Even the most passionate Outlander fan has some ups and downs about the show. Karen Rutledge shares how she lost her Doubtlander and fell in love with the show again.
To quote Murtagh, “Thank the Lord.” My Doubtlander is done, over, kaput!
“What’s Doubtlander,” you ask? It was this sad, sinking feeling that the Outlander TV series would never again enthrall me as it had in Season 1. This Doubtlander brought with it diminished interest in the show, a disconnect with my beloved Jamie and, most vexing, a steady decline of inspiration. As Duncan Lacroix said about Murtagh, my hair was turning white with a lack of hope.
Was it me or was it the show? Let’s find out, together.
What I Know for Sure
One thing is clear as I start this self-exam. I am an Obsessenach and will always be a devoted fan of Diana Gabaldon and her books, and of the TV series and its production team, cast and crew. My quest is about why, despite my devotion, I experienced this Doubtlander in the first place.
A wee bit as background. I found Outlander through the STARZ TV series about mid-Season 2 and watched every episode *multiple* times before I started reading the book series. After telling my husband about my newfound obsession, I bought book one, assuring him I had no interest in buying the entire series. He laughed, lovingly. Predictably, by the start of Season 3, I had bought the remaining seven books on Kindle and had read the first three and was about halfway through Drums of Autumn.
I had also found every Outlander-related_video_and_article available online. Judge if you like. Still in research mode after finishing a master’s degree, I had both the skill and time.
One of the first videos I saw was a July 2014 interview with our book author, and with the TV series producer and cast members. Two things I heard made a huge impression. First, Ron D. Moore stated that STARZ Chief Executive Officer and President Chris Albrecht said the following to him about Outlander:
“We love this. Make the show for the fans and trust that anyone who is not a fan of the books already will become one by the time they see the show.”
Second, Diana Gabaldon followed with comments about her first meeting with Ron and his production partner, Maril Davis. What caught my attention there was Diana’s recollection of the adaptation ideas they discussed.
“It’s always about the characters and that’s what I’ve appreciated about Ron’s work…he appreciated who these characters were and that who they were was the heart of the story.”
It was a defining interview for me, about an hour long but worth the watch IMHO as it is full of BTS details and hilarious to boot. I took away a fondness for all these people and the assurance that Diana’s story, which she has said is Jamie’s story as told by Claire, was being adapted in a way Diana and her fans would love. Expectation set, and high, actually very high, for the following seasons.
Although the moment my Doubtlander left the building is crystal clear, I can’t recall a definitive beginning. It probably started creeping in around the time I was re-re-re-watching Seasons 1 and 2 prior to the September 10, 2017, Season 3 premiere.
As I watched La Dame Blanche for the umpteenth time that August, the Star Chamber lighting compelled me to write “I Watch Outlander for the Lighting … I Really Do.”
I was sincere. I had put the sets, the costumes and the music above the story in my ‘Here’s why I watch Outlander’ list.
How did that happen?!? Was it my perception or was I influenced by what I heard from others?
No question, it was solely my perception. I had those very high expectations, remember? I loved the show as a separate entity but my high expectations remained unmet episode after episode. Significant book elements were left out; others were added in or enhanced, some of which I loved, some I didn’t.
I found I was not alone either. Many Obsessenachs I hang out with IRL and on social media were having a similar experience that I’ve labeled “adaptation angst.”
I started hearing this question, “Why should the changes even matter?” I repeatedly heard and saw this statement, “The books are the books and the show is the show.”
In a short (five minutes) November 2016 interview, Diana Gabaldon even addressed this adaptation angst. She was on board so why not keep the faith, right?
Keeping the faith was hard. My Doubtlander doldrums were real, y’all!
To compensate I would limit my Outlander interactions, dropping in and out of social media groups and striving to focus on the positive. I had an amazing Outlander fanmily, we had the books and we would always have Season 1.
My mantra became, “I am grateful!” I was grateful, truly, and in fact, many of the adaptations didn’t bother me at all. But that nagging feeling that something was missing remained.
