An Outlander Tourist in Scotland, Part 1

It has been said that the super fans of the Outlander book and TV show series are defined by their actually going all the way to Scotland to experience the setting and history first hand. But that notion sounds more than a little classist to me. You don’t have to spend the money for air travel or go super far to be a super fan, especially in this digital age. Yet, if you do take the journey, you will be hard pressed to experience Scotland, even if your trip is driven mainly by the Outlander obsession, without becoming a super fan of the country.

You may know of my growing fondness for Scotland, along with my love of Outlander, enough to have read about our plans for the trip we recently took there in mid-September 2016. In that planning post, one of the last in my Five-Phrase Friday series, I laid out our tentative list of sites and sights, guessing at what we would manage to accomplish. Thanks to good weather, healthy travelers, and having had ample time to plan, I wasn’t far off in my estimates.

I had begun to fall in love with Scotland the place upon reading about its physical beauty as author Diana Gabaldon describes it in the series’s first book, Outlander. Then, actually getting to see the country’s splendor on screen, enhanced by the romance and adventure of the story—as well as its mind-bogglingly photogenic co-stars Caitriona Balfe (as Claire Fraser) and Sam Heughan (as Jamie Fraser)—made visiting Scotland almost a requirement. At first, the plan was to visit both England and Scotland, but with everything I wanted to see in each place, that vacation would have been impossibly long.

As it was, we took 14 days in Scotland alone, and I’m not at all sure my first choice for a next trip won’t be some combination of the Isle of Skye, a repeat of some Scottish sights already seen, and capturing the ones we missed on the first round. This is not to say that we squandered our time there, just that we so thoroughly enjoyed it, and, I suppose, because we have been on relatively few such trips otherwise, it is difficult to imagine a more enjoyable alternative.

So far since our return, I’ve written and shared pictures focusing on the aesthetics of the overall experience, certain mountain-sea and mountain-loch vistas, an Edinburgh restaurant we loved, a nature poem by beloved Scot, Robert Burns, and the singular, marvelous attraction of a well-preserved castle ruin.

Now, I think it’s time to expound upon Outlander tourism in Scotland, in posts that will discuss our options and goals, share what we did and how we liked it, and provide some advice and resources for planning your own Scottish Outlander tour.

My coverage will focus on series 1 and 2, but especially series 1, or season 1, and some book sites not used in filming the show. I’ll also share sites of important historical and cultural context that made the saga possible, and then offer additional options I wasn’t aware of before traveling.

There are limits to my knowledge, so bear in mind that not all my statements may be entirely accurate. They’re just my nearest understanding of the facts up until this fall, based on personal research.

Sources include Diana Gabaldon’s novels, her website, her Outlandish Companion, volume 1, various online fan comments, fan blogs, broadcast media articles, and some sleuthing to find visual matches between viewing the show and seeing different places in the flesh. I think I found the site of at least one scene without learning its exact location in advance. So that’s a sample of my due diligence.

Since there’s so much to share, I’m spreading the information across more than one post.

Disclaimer: It’s ultimately up to each of you as travel planners to verify details to make your trip go as smoothly as possible, details such as which sites are open to the public (not all are), how, and when, especially if you intend to take the DIY approach for all or part of your trip. I’ll provide some resources to get you started, but information and access can change, and the location property owners and stewards have the final word, so be sure to do your own homework, too.

First, where to go?

One thing that may surprise some new and devoted fans of the series is the number of sites used in filming that are not located in the Scottish Highlands. Although most of the first book is set in the Highlands, which covers quite a large area of the country, the highest concentration of outdoor (and some indoor) scene locations can be found either reasonably close or very close to the capital city, Edinburgh. These locations include:

The Kingdom of Fife (at least 5), Stirlingshire (2), the counties of Midlothian (1), West Lothian (3), Edinburgh City (3), and East Lothian (1), the Borders and Southwest of Scotland (at least 4), and the Glasgow area (at least 7 but probably as many as 10).

For context, the official Scottish Tourism Board website VisitScotland.com has several maps of the country’s different regions, including “Edinburgh and the Lothians” at the bottom of that page.

All told, Central Scotland boasts around 25 locations, perhaps half of all those used. Various legal, logistical, historic preservation, and budgetary reasons for this exist. As one producer said, it’s “a beast of a show” to produce (Ron Moore or Maril Davis, I think).

So, theoretically, you could experience a nearly complete Outlander tour without ever ascending north of Central Scotland, but it’s worth the effort and time to make sure you do venture into the Highlands.

