This much is clear in the opening of Outlander Season 4: We’re not in Scotland anymore. Blogger Anne Gavin shares her feelings about that and how she reconciles the loss of Outlander‘s Scotland-based storyline.
The last month or two leading up to the premiere of Outlander Season 4, the fandom was filled with a bombardment of press interviews, a blitz on social media and a barrage of trailers and teasers showcasing Jamie and Claire’s “Brave New World.” Exciting? Yes! Thrilling to have Outlander back? Absolutely! But there was something niggling at me — going way back to the finale of Season 3. It was the realization that the Frasers wouldn’t be in Scotland anymore.
The epic story now takes us to the American colonies some 3,000 miles from Lallybroch, the Highlands and the majestic glens, moors, and lochs of Scotland. Our story’s protagonists have left the familiar and will be gone for a long time. I have been in deep denial about this fact, despite Drums of Autumn being my favorite (thus far) of the book series and knowing that actually, they would be filming in Scotland, just pretending it was colonial North Carolina. Obviously, I know where the story goes but so much of Outlander is about Scotland for me. Finally seeing the first few episodes found me facing my fears and wondering if I could truly get beyond the deep connection, even as the story of Jamie and Claire moves beyond those soul bursting Scottish landscapes. It was a nail biter but here’s where I landed…
It was November 2014 when I first laid eyes on an episode of Outlander on STARZ. I was at Thanksgiving dinner with a friend and he mentioned a good show that he had started watching that he thought I might like. He is a retiree and spends quite a bit of time watching historical and period drama. We share a liking for this genre, so I thought I would give it a try. The rest, as they say, is history. I know as fans we all have stories like this. However, what I didn’t realize at the time is how Outlander would thrust me head-first into an exploration of Scotland the country, its history and all its rich culture. Season 1 and the back half of Season 2 did nothing to stave off the growing appetite I was developing for all-things-Scotland. It just enhanced and heightened it. Since 2014, I have traveled to Scotland 3 times and am planning another trip this year and several more next year. I have documented my travels on Outlander Cast Blog and through those travelogues professed my love many times for all the amazing discoveries I have made along my Scottish journey. It started with Outlander, but the obsession is just as much about Scotland now and the seemingly endless magic that has crossed my path during my travels there.
So, it was with some trepidation and anxiety that I anticipated the continuation of Jamie and Claire’s story in Outlander Season 4. I have read ahead in the novels and so I knew that the move to American shores was coming. I was comforted somewhat knowing that the production and crew would continue to film in Scotland, but I also knew that the story itself would be set elsewhere and therefore what we saw on screen would be devoid of what hooked me on Outlander from the very beginning — Scotland’s stunning landscapes, castles and, OK, I’ll admit it, the kilted men.
But I am not one to complain or nit-pick with regard the story or the show. After all, Outlander is my happy place and refuge from the mundaneness of daily life. It brings me joy and as with Jamie for Claire, the wanting will never stop. Intellectually, I understand the story transitions across the pond and to a “brave, new world.” So, as I watched the Season Premiere the first, second, third, fourth and fifth time, followed by episode 4.02 “Do No Harm,” I played a game with myself. The game of “This, but…” focusing on the positive where I could, and found ways to cope without the kilts and gorgeous Scottish scenery.
This first episode in America hit me like ton of bricks…and wood. The wooden buildings of Wilmington so different and foreign from the stone castles and thatched crofts of Outlander Scotland. Hats off once again to set designer Jon Gary Steele as it was clear that this, indeed, was a new world and it made me very uncomfortable. But, opening the episode with images of a prehistoric Stone Circle, ancient “druids” and “fire dancers” put me right back at Craig na Dun reminding me of all the intriguing mysticism that surrounds Outlander and the origins of the story. I took comfort from this and it recalled for me the feelings I had that first time I watched and fell in love with Outlander. It was a nice touch if only to remind viewers of the continuity of Jamie and Claire’s fantastic journey over time and space.
However, this new world appears to be challenging Jamie and Claire as we see them grapple with the loss of their friend, Hayes, the colonies’ unique rule of law and see them get mixed up with power struggles amidst the ruling classe and the moral dilemma of slavery. Their discomfort — and mine — is palpable as it seems to push and pull on them and their desire to do the right thing by their family. They appear alone and lacking the comfort of their clansmen and the familiarity of clan rule, however chaotic that was.
