Descent to Hell

It’s been a long ride, a journey in which I didn’t expect I would invest so much emotionally. It’s only a TV series I know, but it is Outlander, the show acclaimed as the bravest on TV this year, as a milestone which will change the history of TV series. Love it or hate it, what you can't do is ignore it. 
To know in advance and in detail what was going to happen was no protection, didn’t help, didn’t save me from the overwhelming wave of powerful emotions that swept me off my feet. That was more Sam Heughan, you say?

Seriously, now.  It was such a gripping experience! It had been some time since I was last so enthusiastically committed and involved in a TV series.   

The first astonishing thing in Outlander Starz was that all episodes were unique and different:  The Gathering (ep. 4) was nothing like The Wedding (ep. 7), Lallybroch (ep. 12) was totally different from The Reckoning (ep. 9), the first episodes were so distant from Wentworth (ep 15) … it’s like we didn’t actually have an easily recognizable Outlander brand or style, as if each "instalment" was a different entity with a different identity (features like the narrative tone, the  atmosphere,  the point  of view, the directing style, the setting have often shifted or changed) . Have you got the same impression while watching? One of the main elements in Outlander was surprise: the plot never followed the direction you expected it to and you were constantly displaced and watched on the edge of your seat with a sense of complete awe for the mind who had succeeded in  conjuring up so many great, tricky twists and turns: Oui! Chapeau, Madame Gabaldon! (Getting ready for France!)

No brand I said. Well, that is not entirely true: majestic Scotland, standing stones and men wearing kilts  have become the Outlander world in the imagery of so many readers and viewers now.  Then, if I think about the two final episodes I recognize a brand: they share a  4-D quality: dark, disturbing, disquieting (and even) disgusting . Just to explain the last adjective: they were like harsh punches to my guts and stomach, which left me with a sense of nausea. 
For someone like me, who has been refusing to see Game of Thrones or Hannibal,  after only trying one episode, it’s been really tough. The actors were so good, so frighteningly honest that ... I have often forgotten it was just fiction and that Claire was lovely Balfe, Jamie  lovely Heughan and Randall lovely Menzies in reality. I even totally forgot that Gabaldon’s book had not hold the same haunting grip on me when I read it. What the hell was then  happening  to me?

This series has been  outlandering (read“haunting" if not "marring") my  life in the latest months. No exaggeration there.  I mean, it has really inhabited my mind so predominantly that poor sensitive me has gone into a frequent turmoil as a consequence.

Try to figure out your nightmares filled with dark prisons and sadist torturers with long black hair wearing red coated uniforms.
Imagine you wake up a bit sore and quite harshly tested in the morning and must go to work. Good, that’s me! And all that has happened to me before watching episode 15 or 16.  The nightmares were just the ghosts produced by expectations. Then,  Wentworth was on TV, as provoking and blunt as they had warned, as tough and gut-wrenching as I had expected it to be. Now, I wonder, why didn’t I stop watching, if it had such an effect on me even before it hit my sight?  Because I was disturbed but not offended while watching. I was fascinated though disgusted by what I came to witness with my own eyes on the TV screen. I’ve never liked bloody, violent shows and often complained about gratuitous scenes of nudity on TV. What now? What was different in Outlander ‘s nudity, violence, gruesome scenes? 

Let me look for a suitable explanation because I’m not sure I have answered all those questions yet.
Let’s look for an example to make myself clear.  You know “Braveheart”? Doesn’t it last about 4 hours? Well, I saw it in 2 and only once. Most of its gory scenes were useless, gratuitous and my stomach just couldn’t bear it. FF button pushed most of the time and that’s it.
What kept me glued to Outlander,  instead? I never shied away from watching any bit, and while watching bit by bit,  I never doubted it was not gratuitous,  but funtional to the story or to  the character’s development.  I was there from the first moment, convinced I was experiencing something new and different from anything I had ever seen before and the impression grew stronger and stronger episode after episode,  from Claire’s unexplicable but promising initial journey through time,  until Jamie’s nightmarish descent to hell in the finale.