The Central Sites: Show Filming and Book Story by Region or County

Stirling, Fife, Falkirk, West Lothian, Midlothian, Edinburgh, East Lothian

Stirlingshire           →           Outlander Settings

Doune Castle, located in Doune, not far north from Stirling Castle → Castle Leoch, episodes eps101-104, ep109, both 18th– and 20th-century scenes

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Doune Castle, Highlanders arrive at Castle Leoch with Claire, end ep101. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

Touch House, Touch Estate, west of Stirling, southwest of the intersection of A811 and M9 → Culloden House exterior, ep213 – in a room here (filmed separately), Claire and Jamie consider a final option for stopping the Battle of Culloden.

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Touch House, Stirlingshire, as Culloden House. Claire and Jamie confer. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

Kingdom of Fife       →         Outlander Settings

Culross – authentic 17th– and 18th-century look; Mercat area, Mercat Cross → Village of Crainsmuir, Geillis Duncan’s home, ep103; witch trial procession, eps 110, 111; behind Culross Palace, herb garden for Castle Leoch grounds, with lawns, herbs and vegetables of the period

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Culross, Mercat Cross and town square, men ready the pyre for the conclusion of the witch trial. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

West Kirk – “The ruins of West Kirk lie in rural isolation near Culross in Fife. Built around 1500, it used to be the parish church.” No roof, unmaintained graves, vegetation → The Black Kirk, ep103 – Claire and Jamie visit these ruins to uncover the source of a boy’s mysterious illness, widely attributed to the Devil and his demons that roam the kirk grounds.

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West Kirk ruins, Claire and Jamie share a laugh at the Black Kirk during ep103. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

Falkland – The Covenanter Hotel; the Bruce Fountain; Campbell’s Coffee Shop → 1940s Inverness, ep101 – Claire and Frank’s second honeymoon at Mrs. Baird’s Guesthouse; where Frank sees a Highlander watching Claire; Farrell’s Hardware and Furniture Store where Claire sees a vase she likes

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Falkland town centre: site of the Highlander watching Claire brush her hair, ep101. Image by C. L. Tangenberg

Aberdour Castle, Aberdour → Scottish abbey of Jamie’s convalescence in ep116

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Aberdour Castle: Willie arrives after scouting the area around the Scottish abbey. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

Dysart Harbour, Kirkcaldy → Port of Le Havre, France, 1740s part of ep201

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Dysart Harbour with CGI creating busy port of 1740s Le Havre, France. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

Falkirk      →        Outlander Setting

Bo’ness and Kinneil Rail Station, Union Street, Boness, Falkirk → 20th-century train platform where Claire and Frank say good-bye during World War II, ep103

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Bo’ness & Kinneil Rail Station, flashback that starts ep103. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

West Lothian      →         Outlander Settings

Midhope Castle, Midhope House, Hopetoun Estate, Abercorn, South Queensferry, West Lothian → the Fraser estate of Lallybroch, eps 112, 113, 114, 208, 213

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Families gather at Midhope Castle, location used for exteriors of Lallybroch estate. Image by C. L. Tangenberg

Linlithgow Palace, Kirkgate, Linlithgow, West Lothian → Wentworth Prison exteriors and corridors, eps 115 and 116

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Linlithgow Palace winding staircase and landing. Image by C. L. Tangenberg

Blackness Castle → exteriors and courtyard of Fort William

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Blackness Castle balcony and railing, escape from Fort William, ep109. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

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Blackness Castle, alcove where Jamie questions British soldier during Fort William rescue. Image by C. L. Tangenberg

Midlothian          →           Outlander Setting

Glencorse Old Kirk, Milton Bridge near Penicuik, Pentland Hills, Midlothian → interiors and exterior of church where Claire and Jamie get married, ep107

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Glencorse Old Kirk outer wall and graveyard. Jamie joins Claire before wedding procession, ep107. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

Edinburgh region      →       Outlander Settings

Hopetoun House, Hopetoun Estate, South Queensferry, Edinburgh → Duke of Sandringham residence 1

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Hopetoun House. Opening shot for scene where Claire visits Duke of Sandringham for the first time, ep109. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television

City of Edinburgh     →        Outlander Setting

Palace of Holyroodhouse → in the second book Dragonfly in Amber, it is here where Jamie and Claire try to convince Bonnie Prince Charlie to abandon his cause

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Palace of Holyroodhouse, inner courtyard. Image by C. L. Tangenberg

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Palace of Holyroodhouse, fountain and front entrance. Image by C. L. Tangenberg

East Lothian      →         Outlander Setting

Preston Mill & Phantassie Doocot, East Linton, East Lothian → Lallybroch mill, ep112

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Preston Mill & Phantassie Doocot; Jamie’s about to take the plunge to fix the mill. Image credit: STARZ & Sony Pictures Television


In Part 2, we continue our look at Central Scotland with a shift to the west for Glasgow area filming sites.

