A True Fan’s Review of #Outlander Episode 101: SASSENACH

For more on the pre-show events, go to: A True Fan’s Perspective on the Outlander Red Carpet Premiere.

NEW NOTE: Ron Moore’s podcasts are now available for free on iTunes.

And now, onto the show . . . [I’ve included WARNING MARKERS  below for those who have and have not read the Outlander novel.]

Having seen several trailers and clips of the new Starz Original Series Outlander based on the novel by Diana Gabaldon, you may think you’re prepared for how good this show really is. Let me tell you – you are not. I could use words like amazing, marvelous, and wonderful, but those sound too generic. Let me think of another way to put it.

Rarely does a show break new ground like Outlander does. Certainly I’m part of a biased target audience, but that simply means my expectations were very, very high. Outlander delivered. From the moment you hear Claire’s opening monologue to her closing words, you will be riveted.

But how does it break new ground? you ask. Good question. Here’s my answer:

1. It’s a faithful and respectful adaptation. How many times have we fallen in love with a novel and its characters, only to be disappointed by the adapted version? The team who put this show together did it out of love for themselves, the author, and us. That’s a lot of people to please. Will every single fan be happy with it? Probably not. But don’t be too hard on that poor individual. She’ll come around . . . eventually.

2. Women in movies and television are stronger than ever. Claire Randall is no exception. I’d lay bets on her versus every other heroine out there. She’s smart, brave, capable, adaptable (there’s that word again), and graced with beauty to top it all off. This woman is a role model for young and old, male and female for that matter. I don’t know Caitriona Balfe and never will, but I hope she’s ready for the responsibility. I’d lay a bet on her, too.

WARNING: If you’ve never read the novel, I suggest you skip #3.

3. Men in movies and television are more flawed than ever, making them seem more realistic and relatable. James Fraser is no exception. Handsome, dashing, noble, strong, funny . . . I could go on, but you know how terrific he is. What makes him different? I won’t bring up the V-word because that’s too obvious. Let’s just say we don’t know of any other 18th Century Highland warriors on television with Jamie’s principles, manners, flair for languages, and acumen. Is Sam Heughan ready for the real onslaught of fans? I’ll lay bets he might try to hide behind Ms. Balfe and Tobias Menzies – the man who closes the trio on this perfect time-travel love triangle.  Which brings us to –

WARNING: If you’ve never read the novel, I STRONGLY suggest you skip #4.

4. No other show weaves an adventure the way Outlander does. A married woman from one time period is trapped in another with her life in constant danger and her husband’s six-times great-grandfather wanting to rape/brutalize/whip her so she is forced to marry another man she doesn’t love but is certainly attracted to such that it leads to her being accused of witchcraft and sentenced to death until her new husband rescues her, takes her back to the one place she’s been wanting to go but she decides to stay with him which leads to his being arrested and raped/brutalized/whipped nearly to death by her first husbands’ look alike. Nope. Can’t think of anything else out there with that kind of storyline.

5. Lastly, there’s the quality given and the care taken in bringing the above storyline to life. It’s true I’ve only seen episode #101. Call it a taste test. Call it a test drive. Call it what you want. I want the whole pie. I want the shiny new car with all the options. I am hooked again. And now that I’ve seen the first episode, I couldn’t resist creating a new poster for it. So to get things started, here it is:

#101_Sassenach_Poster_Alt

We all know music adds depth to a performance. It’s sometimes used to hide weak scenes – not the case here. Bear McCreary‘s score was composed by another “true fan” of the story and its characters. You can sense it in every note written – like each word written by Diana Gabaldon.

What a delight it was to hear him play for us live before the start of the show, accompanied by Paul Cartwright. He first played two ancient folk songs used in the series followed by Jamie & Claire’s Theme. Lastly, he performed the song for the opening credits, featuring Raya Yarbrough. Unfortunately, I filled my phone’s memory so the song is cut short by a few seconds. Luckily, Outlander Starz released the opening credits which you’ve probably already watched dozens of times. In any event, both videos are presented below. I recommend you watch them with a box of tissues at your side. 

WARNING: If you’ve never read the novel and/or do not want to read specifics of the show, you should STOP reading here.

