In Diana Gabaldon We Trust: A Look at Outlander Episode 511
Outlander author Diana Gabaldon wrote Episode 511 “Journeycake,” proving again what book readers have always said: In Diana Gabaldon We Trust.
Maybe now that we’ve seen the Outlander TV series Episode 511 “Journeycake,” the second episode in the series written by Herself, even those who only watch the show (along with all those involved in production) will get it:
It’s best to trust Diana Gabaldon about *everything* Outlander, including her opinions about filming the TV series.
And we can trust Sam Heughan as well on that point. Speaking specifically about Outlander Season 5 at Wizard World New Orleans in January, he said, “The scenes actually from the books, from Diana (thank you, Gabs), those scenes really, for some reason, are the ones that really have a lot of life to them and it’s because it’s her voice.”
Nailed it, Mr. Heughan, nailed it. We couldn’t agree more!
Hearing directly from Herself later in February at the 92Y that the writing in Episode 511 was 80% hers was my first clue that this episode would be a hands-down winner. No surprise then that “Journeycake” eclipsed my favorite of the series to date, Episode 507, “The Ballad of Roger Mac,” to become my new all-time fave.
When we get the double-double bonus of Ms. Gabaldon writing an episode (well, technically rewriting her own story, right?), as we did with Episode 511 and earlier with Outlander Episode 211, “Vengeance is Mine,” we get the best of all worlds. That’s exactly what we got with “Journeycake”—Diana’s voice, a voice we can trust, truly.
Thoughts from Herself
Speaking recently to Parade about her experience writing the episode, Ms. Gabaldon said, “It was a lot of fun and I think it came out really well.” (Understatement, for sure!) Referring again to the fact that 80% of the script was her words, she shared that she didn’t write the Bree and Lizzie farewell scene but thought “Sophie and Caitlin were wonderful.” In the rest, she gave us So. Many. Outlander. Gems.
PBJ and Plastic Wrap
One of those gems was a Voyager scene omitted from Outlander Season 3 and definitely missed by book readers. It’s the one where Claire eats the peanut butter and jelly sandwich Bree made her. In her Parade interview, Ms. Gabaldon shared as only she can:“I rather regretted that they weren’t able to use the scene in Season 3, of Claire’s arrival in Edinburgh, eating her last bite of her old life—and the transparent wisps of that past-future life being rolled away by the wind as she lets go of the Saran Wrap from her sandwich. So, given an episode to play with…I thought I’d get it back.”
She brilliantly added in this “small, bittersweet thread that’s what you might call the theme-song of the episode: peanut butter sandwiches.” Yes, Queen Diana, yes!
When asked recently by Town and Country which scene she was most excited to adapt for Episode 511, Ms Galbaldon answered, again, only as she can: “There were three, actually. Two of them were iconic scenes from the books, so that wasn’t a matter of adaptation. It was more like how much of each scene can we use, because there is limited time. So I put in the whole scene [from the book], and they would trim pieces off of it. The first scene that comes to mind is the scene with the microscope. They trimmed off the last bit of dialogue, and people probably miss that, but they’ll enjoy the scene, regardless. And then there’s the window sill scene, of course, which I had a lot of fun with. That comes before the microscope scene, for obvious reasons…”[Jamie and Claire’s description of the sperm in that scene has ‘sperms not germs’ rolling through my corona brain like some weird protest chant. You ever get words stuck in your brain, like a literary earworm?]
Ms. Gabaldon’s favorite scene? She spilled this tea in the Parade interview: “Jamie telling Bree about her brother. It’s a very simple, quiet scene, but so honest and full of emotion. Sam and Sophie just nailed it — really wonderful.”
And it’s a scene she wrote that “nobody messed with, which was great.” Agree!! In Town and Country she shared a bit more: “It’s a deeply, deeply emotional, but very low-key conversation that is so moving. I thought they just nailed it. I’ve gone back and watched that particular scene a dozen times, at least.”
