In celebration of Outlander‘s five-year television anniversary, we’re revisiting “Sassenach” – the episode that started it all.
Looking back on Outlander Season 1 is always fun, no? Back to where it all began. From what I can gather, my experience is similar to very many other fans. We started Season 1 on the recommendation of a friend as Outlander innocents. But we were soon swept into a maelstrom of fan frenzy, and we were hooked. Like me, many of you delved straight into the books. I just plowed on relentlessly until I finished every one of them and then sat around waiting for Season 2 to appear.
I later learned this waiting game was called “Droughtlander” and, boy, did I feel it. I connected strongly with all platforms on social media and just drank it in. Sound familiar? That’s what led me here, to the Outlander Cast Clan Gathering. If you’re new here, welcome, and I’m sure you will enjoy the experience and the fan camaraderie.
In celebration of the five-year anniversary of Outlander’s premiere on Starz, and as we await Season 5, the television adaptation of The Fiery Cross, I thought it would be timely to take a fond look back at the very first episode, “Sassenach,” and to touch a little on Diana Gabaldon’s first book, simply titled Outlander – the story that started it all. Much is often made of the differences between the show and the books and, even those who complain loudly at times (I’ll put my hand up here as an occasional complainer!), must concede that the show is an adaptation and, by nature, must be a condensed interpretation of the books.
Having said that, there are so very many similarities, and many exact renditions of the book content in the show. For me, I love to revisit the audio books narrated by Davina Porter. I find her ability to perform the different voices for each character, and to maintain them throughout all the books, is simply amazing. The audio books are like old friends while driving or out walking, and there’s always something new to pick up. The life of the Frasers and their entourage is endlessly rich and fascinating. If you would like to learn more about Davina Porter, my colleague Janet Reynolds interviewed her a while back for this post, “A Talk with the Voice of Outlander.”
So, what were the most exciting and meaningful elements of that first episode? In show-writing and production parlance they refer to ‘beats’ – crucial elements of the story that have special prominence and meaning, and are surrounded by supporting action. How about first up, the innocence of Frank and Claire trying to regain their pre-war life. I actually remember feeling a little bit impatient the very first time I watched “Sassenach.” I knew it was a time travel story and I was keen for the action! On subsequent viewings, I was more patient and enjoyed the background to the story of Frank and Claire and their ‘second honeymoon’ in the Scottish Highlands. Here’s a deleted scene from Season 1 showing the tension between them, but also the commitment to each other, as well as pictures of them with contented expressions. Little did they know what was lurking just around the corner.
Claire meets Mrs. Graham early in the episode. Her fortune telling is ominous and does have an unsettling effect on Claire. Claire’s relationship with Mrs. Graham becomes important, especially when Claire realises that she is a ‘caller’ at the stone circle. In later seasons, Mrs. Graham provides comfort and solace to Claire in her darkest moments, as the only person who can understand and validate her traumatic experiences. And later still, Mrs. Graham’s granddaughter, Fiona, carries on the family tradition of helping the Randalls, Frasers and MacKenzies with the travails of time travel!
Frank meets the ghost of Jamie Fraser – Jesus H Roosevelt Christ! What an enigmatic and iconic scene, which subsequently leads to more anguish and tension between Claire and Frank. We are all waiting with baited breath for Diana Gabaldon to reveal to us the meaning of this scene. We could be waiting a while, but patience is a virtue, right?
When Claire goes through the stones, she first endures a torturing physical experience, followed by emotional torment and complete disorientation. We learn right from the start that Claire is feisty and resourceful, not prone to giving in to fear, able to adapt quickly to changing circumstances, to think on her feet, and to not panic. Have you ever imagined what you would do in her shoes on that fateful day at Craigh Na Dun?
Here is a sample of the audio narration from Davina Porter, and one of the examples of where the show runs pretty much exactly parallel with the book.
Claire meets Black Jack Randall (BJR) for the first time, very soon after travelling back in time. Claire has a lot of ambivalence toward BJR as he reminds her so much of Frank physically, and she still has it in mind to get back to Frank. This is spelled out much more clearly in the book and is a source of distress to Claire that she sees so many echoes of her husband in this man. Two scenes here, first, the way the show handles their meeting, showing Claires confusion at meeting this Frank look-alike.
And then the book narration by Davina Porter which shows the detail with which Claire takes in the man and begins to understand who he really is, and to have her first inklings that her world has turned upside down.