If you felt something watching just the opening credits, magnify that by at least 1000 to get a sense of how magnificent the show is. Claire Randall’s (Caitriona Balfe) voice greets us from the start and continues throughout the episode but it never pulls us out of the story. It brings us closer.

Flashbacks to her war experience and her time with her Uncle Lamb add an edgier side to Claire than the woman introduced in the Outlander novel. I also found her to be even more alpha in nature – if such a thing is possible.

Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies), on the other hand, is a much more sympathetic character than in the novel. I’d even go so far as to call him shy during the initial reunion with his wife. That pretty much goes away during the sex scenes. In voiceover, Claire admits to using sex as a tool to deal with everything difficult or awkward in their new life together.

Not that we need it, there is a lot of foreshadowing in this episode from Claire’s opening monologue to Mrs. Graham’s (Tracey Wilkinsontea and palm reading to Frank saying goodbye to Claire. It’s all good, especially for those lucky few who have no idea what is about to happen.

That is something which kept running through my mind as I watched this episode. I wondered what it would be like not to know what was going to happen. Would I like it more or less? I’ll never know, but I envy those folks who will watch this episode with a blank mind.

Being such a fan of the entire series of novels, I thought it would be difficult – if not impossible – to forget about Claire and Jamie’s unbreakable bond. But the way this story introduces the characters, I was very sad to see Claire and Frank separated. No offense to Ms. Gabaldon, I did not have that reaction in the book. I was swept away by the romantic adventure while reading it the first, second, third, etc. time, but I was never eager for her to get back to her own – especially after she fell completely head-over-heels in love with Jamie.

Bravo to Ron D. Moore‘s writing and John Dahl‘s directing of this first episode. It was all Claire and Frank – their reunion, their love, their agonizing separation (at least from her perspective).

The ghost scene. I did not watch the version leaked online because I wanted to see it in the context of the show. Am I glad I waited. For folks watching it in ignorant bliss, they have no idea who is standing under Claire’s window, watching her brush her hair with a snippy “Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.” And the first time you read the book, you don’t know who it is.

For me, it was very emotional watching it and knowing. There’s an element of heartache and suspense. You want Him to turn around but then again –  you don’t.

Surprisingly, perhaps the most beautiful scene in the first episode is the “witches” dancing around the stones of Craigh na Dun. The music, choreography, photography, and editing could not have been more perfect. It was breathtaking.

Claire’s time travel through the stones was a tricky scene to handle. We all wondered if it would be laden with special effects or visual effects (at least from my perspective). I’ll admit, at first I didn’t entirely like how it was visualized. But now that I’ve had time to think about it, I realize how relatable and intelligent the choice was to do what they did. It’s one thing to write about chaos and quite another to show it.  Bravo again.

The scene of Claire’s arrival in the 18th Century has been the most promoted by the producers. Of course, it’s a major transition in the story, and it’s wonderfully done. The loud boom of the first shot made everyone in the theater jump, then Clair is on the run from the Redcoats. Finally, we come to that awkward moment, “Frank?”

Not that I didn’t like the scene between Claire and Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies), I thought the book presented it as scarier, more menacing and longer. In the show, it feels a bit truncated. Go ahead and boo me if you want for saying anything remotely negative, but I feel how I feel. I wanted to be more frightened for Claire. I wanted more Black Jack Randall. Be careful what I wish for, right?

The big moment. We come to the scene in the stone cottage where Claire faces the large bear who turns out to be Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish) and his band of merry Highlanders. Small squeals went up around the theater at the sight of Jamie (Sam Heughan) on a stool by the fireplace. The men speak Gaelic all around Claire, throwing her into even more confusion although she’s figured out by now she’s no longer in Kansas.

The language was fascinating to hear, naturally and fluently spoken by the actors. I wanted subtitles but at the same time I didn’t. I understand we are viewing this world through Claire’s eyes and must stay with her. It wouldn’t be right to know and understand more than her and would probably have taken me out of the story as well.

The scenes between Jamie and Claire were a testament to Mr. Heughan’s and Ms. Balfe’s acting abilities. We’ve come to know the public side of Sam and Caitriona through interviews and social media. They seem to be fun-loving and playful people with a fantastic camaraderie. I didn’t think about any of that while watching them on screen. They were simply Jamie and Claire .