And here is the reason why.  I felt I was being given the chance to witness how literary characters from a good story can be brought to life and become remarkably tridimensional thanks to intellectual honesty, talent, hard work and commitment. I felt elated and euphoric at being able to be there,  witnessing a work of magic. They took the book and brought that world to life, giving flesh and blood to words. They just did an awesome job.

Note to disappointed fans

I don't want to be involved in animated discussions with Outlander fans who have been waiting for this to happen for many years and feel disappointed. I only want to say that in my humble opinion to go on expecting to see  the Claire or the Jamie they saw in their own minds is persistently naive. Insisting on the Claire's or Jamie's physical features Balfe or Heughan don't naturally own is useless, since those features couldn't be anything without the acting talent they undeniably have.
But what I really can't stand is the hypocrisy of those who cried out scandalized by the violence and nudity on this TV show  and declared they couldn't go on watching. What book did they read? They must have read a cleaned version! I remember myself blushing all the time while reading Outlander on the bus or in the underground in London, because Diana Gabaldon doesn't hide any shocking detail from her readers. Did these fans imagine a full clothed wedding night? A bloodless and painless flogging? A rape without disgusting slimy touches?  I respect any decision and any comment, only I really can't understand.
They don't want their teenage daughters to see such disturbing sex scenes? They shouldn't let them read them either. It doesn't make much difference in my mind.
To those who were disturbed by the changes in the plot -cut and additions- I can simply say: it could have been much , much worse.  But I can join them, if only in one of their complaints: I'd have cut the search in episode 13 shorter, made Claire and Murtagh found Jamie sooner,  and avoided cutting all that good material from the final chapters.
To those who were shocked by frontal male nudity I say: since we didn't come to see Jamie full -frontal naked, why was it necessary to see Jack Randall like that? If it was because of his being a beast and wanted to show him in his beastliness,  I totally agree but,  actually, that's the only small bit I can't defend from the suspect of being gratuitous.

   Read my Outlander daily paper - A Sassenach's Journal: Welcome to The World of Outlander

Praise for the impeccable cast and crew

Whoever found and recognized Jamie in Sam Heughan and Claire in Caitriona Balfe was a genius. That was really kind of a miracle, wasn’t it? They were simply perfect.  They gave substance to our dreams. Both Heughan and Balfe made me love their characters, Jamie and Claire, whom I couldn’t actually relate to before (“a super woman and a super man” - I used to say – “too much of everything in both”, or I was even more bitter talking about Jamie, “I could never be attracted to a ginger”).  Heughan and Balfe made them extraordinarily lovable and human, more precisely: out of ordinary but human. That's how I came to love them both.

And what about all the others? Outlander had outstanding cast, blessed with enormous talent  and high  professionality.  I don’t know where to start but,  of course, let’s open the mentions with Tobias Menzies. What to say?  I’ll have troubles to remove his Black Jack from my nightmares,  he was frighteningly convincing. I didn’t particularly like his Frank, but that’s not his fault. Who is supposed to be liking Frank in this story? ( Sorry, team Frank! )

Duncan Lacroix aka Murtagh
I loved the light touch given to this dark material by skillful comedians like Stephen Walters (Angus) and Grant O’Rourke (Rupert) or the solid, grounded expert acting of Bill Paterson (Ned Gowan), Graham MacTavish (Douglas MacKenzie) and Gary Lewis (Colum MacKenzie).
Last but not least, I discovered fascinating Duncan Lacroix,  who made Murtagh my best favourite highlander after Jamie. But young Jamie is already taken, isn’t he? So, Murtagh Fitzggibon Fraser, you are warned! You are my best favourite not-already-taken highlander! Bit less hair and you are just perfect!

Sublime producer Ronald D. Moore and his team of collaborators aimed at high quality and originality,   experimented new brave paths,  chose committed writers and directors, picked up wonderful locations and designed awesome costumes. That's how Outlander came to achieve a greatly  innovative way of telling a story on TV. Kudos to courage and talent,  because they gifted us with an incredible quantity of  unforgettable emotions.

