The buzz around Starz’s “Outlander” series, based on Diana Gabaldon’s books of the same name, has been considerable, so the first episode (“Sassenach”) feels like it’s been a long time coming for the more hard-core fans, and boy was it worth the wait! For the uninitiated, “Outlander” is a fantastical love story centered on Claire Beauchamp-Randall (played to plucky perfection by Caitriona Balfe), Jamie Fraser (a smoldering Scott Sam Heughan), and their adventures through the dangerously bonny Scotland. Oh, and they just happen to have been born about 200 years apart, but dinnae fash (that’s “don’t worry,” in Scottish)— we’ll get to that in a moment.
Helmed by “Battlestar Galactica” genius Ron Moore, fans of the books have very little to worry about, as the pilot is as every bit as sumptuous, visceral and delightful as a bottle of well-aged whiskey. “Sassenach” (a not-very-nice way of saying “English person” in Scots) opens with a slow panning shot of an unmistakably moody Scottish heath, and Claire foreshadowing her own mysterious disappearance from 1945 Inverness via voice-over.
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Meet Claire: Bad-ass WWII nurse
Likes: Sex in strange places, cursing liberally, vases
Claire is progressive even in her own era, and we learn as much in the first half of the first episode. She’s the kind of character you want to root for — the kind who chugs champagne straight from the bottle and who doesn’t wear any underwear during a tour through historical ruins. She’s on her second honeymoon after having been separated from her husband Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies, most recently seen in “Game of Thrones”) during the war and this trip to Inverness is their way of attempting to get their relationship back on track. So there’s a lot of sex. Claire is a female character who isn’t afraid of her sexuality, but who is also not defined by it. That’s definitely a breath of fresh air for television.
Meet Frank: Oxford historian
Likes: History, talking more about history, wearing fancy hats
Frank has a keen interest in his own genealogy and enlists the help of the local Reverend Wakefield to help trace his lineage back to a 1700s English army captain, “Black Jack” Jonathan Randall. Claire obviously finds all of this really boring (I would too) and agrees to have her future read by the Reverend’s housekeeper, Mrs. Graham, while she waits. Mrs. Graham is confused by what she finds in Claire’s future (two marriages, but at the same time, WHAT COULD IT MEAN?!), and Claire, spooked, heads home early.
Later on in the evening, as Frank is returning after what we’re sure was a THRILLING night of genealogy research, he comes across a young man decked head to toe in Scottish Highlander gear, standing outside of Claire’s window and watching her inside. Frank attempts to approach the Peeping Tom, but there’s a flash of lightning and the Highlander is gone! Poof! Magically disappeared! (And the audience lets out a collective sigh, because we all know it’s our first glimpse of Jamie Fraser. Even if we didn’t see his face, WE KNOW IT’S HIM.)
Claire and Frank Randall: Paranormal investigators
The next day, Frank takes Claire to a “witches’ gathering” up at a set of standing stones on Craigh na Dun. (Try saying that three times fast.) Hiding behind a bush, they watch a group of women perform a strange dancing ritual to welcome the rising sun. After the Druids leave, the curious couple decide to explore the area when Claire spots a patch of blue flowers. A budding herbalist (get it?), her interest is piqued, but they are forced to make a dash when one of the Druids returns because she forgot her magical cape or something.
Because there’s nothing better to do in 1940s Scotland when your husband spends all his time researching (I mean, COME ON Frank, IT’S YOUR HONEYMOON!), Claire decides the following morning to return to Craigh na Dun to collect a sample of those flowers. Looking bangin’ in a little white dress and plaid shawl, she is distracted by the stones around her humming loudly. Stones, presumably, are not supposed to hum, so Claire does the obvious: places her hands on them.
Meet Black Jack Randall, English army captain
Likes: Violence, rape, intimidating innocent bystanders
When she comes to, Claire can hear gunshots, the heavy footsteps of horses and shouts. She figures that she’d better get the hell out of dodge, but then she runs into none other than Frank, dressed ridiculously in English Red Coat attire.
BUT WAIT. It’s not kind, stuffy, boring, historian Frank at all! It’s Black Jack Randall! And apparently the “Black” in Black Jack doesn’t mean he’s really great at cards. After an uncomfortable few seconds where he tries to rip her dress off, she’s rescued by a small group of Scottish warriors, who bring her back to their cabin in the woods.
Meet Jamie Fraser, red-headed Scottish Highland warrior
Likes: Whiskey, Grunting in a manly fashion through excruciating pain, being objectified by the Internet
Finally (FINALLY) we get our first real glimpse of Jamie Fraser. And we are not disappointed. His broad, well-muscled shoulder is exposed and he’s dirty and sweaty and his skin is bronzed by the flicker from the fireplace and — whoa, sorry. I got a little distracted.
Ahem. Anyway. Jamie’s shoulder has been dislocated, so of course no-nonsense Claire offers to pop it back in for him, seeing as though the rest of Jamie’s comrades look as though they’re about to snap it right off in their attempts of fixing it the (very) old-fashioned way.
The fact that her little white dress of the future kind of now looks like a disheveled nightgown, the warrior band’s suspicions are, well, aroused, and they swiftly assume that Claire’s a Sassenach spy. They decide — despite Claire’s protestations — to take her back with them to Castle Leoch and let their Laird deal with her.
Claire and Jamie: OTP forever; don't hate
So she’s thrown onto a horse with Jamie and off they go. (Was that a flash of Jamie’s thigh under his kilt? Yes. Yes it was.) Claire can’t keep her big mouth shut and points out that the mountain pass they’re nearing, Cocknammon Rock, is a common location for Red Coat ambushes (a little something she learned from boring old Frank). She’s right, and another scuffle breaks out, where Jamie is once again injured, this time a bullet to the shoulder. (Geeze, the guy can’t catch a break.) Claire works her first aid magic, and the episode closes out with the warrior band and a reluctant Claire arriving at Castle Leoch, which is no longer the dilapidated ruin where she and Frank did the nasty, but a prosperous Scottish establishment.
Did you miss anything during the premiere of “Outlander”? Dinnae fash! Catch the rerun on the Starz network next Saturday at 8 p.m. just before Episode 2 at 9 p.m.