Claire meets Murtagh – Claire’s first meeting with Murtagh is frightening and violent but, as we know, he becomes an important person in her life. Things are quite different in the books, where Murtagh is always there for Jamie, but does not become close with Claire. The show writers changed that situation dramatically from the moment Claire and Jamie decided to let Murtagh in on Claire’s ‘secret’. They also used the Murtagh character as a dramatic device for exposition. After all, its way more interesting for the audience to have the story unfold through action between characters than through endless voice-overs of the characters thoughts. That, coupled with the fact that the fans adored Duncan Lacroix and his portrayal of Murtagh, became the winning formula.
Side note: my Outlander Cast colleagues have written some interesting posts on the later development of Murtagh, which you might like to explore. To go full Murtagh, be sure to read Anne Gavin’s “Outlander’s Murtagh Lives. What’s next for this iconic character?” and Nikki Gastineau’s “Move Over Print Shop. Why Outlander’s Murtagh Reunion Wins.”
After being rescued by Murtagh, Claire is taken to meet Dougal, Rupert and Angus. This is one of those scenes where we can only admire Claire’s ability to keep a cool head. Faced with overwhelming events, she manages to stay calm and reasonably clear-headed. Even when it is suggested that they could ‘put her to the test’! Of course, Claire and Dougal go on to have a rich and multi-faceted relationship, one that is filled with tension, intrigue and hostility.
Claire meets Jamie – of course this is a HUGE plot point/beat, yet the first time I saw the series I had no idea that Jamie and Claire would come to mean the world to each other. I just saw the whole thing unfolding, but on second and subsequent (who’s counting? Maybe I lost count!) viewings, we can see the seeds of their attraction. The looks and little electric touches which start to portend the future.
There are four important elements of Claire’s first meeting with Jamie: she shows her skills and wins his respect and admiration; she warns him of danger and wins his trust; she tries to escape and lets him know she’s feisty and not to be pushed around; and finally, she relaxes – possibly out of exhaustion – begins to trust Jamie and becomes resigned to dealing with whatever will happen next.
Claire lets Jamie know that she is not the meek and obedient type – right from the start!
Another iconic scene where Claire saves the day and treats Jamies gunshot wound. Her mastery, skill and no-nonsense approach both shocks and impresses everyone!
At the end of “Sassenach,” we see Claire near exhaustion, with a level of trust in Jamie, and resigning herself to meet the challenges of her journey.
So, this is the episode of Outlander that hooked us all five years ago, and so it continues. If you are new to Outlander, enjoy the ride. If you’re a seasoned campaigner, hope you enjoyed looking back and reliving the magic of how it all began. I’d love to hear about your first time watching “Sassenach,” so please feel free to leave a comment below.
Andrée has been an Outlander fan since December 2015 when she took a friend’s advice to watch this “great show.” Well that was great advice and since then she has travelled from Australia to Scotland twice and spent lots of time checking out the Outlander action. You can follow Andrée on twitter @andree.poppleton and Instagram @AndreePoppleton for more Outlander action.
Please note: All video excerpts highlighted are courtesy of Starz.
It’s always fun to hear how people’s first reactions to the show and especially the first episode. I was at my dad’s house and came in to relax after yardwork, sat down and the starz channel was on with a promo for the show. I didn’t have starz at my own home then and had little social media presence so I had no idea what the story was about, who the characters or actors were, I definitely went in blind. I admit I was alittle bored the first 30 minutes or so, actually picked up a book laying on the floor. Tobias Menzies was great, but I just kept thinking “this isn’t the story”. When she does the voiceover going through the stones with the car crash metaphor was when it really captured my interest. When they were in the cabin, 2 of the highlanders were blocking the person sitting on the bench, and I thought “he must be important”, and when they finally showed him and there was like a 3-5 second look between them, I literally said out loud “oh, this is the story”.
Ha! Interesting … I also went in ‘blind’ and felt restless during the first half-hour wondering when the action would start … I must say you are much more perceptive than me – figuring out that Claire and Jamie were the story right at the start – it took me a while 🙂
Is that beautiful black horse that Jamie rides with Claire on the way to Leoch a Friesen? It has the loveliest mane and tail.
I’m not sure – I think perhaps the fist time we see Fresians is when the red coats pull up at the mill and Jamie has to hide from the (wink!) – those horses have huge manes and tails from memory.
I remember that night of the premier so well. I had read alllll the books. Outlander, Jamie, Claire, all the characters had become like family to me over the years. Yes, I had experienced “Droughtlander” numerous times while waiting for the “next” book! My husband, though he had never read a single page of the series, was also looking forward to seeing the story come to life. You see, I had been keeping him informed, with the reading of each installment, of all that went on in the lives of these wondrous characters. He was working late that night, and I was so very impatient for him to return so that we could watch it together. I caved! But only for the opening credits. We had set up our DVR, of course. I snuck a peek, and just the song, the images…oh my! It was magical indeed. I don’t know if he realized I had seen the opening, but it didn’t matter. We have watched every episode together since then, and the only cheating I do while waiting for him, is to get on Twitter and read those who are Live-tweeting. ?
