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Outlander Review: Sex, Lies, and Time Travel

Philip Harris | 9 Aug 2014 08:00
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On an outing to find some blue flowers (possibly forget-me-nots) Claire heads to an ancient rock formation. She hears something strange and is compelled to touch the monolith in the middle of the formation. Boom, she's been transported to 1743.

Claire's a clever person, versed in the gore associated with war. She isn't really frightened by her sudden shift, more confused. She is surprised to find no paved street and even more surprised to find a man who looks just like her husband sitting by himself in an English army uniform by a creek. It's a very Wizard of Oz moment played for quite a dramatic effect. At first, it appears this familiar looking soldier is nice, but then because this is over two hundred years ago he tries to sexually assault her. I know it's true to the time period, but I really wish such a strong, smart character wasn't almost sexually assaulted by the first person she meets in her new time and land. Is that so much to ask?

She's soon rescued by local brutes who at first joke about sexually assaulting her, but when she displays her nursing skills, they decide to take her along on their journey. Her skills (in nursing, get your mind out of the gutter) are put to good use on Jamie (Sam Heughan), the buff hero with whom it's bleedingly obvious Claire will eventually fall in love with. The rest of the episode is of their journey to a castle, the one and same castle in which she had sex with her husband the day before.

The show has beauty going for it, and while some of the moments may read as cheesy, I sort of didn't care. The pacing was good and the music swelled just when it was supposed to. There isn't a moment that isn't filled with some sort of nerdy lore or history, and in fact, the whole of Scotland, according to Outlander, would appear to be the crossroads between the past and the present, the magic and the mundane. A place shrouded in so much fog and surrounded by so much dangerous nature is ripe for this kind of reading, although I do become a little bored with the two oft used characteristics of small towns. Either they're magical places where doorways to other realms are to be found by the wandering outsiders or they're places of death and murder, a sinister aspect projected onto the rural stereotypes. Maybe one day there'll be a mainstream show in which the rural aspects of a setting are bystander to stories of deeper human relationships.

And just briefly: the narration confuses me. It's both tedious and warm at the same time. I guess I too often presume that narration is a storytelling crutch, but listening to Claire narrate the beginnings of her tale from somewhere in the future (or past) felt like a warm shower after a long day. The themes of loss, impermanence and personal identity are running rapid throughout. Nothing lasts forever -- not the war, not marriages, not even limbs.

All in all, I am going to keep watching this show for Claire. As a woman unafraid to speak her mind, as a woman with equal parts carnal and scientific in terms of body awareness and education, as a self-reflecting survivor of a great trauma, I can't help but think she's going to kick some major ass on her new journey through the past, once she's taught to use a sword and gets out of her wet clothes.

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