I tried a new tactic, watching each Season 3 episode at least four times — for the story, the music, the costumes and the sets. It definitely helped absorb all the amazing elements the talented Outlander team shared with us. Sadly, however, the only Season 3 episode I continued to re-watch for the story was “Of Lost Things,“ my favorite episode to date.
Sadly? No, wait, there’s my answer.
It isn’t really about the adaptation choices — omitting the Jamie-Lord John kiss, Sam Heughan’s different take on how to “fall apart” at seeing Brianna’s photograph or pronounce her name, or any of the many other changes that I wish were kept closer to the book. It wasn’t even about my feeling that the chemistry between Jamie and Claire was slightly off or how desperately I miss Season 1 Jamie hair. Desperately, really, really, desperately!!
It is that I am solidly #TeamJamie, and I had lost sight of James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser because elements I considered critical to his story had not made it to the screen. I had actually expressed a similar sentiment more than once to a select few but only now do I realize why it’s at the root of my Doubtlander. I felt that Jamie’s story was almost being skimmed so that I was seeing a “Jamie Light” version.
I realized the primary element I was missing was Jamie’s deeply-held faith. It’s a faith in God and man that transcends religion and guides every choice he makes. Diana Gabaldon lovingly shares it with us, tightly woven throughout the books.
To a lesser degree, I was also missing his compelling need to do the right thing. Yes, we saw him offer himself to Lord John and his constant rescuing of Claire. What I was craving was seeing certain other book scenes brought to life, ones that illuminated who he is, his character, what Diana Gabaldon and Ron D. Moore had mutually agreed was the core of this story. (Seriously, if you’re not a reader, I highly recommend at least reading book one, Outlander!)
Now it makes perfect sense. I understand why I so often have “Of Lost Things” on loop. In this episode, we see the wonderful portrayal of Jamie’s faith. There he was, explaining being a “Stinking Papist” to his biological child, bringing him in to the circle in a way that both would remember always. I’m tearing up right now just thinking about it.
The episode also highlights Jamie’s need to do the right thing — to give his family the protection of his body once again and to protect illegitimate Willie by leaving him behind at Helwater before their father-son relationship could not be ignored. Revealing the truth then would have stained Willie’s life forever.
I could go on for days about that “Hard Rain” final scene where Jamie rides away. If you haven’t seen it, you must.
Back to those high expectations, there’s one book passage that didn’t make it to the screen that brilliantly demonstrated that need for me. The setting is Ardsmuir Prison, after Lord John has arrived. Imprisoned Jamie, as leader MacDubh, chose to take one particularly horrendous punishment for another prisoner, a flogging. From Voyager:
The doors to the main cell block swung back, and a small file of prisoners emerged; the trustys who did the actual cleaning, closely watched by the guards. At the end of the line, Corporal Dunstable came out, his hands full of the small bits of contraband a search of this sort usually turned up.
“The usual rubbish, sir,” he reported, dumping the collection of pitiful relics and anonymous junk onto the top of a cask that stood near the Major’s elbow. “Just this, you might take notice of.”
“This” was a small strip of cloth, perhaps six inches by four, in a green tartan check. Dunstable glanced quickly at the lines of standing prisoners, as if intending to catch someone in a telltale action.
Grey sighed, then straightened his shoulders. “Yes, I suppose so.” The possession of any Scottish tartan was strictly forbidden by the Diskilting Act that had likewise disarmed the Highlanders and prevented the wearing of their native dress. He stepped in front of the rows of men, as Corporal Dunstable gave a sharp shout to attract their attention. “Whose is this?” The corporal raised the scrap high, and raised his voice as well. Grey glanced from the scrap of bright cloth to the row of prisoners, mentally ticking off the names, trying to match them to his imperfect knowledge of tartans. Even within a single clan, the patterns varied so wildly that a given pattern couldn’t be assigned with any certainty, but there were general patterns of color and design.
MacAlester, Hayes, Innes, Graham, MacMurtry, MacKenzie, MacDonald … stop. MacKenzie. That one. It was more an officer’s knowledge of men than any identification of the plaid with a particular clan that made him sure. MacKenzie was a young prisoner, and his face was a shade too controlled, too expressionless.