I don’t want to ruin anything by giving away too much about the first episode – exactly what happens, where it ends, etc. So, I’ll stop here to make mention of the costumes, make up, and hair.

We’re not supposed to notice such things and usually only do when it’s poorly done. In Outlander, there’s a certain flawlessness represented in the 1940s – exactly how I picture it. While we don’t spend the entire episode there, we stay long enough to appreciate the dramatic shift from one time period to another. It’s not just a difference in look but attitude as well. And it shows. There’s no time for hygiene and daintiness for the MacKenzies or Claire.

 The network and producers know the “true fans” will keep watching and recruiting, but will the show attract non-Outlanders? I think it will. It’s exciting . . . fresh . . . beautiful . . .  suspenseful . . . stimulating . . . and different from everything else out there. Of course, I haven’t seen absolutely “everything” out there, but I’m confident in my statement. The stars aligned to make this show happen. Once the perfect casting choices were made, there was no stopping it.

Congratulations to all involved, especially Diana Gabaldon, Ron D. Moore, Maril Davis, Matt Roberts, John Dahl, Terry Dresbach, Bear McCreary, Jon Gary Steele (Production Designer), David Higgs (Director of Photography), Àdhamh Ó Broin (Outlander dialect consultant) and the entire cast and crew. Their hard work and dedication – blood, sweat and tears – show in this episode. I can’t wait for Episode #102: CASTLE LEOCH.

Things I didn’t like about Outlander:

You thought I was going to say “nothing,” didn’t you? Well, you would be wrong. Here’s my main complaint. It was too damn short! I think a 2 hour episode each week would be much better. Yes, I know it would cost more and take longer to shoot, produce, and pipe together. But a girl can dream . . .

Another thing I didn’t like about Outlander is that I couldn’t stop, rewind, pause or replay. Of course, that will be rectified once it actually airs, so I’ll forgive them that one.

And finally, what I most disliked about Outlander is . . . nothing. There. Are ye happy?

For a closer glimpse of Jamie’s many faces, check out Jamie’s Top 30 Looks for Outlander Episode #101: SASSENACH.

Outlander Episode #102: CASTLE LEOCH airs on the Starz network on Saturday, 16 August at 9:00 pm EST.

For more on the pre-show events, go to: A True Fan’s Perspective on the Outlander Red Carpet Premiere.

44 thoughts on “A True Fan’s Review of #Outlander Episode 101: SASSENACH

  1. What a wonderful and captivating review. Very well written, you tell us all about the first episode without giving anything away. I am more antsy to see the show now than I was before, if that is possible, Thank goodness only 6 days to suffer, until the early showing. Thank you.

    1. Ah, Linda! Don’t know how I missed this earlier. I’m so glad I was able to be informative without giving too much away. I got up this morning and realized I hadn’t put in SPOILER alerts so added them right away. I was afraid I was going to find disgruntled readers! lol.

  2. Thank you for this. My sense that it truly was going to be all we hoped was confirmed. The opening credits and last trailer left me weepy and happy. Can’t wait to immerse myself in the experience. You my dear a lucky duck to have been there! That was one for the books.

    1. You are very welcome, Beth. Yes, the opening credits are fantastic. They have a dreamy, timelessness to them, don’t they? I think you will be a blubbering mess when you watch this episode and all the others. ;o)

  3. Thank you Candida, for this unique look into the first episode. Though I was not lucky enough to be at the premier, I feel as though I was because of the generosity of fans like you. Just a few more days to wait!

    1. You are most welcome, Christy. The build up to this show has been almost unbearable, aye? I’m almost dreading the lapse between seasons, but I’m sure we’ll keep ourselves busy on casting watches.

  4. Thank you! I’ve been avoiding some trailers and steering clear of twitter/facebook the past few days because I’m so sad that I can’t see it yet. You’re review has me even more exited than I could imagine. I hadn’t seen the opening credits, but wow, that was amazing.

    1. Glad to have gotten a fellow true fan excited, Erin. I hope I didn’t give away too much. I tried not to be specific but wanted to give other fans a real feel of my perspective. I have also avoided Facebook (for many reasons) and reviews. The trailers, not so much. They have been my snacks while waiting for the main course.

