After some Outlander fans read this, I may need to flee the century.
Because while I love Starz’s adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s Scottish time-travel romance verra, verra much, and am looking forward to Sunday’s fourth-season finale, I do sometimes wish the show surprised me more often.
The problem with being both a reader and a watcher is that plot twists don’t always seem as twisty on television as they once did on the page. Knowing they were coming still didn’t make certain moments of HBO’s Game of Thrones easy to stomach, but I was braced for them in a way I haven’t been since the show moved beyond George R.R. Martin’s still-in-progress books. Outlander goes further than most book adaptations in its fidelity to Gabaldon’s novels, which, unlike Martin’s, are still way ahead of the TV version.
And already I’m in trouble, because there are people who will tell you that it’s not nearly faithful enough, that the story of Claire Randall Fraser (Caitriona Balfe), who’s been married to men in two noncontiguous centuries, and Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), the love of her complicated life, has too often detoured from the detailed itinerary laid down in Gabaldon’s books.
Only the other day, executive producer Maril Davis was having to explain why the show had deviated from Gabaldon’s version of a prison-break scene in the Jan. 20 episode.
“Listen, we get notes from a lot of people,” Davis told the Hollywood Reporter. “Some people felt like it was a little convoluted, and also we hadn’t really played the relationships with some of the characters from the book in that scene. It wasn’t really possible to get there because we had dropped some story lines. Sometimes with books this size, things fall by the wayside.”
Of course they do. Sometimes they should. And some of the departures in recent seasons have probably been particularly helpful to viewers who haven’t read the books, something I did only in anticipation of the series. (The books continue to draw fans. The first, Outlander, published in 1991, was one of the most popular ebook downloads of 2018 at the Free Library of Philadelphia.)
And yet even something as relatively minor (to me) as Heughan’s decision to rein in Jamie’s reaction to seeing a 20th-century picture of his daughter for the first time last season apparently disappointed those who insisted the scene should have been played as Gabaldon first wrote it, causing a kerfuffle on which Vanity Fair’s Joanna Robinson reported at the time.
I often watch Outlander on the Starz app, where each week’s episode is followed by a discussion among producers who seem all too aware of how closely they’re being watched.
After the episode earlier this season in which Claire and Jamie’s daughter, Brianna (Sophie Skelton), who’s traveled from the 20th century, meets Jamie for the first time, executive producer Toni Graphia, who cowrote the episode with executive producer Matthew B. Roberts, talked with him and Davis about the importance of getting that meeting and its aftermath right.
COURTESY OF STARZ Sam Heughan as Jamie and Sophie Skelton as Brianna in “Outlander.”