'Outlander' Premiere Recap: Episode 1 -- 'Sassenach'
"Outlander" made the leap from the pages of Diana Gabaldon's 1991 novel to the television screen on Saturday night on Starz.
From saving soldiers in World War II, to tangling with redcoats and Highlanders in 1743, Claire Randall quickly became one of TV's most formidable females.
Here's how things played out in "Outlander" Season 1, Episode 1 – "Sassenach":
"People disappear all the time. Most are found, eventually. Disappearances, after all, have explanations. Usually." – Claire Randall
A Look Back?
When we meet Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) she's peering at a vase in the window of Farrells General Store. But really, she's somewhere else. In an unknown place and time, Claire is telling her story, narrating the moments in her life before everything changed.
It seems like they had changed plenty when we get a glimpse of her on May 8, 1945 -- VE Day. "Hold him," nurse Claire shouts, fearlessly tending to a soldier whose leg has been blown apart, until a doctor arrives and takes over after she's done the bulk of the heroics. Wiping blood from her face and neck as she walks away, she hears the cheers. The war is over. A fellow Englishwoman plants a bottle of champers in Claire's arms and she takes a deep swig.
(Photo Credit: Starz)
Claire tells us her memories of World War II are growing "fainter, with each passing day," but still vivid is the memory of the vase in that shop window in Inverness, six months after the war ended. She wonders what would have happened if she'd taken it home. But, she adds, "I do know this -- even now, after all the pain and death and heartbreak that followed, I still would make the same choice."
"Oh my dear, there's no place on earth with more magic and superstition mixed into its daily life than the Scottish Highlands." – Frank Randall
The Randalls' Second Honeymoon Begins
Motoring to the sounds of Carroll Gibbons' "I'm Gonna Get Lit Up (When The Lights Go Out In London)," Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies) and Claire Randall make their way to Mrs. Baird's in the Highlands. A peculiar sight greets them after parking the car – blood smeared on one doorway after another. A pagan ritual perhaps? It's likely. The Highlands are known for mixing "magic and superstition" into life, Frank tells his wife. Inside the inn, Mrs. Baird (Kathryn Howden) explains the blood is part of a sacrifice to honor Saint Oren. When Frank chimes in with a little extra knowledge about the saint, Mrs. Baird asks if he's a professor. "Soon," he says. He'll be taking up a post at Oxford in a fortnight and this is their last holiday before settling back into life. The timing of their vacation is a good one, Mrs. Baird says. The Gaelic festival of Samhain is going on. But, a warning: "Ghosts are freed on the feast days, and they'll be wandering about free to do good or ill as they please," the bed and breakfast owner tells the Randalls.
Taking their bags to their room, Claire and Frank get used to their temporary surroundings and each other. The Randalls spent just 10 days together during the five year conflict, but while he didn't have her with him, Frank remembered her palm. "I had a very clear memory of this pattern," he tells Claire, cradling her fingers delicately. An awkward moment where Frank seems to want to tell Claire something important (maybe something from his time during the war) is made shorter when Claire kisses her husband, prompting more intimate relations. Downstairs, Mrs. Baird hears the creaking of the bed's springs and smiles.
"It only means Englishman after all. Or, at worst -- outlander." -- Reverend Wakefield
An 18th Century History Lesson
Driving through the Highlands, Frank takes time to point out Cocknammon Rock, which he explains was used by the Brits in the 17th and 18th centuries to ambush Scottish rebels. A little while later, the Randalls reach the ruins of Castle Leoch, the ancestral home of the MacKenzie clan, where Frank whips out a notebook to continue his passion for genealogy. Claire reveals her new interest is plants and herbs. As they head inside, she narrates from her mystery place and time, revealing Frank ran spies during the war for MI6. Many of the folks he sent behind the lines never came back, and it's something he really doesn't talk about.
(Photo Credit: Starz)
With just a flashlight to guide them inside the castle, Frank gets a thrill thinking that his ancestor – Jonathan Wolverton Randall, a Captain of Dragoons in the British Army – could have walked Leoch's halls. Claire smiles, but has other things on her mind. She left her "undergarments" (Frank's word) at home, providing an opportunity to get frisky with Frank in a room beneath the castle.
Back in Inverness that night, Frank and Reverend Wakefield (James Fleet), a man fond of keeping records, combine their notes about Jonathan Randall, or as he was known, "Black Jack." For four years, Jack commanded the garrison at Fort William for the Brits. When Frank suggests the English were unpopular in the Highlands in the 18th century, Claire suggests they still are. She heard a bartender call them "Sassenach." "I hope you didn't take offense. It only means Englishman after all. Or, at worst, outlander," Reverend Wakefield explains.
