The Madonna Breaks…A Reflection on Outlander 2.7

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A BROKEN MADONNA

I remember the blood most of all. The blood that wasn’t supposed to be there. The blood that was too much. The blood that wouldn’t stop. I remember lying on a sterile table in a cold sterile room surrounded by strangers. I stared up at the operating room lights and tried not to feel as I heard their efforts to clean my womb. I remember the pain that did not result in joy and always the child that would only live in corners of my soul.

Last week, in my look ahead to episode 7, I discussed miscarriage http://wp.me/p57847-o0A.  I talked of statistics, grief, and guilt. My readers told me their stories of loss and lingering sorrow. My own story resulted in the decision to not have more children, but they told me of bravely trying again and as a result, finally experiencing the joy of motherhood. Others shared that they had tried and tried again…and again. I cannot fathom how they coped with that cycle of hope and despair.  All shared they had never forgotten the children they never knew. I was moved by their stories.  And, so, I hoped that Outlander would be able to show us a story that reflected the truth of expectancy miscarried.  They did. They showed us a broken Madonna.

This was storytelling at its best. They told a honest tale of how sometimes life breaks us and they did it with such astounding insight. Once again, Outlander has honored its subject matter by allowing the audience to see the full measure of the effects of an event like miscarrying a child. They didn’t gloss over, sensationalize or romanticize Claire’s trauma instead they chose to show us the depth of this woman’s suffering that then allowed the audience to experience empathy in a powerful way. This episode showed us the power of compassion and forgiveness.

THE STAGES OF GRIEF

I don’t know if the writers and producers decided to show us Claire navigating the stages of grief, but it is what I saw and I was able to respond to the story they were telling with connections to my own life and experiences with grief.

DENIAL

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My daughter is a photographer and especially gifted at capturing images of people’s beauty and personality.  She has volunteered to take pictures of servicemen in that moment they finally come home to their families and birthday parties for 95 year-old grandmas or grandpas who may not be here much longer, and Senior portraits for a girl who is confined to a wheelchair and disfigured from a car accident and needs to feel beautiful, and pictures of babies “born dead”.  She volunteered because she felt it was important, a way to help these grieving parents say goodbye.  But, she found she couldn’t despite a desire to help because it was just too much, too much grief, too much sadness.  She needed to stop for her own self-care.  

I don’t often write about the actual filming of the scenes, but, the way the camera closed in, panned out or gave us angles of perspective added so much to the telling of this story. We are first given a close up of Claire’s face her eyes swollen with crying, pale, expressionless and reminiscent of Jamie on the pallet at Wentworth. The camera pans out so that we may float on the ceiling looking down on the blood and the birth turned butchery. She later awakens and we see her try to make sense of where she is and what has happened. They kept it real and allowed Claire to be a woman whose body has been changed by her pregnancy instead of bowing to a sexier/less realistic representation. I knew what she felt when she touched that empty belly so recently vacated.  Her panic was a true indication that she knows something is wrong and yet,…denial, ” No, it isn’t possible”.  Her confusion and changing feelings were all expressed in rapid and yet moving succession. She demanded and pleaded for the baby she knew must be there. The flashback scenes of her holding and crooning her love to her dead baby were so poignant.  

A worried Mother Hildegarde calls in Louise to try and reach her friend who won’t surrender her dead baby. As Louise approaches Claire, we see her touch her own child and we feel her compassion for another mother.

“She is an angel.”

No metaphor was ever more true and Claire knows it is time to let go, but how? When she kissed her child goodbye, I took a ragged breath and said a small prayer for all those who must kiss their children goodbye.

ANGER

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When I was in eighth grade, my Uncle Chuck  finally came home from Vietnam and my grandmother finally got to take the placard of a star, that designated them the parents of a soldier, out of the parlor window. He seemed to be adjusting well and she was finally able to sleep at night without worrying that a uniformed soldier might come to her door with news. It wasn’t a soldier who came to her door it was a deputy sheriff.

I remember being woken in the middle of the night by my mother’s voice raised in anger. She was screaming “How could he!  How could he!”.  I wandered down the stairs and was confused by the tableau I saw in our dining room.  I couldn’t figure out why my Uncle Harry was there or why my step-father was hanging his head with tears in his eyes or why my mother was furious. My Uncle Chuck was home one month from his third tour in Vietnam and was killed in a car accident trying to avoid hitting a deer.  My mother was angry because he had gotten himself killed.  This was my first exposure to the different forms grief can take.  The anger isn’t always rational, but someone must be blamed for such an inconsolable loss.

Mother Hildegarde’s conversation with Claire was a brilliant example of what often happens in the case of miscarriage/still birth. Claire is grieving and she is filling in the “utter void” left by Faith with anger and blame directed at Jamie.  The dialogue here was so revealing of grief and the use of anger to cope.

“My husband betrayed me mother… a year of mercy is all I asked…Revenge mattered  more to him than me or his child.  He might as well have run his sword through me”.

“God bids us to revel in mercy, tread sins underfoot, and throw iniquities into the sea.”

“I’m not sure there is a sea deep enough”.

Many who experience such loss cope by wrapping themselves in blame, naming sins, and never find that sea.

BARGAINING

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I promise I’ll never…I promise I will…If you give me this…

Very few of us that grieve have not at least thought of a bargain with God or the universe. Like children we beg and offer to change or sacrifice if only this would not be true.  Claire doesn’t bargain for Faith and I was so moved by her expression of total loss, “My sins are all I have”.  Acknowledging she is still angry with Jamie, once she hears why he broke his promise she bargains for his life with her virtue, “I will count it among the things I’ve lost in Paris”.

DEPRESSION

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When bargaining doesn’t work and anger exhausts us, depression moves in.  Our loss colors everything.  We see the world through grey fog.  Life has beaten us and changed us.

Claire’s fragility was so piteous. We could tell by the troubled look on wee Fergus’ face and the offering of flowers he still held that the woman we were about to see was altered.  I was so moved by the servants waiting to welcome an obviously loved Milady home. I couldn’t help but feel those steps from the carriage to the house were some of the most difficult she has ever taken. Even in her weakened state she tries so hard to give these people what she can.  Her not allowing Magnus to bow to her and bowing to him instead was so Claire.  She is not a respecter of personage, she does not judge anyone by anything but their heart.  

We see her face devoid of emotion as Fergus brushes her hair,…a child caring for an adult is always so heart breaking.  It’s not supposed to be that way. Then when she is drawn to the spoons, I was reminded of unused baby clothes and a prepared nursery waiting for a child that will never come and I understood how this joyous gift now only serves as a reminder of her loss. She angrily pulls on her robe in the need to take some sort of action and quickly realizes she has nowhere to go and nothing she can do and falls apart.  

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Loss changes us.  But, life it goes on.  Acceptance is the bittersweet stage of the grieving process. It isn’t about suddenly being okay or “over it” because we are never okay with this kind of loss. It is rather about accepting a new reality.

The “will you make me beg”scene between Jamie and Claire was one of my favorites in the books and one of the three scenes I picked preseason as having the potential for award winning performances.  The scene was different from the books, but no less convincing in its portrayal of the power of acceptance, compassion and forgiveness.  

“The weight of what has happened here is too much for anyone of us to bear alone. The only way we can live with it is to carry it. Together.”