My heart leapt in Episode 4.01 whenever I heard Jamie or Claire mention passage back to Scotland. “Yes! Go back to Scotland,” I screamed. But it was when Lesley began singing the Gaelic Lament for his dead friend, Gavin Hayes, that my spirits were raised. Hearing the Gaelic words sung so beautifully warmed my heart. And, when the other “strangers” in the pub began to join in it reminded me of a very important part to this story. Jamie and Claire were following the path of so many other emigrants from Scotland. The colonies were teeming with Scots in the 1700s who had escaped the various risings in Scotland. They were all trying to make their way in the new world, despite its unfamiliarity. Hearing the voices of the others in the pub jolted me into the realization that Diana Gabaldon wrote the story this way for a reason. Thousands of lowland and highland Scots left their land because of lack of opportunity, political issues and oppressive laws. They were seeking “the American Dream.” As I thought about this, I realized that the story must go here, and I must go with it. But how reassuring it was to hear that beautifully sung Gaelic tune and the Scots in the pub all joining in like family. Here is a translation of the song’s chorus. Very simplistic but wonderful send-off for Gavin.
Hear him! Hear him! You left us all full of sadness, Gavin.
Hear him! Hear him! It’s a pity that you are not still very young.
Another anxiety-producing notion that I conjured about Outlander Season 4 was probably something that Jamie and the others may have felt as well. What would this new land look like? Would we find the beauty and the majesty of Scotland or would it pale in comparison? I have traveled to the “highlands” of North Carolina and I know how beautiful it is. Vast views across the Blue Ridge and Great Smoky Mountains are breathtaking, particularly in autumn. This re-creation of North Carolina while actually filming in Scotland had me intrigued. Of course, I thought, the production scouts could find comparable looking terrain in Scotland, as there are many similarities. This was my hope.
I was disappointed, however, to see this hope was not to be when poor CGI facsimiles were used behind the scenes to simulate the new land. If you are going to stay in Scotland to film — the reasons for which I totally understand — then get it right! If I can’t see Scotland anymore then give me a realistic view of the beauty of North Carolina. This ‘in North Carolina but really in Scotland’ dichotomy ate away at me pre-season premiere. The poor CGI did nothing to help me reconcile this. My “but” and attempt to be positive here is a reach. The only thing I can say is that many of the scenes around the green screen between Jamie and Claire were very poignant and were taken almost verbatim from the book. I am thankful these scenes distracted me enough from the poor special effects as to allow me to enjoy despite the inferior quality of the backgrounds. (If you do want to see a bit of where they filmed in Scotland, check out my blog colleague, Andrée Poppleton’s, “Seeing Outlander” series about filming locations used in Episode 4.01 and 4.02.)
It was one of those scenes between Jamie and Claire that further helped me find some peace in this new world. As Jamie and Claire discussed the pros and cons of taking up Governor Tryon on his offer of land, Jamie said something very moving. Despite his clear desire to return home to Scotland as a pardoned man free to take up his place as Laird of Lallybroch once again, Jamie recognized the opportunity this new land presented. This was for him a chance to make a better world for the child he knew would come after him. Doing his small part to influence this growing nation might provide a better life for the child he never met but loved so dearly. In fact, it was the only thing he could do for Brianna. When I thought of this, I knew that again, this was where the story needed to go. Jamie Fraser is a man of action and is never cowered by obstacles seen or unseen. Heading back to Scotland would be too easy for him, especially when he had progeny still to provide for. In my own heart, I longed for their return to Lallybroch but knew that Jamie’s place was to be a leader, as he always has been, in the birth of this new nation. Stay he must and so must I.
While I delighted in the return of Outlander after an agonizingly long Droughtlander, I begrudgingly faced my fears of not being in Scotland anymore. The premiere episode followed by the horrors of Episode 4.02 “Do No Harm” provided me no escape. All I wanted to do was crawl once again beneath the soothing warmth of my Scottish knit blanket. What I realized, instead, was that despite my discomfort, the story of Outlander is and always will be about the travails of Jamie and Claire Fraser. Diana Gabaldon’s brilliant storytelling will win the day no matter where the story takes us. Whether they are in Paris, Jamaica, the American colonies or any other far-flung place away from Scotland, Outlander will endure and the bonds of love that exist between these two characters and those they surround themselves with will remain to draw us in again and again. So many beautiful scenes in these first two episodes between our lovers illustrated that no matter where Jamie and Claire are they will always provide us with the aspiration of perfectly formed, although not perfect, love. This is what the story is all about. It is not the “where” but the being in that place and the deep and lasting love between these two characters that brings the story home, wherever they may be.
I therefore declare my Season 4 Outlander glass half full, albeit it with rum, not whisky. Aye. I like rum.
Were you concerned about Outlander turning away from Scotland and moving to a new land?
Anne’s obsessenach tendencies have changed her life in many ways including providing the opportunity to explore Scotland, its people and many of the locations upon which Outlander had its beginnings. Follow Anne on Twitter here, Instagram here or at Outlander Cast’s Instagram here, where many of Anne’s photos of Scotland are often featured.