Aug 9 2014 10:00am

Outlander Season 1, Episode 1 Recap: Back to the Future

Outlander Season 1 official posterIs this real life?! More than two years after it was announced that Outlander just might be headed for the small screen, the day we've been waiting no-so-patiently for is finally (finally!) here. Though Starz has hosted screenings and even released the pilot episode on demand last week, tonight is the officially official series premiere of Outlander, and to celebrate, we present Anna Bowling's recap in the hopes that this week—and every week the show airs—you will read and enjoy and join us to discuss every tiny delicious detail of Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser's epic journey (and, okay, yes, we'll especially be obsessing over every single scene featuring her beloved Scot, one James “Jamie” Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser). And now, let's get this show on the road...

This post contains SPOILERS for all aired episodes of Outlander, including the series premiere, “Sassenach.” Enjoy!

There’s a certain risk in bringing a beloved book to new life on the small screen, and in the case of Diana Gabaldon’s iconic Outlander, the risk in the romance community is astronomically high. How can any mere mortal actors and production team come close to what’s already come to vivid life in readers’ heads? If we’re talking the new series from Starz, pretty darned close. 

Right from the start, we get breathtaking scenery, bagpipes, Claire’s voiceover, and this viewer is quite happily lost. The same attention to detail as in the books is here, as we learn how important it is that Claire Randall never owned a vase, but can’t stop staring at one in a shop window, the image giving way to that of an earlier Claire assisting in surgery during wartime. Her job completed, she walks out of surgery in an apron stained with arterial spray, and into a jubilant celebration of V-E Day. Claire swigs from a bottle of wine, but merely watches the festivities rather than taking part. She’s a rare one, our Claire, and that’s going to be something to remember.

Normally, opening credits don’t belong in a recap, but we’ll make an exception here, because the details sown against the haunting theme music are perfect, perfect, perfect. Insert fangirl (or boy, because yes, Outlander is for everybody) squee here. Shift to jazzy music, and we join Claire and her husband, Frank, on a second honeymoon after five long years apart. When the happy couple arrives at their lodgings, they’re surprised to find blood marking the doorway. Is this a reference to the Jewish and Christian tradition of Passover, or a more pagan tradition, as history buff Frank suggests? Their landlord’s housekeeper assures them it’s only cockerel’s blood, for the local Samhain celebration, when ghosts will be freed, to do evil or good, as they please. Well, where’s the harm in that?

First thing Claire and Frank do in their private bower is discover how noisy the bed is, and decide to shock the landlady by making a lot of noise right away. It’s playful at first, only jumping on the bed, but it’s enough to make the viewer want these two crazy kids to reconnect after the horrors of war. Frank’s huskily whispered, “Mrs. Randall, what am I to do with you?” sears itself on viewers’ hearts, but those of us who have read the books know what’s coming, and in that moment, this viewer found herself deliciously torn. We learn that Frank had already begun to fade in Claire’s memory, due to the length of their separation, and even though sex has always been their bridge back to each other, is that really going to be enough?

Frank and Claire in Outlander 1x01Cracks in the Randall marriage begin to show as the pair explores a ruined castle the next day. Frank’s great love is his personal genealogy, while Claire loves botany. Frank admits he buries himself in the past to distance himself from the present, and marvels that he may even now be walking the same halls as his ancestors. Frank and Claire together break down a door to a tucked away section of the castle, the kitchen, and Frank finds a much more intimate use for his tongue than prattling about his ancestors. Later, consulting with a vicar, Frank discovers he is indeed related to one Black Jack Randall, a noted figure of the eighteenth century. Pay attention, kids, because this will be on the test.

Things get creepier. The housekeeper, somewhat of a fortune teller, reads Claire’s tea leaves and her palm, finding only puzzles. The leaves contradict each other, foretelling a journey and staying put at the same time. Her lifeline is interrupted, and marriage line divided, speaking of two husbands. Normally, these two lines would be divided, but for Claire, they fork.

Frank heads home to Claire, only to find a strange man outside, staring longingly at Claire’s window. Frank should have felt a body when he bumped into the man, but only felt a chill down his spine, and the stranger was gone. Was the stranger perhaps someone looking to reconnect with Claire? Frank asks Claire about the stranger, and tells her he wouldn’t stop loving her if she’d sought comfort while they were apart. Claire denies it, and intimacy ensues, but still something strange lingers.

The Randalls head out in the wee hours of the morning to a mysterious ring of standing stones, to watch some modern day Druids enact an ancient rite. It’s otherworldly and haunting, and Claire insists on returning later to pluck some forget-me-not flowers. Oh, Claire, you’re not going to forget a thing, trust me. She walks into the standing stones, plucks a flower and a strong wind blows. She remembers once falling asleep in a moving car, and waking in the midst of a crash. Past and present blend, and when at last the world stops spinning, Claire is in the same place, but a different time.