“It’s yours, MacKenzie. Isn’t it?” Grey demanded. He snatched the scrap of cloth from the corporal and thrust it under the young man’s nose. The prisoner was white-faced under the blotches of dirt. His jaw was clamped hard, and he was breathing hard through his nose with a faint whistling sound.
Grey fixed the young man with a hard, triumphant stare. The young Scot had that core of implacable hate that they all had, but he hadn’t managed to build the wall of stoic indifference that held it in. Grey could feel the fear building in the lad; another second and he would break.
“It’s mine.” The voice was calm, almost bored, and spoke with such flat indifference that neither MacKenzie nor Grey registered it at once. They stood locked in each other’s eyes, until a large hand reached over Angus MacKenzie’s shoulder and gently plucked the scrap of cloth from the officer’s hand.
John Grey stepped back, feeling the words like a blow in the pit of his stomach. MacKenzie forgotten, he lifted his eyes the several inches necessary to look Jamie Fraser in the face.
“It isn’t a Fraser tartan,” he said, feeling the words force their way past wooden lips. His whole face felt numb, a fact for which he was dimly grateful; at least his expression couldn’t betray him before the ranks of the watching prisoners.
Fraser’s mouth widened slightly. Grey kept his gaze fastened on it, afraid to meet the dark blue eyes above.
“No, it isn’t,” Fraser agreed. “It’s MacKenzie. My mother’s clan.”
In some far-off corner of his mind, Grey stored away another tiny scrap of information with the small hoard of facts kept in the jeweled coffer labeled “Jamie”—his mother was a MacKenzie. He knew that was true, just as he knew that the tartan didn’t belong to Fraser.
He heard his voice, cool and steady, saying “Possession of clan tartans is illegal. You know the penalty, of course?”
The wide mouth curled in a one-sided smile.
“I do.” The simplicity, the elegance, the incredible import of Jamie’s response reverberated through my brain. How can anyone voluntarily take another flogging? Yet, once again, Jamie gave the protection of his body to others, the Scottish prisoners of Ardsmuir. That would have been incredibly powerful on screen, even without the actual flogging, agree?
So, after all my self-examination, what happened to restore my faith in the portrayal of Jamie’s character? Ironically, it was an adaptation.
Back up a bit to when I saw the first pinprick of light at the end of my Doubtlander tunnel. I heard Diana Gabaldon say Season 4 gets better as it goes along, which gave me the needed boost to focus on the positive in Episodes 401 and 402 and my hopes continued rising as I watched Episodes 403 and 404.
Then, Hallelujah and JHRC, Episode 405 sent my Doubtlander sailing downstream. The doubt that I would never love the Outlander TV series as I did in Season 1, and that I would never see Jamie on screen again, simply disappeared.
In that scene reminiscent of, and just as exciting for me, as the Print Shop, when Murtagh first heard Jamie’s voice, my heart actually fluttered. I sat mesmerized, watching the recognition and disbelief flow out through Murtagh’s eyes before he slowly turned to face Jamie and Ian.
Jamie spoke Murtagh’s name and Murtagh, with his loving godfather gaze, paused to take Jamie in, head to toe. As Murtagh looked Jamie in the eye, I saw Jamie as Murtagh saw him, all the way back to Season 1. I saw him with Claire, with Jenny, with Black Jack. I heard all his silent prayers.
Murtagh’s softly murmured, “Thank the Lord” said it all. My Doubtlander was done.
So What am I Going to do with All of This?
I have a new strategy to head off future adaptation angst. I’ll watch each season before reading the corresponding book. All are patiently waiting for me out in Kindle ether, soon to be joined by book nine. I fervently hope Diana Gabaldon won’t be disappointed in me.
Duncan Lacroix, thank the Lord for you, sir, my new muse and my hero forever. You and Murtagh banished my Doubtlander. I am once again enthralled and inspired.
Thank you for sitting in that cave in Tibet until we were all reunited in Episode 405. We hope to see you once again on Twitter.
I know some of you have been experiencing your own Doubtlander.
If it has vanished like mine, what made it happen for you?
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