How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a
Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a
Forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence
Impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
-Aaron Burr, “Hamilton”
As you can see, I’ve solved the mystery, folks: James Fraser is actually Alexander Hamilton.
Well, okay, maybe not. But around the same time period, and in the same part of the world, James Fraser is about to have an adventure that rivals Hamilton’s. So let’s get started with this week’s installment of Voyager Redux!
Ron Moore mentioned at the Writers’ Guild Panel that, when beginning work on a season of Outlander, the writing team go through the book du jour (in this case, Voyager) and break it up into 13 “mini-stories” that will form the basis of each of the 13 episodes*.
So herewith, we’re going to play my favorite game: Let’s Pretend We’re TV Writers (AKA: Dress for the Job You Want!), and make our best guesses as to what each of the 13 episodes will include, keeping in mind the THEME of Voyager, which we discussed last week, namely: the conflict between ENSLAVEMENT and FREEDOM (both of which can be physical, mental and spiritual).
To get started, I’ve created a CHEAT SHEET in which I break down the nine segments of Voyager and detail their major plot points. Go ahead and check it out.
Now Voyager, being one of the longest of the “big novels,” as Diana calls them, packs in quite a bit of story in its 900 or so pages. In fact, most writers probably would have gone ahead and made this thing into at least two books, if not three. After all, if you asked me what the plot of Voyager is, I would probably put on my “writer hat” (which, yes, does come with a complementary case of writers’ block and vat of Scotch in which to drown one’s sorrows), and say the following:
Claire and Jamie, reunited 20 years after the Battle of Culloden, must sail for the East Indies (AKA Jamaica and surrounding islands) to rescue Jamie’s kidnapped nephew Ian Junior.
Those of us who have read the book would probably read this and say, “Well, yeah, but…”
But guess what? This plotline isn’t even introduced until about halfway through the novel! There’s a whole book’s worth of plot to get through before Jamie feels the first tinge of seasickness. But Ron Moore mentioned something else recently: It’s the boat stuff he can’t wait to shoot! And with good reason. Man, that’s some exciting, super-cinematic stuff right there. And that’s not even counting all the crazy set pieces and new characters we meet when we get to the islands.
Now here’s the problem, and it’s a big one for the people trying to make this into a TV show: The first 200 pages of this book—about 22% of it—are really heavily weighted to Jamie’s story, and he has a LOT OF IT to get through.
In the 20 years of their separation, we see very little of Claire’s storyline. There’s some flashbacks to Bree being a baby, of course, and Claire’s decision to go to medical school. And then there is a flashback to the night that Frank died. We meet Joe Abernathy and learn that he was an important friend. Other than that, a lot of it is left up to the imagination.
Here’s what Jamie does in those 20 years: Spends seven years in a cave; watches Fergus lose his hand; surrenders himself to British forces; spends several more years at Ardsmuir Prison where he forms a crucial friendship with his warden, Lord John Grey; escapes prison after hearing the dying words of Duncan Kerr and goes to discover the hidden treasure on the Silkies’ Island; returns to prison and rejects the advances of Lord John Grey; is indentured to Helwater where he (begrudgingly) takes the virginity of the headstrong Geneva Dunsany; inadvertently fathers a child (Willie); murders the raving husband of Geneva (after she dies in childbirth); and eventually moves to Edinburgh where he forms an identity as a booze smuggler/ printer (under the guise of his middle name Malcolm).
That’s what’s professionally known as “a lot.” In fact, Jamie has so much storyline to get through in those 200 pages that I could easily create a 13-episode story arc JUST ABOUT THAT, and we would never even see Claire.
This is a headache for TV writers who have to deliver episodes in which BOTH of their protagonists feature strongly. In the book, Diana was able to get away with simply putting the Claire story on the back burner for a lot of this, but that doesn’t work in TV.
But as we all know, as interesting as all that stuff is, what we REALLY want to see is the print-shop scene. I can’t tell you how many comments I’ve gotten on recent threads that are basically just: “Give me the print-shop scene.” I get it! I hear you! I want to see them reunite as well. (And no, it can’t happen in episode three after watching Claire, Bree and Roger read old documents and enjoy the benefits of indoor plumbing while cross-cutting to Jamie doing ALL THAT DRAMATIC STUFF.)
So… wearing our writer hats, how do we solve this problem?
Here’s what I would do:
TITLE: WHEN I AM THY CAPTIVE
THEME: CAPTIVITY. Jamie and Claire end their parallel stories of “captivity” (ie: leading a false life) and “escape” back to each other
BOOK CHAPTERS COVERED:
PART ONE: BATTLE, AND THE LOVES OF MEN:
These short three chapters are only 4% of the book, and they include Claire’s memories of being home with the infant Brianna while missing Jamie, and the modern-day (1968) research of trying to find what happened to Jamie.
PART THREE: WHEN I AM THY CAPTIVE:
Includes: Jamie’s time in prison, including his escape to look for the lost treasure; there’s a one-page chapter at the end in which Roger tells Brianna that he has found Jamie.
PART FIVE: YOU CAN’T GO HOME AGAIN:
In which Claire, well, goes home again to Boston to settle her affairs. It includes the flashback to the night Frank died, and the discovery of the cave body with Joe Abernathy. Back in Scotland, Roger finds the deed of Sasine, (which of course we have already done in ep 213). And then through the stones.
