Not much changes in Scotland. It’s desolate and full of the decedents of violent, clannish sorts that speak with an unappealing brogue. It always has been that way. It is also the original place of far too many Americans. Little wonder, then, that Starz would pick up “Outlander” for a premium treatment.
And premium treatment it is! We have battles, romance, and impressive cinematography. Perhaps most important, we also have a something of feminist narrative. Our protagonist, Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe), is the generic TV heroine with a heart of gold. She’s drop dead gorgeous, affluent, and volunteers as a nurse. Think Lady Sybil Branson of “Downton Abbey.”
Claire Randall is a product of the World War II and “Outlander” is lackadaisical in communicating the suffocation and sexism that entails. We get a glimpse of a rebel but without the society she rebels against. What starts as “Downton Abbey” lite soon becomes a tale of turmoil. If you’re thinking 1950s post-colonialism, though, then you’re sorely mistaken. Our protagonist instead time travels to 18th century Scotland. Why? God. Fairies. White denial.
What does matter is that she meets the “love of her life,” Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan). At the series start he’s a bovine redhead on the verge of inheriting a grand estate. He’s also a warrior poet with a knack for learning different languages. Do I mention he’s exquisitely handsome with a big chest? Because he’s that too.
The most notable bits of “Outlander” is the sex. Guys go down on Claire Randall, she tells us about it, etc. A good change of pace. However, circumstance becomes part of the foreplay. This is realistic, granted. Since when has context and scenario not been apart of romance? Without going too far into detail, Jaime makes tremendous sacrifices for Claire.
The only problem? This interaction conforms to expectations -dalliances of the privileged few and all that. Again we see the world from a perspective that few people enjoy but that many aspire towards. Ironic then, that this is also crux of both seasons.
“Outlander” takes place during the Jacobite uprising that culminates in the Battle of Culloden. For those unaware, it was an absolute disaster. 2000 Scots died compared to 50 English. Why? Capability of the Scottish force. And to be fair the uprising in “Outlander” is full of flawed characters. Nowhere, though, do we see the laughable incompetence that pervaded the Jacobite army in real life.
Perhaps this is to draw the viewer into the show. The target demographic of “Outlander,” even if better read than most, are not experts of early modern Scottish-English conflict. The history itself is part of the surprise and narrative. For those in the know, “Outlander” also goes the way of Dr. Who. We really do not know if Claire can avert history. Spoiler alert -she doesn’t.
“Outlander” is unsettling for many reasons. Perhaps most of all is the fact that it exists. This show is about savages -noble white savages. The same savages that would move on to press their own clannish xenophobia, oppression, and insanity onto Native Americans and African slaves in the new world. The same savages that would create that god-awful, and endemic, barbarism that we predominantly see in the American south.
White people want to feel good about their pasts. The truth, however, is that they shouldn’t. They should feel bewildered and horrified. That’s a healthy reaction. “Outlander,” instead, taps into the denial that many Americans feel. I guess there’s always Culloden.