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In my opinion, Outlander has fulfilled its promise of being something different.  They continue to show us the story of two decent people who want to do the right thing and struggle with choices, people who admit their mistakes, make sacrifices for the sake of others, and choose to forgive. It is a rarity on TV to be sure. There was so much in this episode to write about and talk about, but I think for now, I’ll concentrate on this story-line of loss and how it affects everyone it touches. This breathtakingly wonderful adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s story of Jamie and Claire was able to capture the depth and wonder of this rich and complex story.  I would like to thank everyone who has so lovingly cared for this story, the actors who moved me, the writers who spoke to my heart, those who guided performances and filmed perspectives that added to our understanding, those that helped create the costumes and sets that helped suspend our disbelief and made these people and this world real.
This episode reminded me once again of how lucky we are to have had this story given over to such a serendipitous group of people. People who care.  I thought of all the complaining about shortened episodes, petty differences from the book, a heroine characterized as selfish, and a lack of sex in the former episodes and wondered how difficult it must have been for them all to stay silent knowing what was to come in this episode.  I wouldn’t have traded that moment of Claire’s self-awareness and Jamie’s compassion for all the hot sex in the world. There are wonderful lessons to be learned about what it means to be human here for those who care to look and I for one will have “faith” that Ron D. Moore and company will continue to do honor to the story of Jamie and Claire.  

The return of the King….of Men…my reflection on Outlander episode 2.5

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I’m sitting here in the early morning hours after having watched Outlander episode 5 and trying to give words to my impressions.  Although we were treated to The King of France in his caped and emblazoned uniform it was another King that caught my eye. “Untimely Resurrection” ?  Not for me.  James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser, King of Men, was resurrected today.  We’ve come full circle.  Today, I saw the Jamie and Claire we have all been waiting for…

This episode was full of wonderful moments of character development (mark me Sandringham is no fool), irony, and subtle foreshadowing.

Jamie and Claire

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I was thrilled to see the show open with these quiet moments with Jamie and Claire. Their dialogue with each other was so natural.  There wasn’t any hesitancy, no carefully measured words.  They were totally and completely present with each other.  What ever wall stood between them has been broke down. They were once again two that are one. For me, the scene that most proved their unity was when Claire was finally able to be vulnerable. Her confessing her fears about motherhood to Jamie signaled that she no longer saw him as fragile.  When he was able to offer her reassurance and called her his “brown haired lass” once again?  I tearfully smiled along with Claire.  You got the sense that no matter what else happened they were going to be okay.

Jamie

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Annaliese was not the only one to recognize that Jamie is no longer a simple impulsive boy, I saw a man today, as well. I saw a Jamie who is rapidly gaining back his sense of self. There is a confidence in his speech and the way he carries himself.  He is able to give reassurance not only to Claire, but to Murtagh because he actually has something to give. He isn’t an empty shell anymore.  Like most of us, he has most certainly been changed by the things he experienced. I think we will always see the shadow of Wentworth on Jamie’s face, but I believe that there is some truth in the old adage that what does not kill us only makes us stronger. There is real power in knowing that you are a survivor, that you can come out the other side of something so inconceivable. It is difficult to imagine that this Jamie could be shaken by anything or anyone…except Claire.  Johnathan Randall was correct in assessing that the only true way to reach Jamie was through his love for Claire.

Black Jack

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As Black Jack approached they slowed the camera down… again…dammit…every time they do that I think …crap.  As the camera slows, we know something terrible is coming, something that will change things forever…things will never be the same.

The first thing I want to address is the way Tobias Menzies said Claire’s name. Aside from the fact that Jack feels intimately acquainted enough with them to call them Jamie and Claire, the sick rat bastard, did anyone else hear Frank!?!  I believe I said out loud “That wasn’t Black Jack that was Frank! No wonder she flinches.  How can she possibly not see BJR!”.  The exchange that follows between between Claire and Randall was was the stuff of nightmares.  The irony that it took place in the bright sun in a beautiful garden was brilliant literally and figuratively.  A waking nightmare.

Once again, I am so impressed with the subtle performances. How the frick did they make Claire’s face drain of color? And, the desirous inflection in “Jamie’s here…where?”  I wanted to vomit myself.  I think I could go on forever about how this was filmed and scripted.  The symbolism.  The irony.  They can’t escape him.  Their paths continue to cross.

“Unbelievable. The fates are toying with us now.  Setting our feet on seemingly divergent paths and yet, somehow converging…”

She tries escape.  He blocks her path.  She tries again and he grabs her.  She tells him to let her go, but he won’t.  Will they ever be rid of him?

And then, the King,…despite what has just went down they all still have a role to play. Claire, bless her glass face, struggles to get it in under control and I LOVE that about her! In fact, through out the episode we were treated to Claire showing her feelings on her face for all the world to see should they care to look.  She is such a moral, caring person and none of this sits very well with her, but she pushes down her feelings because the lives of so many hang in the balance.

I loved this scene with the King because well, who didn’t love seeing Jack on his knees?!   I loved that Claire continues to baffle him.  When the King kisses her hand and compliments her BJR just couldn’t keep from looking at her with puzzlement.  He just doesn’t seem to understand the power she wields.  Although I delighted in seeing Jack humiliated while Jamie watches (I loved the little jabs the two men couldn’t help but take at each other), I was struck by the fact that Randall is now the one in the position of begging for love of another.  He is a human after all , despite my doubts.

Claire thinks she has gotten them away from an uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situation.  But, Jamie will not we deterred.  I was watching the exchange between the two men as anxiously as Claire and felt her fear.  What the HELL was that touch on Jamie’s heart about?  And, why the hell didn’t Jamie rip his sadistic hand off his arm?!

And, …best delivered line ever….” He said he owed me a debt (death)” Good Lord, the images that brought to mind. (giving a wink of acknowledgement for that one Richard Kahan)

The Final Scene

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This scene was everything.  Preseason, I wrote about what scenes in the book I thought had potential to garner awards.  This scene was one of them,

The scene that follows when Jamie realizes what she has done is filled with feelings of betrayal, disbelief, and then outrage when she begs him to promise not to kill Black Jack for her sake.

“How can you ask it of me?  You of all people…”

How could she ask him? How could she not? This scene will ask the viewer the questions “What would you ask of or do for those you love?” and “What are you willing to risk to do the right thing?”  Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan will have the chance to show us.

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How could she ask him? Caitriona Balfe accurately and movingly portrayed Claire’s struggle.  She and Jamie have finally found each other again.  Despite all that has happened they are sharing their burdens and looking forward to their child, the miracle result of their love for one another.  She knows exactly what happened to Jamie at Wentworth.  She knows what it did to him and has watched him suffer for months.  She knows what news of BJR survival did for Jamie’s recovery.  She has to know that by asking him to spare Black Jack’s life she risks throwing her own happiness and future away.  Most importantly, she WILL be hurting Jamie, so newly come back to her and himself.  A shattering choice and decision yet,….how can she not ask him?  It is only a matter of time. A delay only.  A delay that makes all the difference for another man she loves.  A man who has done nothing, but be the wrong man in the wrong time.  An innocent man.

Like Jamie, Claire is a person of honor.  She also pays her debts.  She owes Frank. She owes her own integrity and the honesty she promised Jamie.  If she doesn’t ask Jamie to wait to exact his revenge, she believes she would be guilty of murder and that would always be between them. Either way she risks a ruined relationship and so,she must act on her conscience’s urging.  Claire is a brave woman worthy of emulation and admiration. She feels the fear and does the right thing anyway.

Jamie’s reaction and Sam’s performance; his disbelief, his anger and outrage, his feelings of betrayal, his struggle with his honor and love of Claire were all there.  My heart broke when I heard the break in his voice and my own eyes filled with his unshed tears. His warrior spirit rises to the challenge once again as his kisses the blade and pledges his oath to Claire once more.