  5. Good objective review.
    I! Can’t! Freaking! Wait! To! See! It!
    You are lucky to have been there, and while I’m jealous, I’m also happy for you and all the other die-hard fans who got to be in that audience.
    Thanks for bringing us along for the ride!

  6. Loved the review. Like you, I’ve been avoiding the trailers. I’ve also been avoiding delving into the cast too much. I just want to enjoy Outlander on the screen. In fact, its the whole reason I have Starz.

    I watched a bit of the opening sequence in order to listen to Bear’s Beautiful Music. It is truly moving. Thanks again!

    1. Thank you, Teresa. I don’t avoid the trailers b/c I use them to create fan art, but I don’t watch them over and over – once or twice only. Then I only stare at the individual frames for inspiration.

  7. That was a thrill to read, and masterfully done. I had tears streaming down my face in the Opening Credits trailer, so I can only imagine how I’ll fare during the first episode. Thank you for taking us on your incredible ride!

    1. You certainly sound like a true fan! Thanks so much for your kind words. I think you might need two boxes of tissues by your side during your viewing of SASSENACH.

  8. Thank you for the well-written review of something I’ve been looking forward to for quite some time! The build-up has been tremendous and as an Outlander fan it’s been fun to watch all of the social media blitz added in – though I am rather a neophyte when it comes to Tweeting and the rest! It was with great pleasure that I found your review and so enjoyed the video of Bear McCreary and the music. Looking forward to seeing for myself next Saturday!!

    1. Thank you so much, Barbara. I am new to social media as well. Twitter is sometimes overwhelming and I still haven’t figured out the “rules.” lol. Next Saturday can’t come soon enough. Feel very bad for the UK and other countries still waiting.

  9. Excellent Review!!! I haven’t seen it yet, but I can’t wait. I know I won’t be disappointed. Slainte!

  10. I loved your review and account of the pre-screening events. It is truly inspired writing. I have been breathlessly following Outlander blogs, forums and web sites for weeks and hearing the music for the first time was icing on the cake. I can’t wait until the score is released on CD. That performance by Bear and Paula was gorgeous! This series is going to be epic and I see Emmy nominations galore in the future.

    Watched the complete Outlander Comic Con video (52 glorious minutes) last night three times in a row. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s highly entertaining, beautifully filmed, great sound and all up close and personal. It’s available on the Starz web site and many other sites as well.

    Thank you ever so much for this and ALL you do for us Outlander fans. Counting the days until August 2nd and 9th.

    1. Thank you, Jo Ann, for your very generous words. I have not watched any of the interviews yet. I spent all day yesterday – after getting home at nearly 4:30 AM from the premiere – writing both posts, organizing my photos, posting the video, creating the new poster, . . . It’s so rewarding having everyone enjoy my efforts. Cheers!

  11. You encapsulated it all! But you forgot the very first moment when the episode began. You grabbed my hand (yes everyone, we were sitting together), turned, and I saw the sparkle in your eyes and smile! Enough said. Y’all are going to agree with Candida’s review. It was an amazing experience!

  12. I could read your review over and over again! I knew the TV rendition of this incredible series of books was going to be wonderful, but having read your review of the first episode, well, I just want to do a happy dance! It’s so nice to read a review that is so positive about something I am excited about myself. Thank you so much for your words and thoughts!

  13. Thank you so much for this authentic review from someone that knows the content of the story. I have to say I have been watching everything I can get my eyes on mainly because I have lived with and loved these characters for over 20 years and to see them visually is mesmerizing. I am so grateful that it took the time to find the very best producers, writers, caste, and crew to create an extraordinarily piece of cinema storytelling. And Diana, of all the books I’ve read, she is by far the best storyteller of them all! Sorry to go on, but I must say that Outlanders are an exceptional group of fans. They realize that they are not only reading a story, but there is a truth of life and love aspect to it that you don’t get in many books that are entertainment driven. Not that that is a bad thing, sometimes we need to be entertained, but Outlanders understand the three dimensional quality to the woven story line. I am having as much fun interacting with you all as well.

  14. Ahhhh!!! Thank you for this post, now I am EVEN MORE excited for the first episode…I just began reading Outlander this summer after hearing my sister talk about it for 10 plus years and currently I am only on book 6. Needless to say I have had the BEST summer. I am so grateful that I discovered the series in 2014 so I haven’t had to deal with the agony of waiting years to read the sequels. What a relief to know that the show is being produced with such love, care and detail to the book series. Cheers!

