Outlander – it’s all about them…and them…and them too

Somewhere back in the late 1980s/early 1990s there was a TV show on that I really enjoyed. It took a while to get it, over here in Sweden and it took even longer for my apartment to get the cable channel that showed it so I didn’t start watching it till it had been on TV in the US for at least a year or so. It was called thirtysomething. I found myself relating to it a great deal. I felt like the show was about my life – though my story would have been more like fortysomething because as usual, being the late bloomer that I was, I didn’t start the kind of life thirtysomething was about till I was 10 years older.

Thirtysomething was a TV show about Michael and Hope, a young couple in their 30s, living in Philadelphia, and their new baby. It told stories about their life, how they adjusted to new parenthood, about how they dealt with their careers, how they dealt with their relationship with each other. I loved watching that show because my husband and I also were adjusting to being new parents too and I could relate. But it didn’t just tell the story of Michael and Hope and little Janie – because nobody just lives in a vacuum – people always have other people in their lives. While Michael and Hope were the center of the story, the show also had stories about Michael’s relationship with his business partner Elliot and Elliot’s wife Nancy. The show examined stories about Michael’s friendship with his best friend Gary, Michael’s cousin and photographer Melissa and her love affairs, and stories about Hope’s best friend Ellyn.  Thirtysomething lasted for 4 years on Television. And then we all moved on…but I never forgot the show.

Thirty years later, there is Outlander. I started out by watching the TV series. Four episodes in, I had to read Diana Gabaldon’s books. That was in 2014. It’s been four years now and I am still reading the books, over and over again and am now almost about to watch the final episode of Season four which is based on book four, The Drums of Autumn. There are four more books in the series already published, another is possibly going to be published this year in 2019 and a tenth book is promised. So if everything works out well, I have 6 more seasons of the TV show to look forward to. In the meantime, I keep myself busy with the Outlander subreddit, posting occasionally when I feel I have something to say. I read the Gabaldon thread on The Litforum though I haven’t yet worked up the nerve to post anything there. I follow various people from the Outlander world on Twitter and I am a member of the Facebook group Outlander Sweden, even going so far as attending a real-life meet up with members of the group here in Stockholm.

I have to admit, it is mainly the 16 episodes of season one, in which Scottish Jamie and his English Claire find each other and fall in love, that I have watched the most often. During the almost year-long hiatus between the end of season one and the beginning of season two, I watched the episodes over and over again, so much that I could almost recite them by heart. The following 3 seasons, not quite so much but by then I was deep into the books, reading them continuously on my Kindle. On a Kindle all books look the same – same page format, same font – so its hard to remember which book I am actually reading at the time. All eight Outlander big books have somehow coalesced into just one very very long story and while I remember events in the story, I have a hard time remembering what happens in which book.

In my lurking around on Reddit/Outlander and even on Twitter, I have come across a lot of comments about how after Season one and two, there just isn’t enough Jamie and Claire. And especially now in season four there are even episodes where they are barely glimpsed and that in some episodes they aren’t even seen at all!! People are complaining that this is supposed to be a show about just them! Nobody else counts! It should be the love story of Jamie and Claire and only that. That’s what they come to the show for. I assume that the majority of these complainers are mainly non-book readers though there are a few who claim that when they read the books they skip over the parts that are not Jamie and Claire centered because…those other parts are just boring.

Now I admit I can understand the skipping-over-parts thing – because in my first read of each book I found myself skipping parts too. I skipped over the medical explanations; I skipped the battle planning scenes; I skipped the physical descriptions of various new characters; I skipped the parts that said what the scenery they were traveling through looked like. I skipped all these things because all I wanted to know in my first read-through was what is going to happen! On subsequent readings I read all those skipped parts because I either found I loved the way the descriptions were written or I realized that what I had skipped was actually important to understanding the story. But these complainers, whether they be book-readers or show-only viewers seem to think that all that stuff they were skipping or thought unnecessary was not really important to the story because the only important thing was the love story between Jamie and Claire and they wanted more of the intimate and needless to say, sexy scenes between them in all the series episodes and even in all the following books too.

Now Diana Gabaldon has in no uncertain terms stated that Outlander does not fit within the Romance trope – It is not just about how one person pursues another and after much trials and tribulations, they finally hook up, get married and live happily ever after. Those type of stories usually only have two main characters, the pursuer and the prey. Everyone else is unimportant and just minor page filler. If that was all Outlander was, I probably would never have made it through the book or bothered to open Dragonfly in Amber. Or watched more than the first season.

In case you forgot, I began this post talking about a completely different TV show. No, I havent absent-mindedly wandered off topic. When I read all these complaints about the lack of Jamie and Claire story, I keep thinking back to thirtysomething. Now, Michael and Hope were interesting characters that I related to and I liked watching as their relationship moved forward (and sometimes backward) but what made the show so great was watching how M&H related to all their friends and family around them and how these people affected M&H. The same can be said for Jamie and Claire.

The fictional lives of Jamie and Claire Fraser also do not exist in a vacuum. In the first book/season it is mainly Jamie’s family and the people he knows that we get to meet; his sister Jenny, his uncles Dougal and Colum. Jenny’s husband is Jamie’s best friend. We meet Dougal’s two henchmen, Angus and Rupert and grow very fond of them. And of course there is Black Jack Randall. By getting to know these additional characters and how they affect Jamie and Claire, we get a better idea of who our two favorite characters are, and what they are made of…in ways we wouldn’t know if all we did was see them in bed together. They broaden the story, make this fictional world more real, because like all of us, there are people all around them that they react to and affect. As long as those secondary characters simply circled around our heros, that seemed to be ok to the complainers. Our heros were always there to watch, standing in the center.

But by book 3/season 3, we get two new heros who slowly seem to start taking center stage away from our central love story  – we get introduced to Brianna and Roger. Like our initial heros were when we first met them, Brianna and Roger are young and you can tell that they are destined to fall in love and fall in love hard, like Brianna’s parents did 20+ years ago. Both Brianna and Roger are very important people to Jamie and Claire and their story needs to be told. Brianna and Roger are like a reflecting glass to Jamie and Claire, showing us more about who J&C are by the way they react to their daughter and her Roger. There are whole chapters devoted to just Brianna or just Roger. And an entire season 4 episode without any view of either of our favorite heros. And then there is Young Ian, who shows us how Jamie would have been as a father if he had had the chance to raise any of his own children. Whole chapters just about Ian – how will they do that in the show I wonder. Sacrilege, some will cry I am sure! And further on in the books, lots and lots about William, Jamie’s son who in the series we have just barely begun to get to know. And as the books go on, Gabaldon draws more and more characters that rub elbows with the two people in our favorite love story. How the show will deal with them, who will make it into the episodes, who will be forgotten and left to inhabit only the books, is anybody’s guess at the moment. Only the show writers will decide that (perhaps with help from Diana).

But in spite of the growing number of important characters who appear, our beloved Scot and our beautiful Sassenach are still the center of the story. It is because of them there is even a story at all and we always keep coming back to them. They are like the stones dropped into a large shallow puddle, lying there in plain view, in the middle of the widening rings spreading out from the place where the stones landed. So I am more than happy to read about/watch episodes only showing Brianna or Roger or Ian or William and any of the other characters who Diana writes into the lives of Jamie and Claire. Because by getting to know them and how they are related to our heros, by the time I meet up with Jamie and his Claire again I know so much more about these two  characters who I have grown to love through eight books and 4 seasons of TV. I can’t wait to follow all the threads that Diana and our TV writers weave around Jamie and Claire Fraser.


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