Growing bored by the history talk, Claire heads back to the kitchen with Mrs. Graham (Tracey Wilkinson), who offers to read her tea leaves after she finishes her cup. And, after the leftover leaves share a contradictory tale, Mrs. Graham reads Claire's palm. The very pattern that Frank couldn't get out of his head during the war is also full of contradictions. "The life line's interrupted. All bits and pieces," a confused Mrs. Graham says. And, Claire has two marriage lines -- not divided. "Yours is... forked!"
It's talk of Black Jack that breaks the tense moment as Frank and Reverend Wakefield walk in. Frank's ancestor likely had a patron to protect him back in the 1700s – the Duke of Sandringham, a suspected Jacobite who died under mysterious circumstances. Claire uses the historical distraction to excuse herself. But, walking back to Mrs. Baird's she narrates again, revealing that in that moment, she felt Mrs. Graham's words had, "a ring of prophecy."
"Are you asking me if I've been unfaithful?" – Claire Randall
A Ghostly Encounter
"Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!" Claire curses, as she brushes her hair before bed. Outside Mrs. Baird's, Frank, on his way back, spots a figure looking up through the window at his wife's activities. "Excuse me, can I help you with something?" he asks the man in full Highland regalia, who turns, seems to brush past him (without touching) and disappears.
Inside in the warm B&B, Frank is shaken. Over a drink, he discusses the encounter, asking Claire if she nursed any Scots during the war. "When I saw that chap looking up at you, I thought he might be someone you'd nursed. Someone who might be looking for you now. To reconnect," Frank explains, before suggesting "it wouldn't be unusual" or "surprising" if Claire had looked for "comfort" during their time apart.
"Are you asking me if I've been unfaithful?" Claire asks, angrily. Frank tells her it wouldn't matter if she had. "Nothing you could ever do could stop my loving you," he says, begging her forgiveness. She gives it to him and they share another passionate encounter. But, before drifting off to sleep, Frank suggests they get up early to head to a standing stone circle – Craig na Dun – to watch the local witches or druids who may be performing a ritual there.
"I wasn’t' supposed to be here. I was an unwelcome voyeur into something ancient and powerful." -- Claire
A Spellbinding Ceremony
Under a cloak of darkness Frank and Claire make their way to the site, ducking into some shrubbery just in time to go unnoticed by the women (including Mrs. Graham) arriving for their dance. Holding elegantly wrapped candles, the women perform an enchanting dance, a ceremony of some sort, as the sky goes from dark, to dusk, to sunrise. "The hairs on the back of my neck prickled at the sight and some small voice inside warned me, I wasn’t' supposed to be here," Claire narrates. "I was an unwelcome voyeur into something ancient and powerful."
After watching the women depart, Frank pulls out his notebook, and Claire spots a plant that piques her interest as they peek around the empty stone site for a closer look. A rustling nearby prompts them to dart behind one of the giant stones. It's a young woman who left something behind. She decides to stay, so Frank and Claire make a break for it.
Back in the village, Claire consults a book about the plant she saw. "I think it's a forget-me-not," she says. Frank suggests she go back to Craig na Dun to get it, while he keeps an appointment with Reverend Wakefield. They agree to meet for dinner later, and exchange I love yous and kisses before parting.
After parking the car, Claire heads up the hillside to the stone circle. She grins when she spots the plant, pulls out her handkerchief and picks it up. The wind picks up too, and she hears an unusual sound. It draws Claire to one of the larger stones. She put her hands on it and everything changes.
(Photo Credit: Starz)
"You're not Frank." – Claire Beauchamp
Lying on her wool blanket, Claire wakes up confused. She heads for the car, but it's not there. The landscape seems different too. Brushing past tree after tree, Claire is stunned to hear gunfire and even more so when she spots men in British Army coats from another time. "Perhaps, I had stumbled onto the set of a cinema company filming a costume drama of some sort," she thinks, before tumbling down a slope. "But there was no logical reason for actors to fire live ammunition!"
(Photo Credit: Starz)
A redcoat spots Claire, takes aim and fires! She ducks just in time, and runs all the way to the side of the stream where she spots a familiar face. "Frank! What the devil are you doing?" she asks the man with long hair, breeches, thigh-high leather boots and a British Captain's coat. He looks her up and down. "You're not Frank," she says. "No, madam. I am not," he replies, again, looking her up and down. Then, he introduces himself. "I'm Jonathan Randall, Esq. Captain of his Majesty's eighth Dragoons. At your service." Claire tries to run, but Jack is faster, pinning her to a rock wall with his sword, and demanding answers about who she is. She lies, telling him her husband is Frank Beauchamp (her maiden name) and he'll be looking for her. Jack doesn't buy it -- even less so when she spits in his face. "The speech of a lady, the language of a whore. I choose the whore," Black Jack says, whipping Claire around and tearing her dress as he prepares to rape her.
