Let me preface this : I have not read the books. I intend on reading the books, because I have heard that Diana Gabaldon’s writing style is exquisite and transcends the literary/genre divide. So I can’t speak for what happens in the books – this is purely about the television series.
There may be spoilers in here – beware!
First of all, I don’t want to be mean… because part of me really loves the show. But another part of me wants to throw my TV out the window usually once an episode. I think I would be much happier with the show if Jamie and Claire weren’t in it (controversial!). But first, let me count the ways that I really like it.
The costumes are wonderful. I have read a lot of criticism of the costumes for not being absolutely historically accurate, but for me, it makes it so much more sense that somebody like Geillis Duncan would be a little bit kooky in how she constructed and wore her clothes. She can’t just erase the influence of her entire life up until going through the stones, of course it’s going to flavour the way she does things.
I love the music. The opening theme is perfect, and the background music never feels like an rushed afterthought. I really like the way that it captures a continuous feeling, but it incorporates different rhythms and instruments depending on the time and place.
The cinematography and the locations are so gorgeous, even when they are grim or unforgiving. A problem that I have with Game of Thrones and actually, most fantasy/historical movies that have come out in recent years, is that everything is so ridiculously desaturated. I know what they are going for – they want it to look gritty and cold, but when overused, it looks like an emo instagram filter. Couple that with the current trend of making everybody as dirty and greasy as possible, and it’s a bit depressing to watch. In Outlander, there are are moments of sunshine, there is the warmth of an open fire, people are occasionally wear colorful dresses or blush with pleasure. It’s nicer to watch, and it’s more realistic than everything looking like Skyrim.
I also thought it was fun and refreshing that Claire (in the first two seasons) drank almost constantly, and often ran into trouble because of it. Unflattering character quirks are always more interesting to watch, rather than somebody who is perfect all the time.
Which brings me to my issues with Outlander – Jamie is too perfect. All the time, no matter what, always noble and just and self-sacrificing and understanding and chivalrous and wounded and perfect. The problem with this is that he becomes entirely predictable. Of course he’s going to defend her honour. Of course he’s going to sacrifice himself to save her. Of course there’s going to be some convenient moral side-stepping if he does anything that doesn’t fit the perfect man narrative (like the explanation for marrying Laoghaire, which just served to make him even more noble). The only thing that could ever be said about Jamie Fraser is that sometimes he can be… backwards in his treatment of women, from the point of view of contemporary Claire. However, this is forgiven in the story as well, because she seems to kind of like it.
Which brings me to the next point – Claire. Oh Claire, the most frustrating person in the show. As a viewer, I should be grateful that she is so annoying, because it certainly makes things interesting. Or, I should say infuriating. Claire seems to run around Scotland causing trouble wherever she goes. She is headstrong, but this seems to translate into screaming, crying and banging her fists on the chests of men all the time… often when they are trying to help her or at least save her from herself. She never listens to anybody or is humble enough to accept advice – she always knows best. Jamie specifically tells her to not do things for her own safety, but of course, she does them anyway, never for a second entertaining the idea that maybe these Scottish people would have a better handle on the way things work in their time period because that’s how they’ve lived their whole lives.
And then there’s the rape bits. I acknowledge fully that it would have been a very dangerous time for a woman, and that facing the threat of rape would have been a real and awful part of daily life for women in that era. However, the show never seems to acknowledge this threat towards anybody but Claire (and to a lesser extent Jamie). Sometimes it seems like everybody that Claire meets wants to rape her. We see almost nothing of other female characters having to deal with these dangers – it feels like it’s specific to Claire, and it’s offered as an example of how singularly desirable she is compared to other women. Even when she boards the English ship as their doctor, everybody is so worried about her being the ‘only’ female aboard and what danger that puts her in… except that there is already a woman there, but nobody is concerned that she is going to get raped. I suppose because she’s not as beautiful as Claire, who’s not like other girls (urgh). This particular little complex that the show seems to have with rape and desirability is really icky, and I have such a hard time with it. And let’s not even talk about the whole ‘curative rape’ thing with Jamie.
Then there’s Frank. It’s very hard to feel sympathy for Claire after the way she treated Frank. His story is so sad, and I hate that she found a way to spin it around into her tragedy (“He was my first love!”). Claire, you are not (always) the victim.
There! Outlander and I definitely have our relationship status set to ‘it’s complicated’. I’m nearly finished with season three, but I think I’ll be doing some reading between now and the next season.
**EDIT – I just read this article, and despite everything I wrote above, I agree with a lot of these sentiments as well… even though they can be contradictory. Like I said, it’s complicated.