And, he doesn’t leave…powerful…

I’m waiting to hear the inevitable complaints, but quite frankly, I thought the episode was perfection.  After having watched it for a third time this morning, I would be really hard pressed to identify anything to complain about. I really could write pages on this episode and all it developed and revealed.  There were departures from the book, but once again I felt they were all in keeping with what was plausible including Claire’s attempts to right things for Frank with Alex and Mary. In for a penny, in for a pound as they say. They have been trying to change the future the whole time they were in France why wouldn’t assuring Frank’s survival be part of that. Her confusion and regret only added to the angst of her later decision with Jamie.

Kudos to Richard Kahan , Douglas McKinnon, and well, just everybody who holds a camera, designed or sews a costume, designs or builds a set, just… everybody.  This is such a wonderful quality production. I can’t believe this was episode five already.  I don’t want to spoil this for myself by thinking of the end of the season, but the weeks are flying by and I know I will soon be without an episode of Outlander to look forward to.  So, I’m storing each precious gem of an episode in my DVR jewel box.  They aren’t my books, but what they are is a… wonder.

 

Me, Tom and Lorenzo and Outlander Episode 4

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I’m starting to see a pattern.  I go to bed Friday night and then wake up around two with the knowledge that I could be lying in bed watching the current episode of Outlander.  The temptation is too great and I put in my headphones and turn the screen to an angle that won’t wake my husband and then adjust my pillow for my first viewing.  After the episode, I fall asleep dreaming of what I saw. I wake early Saturday morning and watch again, this is when the ideas begin to percolate and I start making notes. All day long, I’m thinking about what I saw. I don’t want to be influenced by anyone else’s thoughts so, I don’t read any reviews, recaps, etc. until after I’ve had my third viewing on Saturday night with my husband and written my reflection. After I hit the publish button on Sunday morning, I begin reading what other folks thought.  There is a lot more out there to read than last season, but I still find myself gravitating to the same authors; Angelica Jade Bastien of the NY Times

A year ago, I wrote an article about Tom and Lorenzo’s reviews of Outlander. https://wordpress.com/post/bethwesson.com/2581

I read their first review at http://tomandlorenzo.com/2015/03/how-outlander-finally-won-us-over/ and found it to be one of the most insightful and honest reviews I had read. Now please understand, I am particularly fond of the books by Diana Gabaldon and therefore, pretty invested in the success of the series. It doesn’t make me the most objective of readers, however, I’ve read enough ( there is an understatement) reviews to know when someone is piggybacking off of the latest gossip about the show or relying on the latest pop culture cliché to meet a deadline or sound particularly “critic-like”. I came to their article with some Outlander review reading under my belt and I found their writings to be refreshing.

I felt like they got the show.  They were able to make accurate predictions and seemed to understand the characters.  They saw beyond the bodice-ripping-time travel labels given to the series.  I have found that I mostly agree with them and can usually be seen nodding my head “yes” the whole time I’m reading their reviews.  So, I was totally surprised when their response to Outlander episode 4 “La Dame Blanche” was so different from my own.  In fact, I was troubled by our difference in opinion and have given it some point by point thought.

Point one:  the difference between us

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My view of the show isn’t rose colored, but it certainly is colored by my knowledge of the books. Tom and Lorenzo afford me the novelty of watching the show vicariously  without “book goggles”.  However, I really didn’t have to wait until Sunday to read Tom and Lorenzo’s experienced TV critique to understand the response of the non-booking reading viewer, because my own barometer of the episode’s success was sitting in a lazy-boy across the room peppering me with questions.  I had to stop the show and let the DVR take over, so that I could explain what was happening.  That has never happened before.  I was so taken with what I saw as an effective adaptation of the story that I failed to see that he didn’t see what was going on.  His defensive comment, “Well, it’s a lot to take in if you haven’t read the books!” should have been my first clue that something was amiss. As much as I loved this adaptation, upon reflection I am able to see how my husband would be confused.

I blame the number 13.

The show-runner was given 13 episodes to tell this story.  As a result, the writers have had to do the near impossible and fit the complicated story told in Diana Gabaldon’s huge book (it is 39 hours on audio) into 13 fifty-five minute segments. I’m sure I’m not the only one who is worried that the number thirteen is an unlucky one for those charged with bringing this couple’s relationship to the soul deep level it needs to go!

As a book reader, I am thrilled with what they have done, but this might be the first episode that the non-book reader was truly at a disadvantage.  It just might be possible that my “book goggles” were beneficial watching “La Dame Blanche”.  I believe that I probably unconsciously filled in the storytelling gaps because things that were obvious to me weren’t obvious to my husband and Tom and Lorenzo.

Point 2:  Claire

 

We’re not sure how much sympathy we should expect from a woman of Claire’s time on the issue of male rape and its after-effects, but she’s been depicted as supernaturally empathetic and patient with Jamie’s issues up until now, and she just spent weeks obsessing over how to tell him what she thought was going to be the worst news of his life; news so devastating that she rightly feared for his emotional well-being, not to mention his life. She absolutely has a right to be upset with him over this, but it’s like all the previous episodes’ worth of character interactions were forgotten when this scene was written.    http://tomandlorenzo.com/2016/05/outlander-la-dame-blanche/

Episode 16 is back to haunt the series again.  Claire going into Jamie’s darkness continues to be a very important missing piece in this puzzle.  Because they chose not to let Claire trick Jamie into fighting his demons at the end of the last season, they were left trying to fit his recovery into a season already packed with plot points.  Personally, I feel they have successfully shown and given respect to the fact that Jamie would not have just bounced back from his trauma and shown how it would have affected his intimacy with Claire.  Jamie was still going to recover because he got to fight back and his wanting to have sex with his wife again would have followed just like it did in the book.

The scene were Jamie comes home “marked’ was definitely more lengthy in the book and Claire’s patience was tested repeatedly which might have made her reaction more understandable to viewers.  She would accept his story only to be faced with more “evidence” at every turn. Because they were already having sex, this scene as presented in the book was more about the jealousy of a woman who felt neglected and  a bit afraid her husband had crossed a line in the “game” they were playing.

To me, “Up until now” are the key words in Tom and Lorenzo’s paragraph. The woman has had a lot to deal with and this had to feel like a betrayal of all of her efforts, patience and trust. Yes, Claire has been shown to have a great deal of empathy, but quite frankly, what would any woman have done faced with this kind of evidence, let alone a woman who is pregnant and lonely and scared she has lost the husband she knew and loved. We might want to give her bit of lee way for overreacting.  I didn’t see this as out of character at all. In fact, it felt pretty natural to me!  She overreacts, but true to Claire form she owns her feelings and takes action.

The TV series use of this almost comical moment, (a typically Jamie moment as it never occurs to him that Claire might not be as happy as he is that he felt lust for a prostitute! ) to set up a serious conversation about the aftermath of Jamie’s trauma was inspired adaptation. It worked in the book and I thought it worked in the episode.

Point 3: Claire, reckless or stupid

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I felt Tom and Lorenzo had some valid points:

…Don’t even get us started on why she brought Mary with her or why she thought two finely dressed and clearly wealthy women could simply stroll through the streets of 18th Century Paris after dark…

Upon reflection, this was one of those times my book knowledge filled in the gaps.  I knew that Mary had been volunteering with Claire for quite awhile, but to be fair that was never explained or if it was I missed it! And, they couldn’t get a carriage because they were all being used to transport victims…once again, not explained.  However, I thought it was totally in keeping with Claire’s personality to believe they would be safe walking.  After all, they weren’t alone … Murtagh.

