Jul 29 2014 11:23am

First Impressions of Outlander Episode 1, “Sassenach”: Wait ’n’ See

Jamie and Claire in Outlander series premiere

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.

Claire in OutlanderAnd 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

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1. EmilyF
I have had the same exact history/love affair with Outlander as you. :-) The first book in the series is one of those that I literally could not stop thinking about for weeks after. Jamie is still the hero of all heroes....*sigh*

I am very hopeful for this series. I love the casting choices (mostly based on looks so far and the small snippets I've seen from the previews. I'm so glad they went with relative unknowns...there is no way someone famous could have pulled off these characters IMO.)

Like you, I figured the first episode (and maybe even first few episodes) would be a little slower to build. The set up was quite long in the book and the really great Jamie/Claire scenes start closer to halfway through from what I remember (with some exceptions).

Also, I'm so happy they filmed the series in Scotland! I went on a trip to Scotland last year (which was 100% inspired by Outlander, just like your study abroad) and I was mesmerized by its beauty. It would have really bothered me if they'd chosen a lookalike location.
Megan Frampton
2. MFrampton
I LOVED the first book, and that's why I have chosen not to read anymore in the series. I want to think of Jamie and Claire as they were there. I am excited for this series, and I do think the two actors look as close to what I imagined in my head as possible. I bet it'll take a while to get rolling into their relationship, and I'm okay with that set-up. I don't want to miss a thing!
Heather Waters
3. HeatherWaters
After reading your post I'm wondering even more if I should hold off watching for a bit so that I can binge-watch a bunch later. Since the first season is following the whole first book, I can definitely see the first episode getting off to a slower start (I remember it taking me a couple tries to really get into the first book, though of course then I was enthralled and had to finish it ASAP).

But eh, who am I kidding I have no self-control.
4. LizF
I am prepared to love it, I hope I am not disappointed. I do believe you when you say that the first episode is a slow burn, there needs to be an understanding of the world before you can really dive in and make people understand and care about the characters. But I've been a fan since Voyager was released in paperback (a million years ago) and this is a dream come true, can't wait to watch and rewatch and rewatch!!
5. Claire at ALC
Yes, my real name is Claire. :) I watched espisodes #1-2 for a review I did on my blog ALittleCLAIREification, a couple of days back. I've gone on to watch them both 4x each (!!). Episode #1 definitely gets a little better - there is just so much to take in that first time after having read the books for the last 15 years. Jamie... yes. please. And Claire comes into her own. I was nervous at first. I cannot wait for this to premiere.
6. Margaret Thokar
I was fortunate enough to attend the event in NYC as well. It was clear that STARZ has committed beaucoup resources to the project and the marketing. The first episode itself was both comfortable and revelatory; yes, the exposition was measured but I found the acting brilliant. Better than I hoped due to Ms Balfe's newcomer status, her Claire was sassy, sexy and smart. Sam was Jamie, as Herself has all along maintained. While those who have not read the books might not be committed after one episode, I think there's enough there to bring them back and the series will gain momentum. My daughter, who hasn't read the books, was hooked by the chemistry of Claire and Jamie. On to Castle Leoch!
7. Vol Fan
I can see how the first episode might be slow starting. The book was that way. I was late to reading them (daunted by the size) and when I did start, I remember thinking "what is all the fuss about??". I stuck with it and came to love it (and most of the others after). Frankly, I too, worried that the slow start might put some off at first. However, watching all the clips I can find, it looks like they have done an amazing job with it. I am fine with the casting too. Famous actors would have distracted from the story and their own personalities taken over IMO.

I re-read it just recently to refresh myself on it before the show starts. (I don't have Starz, but you can be sure I will have it before it starts). I have to say that upon rereading it, I love it more than ever. It is such a big story, and as I said - very daunting due to the size - that I feel I missed so much the first go around. Rereading it made me appreciate it more than ever. I am so excited to see it!
8. Kahintenn
A new clip, and the opening credits, are now available on YouTube. Also, imdb.com reports that the first episode will be available free via streaming on August 2. (I apologize if this has already been reported on H&H). You can get details on variety.com or by Googling Starz preview of Outlander premiere. Starz wants to increase viewership, so they are offering the first ep for free.
9. hammey49
I did not start reading the books (all 8 of them) until the stars were cast for the series. I am glad that I had not read them before because I picture them in all the scenes in the books. I am counting the minutes until August 2 when the first episode goes on line.
10. BethW
I have only seen bits and pieces and don't have cable at all due to expense - but I am quite pleased so far. While Sam and Cait may not have been or be what I picture in my head, I think they are doing a wonderful job in the leads! And to have such support as Tobias and Graham!

To me....Diana created this 'world'....based in historical fact with a rich background, but still HER world....and she is thrilled with the series. That tells me it will be spectacular when given the chance to shine on its own. It isn't a translation, but an adaptation as she has always maintained. It needs to be taken on it's own merrits as another facet to the whole story and enjoyed as such.

I may have to wait for the DVD's - but in the meantime I promote the show and books every chance I get!
11. dexdar
I watched the first episode last night. Like you, I wasn't in love with it, but I didn't hate it. I am a BIG fan of the books. The acting and cinematography were great so I'm hopeful things will pick up. I just wasn't as pulled in by the story as I thought as would be, but then I think it was that way when I read the book for the first time. In the book the beginning was a little slow, but after she went through the stones it didn't take long before I was really hooked. I just hope the non-book fans stick with it long enough to get hooked. I want the series to continue, so I want A LOT of people to watch it and like it.

Claire's narration of the story kept me from really getting into it - you know when you forget you are watching a show and you are just there? With Claire talking in the third person it just took me out of it. I think it was a necessary evil for the first episode, but I'm REALLY hoping it doesn't continue.
rachel sternberg
12. rae70
I really liked the first episode and look forward to the rest.. It was slow for todays standards, but the scenery was gorgeous! The chemistry between Claire and Jamie is great and I even thought Frank came across as more sympathic on screen than from the book.
13. Kele Lampe
I feel about the same way you did. It didn't captivate me. I can't like Catriona Balfe in the Claire role no matter how hard I try, and since it's Claire's story, I have a feeling this will be a problem to my ability to enjoy the series. I also found the narration excessive; I think they could have cut the voice-overs by half without losing anything. On the other hand, it is beautifully filmed and costumed, it seems so far to follow the books, and I love the use of Gaelic. I'm not champing at the bit, and I'm not going to subscribe to Starz so I can watch it. But I imagine I'll get to it one day.

PS--I know at least half a dozen people who are not at all in love with Jamie and Claire and couldn't even get through the first book.
14. Mia42
I'm new to the Outlander world. I started reading the book yesterday after watching the first episode. I thought the show was absolutely beautiful! The cinematography was so awesome I felt like I was watching a big budget film!

The beginning though was a little slow for me. And the voice over of Claire was distracting after awhile. But things started picking up when she went back in time. I really didn't notice Jamie at first because his back was to the camera. When it finally focused on him, I was like...woah...hottie alert :D

I plan on reading the book in conjunction with the show. Thus I stopped when Claire arrived at the castle ( same as the end of the first episode). I'm excited to discover more about this world. It feels like Christmas and I cannot wait until Saturday comes along!

So glad I discovered your blog. Looking forward to reading more goodies about Outlander here. Thank you.

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