How many times have you watched it, Obsessenachs? And did you notice wee Adso observing from the window bench?
Before I make my selections, let’s talk production particulars. Some things have changed while some stayed the same.
From our good look at the Big House and the North Carolina (Scotland) woods this season, the Jon Gary Steele sets remain relatively the same — spectacular. If you’ve seen a burned building, however, you’ll likely agree that the smoldering, sooty, grayish black remains of the Dutch cabin in this episode looked remarkably real.
Bear McCreary’s music is haunting, soothing, uplifting, evoking ALL the feels. If I remember correctly, we heard every major Outlander theme in this single episode.
If like me you were worried about the departure of Season 1-4 costume designer Terry Dresbach, I think dinna fash is applicable. Outlander Season 5 costume designer Trisha Biggar has given us a seamless transition while branding the costumes with her own unique touch, illustrated by these seen in this season’s premiere.
Each of those artists deserve all the awards, right? Now, on to my favorite things.
Despite the fact that Ms. Gabaldon wrote the 511 script, she will quickly tell you that getting to the final script is a collaborative experience. All scripts, including hers, go through an iterative revision process with the writers, producers, Sony and STARZ.
I think most everyone will agree that overall the 511 particular process yielded a wonderful episode. You can compare for yourself, though, what actually ended up on screen versus her original script.
No matter what was left in/removed from the script, I think most everyone will also agree that the Outlander cast brought their A Game to this episode. Maybe it’s the “Diana effect” for them as for me, but I felt they all had marvelous performances.
As always, my first measure is Jamie’s authenticity. From his prayer and sign of the cross in the opening to his “Trust me, mo graidh.” at the windowsill, Grandsire Sam Heughan was on fire (no pun intended). A little nap is all we need sometimes to get us back in our groove, aye? Jamie definitely knows how to serve his family, Mr. Brown, so be gone!
I most loved Caitriona Balfe’s scenes with Young Ian and Bree. Her expressions were priceless as she realized Ian would be demanding the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. And, as usual, she managed to somehow get herself and others in an awful pickle.
Richard Rankin took Roger’s eyes from crying over a dying young burn victim to that sparkling sweet eyebrow lift at Jamie’s description of the PBJ. The eyes have it for sure, aye, another finely nuanced performance!
I feel this episode was one of, if not THE, strongest for Sophie Skelton as Bree. That father-daughter-brother scene stole my heart!
Ned Dennehy as Lionel Brown was as creepily syrupy sweet as David Berry’s Lord John was genuine in his loving looks at Jamie. It’s unsettling to know that David Berry is not yet contracted for future Outlander episodes but I have faith we’ll see him again. We can always start a petition, right?
Young Ian’s depressed state was again heartrendingly portrayed by John Bell. I’m anxious to hear more about what happened with his wife, hopefully in the next episode. Lauren Lyle was delightful as ever as our expressive Marsali. Her 511 humor, warmth and mother bear vibes were on point.
I’ve simply resigned myself to a relatively silent Fergus this season. With the sparse dialogue Cesar Domboy has been given this season, you’d think he was the character who lost his voice. Still, he’s an amazing Fergus and any time he utters a “Voltaire” or “Germaine” or, well, anything really, my heart melts.
Not sure which of the sweet Adair brothers (Andrew or Matthew) performances made it on screen, maybe both, but Jemmy was perfection. We wouldn’t want that hot stone anymore either, Jemmy. These wee bairns are impossible not to love!
But the Emmy this episode goes to Caitlyn O’Ryan as Left-Behind-Lizzie. Your already-leaking eyes probably poured buckets as she and Bree bid goodbye.
And I have a few favorable mentions: Brennan Martin as Wendigo Donner immediately caught my attention. With a name like Donner, I’m guessing his character resembles Bonnet — cute but in no way cuddly. Similar for Gerald Tyler as Arvin Hodgepile. He had me wondering just how he got his hands on that red coat. And Hayley Doherty as the silently suffering Rose Brown was a sweet surprise. I hope we see her again in the Finale, maybe in a heroic role?
