself. The Claire we see travel back through the stones is buttoned up and covered in tailored layers and fitted stays. As the story progresses and we see Claire forced to come to terms with her reality, we see her lose her layers metaphorically and physically until finally, we see her completely herself unencumbered. We finally see Claire, her hair loose and dressed only in her shift, at ease with herself, confident and rejoicing in her sexuality with her Jamie. The suit has served her and the story well as we watched it become an integral part of Claire’s survival and her shedding of her layers. The choices Terry made in context of the story are pure genius. The thought that she put into that costume more than enhanced the story it was an essential part of helping us understand Claire and her journey back to her authentic self. As Claire sheds her layers of protection she reveals the strong unique and beautiful woman we hoped was still there underneath.
I would love to say that the rest of this episode was as wonderful as Terry’s costuming, but…I can’t.
Why did Claire jump off that ship…oh yeah…
I can see why Diana Gabaldon said Outlander episode 3.11 “Uncharted” was one of her favorites this season. It was full of scenes right from the book. It pains me to say this because I know how hard these folks work and how much love goes into this production, but I wasn’t quite as impressed. It wasn’t because there weren’t some delightful scenes because there were delightful scenes. It would be hard not to love Jamie giving Fergus his name, the wedding, a pot smoking priest, and turtle time. Hang on to your rafts made out of barrels, but I think they needed to throw away the book this week. I love this show, but this week, I loved it less. Having said that let me explain where I think things went wrong. They ran up against some uncharted territory. They tried to adapt Voyager. We all knew it was going to be hard and wondered how the hell they were they going to be able to do it. The answer is not easily. If you have to have your “Laurel and Hardy” comment on the ludicrousness of the improbability of your plot then…maybe you need a different plot! LOL! I know it is story about time travel and the whole thing is crazy, I know that they want to honor fan expectations and wishes, but I want them to tell the best story they can and I’m not sure the source material helped them do that this week. I think they struggled to wrestle this monster of a story arc into some kind of logical shape…sigh…they can’t win, LOL.
Please understand this is just my own personal opinion, but I think in the pressure to fit it all in they lost what held it all together. They struggled to advance the relationship at the core of our story, Jamie and Claire. I get why Claire felt the need to get off that ship and the show did a better job of showing that her plan had a chance of success when we could actually see civilization on the shore. She lets the current take her to town, she is able to get on the next ship outta there and somehow intercepts Jamie before the Artemis gets him and then we have time for the Jamaica story line. But, instead of that we have Claire wandering an island. My husband, a non book reader, asked “How is she going to get to Jamie if it takes her days to wander this island?” Good question. By the time she makes it to the Father’s hacienda, she is in no shape to continue her journey. I think the time Claire spends struggling to get to Jamie was meant to show us her devotion and help her shed those final layers, and there were some moments between Claire and the father that remind us of Claire’s sacrifice with Brianna and the truth of her need of Jamie, but it still fell short of the epiphany I was hoping for. I’m still waiting for the “Jamie is the key” voice over!
After learning the father’s story, getting called a “hoor” one more time and talking to the coconut, Claire believes she is back in pursuit of her goal, to get to a ship and find Jamie, but instead she thinks Jamie may have been shipwrecked just down the hill… to the right, to the right! In the show’s defense, it didn’t seem so improbable when I was reading the story. The words “delightfully coincidental ” come to mind instead. I think it is the flow that feels off. It felt like the scenes book fans wanted to see were plugged in. Instead of a plot that advances the characters’ growth and the story’s goal we got a series of events all loosely held together by Claire’s desperate need to get to Jamie. It felt formulaic. Claire pockets a mirror because she is so vain? She has a premonition she might need a mirror? The scene of Jamie running off the boat and to Claire made me wince and laugh out loud. I’d have been waiting at the shore when the boat came in and probably sunk to my knees in relief. It felt horribly melodramatic and then…nothing. We don’t hear any of the convo that needed to happen between the two. “I still can’t believe you jumped off that ship” was delivered with such casualness that I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had been accompanied by a knee slap. I thought a scene like the one by the river in “The Reckoning” was warranted. They needed a private moment. Everything is delivered like an exposition and very anticlimactic.
Why are they on that ship in the first place…oh yeah…
gotta get to Ian and all the stuff that happens in Jamaica …keep your hands and feet inside the ride and hold on to your remote this is gonna go all rollercoaster on us.
What has been left unresolved…oh yeah…
their relationship. Maybe I am completely wrong here, but when is the convo going to happen? When is Claire going to tell us or Jamie that she made the right choice? I know the writers have said that actions speak louder than words, and Claire is notoriously bad at expressing her feelings (which makes when she does that more powerful), and Claire’s efforts to save the man she loves are heroic. The tender snuggly moments at the wedding boded well and I loved the father’s blessing, but I think at some point Jamie and the viewers deserve to be reassured that she “just can’t live without you James Fraser”. And then again, maybe, I need to wait until they are done telling the story!