Stay tuned!


Sources:

All STARZ/Sony images courtesy of Outlander-Online.com‘s collection of episode screen captures.

About West Kirk, Culross: http://www.zazzle.com/outlanders_black_kirk_film_location_church_ruins_card-137365438944710596

About Falkland: http://www.travelchannel.com/interests/arts-and-culture/photos/get-inside-outlander-on-a-tour-through-scotland/page/2

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Outlander STARZ: Season 2 Review, Eps 201 and 202

Highlights of Episodes 201 and 202

Spoilers imminent (but we’re mid-season, so it’s time to catch up anyway)

Sparkling Overall Performances:

  1. Caitriona Balfe as Claire
  2. Tobias Menzies as Frank
  3. Duncan LaCroix as Murtagh
  4. Andrew Gower as Bonnie Prince Charlie–quite the caricature
  5. (as always) Simon Callow as the Duke of Sandringham

Sparkling Moments of Performance:

  1. Sam Heughan as Jamie battling the Black Jack Randall demon in ep202
  2. Lionel Lingelser as Louis XV in ep202–so funny!

Delightful New Characters:

  1. Jared Fraser, Jamie’s cousin and a wine merchant, resident of Paris
  2. Prince Charles Stuart, presumptive heir to the British throne
  3. Louise de Rohan, Claire’s new friend and a marquess
  4. Mary Hawkins, Louise’s charge and teenager engaged to Le Vicomte Marigny
  5. Fergus, a young French pickpocket at first named Claudel, whom Jamie employs to steal letters to and from Prince Charles
  6. Suzette, Claire’s lady’s maid, an expanded role thanks to Murtagh’s expanded . . . ahem, role
  7. Bouton!, border terrier and diagnostic partner of Mother Hildegarde at l’Hopital des Anges
  8. and, of course, Mother Hildegarde herself

The Look:

Production Design, Set Decoration, and Costume Design all demonstrate their usual attention to beauty, detail, and symbolism, with the vibrant results to leave you oo-ing and ah-ing at the sumptuous subjects of Parisian architecture, interior design, and dress.

Costumes Highlight – Every time Balfe appears in a new costume, the eyes feast and many of us drool, a hazard that men of the 18th century must often have encountered with all those low-cut, corseted busts. While show costume design and decoration seem to represent history well overall, the 1700s costumes in particular purposely blend mid-20th century styles into the look of Claire’s wardrobe in subtle but noticeable ways. One of these is a Dior sample Terry Dresbach used for Claire’s silver-jacketed dress with neat black hat in episode 202. See Terry’s website for details.

Jamie also cleans up nicely in his own velvets, satins, and crisp white jabots, along with that clean-shaven square jaw and dimpled chin framing the piercing blue eyes Heughan sports so expertly. And of course, there’s the flowing, curly red hair. * enamored sigh *

Other Notable Elements:

Cinematography: ep201 multi-scene and ep202 Versailles

Film editing: ep201, mainly

Plot outlining and writing — overall, very good with very few flat or off moments

Book fan pleasures: Continued close following of enjoyable original dialogue and narration

Highlights of Great Scenes 

Numerous scenes in ep201 and ep202 conveyed emotional depth and effective drama in acting and dialogue. For a sample, the following illustrates my experience of ep201’s . . .

. . . Tears (70%) and Laughter (30%): Moment by Moment.

Episode 201

Cries in Ep201 from the opening moments to 45 minutes in (all of 1948)–that is, moments when tears actually fell from my eyes:

Although the opening scene is gut-wrenching, I was too intent on paying attention and too bewildered and horrified by Claire’s screaming for crying to be an option.

Cry #1 – Claire kneeling and sobbing in the road after coming back to the 1940s and hearing from the passerby that the British had won the Battle of Culloden. Whoa.

Cry #2 – Mrs. Graham reaches and grabs Claire’s hands, the strings rise, and she tells Claire to cherish her experience. It just grabbed me so tightly in the chest like.

Cries #3 and #4 – Frank crying and then pleading with Claire to let them be reunited as husband and wife as he professes his love (violins rising). Poor Frank . . .

Cry #5 – Claire’s reaction to Frank’s condition that she conduct “no more research” into her dead husband Jamie. Not only must she mourn his loss, but now she must not “re-member” either. And yet, a reasonable request, really.