    1. You are so very welcome, Erin. I introduced my sister to the series over this past Christmas, but I’ve been a fan since 1996. Now she’s ahead of me reading MOBY because I have yet to start it! Trying to finish my third re-read of the series. Am currently on ABOSAA.

  15. Hello, I am very new to Outlander and a bit confused about many things, hence looking at what others are thinking – love your SOH in your recaps/reviews. I ignored Outlander when looking for something to watch on Amazon for a while but couple of weeks ago I decided to see what it all is about – I love sci-fi, fantasy and history but not into romance ( BSG is my all time fav, show ). Well I got attached to some characters pretty fast and now I am thinking if to read the books or not. I really liked the first episode, the music, the way it all looks and feels. The story is a bit confusing to me, does the time traveling ever gets explained? First thing I was thinking was – why does she not leave a message for Frank? He was researching historical documents so why not find a way too reach out to him with messages from past that explain where she is. Is this ever explained?

    1. Very happy you discovered Outlander, Bela. Welcome aboard! As a long-time fan of the books, I highly recommend reading them while keeping in mind the show is its own story, though it follows the main events and has captured the characters very well.

      Attempting to contact Frank from the 18th century would not be an easy task. As discussed in book 2 (and possibly at the end of Season 2), only records of individuals who remain famous throughout history survive into the future – for the most part. Family members keep letters and such from ancestors, but I don’t want to say any more and ruin any surprises. Hope that’s not too much of a tease. The answer to your question is: No, it’s never explained why Claire doesn’t attempt to contact Frank from the past other than she has chosen to stay with Jamie and make a life with him, so what’s the point. Early in her arrival, she only attempts to get back – not send a message. Hope this helps.

      1. Hi there :). Thank you for your reply, it does help :). I actually have watched now all available episodes but some of them I need to watch again as at first I did not pay that much attention just having it on as a background. I really got to like the cast, the atmosphere and amazing costumes, music, locations; also I got attached to a few characters and that is not easy for me. Never finished any romance/adventure book before except Gone with the Wind.
        When it comes to sex in books or on screen I skip/rewind; just find it boring/grotesque.This is why I am sitting here confused – have I changed or is Outlander that different? Checking a few blogs (your one is my fav. so far, this is a new activity for me as well) to see other reactions. I see that most come from the people who know and love the books. I have not rushed to get the books yet as I am unsure about many things so far, I think I will bring it up by episodes as I watch them again (yeah have spare time on my hands). The first episode is from my POV very good introduction to the story and I felt from it that Claire was unsure about her marriage to Frank, he is quite older and the war changed them both. It felt like she is determined to make it work but does not feel the true closeness to Frank; the intimacy comes from sex rather than deeper connection. Claire wants to have a home and stability that Frank can provide but it also feels she wonders if there is more. When she meets Jamie for the first time he needs her, she has the ability to help him and it looks like that gives her a lot of strength in that moment. She is in a situation most people would freak out but she is thinking and focusing on survival and a way back; she is not a victim but a fighter, just as Jamie and I think that is the first connection visible between them. Further I really liked the the contrast between Frank and Jack, the face that for Claire meant stability and safety losing that meaning.

        1. You will get no argument from that Outlander is not only different, but special. Diana’s sex scenes are exceptional compared to other literary samples because she focuses on the exchange of emotions rather than fluids. Her words, not mine. :o) I will argue Outlander is NOT a romance series though Jamie and Claire’s relationship is certainly romantic, complicated, intense and always interesting, always advancing, growing, evolving.

          I’m glad you’re having fun exploring Outlander, especially my blog. I love hearing from readers. Let me know if you decide to start reading.

          1. Thank you again for your response. I am an introvert and it does not happen often that I seek social interaction. I am confused about the impact of the TV series on me so far, can’t say it is strictly positive or negative, I’m reaching out to other viewers/readers to make some more sense of those moments that lead me to question my own moral code and feelings. It is interesting to see how you embrace and accept many things that I find really complex. I looked at a few other blogs but I like your SOH and intelligence; this makes me more comfortable as I know you will not feel judged or offended if I disagree.

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