…how much of this, we’re sorry to say, can be laid at Claire’s feet. We literally muttered “What the hell?” when Claire announced she was going to the hospital to work on the very day she was hosting a formal 18th Century French dinner party (an ENORMOUS undertaking that she has never done before nor has she any familiarity with). One can argue how admirable it is that Claire felt the call of duty when she heard that people were hurt. And that’s true, for the most part. But it also speaks to how ridiculously reckless Claire can be.

This was definitely an issue with the time compressing.  This wasn’t their only party and Claire did have experience planning dinner parties at Jared’s.  She knew she wasn’t needed and was going somewhere where she was. It wasn’t just another day at the hospital, it was a crisis.  She did explain, but … giving this one to T&L her reasons for leaving weren’t made clear.

Point 4:  royalty literally dropping from the sky

Prince Charles is on the roof!

…Yeah, we could’ve done without that bit of silliness ourselves. Especially since his convenient drop-in also had the result of inadvertently revealing his affair with Louise. Let’s unpack this: The one man who is most important to the Frasers’ plans drops down from the roof of their house complaining about his lover and sporting a monkey bite, which so happens to be the pet of one of the few friends Claire has in Paris; a friend who just told her about how she’s pregnant by her mysterious lover’s child while mentioning that her monkey bites everyone in the same conversation. It’s a bit much on the coincidence scale.

I can see what they are saying, too neat, too convenient, okay, but…too silly?  I thought there were several moments in this episode that showed us how humanly frail we all are whether we are dressed in silk and bewigged or not. The sophisticated worldly Louise suddenly seemed very young when talking to Claire about her pregnancy and likewise a disheveled Charles scrambling around on a roof ; very young, very human. He is climbing out windows like a teenager one minute and expecting to be treated like royalty the next.  His “God is always testing me line” was very revealing of his character and motivation.  I felt a bit of sympathy for this slightly delusional young man when he reaches out and touches his “friend James” face.  How does one deal with being told you are the outstretched hand of God all your life? The scene wasn’t as silly as it seemed on the surface.  (however,loved Jamie’s response to Claire’s comment about a bite epidemic.  It was classic Jamie humor!)

Here’s the thing,… each episode should be able to stand on its own. It really shouldn’t matter whether you have read the book, I shouldn’t have had to stop to explain what was happening (still not convinced my hubby doesn’t need to pay more attention). Here’s the other thing, …reading a book, watching a movie or TV show is really very personal.  We each bring our own experiences, values, and beliefs to the situation and that makes critiquing a pretty subjective process overall.  I would have left to go with Claire to help at the hospital, but maybe Tom and Lorenzo would have stayed to plan the dinner party ( and maybe get a chance to wear one of Terry Dresbach’s costumes) .

Here’s the final thing,  T&L gave the episode a B.  A “B” is far from a failing grade.   One “B” episode in an “A” show?

This teacher is rounding up!

Jamie… finding a way back…my reflection on Outlander 2.4 “La Dame Blanche”

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One of the things I love about Jamie Fraser is the seemingly contradictory elements of his personality and how they coexist in harmony.  He is vulnerable yet, strong.  He is wise and yet, naive. He is serious and yet, terribly funny.  He can be shy and then bold.  He can be ruthless and kind. He is stubborn and yet, willing to listen and doesn’t have to be right. He is a man of his time and yet, in many ways he is forward thinking.  In this episode of Outlander, we were treated to the complexities of Jamie.  When he smiles because he now has the chance to see Jack Randall’s blood leave his body, I smiled along with him.

And,… it felt right.

Can I just say bravo. Bravo to Sam Heughan , Toni Graphia, and Douglas Mackinnon.  This bit of, at the least, anti-social behavior was delivered with such unmitigated joy that I was tearfully smiling for our hero. He was going to get to commit murder,… bless his little heart.

The irony of my feeling this way isn’t lost on me and neither is the brilliance of this performance and adaptation. It was a captivating blend of intrigue, action, humor, foreshadowing , character development, and tender moments all fans have been waiting to see.

THE ADAPTATION

I love being right.  At least, I love being right about what the writers and producers are doing on the set of Outlander.  I said last week that I thought I could see a theme for the series emerging:

In one of the trailer’s for the show, Jamie is heard saying “Promise me we will always find a way back to each other.”  … I’m beginning to suspect that this is a theme for the whole season.  Isn’t it always about finding your way back to each other in a marriage?   It doesn’t have to be getting carried through the stones or PTSD; it can be something as mundane as a career or as challenging as raising children that causes a couple to lose touch with each other, grow distant, and lose intimacy.  Ask any married duo if they did not struggle to maintain their identity as a couple through different phases and events in life. http://wp.me/p4mtBT-317

And , this week we got, “Jamie, find your way back to me, to us.”

The journey to this moment was arduous and painful for the characters and for us long-suffering fans.  My angst wasn’t relieved by last weeks’ teaser articles.  As I said, I like being right about Outlander and last week, I went on record saying that I hadn’t seen anything in the series, so far, that “might not have happened”.  I hadn’t seen any character motivation or changes to intent that were a large enough departure from the book to cause any real concern that the adaptation had gone too far. And, then,… I had the misfortune of reading a few entertainment news articles leading up to this week’s episode that seemed to tease that Jamie had deliberately sought out the services of a prostitute.  I was afraid I was going to have to eat my words about not seeing any “fatal” changes.  The Jamie I know would NEVER have done that.  So, I have to say I watched the episode with a bit of trepidation.

I paid special attention to Jamie’s explanation for the bites on his legs.  I’ll admit it took me two viewings to hear what he was saying because the first time I was right there with Claire, “You did what?! James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser!”  But, to my relief, it was a wonderful example of the Jamie I know from the books.  He really expected Claire to be as excited as he was that he felt lust for a prostitute! LOL! Once again, I am impressed with how the writers made this moment believable by allowing us to see how Jamie had reacted to the prostitutes before Claire told him Black Jack lived.  He paid them no attention and couldn’t stand for them to touch him.

This is just one more piece in Jamie’s recovery and how the adaptation is honoring that recovery process. In the book, Jamie finds his way back because Claire went into his darkness and gave him a chance to fight his demons in a mystical, drug induced fog. He was brought back because he got to fight back.  In the adaptation, Jamie is finding his way back because he knows that he WILL have a chance to fight back.  With this hope he begins to feel like himself again and his real self is a man who wants to be a husband who makes love to his wife.

And, for those of you who still believe he would never have felt lust for another woman…

“… it was … well, those women. What I felt like with them. I didna want them, truly not …” “Yes, I know,” I said, reaching for him, but he wasn’t stopping there. He held back from me, looking troubled. “But the … the lusting, I suppose ye’d call it … that was … too close to what I feel sometimes for you, and it … well, it doesna seem right to me.”      Diana Gabaldon Dragonfly in Amber

Jamie doesn’t understand himself sometimes.  He tends to have a much less charitable view of his own thoughts and feelings than we do or Claire does. In the book, part of this scene includes a conversation about his seemly contradictory sexual urges with Claire.  He wants to worship her and yet use her hard. He might not understand himself, but he always tries to be the man he knows Claire needs him to be and that is an emotionally honest man. His integrity is nothing short of staggering. And, the series’ commitment to showing us characters that struggle to do the right thing and be good people continues to win my loyalty as a viewer.  It is a rarity on TV to be sure.