Claire in Outlander 1.01A shot rings out, Redcoat soldiers rush by, and Claire’s mind reaches for the logical. This must be a movie set, but movies don’t use live ammunition. Nor do they employ actors who look exactly like Frank…but it’s not Frank. Oh no, Black Jack Randall in the flesh. Before Black Jack can perform a dastardly deed on Claire, a shaggy Highlander whisks her away on horseback. Claire tries to escape, but not knowing where she is puts a crimp in those plans.

Claire’s rescuer brings her straight to his friends, including one Jamie Fraser, he of the red hair and dislocated shoulder. Now what does Claire do again? Mmhm. Claire intervenes when the men would set Jamie’s shoulder wrong, and he endures her less than gentle ministrations like the champ he is. This guy, well, he’s not the ordinary sort, and Claire notices. She also notices that she can’t see any of the lights of Inverness, though Jamie assures her she’s looking straight at the city. That’s right, Claire, you’re not in the twentieth century anymore.

Outlander episode 1 gif by
Gif via

The company must move, and move now to evade their enemies. Jamie takes Claire up on his horse and drapes his plaid over the two of them, all nice and snug. Claire knows this place they’re passing through, and mentions that it was often used for the British to ambush the Highlanders. One guess what they’re riding straight into. Yep. Jamie throws Claire to the ground to protect her, and they reconnect once the coast is clear, Claire upbraiding Jamie for misusing his shoulder. Romantic tension crackles, Jamie giving Claire the option of getting on the horse or being thrown over his shoulder. Claire gets on, but Jamie soon falls. Guess that was his blood on his shirt after all. Claire tends the bullet wound, despite the lack of modern medicine.

Time is even more of the essence, so there’s no time for more than a quick “thank you, Sassenach,” from Jamie, to which Claire responds, “on your horse, soldier.” Soon enough, the pair and their company arrive at the very same castle Claire had visited earlier with Frank. No ruin now, though her memories of the place are strong. But how can she remember something that hasn’t happened yet? The journey, she, and we, realize, has only just begun.


Next episode: “Castle Leoch”


The Outlander party never stops at H&H—visit our official collection for Diana Gabaldon's Outlander to read a Beginner's Guide, What to Read After Outlander, In Defense of Laoghaire, 5 Things the TV Series Shouldn't Change, all the latest news, and so much more.


Anna C. Bowling considers writing historical romance the best way to travel through time and make the voices in her head pay rent. She welcomes visitors to her blog, Typing with Wet Nails and to follow her at Twitter.

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1. Lammie
I enjoyed this episode very much. It is not perfect, but no adaptation can ever match what our imaginations do with the written word. I like all of the cast (even Frank!, which surprised me). My only real disappointment was when the episode ended. I guess I have been doing too much binge watching of old TV shows lately, and had forgotten that when they are new, you only get one episode per week. Can't wait for the next episode!
Anna Bowling
2. AnnaBowling
@Lammie, I'm excited, too. This is definitely a show to be binged watched when that's available, if the quality stays as high as it is here.
3. Vol Fan
I KNOW! When it ended, I was so not ready for it to end. I love the quality and everything about it. The casting is perfect to me, the music, the wardrobes, the location......loved it all. I am so looking forward to the rest of the episodes.
Anna Bowling
4. AnnaBowling
@Vol Fan, insert incomprehensible squealing here. With such a great start, we may have an instant classic on our hands.
5. KristieJ
It doesn't start here in Canada until the end of August. While not a huge Outlander fan, I am really anticipating the series.
Anna Bowling
6. AnnaBowling
@KristieJ, I daresay it will be worth the wait. The whole thing is beautifully done.
7. Vickie Russell
I absolutely loved it. I've only read the first book a few months ago and I am glad to see the series is going to be a quality one. I loved the voice over as it showed clearly this story is from her POV and will explain stuff which normally can't be discerned on the screen but which you know from the book, and I know a few people I've read have criticised the first ep for the slow start, but I didn't find that at all. It established where she came from, the sort of woman she is and her experience and her relationship with her husband - which is very much needed if you're going to accept her with Jamie.
I was especially amazed and delighted that the village at the start where Frank and Claire go on their second honeymoon is Falkirk and I've been there. I got such a feeling of deja vu when they got out of the car and I saw the village and then realised I had in fact been there when we visited Scotland three years ago. They had certainly made it dark and gloomy on screen. When we were there the houses were painted in brighter colours, the street had heaps of flowers and lucky us, it was very sunny.
8. joyofbean
I also loved it and thought the pacing was appropriate to establishing the back story and who Clare is as a person. Diana uses alot of pages to do the same thing - so I believe the show followed her lead. I felt the actors did a wonderful job sharing with us who their character was and enjoyed the relationship between Frank & Clare. It can be too easy to forget him in favor of Jamie, but knowing she is torn is key to the story. Great start to a beloved book.
Unfortunately I do not have cable so not sure if I will be able to view the rest of the series. Hopefully some brave soul will post it somewhere that I can view online.
9. Penni
Did anyone catch Frank grilling Claire about having an affair during their time apart and think that maybe HE cheated on HER? That would've been the first question out of my mouth after proclaiming my own innocence.
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