Sam Heughan and Jamie Fraser: the strength of being vulnerable

I must make amends to Jamie.  I feel so guilty now for what I said of him in the past. Quoting from my review of Outlander posted here at FLY HIGH!:

“Do I like him? Impossible not to. Though I think he is  too good to be true. Too young, too handsome, too naive, too patient, too impatient, too kind, too strong,  too  ...  fictional! That is what he is, in fact. On a shallow note,  his red hair!  Nothing against fair haired people, of course. Only I went on figuring him as tall, dark and handsome.”  

Fortunately , Jamie is a good, generous, sensitive lad. I’m sure he will forgive me as I regret my mistake and admit his being one of the most charming fictional characters I have ever met.

What I started loving in Jamie belongs, in fact, to Sam Heughan.  While reading the book I just couldn’t figure out a fierce, giant, ginger, almost 23-year-old  man in a kilt as fascinating. I simply couldn’t.  To me most of the charm of the character was lost. How could Claire be attracted to him?

But one day in September 2013 I saw a picture on Twitter or Facebook: Sam Heughan cast as Jamie Fraser in Outlander. He was tall, dark, blue-eyed and handsome in that photo. Gorgeous indeed. How dare they turn him into a ginger? Well, they did it and I wasn't shocked. Then came the kilt and the Scottish accent, his voice, his smile and … I was totally smitten. How could I be that blind and not seeing Jamie while reading? There he was, he was irresistible and there was no way I could escape his fascination.

Well, as long as men can breathe or eyes can see, one cannot deny Sam Heughan attractiveness. Anyway, after what I saw him do as an actor and as a human being in the latest months, his being handsome is not his main quality. What a beautiful person he is!

However, I'm here to say how grateful I am he became Jamie in every little detail, he decided to commit himself to find Jamie’s voice and intonation, way of walking and fidgeting, way of smirking and smiling.  He really took the task seriously and searched and found the Jamie inside himself and finally gave us the gift of seeing the 18th century young highlander talk, ride, fight, fall in love, make jokes, stand up right, feel ashamed, tell good stories, make love, blush and smile, kiss and smirk, swear and shout, beat and kneel, plan and make decisions, make good choices and mistakes, save the day and get into trouble, be the hero and be the victim, be brave and be broken, want to die and dream of a better future.
He did a wonderful job all through the series but did his best in the end, when he let the darkness inhabit him and went down to hell, into Jamie’s hell,  at Wentworth. I found his work in episodes 15 and 16 extraordinarily good, outstanding and deeply moving. Sam was suffering, Sam was crying, Sam was desperate.  Acting=feeling.  

I wrote about how fascinated I am by the job of acting (HERE) because actors –like writers- have the power to create life, the magical power to live other people’s lives, to give blood and flesh to ideas and ghosts. This is what Sam Heughan is very good at: he draws back and let Jamie start living.

Watching Sam in interviews you realize he and Jamie have much in common. Anyway,  Sam is not Jamie, Jamie is not Sam. So when you watch scenes from Outlander like this one or this one, or the shocking ones and the heart-breaking ones in the finale you start believing in magic.

I'd love to hear from you, to know what you've liked and disliked in the series, if you have favourite scenes or any complaint, and,  especially, how do you plan to cope with the next long period of droughtlander? Any good suggestion? If you, instead,  have any question for me, I'll be happy to answer. 


WandaSue said...

Your assessment was spot on! From top to bottom -- except that I DID see Jamie's charismatic attraction in the book, from the first time I read it in hardback, in 1992. Sam Heughan embodied the character perfectly.

It was a terrific series, with awesomely talented actors. I'm so glad we'll be seeing them again in the next series, "Dragonfly in Amber."

Anonymous said...

You probably won't read this but I just had to affirm your appreciation of Sam's interpretation of Jamie. He was simply stunning. I couldn't keep my eyes off him and I don't do that kind of thing. I'm posting this after the emmys, the sags and the golden globes and I'm still in disbelief that he has not been recognized. I do believe however, that Sam is an actor's actor and is concerned about the work and not the reward. I just have to say how I've truly enjoyed his acting and can't wait to see more. I am pleased that Caitriona and Tobias and Ron have (thus the whole team) have finally been nominated. I only hope they all have long and rewarding careers. barb