So far, the writers have kept their promise of bringing the story and characters back around to where they need to go.  They may change the time-line, they may combine and compress, but this episode convinced me once again that they get it. They get it and because they get it,… we got the lean-to.

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I was right again!

Jamie is finally able to tell us how he has been feeling and what Jack Randall’s action did to him.  Jamie does not have the psychological terms to explain how he feels, but what he does have (and it’s one of the biggest reasons I fell in love with him) is a way of poetically expressing himself that is both visual and moving.  That place where we keep the thing that makes us uniquely ourselves was destroyed. He felt naked and exposed.  His core, his identity was gone. He has felt like he has been trying to hide his nakedness under a blade of grass.  His being able to build a lean to with Claire’s help is a tenuous , but hopeful sign.

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Claire and Jamie’s return to physical intimacy felt like a nod to the book lovers who missed that scene in the under ground springs at the end of the first book.  This scene, in the private little blue cove Jon Gary Steele, Outlander production designer, created, felt very reminiscent of the tender and healing moments Claire and Jamie spent together in the water. I predict more tender moments in this little oasis.  Mark me 😉

Jamie and Claire have found their way back to each other and it’s all going to be okay….sigh…but we all know it won’t.  Because,… I can still hear Claire’s anguished screams from the hill of Craig na Dun.

A lot has been said of the last two episodes of Outlander Season 1.  Ron D Moore has said that they knew it was coming and so, they shadowed it from the beginning.  They made the possibility of Jamie’s rape a reality by subtle foreshadowing.  I feel like they are doing the same thing this time by subtly reminding us this isn’t going to end well.  Claire’s conversations about child rearing with Louise and Master Raymond’s foretelling that Claire will see Frank again are making every tender moment more poignant and every plan seem so futile.

But, for now, I will bask in the knowledge that Jamie has found his way back to Claire and they have built a roof to keep out the rain.

 

 

 

 

Icebergs, Prince, and Outlander…My reflection on episode 2.3

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So, who the heck on the Outlander set is messing with the time continuum?  I’m convinced someone is experimenting with time travel because that was the shortest hour of television I’ve ever watched! It flew by and I found myself surprised when all too soon it was over! I believe I actually screamed NO! when the screen faded to the credits.  I have to wait a whole other week to find out what happens next? Say it isn’t so! Grief stricken, I did what any normal feeling person would do…I rewound the episode and watched again!  Whose a Time Lord Now!?! BOOM!

I  don’t do recaps.  I feel like you all watch the show if you want to know what happens next.  I don’t necessarily do reviews either.  I believe there is an element of a review when I sit down to write about an episode of Outlander, but I think what I’m really doing is …reflecting? I know what I do isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and after this week, I’m okay with that.

I’m big at making connections.  I tend to make meaning between loosely related ideas or disparate events.  A friend told me that I see a thread and pull on it until the whole thing unravels.  I like that image.  It rings true to me.  Somehow, in the process of unraveling, I make meaning and then reassemble the whole thing using a story to tell a story. That is what happened this week when I sat down to write about Outlander 2.3, “Deceptions and Useful Occupations”.   I saw a thread and pulled; Icebergs, Prince, Outlander.  Not sure you could get more disparate.  But, here I go.

ICEBERGS

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There is a phenomenon called the teacher job satisfaction curve. Teaching is a profession for idealists. Teachers want to believe that we touch the future by teaching children. We are life-long learners who constantly hone our craft in an effort to engage our students in learning in the hopes of creating a spark that will make them want to learn more!  We start out every school year excited to get into that classroom and make a difference in children’s lives.  We envision students who will arrive in our classroom ready to  learn! Students who have loads of untapped potential, who are just waiting for us to inspire them!

Yep,…reality…not so much …sometime right before Christmas break you start counting the days before retirement.  The enormity of the task you have taken on becomes crushingly obvious.  There are so many variables you are unable to control.  Not all students are ready to learn or even want to learn. If I heard, “but, we’re Seniors!” one more time, I seriously thought my head would explode!  However, the disillusionment we all feel in December begins to fade and you start to feel hopeful once again.  After all, there is always next year and so, I begin to reflect on the current year and how I will make changes and hone my skills to inspire students next year, … for sure!

During this period of reflection (at my desk at the end of 4th period), I had a particularly puzzling student approach me with a friend to ask my advice.  Without giving away too much, I doubt she will ever see this, but still, there were things happening in her life that would have made it difficult for anyone to concentrate on “The Importance of Being Ernest” or “The Canterbury Tales“.  I hope my advice did help because often I feel helpless to affect change in their lives, but her asking me reaffirmed that even when we don’t think we are making a difference…sometimes, we are.

Thinking of what this girl projected on the surface made me think of icebergs.  And, I was reminded once again to look at my students a little deeper. That behavior that drives me insane may have very deep roots and the anger or apathy they display may have nothing to do with my request that they pay attention or stop talking and everything to do with how they are trying to deal with what is happening inside themselves.

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PRINCE

This week also brought news of the death of the artist Prince.  An outpouring of grief and love for this man was found all over the news, social media, and the streets, even here in Ohio.

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Many of us became reflective.  We asked ourselves what this man’s life had meant to us, including Terry Dresbach, costume designer for Outlander.

…not only is he an incredible artist, he is a man of principal and ethics, he is fiercely independent, he is going to do things his own way. He is not going to bend to the commercial interests of corporations. He is going to control his own art. He may be as famous for his willingness to go to the mat for his work. Famously giving up his own NAME rather than control of his music, scrawling SLAVE on his face for public appearances. He refused to give up in the face of the corporatization of the music industry, fighting to the end for the rights of the artists…

So what did he mean to me?

Who am I? I am an artist, first and foremost. I am a product of my time and place. I am part of a generation,…

…As the child of union organizers and political activists, I struggle every day as an artist in a corporate world I struggle as a human in a human world. Ron constantly asks me if I could not make everything into one of my “social justice” issues. No, actually, I can’t. I will always struggle against the tide that says we all need to be managed and formed to a polished symmetry that never colors outside the lines. Whose voices and very existence, should be managed and tailored to fit into an expectation. Group think…

Well that ain’t gonna happen. I am going to continue to be me. I’m going to throw elbows at anything or anyone that tries to control me as an artist. I am not going to hire anyone to manage me or my voice. I am going to fight hard against anything like that, big or small. And I am going to play Prince as loud as I can while doing it.    http://www.terrydresbach.com/when-doves-cry/

I was very moved by her self-examination.  This world can put so many pressures on us to conform.  Sometimes, conformity is the right thing to do, but sometimes it isn’t.  It isn’t the right thing to do when you find yourself acting in ways that are untrue to your own ethics and beliefs.  It isn’t the right thing to do when you feel compelled to dim your light, so that others won’t be seen as lacking brilliance.  Attempts to hide your true self never end well.  I’m convinced that many of the world’s angry and depressed people are those who have for whatever reason not allowed themselves to be themselves.  People always come out sideways when they feel suppressed and managed.  Like Terry, I believe the only way to live authentically is to make conscious choices that are true to who you are and not what others expect you to be.

OUTLANDER

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So, ….that was a long way to get here.  The fact that I CAN apply lessons about life to this story makes me happy.  I am proud that there is a TV show on the air that isn’t afraid to show characters who grapple with moral and ethical choices, characters who struggle to do the right thing and still be true to themselves.