SUPER: APRIL 16, 1746, CULLODEN FIELD, SCOTLAND
Jamie’s eyes open on the battlefield of Culloden. He looks down. Sees blood. The body of Black Jack Randall lays prostrate across his middle. Carnage everywhere. Is he alive? Is he dead? Is he somewhere in between? His leg gushes blood, the pain excruciating.
This stuff practically shoots itself.
As he lies, looking up to heaven, seeing some trace of Claire there perhaps, we cut to…
SUPER: 1968, BOSTON
Claire lies back in a luxurious bath, looking up to the ceiling tiles, her eyes faraway; later, she walks into the bedroom and remembers… FLASHBACK: the night she and Frank fought in this very bedroom; the night he died. This room was her prison, in a way. A photograph of Brianna on a shelf is the only thing that makes her smile. She takes it out of the frame and puts it in her pocket.
Nine years after Culloden, Lord John Grey arrives at Ardsmuir and the departing warden, Colonel Quarry (AKA: Johnny Exposition) says something to the effect of: “Be careful of the men’s leader. They call him Mac Dubh. He’s an educated man, but a savage. Spent seven years hiding in a cave after Culloden. If you play chess with him, don’t turn your back.” So… pretty much what he says in the book.
Grey does play chess with Jamie, and immediately falls for him. As he reaches for the Queen, we cut to…
Joe Abernathy putting down a romance novel.
Claire has come to his office to say goodbye; the body of the mystery woman from the cave is introduced.
Jamie is brought to the sickbed of Duncan Kerr and hears his final confession.
Claire comes back to Scotland. Finishes prepping her penicillin syringes and buying a dress for her voyage. Roger provides her with old coins to bring with her. Brianna watches, anxious.
They take a boat on Loch Ness. Claire gazes across the water. “Do you believe?” she asks. She’s referring the Loch Ness Monster, but the real question is clear: Are You a Believer?
She jingles the ancient coins in her hands. “They’re worth a small fortune,” Roger assures her. “In those times, anyway.” “Yes,” she agrees. “A fortune.”
Looking into the shadows beyond the loch, we cut to…
Jewels, glistening in reflected moonlight. Jamie slams the lid on the small box that holds them. He hears the dogs barking, the men calling out. He is trapped on an island.
The dogs continue their hunt. They’re looking for Jamie along the cliffs when suddenly… Jamie presents himself, dripping wet, his hands empty. Lord Grey tells the men to stand down, to take Jamie back to the prison.
Lord Grey tries to induce Jamie to tell him where the “gold”—for he thinks it’s gold—is hiding. Jamie won’t do it. Lord Grey admits that he wants to help Jamie. The other men are being sent to America as indentured servants. But not Jamie; he’s going to Helwater. Grey makes a pass at him and Jamie says: “Take your hand away or I’ll kill you.”
Bree and Roger drive Claire to the stones. It is time to say goodbye. They can hardly bear it. Will they ever see each other again?
Another goodbye. Lord Grey must watch Jamie go. “I’ll visit you at Helwater.” Jamie, despite his earlier outburst, sincerely likes Grey. “Please do. Lest my sole company will be the spoilt bairn of my new master.” And Grey reminds him, “It’s only for a few years. Then you’ll be free.”
Jamie walks away.
And speaking of free…
Claire hears the buzzing, takes a deep breath… and walks through the stones.
We pick up Episode two in 1766 or so with Claire making her way to the center of Edinburgh and finding the print shop of “A. Malcolm, Printer.”
But, but, but… I can hear you saying. But… what about the great stuff with Jenny where she has to pretend the newborn baby was stillborn because Jamie is hiding with it in the closet? What about Fergus losing his hand? And for Pete’s sake, what about Geneva Dunsany and Willie??
The answer is, we’ll see these things in flashback during the course of the season, at times when they are plot pertinent, or in some cases, we won’t see them at all. Some things are simply going to have to go. (The Geneva stuff, for instance, will probably be shown in flashback much later when Claire learns about it. That way we—the audience—can be just as surprised as she is when we hear about it with her.)
What we DO keep in this episode is all the stuff that is necessary to serve the plot throughout the season: ie: the introduction of the “French Gold” (or, you know, jewels) which will be important later; the introduction of the “Mystery Cave Body” that Claire and Joe dissect, which will be important later; the relationship with Lord John Grey, which will be… well, you get the idea.
So the first episode—or my version of it, anyway—will take us through chapter 24, or 27% of the way through the book. That way we have 12 more episodes to do all the other great stuff.
What do you guys think?
*NOTE, 7/25/16: Savvy reader Carmen Mackey pointed out that season three might be only 10 episodes, and it seems she might be right. In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Ron Moore said: “We have scripts for the first few episodes and stories broken somewhere into 10 episodes.” So sounds like a curtailed season this year, unless plans change, which is unlikely since production has already begun. Hmm, I’m going to have to adjust the game plan accordingly. Tune in next week to see how!
This article has been the first in a 13-part series. To read part 2, click here: Voyager: “Mock Two”
Don’t miss Chris Cookson’s interview with J Ryan Stradal, the author of “Kitchens of the Great Midwest”!
And if you’re looking for Outlander-themed jewelry, here’s the link: Sassenach Jewelry
Photo credit: undercine.com