This episode also had a luscious sprinkling of irony. Mr. Brown hit the nail on the head with his comment about fathers seeking justice for dishonored daughters. Bet he knows about Bonnet, eh? The cabin that served many so well now sits silent and empty, a hollow reminder of all the love shared under its roof. The talk of war looming on the horizon eerily brings to mind the upcoming long and painful Droughtlander. All I can say is we better be able to hug again soon!
Ms. Gabaldon gave us much to appreciate in this episode, including the heartbreaking moments. With all the poignant good-byes reminiscent of The Sound of Music, the kidnapping and the Bree-Roger trip to who-knows-where, Episode 511 would have made a good finale cliffhanger. When a writer can make us love those tragic moments, that’s true genius, that’s Diana Gabaldon.
It makes me thankful, though, that we have one more episode ahead. I’m sure no amount of rewatching would have taken me through Droughtlander if she had left us there with Jamie at that burning cross.
Looking Ahead: The Finale, “Never My Love”
In her ˆ interview, Diana encapsulated 511 and the finale this way: “We light the fuse [with the Browns] that will blow everything apart…next week.”
Sounds like we better restock the Kleenex, pronto. Thank goodness it’s a bit easier to find than toilet tissue in this pandemic pandelirium (nod to Jeff Foxworthy and my Southern U.S. roots).
The promo wasn’t heavy with clues other than the obvious. Claire is in deep trouble, again. Jamie dons his kilt and Young Ian paints his face to indicate their serious intent. Alas, no sign of the MacKenzies. Sunday will be another bittersweet moment for sure.
There’s one thing that will help ease the pain considerably for me, participating in the OutlanderCast Virtual Finale Party with all of you. A huge thanks to Mary and Blake for organizing and hosting! Time, space and history be damned — damn skippy!
As I look ahead to our virtual gathering, thoughts of Jamie’s poem replaced my former literary earworm prompting a little research. According to the National Library of Scotland, it’s the beginning of The Death Dirge. In J. Phillip Newell’s The Book of Creation: An Introduction to Celtic Spirituality, however, it’s referred to as an Outer Hebridean “life prayer,” where rest helps us “be more awake to the Life that is within all life.” So rest up for our virtual event so that we can be more awake to celebrate Outlander and life as we each know and experience it.
Thou goest home this night to thy home of winter,
To thy home of autumn, of spring, and of summer;
Thou goest home this night to thy perpetual home,
To thine eternal bed, to thine eternal slumber.
Sleep thou, sleep, and away with thy sorrow;
Sleep, thou beloved, in the Rock of the fold.”
This prayer also takes me back to the trust element of Jamie’s faith and that of Diana Gabaldon. It’s the river of life running through her Outlander book series along with the trusting relationships built between her characters through every season of the year and of their lives.
The riverbed is thus the bond between Jamie and Claire, both physical and metaphysical. We love to see the physical form, oh, yes. To quote our editor, Ashley Crawley in her “Journeycake” minute-by-minute recap, “Only these two could spin the blended aroma of meatloaf, pickles and cow dung into an aphrodisiac.” But it’s their organic connection, as strong as the tides, always pulling them through space and time to and from each other and the relative safety of shore that kindles the Life within life of this epic story. Deep sigh.
I’ll take my leave for now, using Jamie’s toast. It’s one that seems especially appropriate at this time in our world: “To home. To Family. To Great Health. Slainte Mhor.”
In Diana Gabaldon we trust. Amen.
Where does “Journeycake” rank on your list of Outlander favorites?
Obsessenach Karen K Rutledge found Outlander through the STARZ TV series in 2016 after living under a graduate school rock during Season 1 and most of 2. She binged then began making her way through Diana Gabaldon’s captivating book series. The rest is history. Interested in following Karen? Twitter: @KarenABQNM Facebook: Karen K Rutledge Instagram: karen_k_rutledge