Monday, 18 August 2014

OUTLANDER, 1.2 – 'Castle Leoch' - lies of a spy

Monday, 18 August 2014
JAMIE (to Claire): You're a kind woman... with a good touch... and your husband is a lucky man.
The disdain many men feel toward romantic fiction is perhaps a belief the love story will be too gooey, but I'm not getting that impression from OUTLANDER. "Castle Leoch" saw involuntary time-traveller Claire (Caitriona Balfe) arriving at the titular stronghold, home of the Clan MacKenzie, where she spent five days adjusting to her new environment/century, and trying to put everyone's mind at ease over rumours she's an English assassin or spy...

There are still an amusing number of scenes where Claire tends to love interest Jamie's (Sam Heughan) wounds, that require he's shirtless, and this hour seemed intent on underscoring just how damned chivalrous Jamie is. Flashbacks revealed he was once flogged to prevent his sister being raped by redcoat Captain Randall (Tobias Menzies), and in the present-day accepted a beating to spare a kitchen maid's public humiliation. Anyone would think he just likes being nursed back to health, as Claire's forever at his beck and call with a damp rag, fresh bandages, and ointments. Often in front of a roaring fire.

The pacing of "Castle Leoch" was as measured as the pilot, but without much attachment to 1945. There were some quick flashbacks (or flashforwards?) to remind us Claire once walked the future ruins of Castle Leoch, and a glimpse of her husband Frank (Menzies) searching for Claire after finding her abandoned car at Craigh na Dun, but for the most part we stayed in muddy 1743. (It's possible that latter scene with Frank was just Claire's imaginings, however.)

Balfe wasn't bad last week, but she was better here. Claire's a serene and intelligent "modern" woman, and I like how she's taking inspiration from her husband (a spy during WWII) when it comes to concocting a plausible back-story built on clever half truths. However, Claire's voice-over is a storytelling device I hope quietly goes away, because it's beginning to sound like she's telling this fantastical story to some unseen listener. This means you're subconsciously being led to believe she must survive the 18th-century and get back to the 20th.

By the end, Outlander has successfully introduced the world of 1743 world and primary characters. Claire's medical skills means she's become the Clan MacKenzie's new healer—at the behest of leader Colum (Gary Lewis), who suffers from a degenerative disease that's twisted his ankles to unnatural angles—but, in truth, she's a prisoner whom nobody trusts.

Her short-term goal appears to be a return visit to Craigh na Dun near Inverness, to hopefully be transported back to the future, but getting there won't be easy. If she attempts to flee, the hospitality she enjoys will come to an abrupt end, and Inverness is a few week's ride away by horse. How long until Jamie takes pity and agrees to help her escape, then decides to go with her?

We also met a new character called Gellis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek), who appears to be one of the few friends Claire has at the castle, and is a handy translator for whenever the clan start speaking their native Gaelic. (I'm loving how there's still no subtitles, which puts audiences at the same disadvantage as the protagonist, and it's strange how natural Gaelic sounds coming from Scottish mouths.)

Outlander is less operatic and complex than Game of Thrones, but also more tender while not being as mawkish as feared. The Scottish scenery's luscious, the music's very evocative, the performances are good, the budding romance of Claire/Jamie is being set-up carefully with no rush, and there are plenty of excellent touches. I particularly liked the look on cook Mrs Fitzgibbons' (Annette Badland) face when Claire undressed and exposed her futuristic brassiere ("what kind of corset is that?!")

written by Ronald D. Moore | directed by John Dahl | 16 August 2014 | Starz