I will defend the writers and producers’ choice to let us see Claire and Jamie struggle to find their way back to themselves and each other to anyone who feels that this weakens their character.  The characters, the story, and therefore, the show are the better for it.  I have said it before and will say it again, it is a mistaken belief that because Jamie is strong and brave he would suddenly be able to pull himself up by the bootstraps and snap out of what he experienced.  In the book, what Claire did in the abbey was a desperate attempt at what we would now call aversion therapy.  She exposed him to what he feared and allowed him to fight back like he couldn’t before.  That would have been very difficult to reproduce in a visual format.  In fact, it took me several readings to truly understand what she did. Like most victims of such violence, TV Jamie has to figure out how to live without such a dramatic intervention and as a result, the Jamie we see on the show is… an iceberg.

 

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Dressed in sumptuous silk, smiling, going about his work, plotting  to stop the Jacobite rebellion is the top 1/4 of Jamie.  It is the part the world sees. The part we don’t see is powerfully large.  That Jamie we knew was destroyed “he broke me, I knew it, we both did”.   It is no wonder that he isn’t the Jamie we all know him to be. He is a shadow of the man he was.

Claire struggles to help him.  She tiptoes on egg shells.  Anyone who has lived with a spouse with PTSD could confirm that their loved one is altered and that they struggle to have any intimacy/closeness.  Jamie’s identity has been shaken to the core. He cannot get “him” out of his mind. Add to this struggle playing a role, being deceptive; something that goes against everything Jamie believes himself to be and you have a formula for an explosive situation.  Jamie is coming out sideways, “When do I get to feel good, when do I get to have meaning in my day?”  It isn’t that he doesn’t want Claire to be happy.  He does, but he isn’t himself.

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I love how they chose to juxtaposition Claire’s struggles with her own identify and secrets with Jamie’s.  She isn’t herself either. It is so complicated.  They are both living a lie and trying to find themselves again.  No one is going to be happy until they can.

I loved the filmed metaphor of Jamie walking down the hall and Claire following him. Every time she gets a glimpse of Jamie (and we do too, glimpses of the old Jamie) he walks behind a wall. Yet, she still follows and keeps trying.  I predict the pay-off for our patience and Claire’s will be some of the most moving television ever filmed.  It is going to get worse before it gets better, but when it gets better we will have a couple whose journey will form a bond unbreakable …even by time.

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What Ron D. Moore taught me about fandom

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This week has been an interesting one in the Outlander fandom.  There has been much ado about the show and its adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s books and characters.  The conversations about this topic have been, at times, heated and definitely filled with passion.  I saw several folks try to help people put it all in perspective by creating memes and posting quotes to remind us all there truly are things happening in the world to get heated and passionate about. But, the debate continued and continues.

Other than sports, (Go Buckeyes), this is my first real experience with fandom and it has been a curious journey. The degree to which I have become involved surprises me and drives my family crazy There has been more than one argument with my spouse over the amount of time I spend on social media fanning.  I’m not the only one who is surprised by their involvement.  Just yesterday, I saw at least three Facebook posts where women were telling the story of their obsession with Outlander.  They were all professing to be sane people who suddenly saw themselves acting like, as they put it, “teenage fangurls”. I think they were all looking for validation that this was normal behavior and that they weren’t completely looney tunes. Let me point out asking other people in the fandom in an online fan group might not get you the most objective response! And as time goes on, this phenomenon I find myself involved in gets curiouser and curiouser.

Last night, Terry Dresbach, Outlander costume designer and wife to Outlander Executive Producer Ronald D Moore, posted a travelogue Ron had shared with her.  He is currently on a cruise ship decompressing.  Terry has often said that she is constantly learning from Ron and that he is a student of human nature.  I have heard her say that Ron has always told her that fans, even the angry ones, are coming from a place of love.  I heard what she was saying and we discussed it, but per usual, it took something more to deepen my understanding.  This time it was Ron’s travelogue.  He recounted his reading of an old fanzine created by Star Trek fans.  I loved the way he described the fragileness of the pages typed on an antiquated typewriter and yellowed with age.  He felt like he was handling a precious papyrus.  He was moved by the art created with different levels of skill, but not with less love.  To me, his time spent with that fan-made magazine was reaffirming that what he did for a living mattered.   He remembered himself as a fan and how he felt.  He realized he had a lot in common with those folks who felt the need to create because of their fascination with a TV series.  I realized I was one of those people too and it made me smile.

 

 

Photo credit to @thenewredplaid and Alex Oliver

 

The Greeks and Outlander

Of all the connections I could have made to what Ron said and my experience with Outlander fandom, I thought about the Greeks.  I thought of Greek theater to be specific.  Over the years, I have taught high school students about the beginnings of theater which in actuality is the beginning of modern TV.  My students read the story of Oedipus Rex.  They always seem to be amazed to find themselves engaged in a story written so long ago.  In fact, in an effort to have them truly understand how long ago this was written we do a little math problem in English class. I have them figure out how many great-greats they would have to put in front of Sophocles name if he was their great grandfather.  If I remember correctly, it would be somewhere in the vicinity of 149.  The story really is interesting and I find I am able to challenge my students to think about such heady themes as fate and the irony of life.

Part of preparing them to read includes discussing the purpose of play festivals and how they were performed.  If you were an ancient Greek you would have filed into the amphitheater found a stone seat and waited to see several versions of the same story.  My students are always surprised to learn that everybody watching already knew the story.  They were watching to see who told it the best.  It would be like us all going to watch six versions of Little Red Riding Hood. The source material was being presented to the audience by different “executive producers” if you will.  Can you see where I’m going with this?  As fans of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander book series, we already know the story, but here we sit in our home amphitheaters with much comfier seats, waiting to see how Ron D. “Sophocles” Moore tells the story. I’m pretty sure our discussions about his adaptation sound much like the discussions the Greeks had about the adaptations they witnessed, minus the togas.  Did he get the characters right?  Did he retain the most important elements for plot?  What themes could we detect and did they ring true?  Was the dialogue believable and what about the acting?  I’m sure their conversations about Oedipus the King were just as lively and as passionate as our Outlander discussions and just like Trekkies,… coming from a place of love.

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So, today I find myself feeling some love for Ron D. Moore and his desire to tell the story of Jamie and Claire.  This Saturday I’ll tune in and watch to see how he tells my favorite story and then watch the fans’ reactions with new eyes.  Some fans will be inspired to discuss on Tumblr, create memes and artwork, and I…I’ll write a fan’s blog.

Here’s the link to Terry’s blog post http://www.terrydresbach.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Cruise-Journal-Day-8-2.pdf

Everybody was as uncomfortable as shite…Outlander 2.2

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It’s Sunday morning and I’ve just finished watching Outlander episode 2.2  “Not in Scotland Anymore” for the third time.  In the past , I’ve found that it takes me three viewings to be able to just watch the episode for what it is.  This season has been no different. The first time I watch, I find my knowledge of the book interferes with my enjoyment. The second time I watch, I’m looking at the episode with a critics’ eye. I watch the third time with my husband who has never read the books. I note when and why he reacts to what is happening on the screen and grudgingly answer his questions (can the man just not read the books already).

MY FIRST VIEWING

After my first viewing, I found myself not being sure I liked the episode.  Good Lord, I thought, they put half the book in one episode!  It was disorienting and felt choppy to me. I felt that the scenes lacked the impact of the scenes I read in Diana Gabaldon’s book.  The scene that was most drastically altered for me was meeting Alex Randall and the news that his brother Black Jack was alive.  Ron and crew warned us that this book was much more complicated and therefore more difficult to adapt. Adapt they did.