Help comes from above. A short man in Highland attire knocks Black Jack out cold. "Trobhad," the man (Murtagh, played by Duncan Lacroix) screams at Claire in her tatty dress (looking quite like the one Mrs. Graham wore during the ritual at this point). They run for it, and he's forced to knock her out too when she tries to scream to the redcoats for help.
"Stand aside at once!" – Claire Beauchamp
Claire's Adventure With The Highlanders Begins
"I wanted it to be a dream, but I knew it wasn't," Claire narrates as we see her waking up atop the horse of the Highlander who saved her. Murtagh takes her to a stone cottage and shoves her inside. His fellow clan members stand, shocked over her racy appearance. A man we'll come to learn is Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish), whose attire seems finer than the rest, heads over. "What's your name?" he asks her. She chooses her maiden name – Claire Beauchamp – for safety.
Murtagh explains he found her with Capt. Randall. "There seemed to be a question as to whether the lady was or was not a whore," Murtagh says, filling the group in on what he overheard. "I'll stake my best shirt, she's no' a whore," Murtagh says. "We'll puzzle it out later," Dougal replies. They have traveling to do and then, there's the issue of Jamie.
Seated near the fire is Jamie (Sam Heughan), a redheaded Highlander with a dislocated shoulder. He can't ride with it like that, so the men give him some booze, and gather around him, preparing to force it back into place. It's then that Claire reacts on instinct. "Don't you dare!" she shouts. "Stand aside at once," she continues, storming over to where Jamie is seated, despite one of the Highlanders pulling a knife on her. "You'll break his arm if you do it like that," she says, explaining she knows how to put it back in place correctly.
She leans over Jamie. "Hold him steady," she tells them men, before looking into Jamie's eyes. They nod at each other, and she begins her work. "This is the worst part," she tells him. He nods again. With a slow twist and one final push, the joint pops back into place. "It doesn’t hurt anymore," Jamie says, surprised. "I'm a nurse," Claire explains to Jamie, who looks at her chest. "Not a wet nurse," she scolds him. With Jamie now okay to ride, the men get ready to go. Jamie gives Claire a look before they head out into the rain, where Dougal puts her on the horse with the young man she just attended to.
(Photo Credit: Starz)
Feeling Claire shivering, Jamie uses his good arm to loosen the extra material around his kilt to throw over them as a blanket. He doesn't want her to freeze before sunup.
In the morning, Claire sees something familiar as they ride -- Cocknammon Rock. The English use it for ambushes, Claire blurts out. Urging his horse ahead, Jamie tells Dougal (in Gaelic) what she said. Dougal seems to ask him (in Gaelic) if he trusts her. Jamie does. The Highlanders nod at each other and prepare for battle. "Tulach Àrd!" Jamie shouts, dropping Claire off his horse. She uses the distraction of the battle (redcoats pop out from behind the trees and begin firing) to make a run for it.
It's no use. Despite making her way to a stream, Jamie, covered in blood from battling the Brits, cuts Claire off. "Lost your way?" he asks, using one leg to swing himself off his horse. "Dougal and the others will be waiting further up the stream. We should go," he insists, holding up his sword. "You don't look that heavy. Now, if you won't walk. I shall pick you up and throw over my shoulder. Do you want me to do that?" he asks. She doesn't. "Well, then, I suppose that means you're coming with me," he half smiles.
"Thank you, Sassenach, truly!" – Jamie
A Bond Is Formed
During the night's ride, Claire notices something is wrong with Jamie, and she shouts for help. As he drops off his horse, the clan rushes over to help him. Claire too. Pulling back his shirt, she sees he's been shot. The bullet's gone straight through, but the wound needs cleaning. Only alcohol is available. "You're lucky you're not dead," she spits out at him when Jamie is revived. With no sterile bandages available, Claire curses, and rips a strip off her dress and patches Jamie up.
Dougal reminds them they have to keep moving. Jamie has his own reasons for wanting to go on (despite Claire urging he rest). "Randall, the officer you encountered, he won't give up so easily," Jamie tells Claire. "I won't risk you or anyone else being taken prisoner by that man," he adds. Finishing up with the dressing, Claire tells Jamie he's ready to go. "That's about all I can do. The rest is up to you," she explains. They look at each other and she helps him up. "Thank you, Sassenach, truly!" Jamie says. "All right, well on your horse, soldier," she replies, and they ride, reaching Castle Leoch in the morning.
(Photo Credit: Starz)
"I'd been here with Frank two days ago," Claire narrates. "Or was that in the future? How could I remember something that hadn't happened yet? So far, I'd been assaulted, threatened, kidnapped and nearly raped and somehow, I knew that my journey had only just begun."
"Outlander" airs Saturdays at 9 PM on Starz.
-- Jolie Lash
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