Hello, Outlander peeps, and welcome to the first article in our discussion of Voyager (AKA: the one where the sex is back). I should probably start by stating the obvious: we’re going to be talking about the third book in the Outlander series quite extensively, so if you don’t want to know what happens… well, don’t say I didn’t warn you.
We’ll be doing some super fun stuff over the next several weeks in analyzing this book and talking about how it will become the next season of the TV show—well, super fun by my standards, anyway. Admittedly, I don’t get out much these days.
But before we can begin, let’s clear a few things up. There have been a gazillion articles lately about season three, and I would post links to them all, but I’m afraid you would leave me to go read them and I want you to stay here and hang out with me first. Just Google it when you’re done if you want. Or go visit our friends at I Love Outlander. They’ve been on top of that stuff. (No, but seriously, read this first.)
Suffice it to say that everybody is very concerned about a few things, ie: Will Tobias Menzies still be on the show? (Answer: Um, yeah!); and, Will they keep Murtagh alive just because we love him so much? (Answer: Um, I doubt it); Will Sam Heughan really be fat as Old Jamie? (Answer: If you looked like Sam Heughan, would you get fat?); and my personal favorite: Will Sophie Skelton have time to take some acting classes before her character Bree is featured heavily in season four? (Answer: Sorry, gang. She is what she is.)
I actually didn’t hate Sophie Skelton as much as some, but she definitely had an “I’m Acting Now” quality about her that’s going to seem false if you’re going to stick her in a scene with an actress as natural as Caitriona. She’s also doing that “I’m not actually from anywhere” American accent that makes Kate Winslet not quite as good in American films as she is in British ones. But I digress.
Back to Voyager.
Listen, I get it. There are some definite potential problems with translating these books. Diana wrote them as novels, not a TV show. And while it may not have been the furthest thing from her mind that someday they might get adapted, the reality is she wasn’t adhering to the constraints of television when she conceived it. Constraints such as:
Television shows have a place and location with which they are associated. The bar in Cheers, the office in The Office, the American office in the American The Office. You get the idea.
At first, it seemed Scotland would be Outlander’s milieu, and to a certain extent, it is. But Diana wasn’t content to just explore one place with her writing. She’s got her protagonists basically taking us on an 18th century Lonely Planet tour. It’s fun. I like it. But it kind of breaks rule #1 of TV.
This is part of why so many people didn’t like the France segment last year. As beautiful as it was, it couldn’t help but feel like a completely different show than that rustic Scottish thing we had fallen in love with the year before.
And if you were one of those people, I can’t wait to hear what you’re going to think of Hispaniola. Talk about a different world.
With the exception of Game of Thrones, it’s pretty well-established that once you’ve got a set cast of regular characters on a show, you should probably do your best to, you know, keep them alive and stuff… and ideally somewhere on the same continent as the action of the show. Hell, even Game of Thrones, despite its proclivity for killing off main characters, does us the courtesy of leaving some of its regulars alive for us to root for (or hate).
The Outlander books didn’t really concern themselves with all that. Again, in a book you can do whatever the hell you want. In a TV show or a movie, parts are played by actors. And actors become stars. And stars have fans and a personal assistant and 1.3 million followers of their Instagram account. Stars have houses in Bel Air worth more than all my organs. And stars deserve it. Because stars are why people watch TV shows.
The Outlander novels have only two stars: Jamie and Claire. That’s it. Sure, there’s a bunch of other people, and we see them from time to time. Some of them are amazing characters, too. But it’s hard to hang out with Jenny and Ian at Lallybroch when you’re on a boat in Haiti. It’s hard to live in mortal fear of one of the best villains in fiction, Black Jack Randall, when he’s dead.
Ron Moore and Co super-glued a couple more regulars together in seasons one and two by giving Frank a lot more screen time, giving Murtagh a lot more to do than in the books, and playing up the importance of certain friends like Louise and Master Raymond last year, or bringing Laoghaire into scenes where she originally didn’t appear.
But the plot of Voyager kind of makes that impossible, simply by virtue of taking our protagonists so far away from home.
Truthfully, though, even if we stayed in Scotland the whole time, all our villains are dead: Colum and Dougal, the Comte St Germain, even Frank (although I guess “villain” is a strong word for “husband”). And of course, Black Jack. (Now as stated, Tobias Menzies will still be on the show, but probably relegated to a bunch of flashback scenes.)
To compensate, Voyager gives us a whole MGM back lot worth of new characters to root for, fear, and question (and one familiar face at the very end). I think they’re great characters, and I can’t wait to meet them. But for those who were already saying that every season of Outlander feels like a completely new show, well, this ain’t gonna change your mind.
MOM, I’M PLAYING TEVYA IN THE SCHOOL PLAY!
This issue, also known as “the age problem,” is something we’re just going to have to get used to, folks. Claire and Jamie are supposed to be in their mid-to-late 40s for the rest of this show. Now Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, of course, are not in their mid-to-late 40s. Because they are ageless freaks of nature. They drank that Kool-Aid that gets passed out in British acting schools that makes you look like this when you’re 70:
I don’t know if they sell that Kool-Aid at Marks and Spencer or what, but Sam and Cait have definitely partaken. (They do NOT have it at Walmart, I can tell you that much.)