I also had a  question answered for me in this first episode.  When pictures of costumes and sets were leaked there was quite some disagreement as to how that would affect fans’ enjoyment of the show.  Terry Dresbach, expressed her disappointment and tried to explain why she felt it was best to wait to see the costumes in the context of the story, as designed and  intended. She has since backed off..a bit..from that belief, after being impressed by Starz PR campaign using the red dress.  Many fans, starved for news about the new season, proclaimed that seeing they costumes only heightened their excitement and they felt seeing the costumes ahead of time would not affect their enjoyment of the show. I wasn’t so sure. I wondered how seeing these images early would affect my viewing.  Would I still be able to suspend my disbelief and become immersed in the story?

There was absolutely no way to avoid seeing images of the sets or costumes if you were on social media. I began to wonder if there would be anything we hadn’t seen before the season started! But, surely, I proclaimed they wouldn’t release the image of the red dress whose reveal was an important moment.  Jamie’s reaction was one of the funniest and most endearing moments in the book. So, color me surprised when I saw that red creation painted across magazine layouts and even the side of a building.  It was a striking image to be sure and even caught my daughter’s attention  who has never shown any interest in reading the books or watching the show. So, I’m sure there was some PR savvy employed in deciding to use that image to catch potential viewers’ attention, but I have to say, in this one instance, my enjoyment was diminished.  The big reveal moment was ruined for me.  I needed to be as surprised as Jamie.

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This dress needed to be seen for the first time in the context of the show.  It felt anticlimactic and that is a shame because it was filmed beautifully.

MY SECOND VIEWING 

The second viewing had me looking at how the story had been adapted.  I felt more charitable about the flow and could totally see how most of the changes were going to work.  Except, for Claire  knowing that Jack Randall lives.  As book readers know, the moment that both Jamie and Claire come face to face with BJR was full of suspense and foreboding.  However, I have learned to be a bit more patient and to give the writers the benefit of a doubt.  They always seemed to bring the story around to where it needs to go and develop the characters to reflect the people I knew from the books.

I was able to appreciate the wonderful creativity of the costumes, sets, and filming.  It was more than believable.  I can imagine myself watching this over and over again just to see what wonderful images and details I missed the first 10 times through.  It truly was a feast for the eyes.  But, beautiful sets, costumes and scenery aren’t enough if the story isn’t as beautiful or worthy of its setting.

MY THIRD VIEWING

I have no real idea why, but three truly is the magic number for me, LOL!  After a good night’s sleep, a couple of cups of coffee, and some “parritch” (thanks Jamie), I was ready to watch this thing for real.  The theme that stood out for me was the one I think they intended.  They weren’t in Scotland anymore!  It might as well have been Oz because everyone in our trio definitely felt themselves to be outlanders and some of the creatures they met as were as odd and different as a cowardly lion, tin man, and scarecrow. Everybody was uncomfortable as shite!

JAMIE

Poor Jamie.  Thank you to Ron and the writers for continuing to allow Jamie to deal with his trauma.  It goes a long way in making up for what was the short-changing in “somebody has to go into the darkness” I felt in the last episode of season 1.  In true Jamie fashion, he accepts his reality and keeps putting a foot forward.  Can’t we all relate to the idea that we can’t stop thinking or rethinking some traumatizing issue.  It’s tough to get things “out of our head”.  This is a problem Jamie cannot solve with a sword or charm  or wit.  Like all victims of such violence, he can only accept it and find a way to live the best he can.  His higher purpose of trying to save Scotland helps, he has something to concentrate on besides himself. I loved his lighter uncomfortable moments as well.  We were ready for some comic relief!  His reaction to his former flame, the foot kissing suitor, and the King’s not so personal personal issues were amusing and helped set the story and his place in it.

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CLAIRE

Poor Claire. Her ability as a healer has to be chaffing a bit.  She has helped Jamie heal physically, but we see her struggle to help him mentally.  How difficult it is for us to see a love one suffer and not know how to help.  My heart breaks for her and Jamie as it was made obvious that Black Jack is part off an unwanted ménage a’ trois .  I felt her concern and fear.  Her efforts to entice Jamie to her bed with a waxed honey pot was endearing and sad.

Claire’s discomfiture with the role she now finds herself in is so fitting with who she is as a person.  The fussiness and general restrictive situation must feel like a prison to a woman who sees herself as an equal to any man.  You just know the incident with the poxed ship won’t be the last time her modern sensibilities will get them in trouble.

Loved her lighter moments as well.  Claire and Mary watching the “waxing” was hilarious and her interaction with Master Raymond charming ( Good Lord! that , his vest, the shoppee, the music and the wonderful ladders…loved it!)

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MURTAUGH

I know it won’t serve the story, but I’m about to join the “Save Murtaugh” campaign!  of all of the characters Murtaugh’s uncomfortableness was the most acute and the most entertaining. Some great quotable one-liners that I’m sure @ConnieBV will soon turn into entertaining gifs.

“assholes and armpits”  “lard bucket and big head” “only in France does the King need an audience to shit”

The fleshing out of his characters has been one of the best things the adaptation has done.  His “sunny disposition” and loyalty to Jamie and Claire is an absolute delight!

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The characters in this story aren’t the only ones who are feeling uncomfortable as shite. The politics are staring to feel dangerous already.  If Murtaugh doesn’t slit Prince Charlie’s throat, I think I just might.  Love how he is being portrayed.  The Duke of Sandringham is a piece of work and I want to kick his cowardly lion ass!  It was crazy being at the King’s levee and swan nipple jewelry?  (cringing)

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Overall, I felt it was an episode that intended to set the scene and introduce us to the players. The costumes and sets served the story and characters well and the story was worthy.  I’m intrigued with how the writers will be moving the story forward and look forward to next week’s installment of life in Paris and Versailles.  Vive Les Frasers!

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Women’s Image Award…A real reason to be proud of Outlander

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photo credit Daisy Carlos

Hurray, for the women of Outlander! Anne Kenny, Anna Foerster, Toni Graphia, and Caitriona Balfe were recently notified that they had won Women’s Image Network WIN award nominations for film and television.  The nonprofit organization celebrates, “media and deserving individuals who promote gender parity to advance the value of women and girls.”    I believe that this award is something these women, the fans, and the show should be very proud of.

The Hollywood film industry has been around since roughly 1910. In the plus 100 years since, we have seen many changes in the productions produced by the studios located there.  Technology advances alone have enabled show runners to make films that can truly suspend our disbelief and boggle the mind. They have helped us cope with and make sense of the changing world around us. Which makes the issue Hollywood has with women that more puzzling. Few advancements have been made for women in over 60 years. In fact, their record is so dismal that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is reportedly investigating their hiring practices.  How can what is perceived as a progressive or liberal industry be so behind the times when it comes to treating women as  equals?  The disparity is staggering.  Women are paid less then men in all areas of film production and aren’t being hired for positions as “content creators”  in  its inner sanctum of writing, directing, and producing.

There are many who believe that this disparity is part of a much larger issue about women and Hollywood.  It isn’t just employment opportunities and parity in pay, but how films are marketed to women and the portrayal of women in film.  In short, male-dominated Hollywood, those who run the studios, finance, and cast films don’t value women. One female star, Geena Davis, has been voicing her concerns about Hollywood for quite awhile and  has gone beyond just talking about gender bias and created a foundation that studies gender bias in film and advocates for change.  She recognized the power Hollywood has and became concerned that its influence on future generations of women was significant.

