Last night, major Outlander fan Lizzie Poteet attended an NYC screening of the first episode for H&H, even going so far as to risk her seatmates' disgust to live-tweet the post-screening Q&A with the cast and crew in order to feed our insatiable appetite for all things Jamie/Claire. (Thanks/sorry, Lizzie!) Here, she gives us her Outlander backstory (we all have one, don't we?) and then shares her first impressions of the Outlander series premiere, which Starz will begin streaming this week on August 2 and which will air on U.S. television on August 9. (Full disclosure: Lizzie is an assistant editor at St. Martin's Press/Macmillan, Heroes and Heartbreakers' parent company.)
For me, Outlander was one of those books, the ones you put off reading for years because you know, deep in your heart, that once you read it…you’ll never go back. And at the time, I simply didn’t have room for another rabid obsession in my life—I already had Lord of the Rings, Julie Garwood, and Buffy. Could I handle another fandom? Because here’s the thing we all know about the first book in Diana Gabaldon’s time travel series, Outlander is simply irresistible.
I have a working theory—confirmed by Executive Producer Ron Moore last night—that it is literally impossible to pick up Outlander and not fall in love with Jamie and Claire. You may not be a series regular and they may lose you after a few books, but the thing is: that first book is magic. It transcends genre and time. Maybe it’s because as my friend Amanda put it, “it’s this really realistic romance about a woman who travels through time…” But it is. It is really realistic. And epic. And romantic. And just plain good.
And so since Outlander is one of those books that did change my life—because it absolutely, definitely, positively did NOT have anything at all to do with my decision to study abroad in Scotland—I was admittedly an emotional wreck when I heard they were making it into a movie. Equal parts fear and elation, I didn’t think their Jamie was hot enough or ginger enough (I’m so sorry Sam Heughan for ever doubting your ginger hotness). I worried Claire’s hair was all wrong. I couldn’t imagine a television show doing this fantastic book justice—what if they True Blood-ed it? What if they took the great source material and effed it all up with silly Vampire Collations and Billith? Or the Scottish version of Billith? Or even worse, what if it’s perfect and epic and I don’t get Starz? Would that lead me down a life of crime trying to get my Outlander fix each week? Or would I have had to cave and upgrade my cable just for this one show?
As fate would have it, neither fear came true.
When I left the theater last night after having viewed the first episode, smartly entitled “Sassenach,” I was pleasantly neutral. I liked it. I didn’t love it. Would I watch the next episode? Yes. I’ll probably find a friend with Starz and make them host viewings. But I wasn’t enthralled with it like so many of my fellow rabid fans in the theater last night.
Sure, there were moments that were great and even one of two seconds of surprised, “Yes! Yes! Yes! This is what I have been waiting for!” The scene when Claire travels back in time was one of those moments, and I was 100% down with the scene that’s been circulating around the internet. TV Jamie has a little bit of an edge to him in the first episode that I wasn’t expecting, yet found super hot.
And the audience was definitely engaged. Opening credits: rousing cheer. First time seeing Jamie’s knees: whistles and claps. But all-in-all, the first episode felt…quiet. Beautiful but a little slow to build. Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies) was very sympathetic and very British, but I wish the first episode had more than one very brief scene with his ancestor Black Jack, who plays a vital role in the series. Jamie (Heughan) was rugged, quiet, and charming. Claire (Caitriona Balfe) was… articulate. For me, she didn’t really come to life until the end of the episode, and I think in large part that’s because most of “Sassenach” was set-up, and the set-up was my least favorite part of the book.
Riding the train back home, I kept thinking: will new audiences find the show captivating all on its own? Will this only really appeal to fans of the series? Was the first episode enough to transcend genres like the book? Maybe not.
I enjoyed the first episode of Outlander just fine. It’s not The Lord of the Rings, nor is it Ella Enchanted, two sides of the book-to-screen coin, one amazing the other heartbreakingly bad. It didn’t ensnare my heart and never let go. But the chemistry between Jamie (Heughan) and Claire (Balfe) is there, the scenery is breathtaking, and the plot, well, we all know how great the plot is…I think I’ll just have to wait and see what the rest of the season brings before making a judgment.
What about you fellow Outlander fans? Are you like me—a bundle of anxiety and cautious optimism? Or will you love it no matter what?
Want more Outlander? Check out our Outlander collection and watch this space for recaps of the show from Anna Bowling!
Lizzie Poteet is a hopeless romantic who appreciates a good kilt and a sexy Scottish burr. Even if she can hardly understand it. She studied abroad at the University of St. Andrews on the off chance she would fall back in time and meet her own warrior soul mate. Sadly, she didn’t and now lives in New York with her dog Mr. Darcy where she watches a lot of TV and edits romances for St. Martin’s Press. You can follow her @lizziepoteet