Wow, a dedicated fan and a person with a lot of self-control!! Completely different to my first experience of the show as I had no idea of the story or the characters. Sometimes I think it might be nice to start a new series with no expectations and have the story just unfold, but alas, I now know ALLLLL the stories way too well for that! Luckily for me, I never had to wait for the next book – that must’ve been agony 🙂
Don’t know why I put a question mark at the end ^ ????
I my adopted daughter ( not legally but a young friend whose mother who was younger then me sadly passed away ) so we always joke she joined our clan I have two daughters and she is friends with them although several years older. Her step- mother owns/runs stables just outside Cumbernauld and several years ago asked her if she would help look after the horses during the filming of a new TV series she said yes and I was left looking after her son!!! As Outlander has never been screened here in Scotland on terrestrial TV due to David Cameron I knew little about it other than Angela worked on it. It wasn’t until a school friend living in England contacted me an asked if I would help her and act as a tour guide with her around Scotland with her American friend from North Carolina as I am interested in Scottish history my forefather fought at Culloden under Tullibardine’s brigade my maiden name being Stewart. So we took her American friend to all the places she wanted to go Culloden being one but not having seen the show I was ignorant of the filming locations now having seen it I could have taken her to them all as they are now miles from where I live and to top it all it turns out my now daughter’s fiance works across the road from the film studios in Cumbernauld!!!!!!
Wow! so many Outlander connections – do you live near Cumbernauld? Have you been to watch the filming at Cumbernauld Glen? Last year I watched there a few times which was great fun but it seems that this year they are going further afield to more inaccessible locations.
First let me say I’m a fan of your writing. This being droughtlander, today I revisited one of your excellent articles, “Is Outlander Still a Groundbreaking Show?”, and enjoyed it so much I decided to start following you on Twitter. Yay!
Like yourself and no doubt countless others I am a HUGE fan of all things Outlander, the show, the books, the audio books, all of it. Your question regarding the iconic first episode “Sassenach” and all the awe and wonder surrounding its epic premier, evoked emotions I confess I didn’t realize I still harbored. I do very much remember when I first watched it. September 2016, I had just completed the final season of Black Sails and looking for my next adventure. My then 24 year old daughter asked, “you’re not watching Outlander?, You need to start today!” So I poured myself a nice cognac and the journey began. I was immediately swept away by the breathtaking cinematography of the Scottish highlands and there was something in Caitriona’s voice over that drew me in, in almost a trancelike manner. NO show had ever done that. The rest as they say is history. Now if I had to point to one moment, it would have to be the scene where Jamie falls off his horse and when Claire is done dressing his wounds, holds out her hand to him and says “on your horse soldier” pulls him up and he gives her that stare. That chemistry was jumping off the screen! I said to myself, oh this is going somewhere and you best believe I’m coming along for the ride! And for the first 3 seasons, what a ride it was. It WAS, as we all agreed, truly groundbreaking television.
This is where your very smart piece posing the question…can the show can still claim that distinction after season 4? It caught my attention, because at the conclusion of season 4, I found myself experiencing an odd emotion not usually associated with watching outlander….grief! It was only after reading your article that it hit me. I realized that I was in mourning! In mourning for the brilliantly authentic show I fell in love with. THAT is precisely why the article you wrote hit home for me in so many ways. You manage to put into words every thought, emotion and disappointment I was feeling at the end of that season. How could it have fallen so far? Was it because Ron wasn’t as hands on? Were the writers THIS disconnected from the source material? And worst of all, are our lead actors no longer inspired by their characters? When I hear Caitriona ( a very smart actress) point to the fact that Jamie and Clair are getting older, hinting that we should start accepting that there will be less intimate scenes, that concerns and saddens me. She’s smarter than that. Nope. Because as you smartly pointed out, Diana makes it clear in her books that Jamie and Clair crave intimacy and have hot sex. They always have and they always will because it’s metaphysical. They don’t even understand what it is, not lust, beyond that it’s something they can’t explain. And that means they don’t stop because they are getting older. This isn’t Little House on The Prarie. The quote from “Echo in the Bone” you included was a PERFECT example of this. Frankly, the honesty with which the show has dealt with this aspect of the story is the VERY THING that made it groundbreaking in the first place. Now weather she and Sam as actors and producers, want to play that with the depth and bravery those roles require is a real question for me. I guess the answer is we will see. They are lovely and I know they are pros. Perhaps after 5 years they are in a different place as actors, but I cringe at the prospect of watching them go through the motions, with fades to black, and fakery. Without Sam and Caitriona’s being “all in” as in past seasons, I fear the show may never be the same! It means the loss of something important. It’s what we all yearn for as intelligent consumers of this particular kind of content. Not porn or gratuitous sex, just brave and honest storytelling. It’s we’ve come to expect from the show we used to call “Groundbreaking”.
Thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful comments Karol, and sorry it has taken me so long to reply ….looks like we are right on the same page in our Outlander journey. The first season was an emotional whirlwind for me – I was obsessed! And then after reading all the books and appreciating the magnitude of the story of Jamie and Claire I had very high expectations for subsequent seasons. Like you I was very disappointed with so many elements of Season 4 – I am REALLY hoping that with Sam and Caitriona as producers this year they will have a much greater focus on characters and relationships. Somehow I think many of the writers don’t ‘get’ Outlander and I really hope the next season will surprise us. Thanks again, I really enjoyed reading what you had to say about it.
Oh thank you so much for this blissful walk through Outlander memories. I love Season 1, and I
miss Scotland, and Claire and Jamie, and all the characters I was so invested in.
I too agree with you so much about Season 4. I felt like I was watching a completely different show.
I actually discovered Outlander when I was talking to a friend at a wedding about time-travel books and movies (a genre I just can’t get enough of. Somewhere in Time is a huge favorite of mine).
She told me about Outlander, how much I’d enjoy it (and yeah, how gorgeous Sam was). So when
I found it On Demand, I decided to watch it.
Wow! Right from the start, I felt so enveloped by the characterizations of Claire, Frank, Jamie and Black Jack.
I felt for Claire, wanting to get back home to her husband. I was rooting for her to get back to the century
she knew–and then, Jamie!
Wow, that was a Calgon take me away moment.
The setting, the characters (all of them), the history, the time travel element, and the drama was always gripping but character-driven. In all of Season 1, I felt as though I were watching real people in extraordinary circumstances.
I miss that actually.
Thank you so much for the article, the videos, the clip of audiobooks, and I love that deleted scene of Frank and Claire.
I want to see Season 1 again now.
I probably read non-fiction over fiction at a 5:1 ratio, if not 10:1. But at heart I’m a romantic who enjoys escaping the real world and immersing myself in stories like Outlander. Not many of my favorites have been brought to the screen but I put Outlander at the top of my list for best adaptation, casting, character development while still staying true to the story. I loved the books for the time it gave me to be “in” Outlander but I actually like the on-screen Outlander better than the books and I don’t think I can say that about any other fiction series I’ve read and enjoyed over the years. The closest I can come to explaining it or maybe understanding it myself is how enchanting and lovely I find Claire. Simple and maybe a bit neanderthal – but there it is. The Claire of my imagination in the books didn’t come close to capturing my heart the way Cat’s Claire has. Don’t misunderstand, I love the story, Jamie, Murtagh, Young Ian and pretty much everyone with the exception of “Leg Hair” – but Claire hooked me and I’m happy to be hooked.
Disclaimer: my wife is aware of my feelings for Claire and she’s OK with it. :=)
I plunged into the saga through the series, 4 years ago. I admit that I was immediately “enchanted” from the adorable Caitriona Balfe! I fell perplexed by her partner, from her reactions early in the show… but fortunately, things quickly came to their places when … the young Scottish warrior appeared! At that moment, I understood without a shadow of a doubt, that I have a real journey ahead, just like Claire!! I am from Eastern Europe, I have a lot of difficulties with the language, but it’s worth it! Thanks for all your materials and articles!! :)))
I had no idea what Outlander was about when I started watching it, and it wasn’t until The Wedding Night episode, maybe even a few more after that one did I really start to enjoy, appreciate, anticipate, ok, obsess over the story, love, relationship of Claire and Jamie. And not having read the books I was more focusing on the plot and story. But the second time through (I just had to watch every episode again like everyone else) I looked for the expressions, the dialog that I missed the first time, the people in the background (on the wedding night episode did anyone else notice Angus scratching his ear as he was standing behind Claire all dressed in her wedding dress as Jamie was walking out? Or Murtagh’s gentle smile at seeing Claire in her dress? ?), and I loved it even more. And yes Season 4 was a little disappointing the first time through, but on second watch I did appreciate more and enjoyed the scenes with Lord John Gray and Claire, with Bree, and Jamie and Willie, with Murtagh, with Bree. It gave me a deeper understanding of the other relationships that revolve around Jamie and Claire.