Here are some facts gleaned from her institutes’ website

“Founded by Academy Award®-winning actor and advocate Geena Davis, the Institute is the only research-based organization working within the media and entertainment industry to engage, educate, and influence the need to dramatically improve, gender balance, reduce stereotyping and create diverse female characters in entertainment targeting children 11 and under.”

Research Facts

  • Males outnumber females 3 to 1 in family films. In contrast, females comprise just over 50% of the population in the United States. Even more staggering is the fact that this ratio, as seen in family films, is the same as it was in 1946.
  • Females are almost four times as likely as males to be shown in sexy attire. Further, females are nearly twice as likely as males to be shown with a diminutive waistline. Generally unrealistic figures are more likely to be seen on females than males.
  • Females are also underrepresented behind the camera. Across 1,565 content creators, only 7% of directors, 13% of writers, and 20% of producers are female. This translates to 4.8 males working behind-the-scenes to every one female.
  • From 2006 to 2009, not one female character was depicted in G-rated family films in the field of medical science, as a business leader, in law, or politics. In these films, 80.5% of all working characters are male and 19.5% are female, which is a contrast to real world statistics, where women comprise 50% of the workforce.

All facts are supported by research conducted by Stacy Smith, Ph.D. at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism

I’m happy to say that since Patricia Arquette’s Academy Awards speech in 2015, other highly visible women in Hollywood are speaking out and calling-out gender bias; Jennifer Lawerence,  Kate Winslet, Sandra Bullock, and others.  Bullock,  in a recent article in VARIETY, expressed her frustration and hopes.

“I always make a joke: ‘Watch, we’re going to walk down the red carpet, I’m going to be asked about my dress and my hair while the man standing next to me will be asked about his performance and political issues,'” she said. “Once we start shifting how we perceive women and stop thinking about them as ‘less than,’ the pay disparity will take care of itself. There’s a much bigger issue at hand. I’m glad Hollywood got caught.”    Sandra Bullock in VARIETY

So, why should we care about this situation.  For the same reason Geena Davis started her institute, because our children are watching.

“We are in effect enculturating kids from the very beginning to see women and girls as not taking up half of the space.” Geena Davis

Many reviews of Outlander have included praise for the way women are portrayed and much has been made of the “strong female protagonist” Claire.  Like this. http://variety.com/2014/tv/news/starz-outlander-woos-women-with-strong-female-protagonist-1201277091/  The show has been called ground-breaking for its realistic portrayal of sex and relationships. Given the current climate of self-introspection (hopefully) in Hollywood, I believe this WIN award may give the show some attention that we can be proud of and hopefully, result in more shows with the types of women’s roles found in Outlander.  These women deserve the attention they are getting and more.   Another person who should be getting some credit is Ron Moore.  He recognized that Diana Gabaldon’s story of a strong, smart, resourceful, and kind woman needed to be told and fought for it.  He also deserves credit for hiring these women writers and directors. He is evidently more sensitive to gender equity than most of his peers.

If you were around back when the series was first filmed and then reviewed, you might remember the frustration fans experienced reading write-ups on the series by critics and entertainment journalists.  It was truly a lesson on what the industry thought of a show they knew was being marketed to women.  It was insulting to say the least. They questioned the show’s worth if men couldn’t be convinced to watch it (by the way they are, but that is beside the point).  They stubbornly hung on to the idea that Outlander was a Harlequinesque bodiceripper that would only appeal to middle-age bored love-starved housewives.  We fought back the little that we could, but were frustrated in our efforts when Starz/Sony began a marketing campaign that seemed to reinforce the “Bodiceripping Romance” idea (the kilt drops…really?)  We finally sort of gave up and hoped the story and the production would speak for themselves.  I felt kind of smug when the reviewers seemed surprised by how good it was cuz…we tried to tell them. Outlander is a quality program that presents women as something more than sex objects or stereotypes.

Congrats to Outlander and its talented women.

 

 

 

 

Hedgehogs, Outlander and me…

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This second installment of “Droughtlander” or as some of us long suffering fans call it “Withoutlander” has taught me a bit about how to deal with seriously delayed gratification.  I know that Spring 2016 is a long way off and I’m learning that it is okay to not check my Twitter and Facebook feeds everyday.  I know. It seems almost sacrilegious, but at this point in time, my fandom feels less like a religion and more like a hobby.  Which…would be the more normal level of involvement…I think.  I have discovered that if there is anything new happening folks will still be talking about it tomorrow so, I’m allowing myself to spend time on other pursuits like my family and job. I’m actually enjoying the world that isn’t delivered to me through some sort of hand-held device.  Contrary to my previous belief, there is a pretty good amount of things to do that don’t involve Outlander!  Who knew!

My family appears to be relieved that I have emerged from what they saw as walking zombie status.  I’m having conversations that don’t have the words; Sam, Cait, Jamie, Claire, Diana, Ron or Outlander.  However, when I WAS perusing Facebook yesterday, I saw a post that caused me to reflect on some of the permanent changes Outlander has brought to my life.  I have been known to say that Outlander has become my point of reference…all questions can be answered by an example from Outlander.  Thanks to DG there are some interesting metaphors and allusions to Outlander in my life.   I know that certain phrases, everyday objects, and animals have now become inexorably entwined with the story.  Here is the post that piqued my most recent reflection on Outlander’s influence in my life:

Well….I’m sure she received an adequate answer, I didn’t read the comments, but I answered this question in my own mind.  It was part of a scene Diana wrote of particularly playful sex between our beloved Jamie and Claire.  They were laughing in bed together and it signaled a change in their relationship. IMO, the intimacy was taken to a new level.  The scene was sexy and endearing.  It is one of my favorites and as a result, hedgehogs are now one of my favorite animals.  Before the wedding episode, I sent a litter of plushy hoglets out to fanmily across the country and Canada (hi @islandchickny ).  I was that sure the hedgehog line would make the cut in the Outlander on Starz writer’s room!  I got my quills in an uproar when I realized One Fine Day had become Both Sides Now!

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I got over their faux pas and the omission hasn’t dampened my enthusiasm for these cute little animals or the naughty little allusion they are to Outlander.  I have a few hedgehogs around the house and the family has noticed. In fact, the Granddaughters have bought me a few for my collection!

Like my new key ring

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And my ALL TIME FAVORITE COFFEE MUG (I am the happiest coffee drinker you have ever seen)

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The granddaughters of course have never read Outlander or the scene where Jamie decides to be a beast so,…they think Grammy likes hedgehogs cuz she’s old and old people collect figurines and stuff. Awkward.

And it would appear I’m not the only one who feels this way!  Twitter feed and Facebook are full of hedgehog related posts. In fact, I will be making these cookies

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…and buying this t-shirt…

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I’m seriously considering starting a campaign to make the hedgehog the official mascot of the Outlander fandom. I even found a great human sized hedgehog costume SOME lucky fan could wear at book signings, premiers, one of Terry Dresbach’s parties, etc…

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#whatkindofbeastwouldyoulikemetobe #verycarefully

Hedgehogs aren’t the only things Oulander has imbued with special meaning.  Consider the lowly ear of corn.

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Seriously! I can just see myself eating some corn on the cob, thinking of Dougal and then giggle snorting kernels out my nose!

These certainly aren’t the only two examples of Outlander’s influence (fish on a hook will never be the same for me) and I could go on, but I’ll leave you with this last image

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P.S. When Roger is cast don’t be surprised when the word Vroom seems suddenly popular…just saying…