The makeup team did an absolutely spot-on job of aging Caitriona for episode 213. The whole look, from the eye shadow to the leather riding gloves she gracefully tugs from her spider-like fingers at the Culloden gravesite, was just perfect. (PS, how about that Best Costume Emmy nod! So deserved.)
There’s just one problem. They don’t have eye shadow in 1788. They don’t have bouffant hairstyles that add a hint of age. They don’t have turtlenecks.
And then there’s Jamie, who, as established, will not actually be fat. When I spoke to Ron Moore about this issue, he insisted that they aren’t going to do too much in terms of age makeup. Frankly, I think we’re just going to have to suspend our disbelief and get on with the plot. Which is fine with me.
So speaking of plot, let’s get to the meat of this thing, shall we?
Now for those of us who had a rough time reading Dragonfly in Amber—and I admit that I myself was such a person– Voyager should have been a much easier read, if for no other reason than the sex scenes are back (and the Jacobite revolt is, blissfully, over). But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have substance to it. And this brings us to something we need to cover before we embark on (see what I did there?) our super-fun Novel-to-Screen Voyager excursion:
In Dragonfly in Amber, Diana Gabaldon did something that I’ve never seen in a novel before. She spent about 450 pages (just half of one of her books, but still a good chunk) detailing the burgeoning pregnancy of her protagonist, preparing both her and, by extension, us, for the baby that was coming.
And then she gave her character a miscarriage.
Why? Why would an author do that? Not only: Why would she do that to us emotionally? But more to the point, from a writing structure standpoint, why spend so much “screen time,” if you will, setting up a plot point only to then pull it away? It was Chekhov who said, “Never introduce a gun in act one unless you plan on firing it in act three.” Diana set up a pregnancy for all of act one, and then never delivered the baby (if you’ll pardon the super morose pun).
On first reading of Dragonfly, I couldn’t figure that one out at all. And then it suddenly became quite clear to me, and I felt like an idiot for not seeing it sooner.
The reason is that the point of Dragonfly in Amber isn’t that a woman has a baby. The point of Dragonfly in Amber is that a woman learns a very, very difficult lesson in “faith.” (The fact that the baby was called “Faith” probably should have tipped me off. Sometimes I’m a slow learner.)
Now every TV show has an overriding theme, and Outlander is no exception. (The overriding theme of The Sopranos, for instance, was “Redemption.” At what point do our sins make us irredeemable? What happens when we cross that point?)
For Outlander, the theme is much more internalized: Faith versus Futility. Do any of our actions make a difference? Are we doomed to repeat the same mistakes over and over again?
To find faith, we must believe in things that cannot be seen, that cannot be proven. We must break down the things we are “certain” about in order to make room in our hearts for grace; the divine unknown that can only guide us when we let go.
In the first book, Claire loses her “certainty”—the certainty that her life was meant to be lived with Frank, that her course was set, and in the process, finds that there is another path. To her surprise, this other path ends up being the journey to her true self.
In Dragonfly, her “faith” is tested. She was sure that with Jamie’s help, with the foreknowledge of history, she could change the course of events. She was wrong. But in the end, quite unexpectedly, a light—Jamie is alive. Hope remains.
So what is the point of Voyager?
Well, again, on first viewing, it might not seem to have such a clear theme, other than possibly: 18th Century Sea Travel Sucks; Penicillin Is Awesome. But there is another “point,” I assure you, and the job of Ron Moore and his team in season three of the Outlander show will be to illustrate it in every way possible.
The theme of Voyager is Freedom.
Namely: What does it mean to be free? What hinders our freedom? How do we hinder ourselves from feeling free? In Voyager, we will see many different iterations of the Freedom VS Enslavement debate. We have literal enslavement, of course: banishment, imprisonment, indentured servitude and, finally, the slave trade witnessed in the islands. But we also have much more metaphysical and psychological forms of imprisonment. As my grandmother’s old Haggadah taught me, “Man can be enslaved in more ways than one.”
(Is it starting to become clear why so many people have a religious devotion to these books? PS, if you’re wondering what a Haggadah is, don’t worry about it.)
By the end of Dragonfly (and the second season of the show), Claire and Jamie are stronger because they have learned that faith can overcome the weight of futility—belief can be stronger than even the demands of history. When we leave off, Claire has faith that she can return to Jamie; Jamie has faith that he will see Claire in the afterlife.
Now that they’ve learned this lesson in “faith,” how will they use it to find “freedom”?
I hope you’ll follow this blog and be part of our discussion as we explore how the theme of Freedom will play into the 13 episodes of season three! Until next week, try not to walk into any street lights while playing Pokémon Go. 🙂
Up next, Chris Cookson interviews J Ryan Stradal, the author of “Kitchens of the Great Midwest”! Check it out now!
And if you’re looking for Outlander-themed jewelry, here’s the link: Sassenach Jewelry