Cry #6 – “I will” let him go, she says. “I accept your conditions.” *Heart tears open.*

Cry #7 – When Claire tries to take off her 1740s wedding ring but cannot. It’s a wonder she doesn’t collapse to the floor again right there.

Cry #8 – Putting away love, into her suitcase, in the form of the other ring she brought back with her that is missing its jewel. So much adjusting, so soon, so sad.

Cry #9 – When Claire sees Frank burning the 18th-century Scottish apparel she wore back through the stones (music rising — volume and pitch). All traces being erased.

Cry #10 / Final heartbreak, and this one may surprise some viewers – The visual transition from Claire taking Frank’s hand as she de-boards the plane in New York to Claire taking Jamie’s hand as she disembarks from the Cristabel in Le Havre, France. (Claire and Jamie musical theme surges.) Some saw this as a moment of triumph, but it is at least bitter-sweet, and I found it somewhat hollow after the absolute gutting perpetrated by the first 45 minutes.

Laughs in Ep201 — from the transition point forward, all in the 1700s setting:

See my list at Five-Phrase Friday (36): Comic Relief in Outlander STARZ ep201.

The effect of this chosen sequence and emphasis on the 1940s is to propel the audience into a season in which we’re desperate to cling to every positive moment possible between our beloved heroes Claire and Jamie. Although the selections above suggest a tolerable contrast of 70/30 between heartbreak and joy, the experience of it is more like 80/20, or even 85/15.

The darkness and deep sorrow of knowing from the beginning that the Frasers ultimately lose each other at the end of the season invests the viewer more keenly in their 1740s togetherness, and particularly in their luxury and high status, if not quite revelry, as stewards of Cousin Jared’s house and business in Paris while Jared expands his endeavors overseas.

Simultaneously, the heavy weight of the first 45 minutes of Episode 201 brings the audience so low that we’re more than ready for the sex, laughter, diversion, and above all, levity (i.e., frivolity, materialism, beauty, and style) with which Paris is replete.

The hope portrayed in the landing at Le Havre soon gives way, however, to the dark cloud that has followed Jamie and Claire from Scotland into the City of Lights. This shadow hovers ominously as they plunge headlong into political intrigue, double dealing, wariness of whom to trust, and danger amidst new enemies. Their overarching anxiety primarily takes the form of the dual and competing (indeed, conflicting) pressures and strains of Jamie’s recent traumatic past in the hands of Black Jack Randall and of the impending birth of the couple’s first child.

Any normal human being would crack under the weight of it all. Thank goodness this is fiction, and Jamie and Claire are (as Jamie describes Claire to Jared) “sturdy” people.

Good Surprises and Divergences from the Book:

A bold move it was indeed to start season two in the 1940s since the non-book-oriented audience expects to see Jamie and Claire arriving in France after last season’s finale. Bolder still, and risky to some degree, to linger there for so long with the pain and sorrow between Claire and Frank before transitioning back to the past.

Readers of book two, Dragonfly in Amber, may recall that the book also opens in the twentieth century, but 20 years later, when we meet grown-up Brianna and grown-up Roger Wakefield, the Reverend Wakefield’s adopted son. It will be fascinating to see how that time leap element is treated later this season–or next.

Murtagh’s expanded role from book to show honors Duncan LaCroix with well-deserved opportunities to shine.

Episode 202

From start to finish, ep202 is an eye-popping firecracker, ending in literal fireworks. The opening scene of Jamie’s nightmare is disturbing and shocking, particularly when his sure-fire murderous stab-a-thon ends with BJR’s eyes opening, still alive.

The sexual indulgences of the second episode are largely humorous in nature, at times fascinating and at others disturbing, but always of that entertaining levity to counterbalance the nightmares and anxieties that linger.

The ridiculousness of King Louis’ “dressing” comes off splendidly. Lionel Lingelser commands the room whether through melodramatic constipation or royal diffidence and lurid looks. His sizing up of Claire will prove relevant mid-season.

In keeping with a slightly more daringly sexual Claire the show and Balfe have formulated, a nonetheless pregnant Sassenach matches the French women’s sensuality step for step. Between the “third-rib” V-neck red dress she “helped design” that stirs up trouble at Versailles and the more private “honeypot” scandal, Claire’s bold efforts to mesh with Parisian high society prove a shock to Jamie’s more traditional, 18th-century sensibilities.

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Claire Fraser (Caitriona Balfe) in THE red dress with new friend Louise de Rohan (Claire Sermonne), at Versailles. Image credit: STARZ and Sony Pictures/ Left Bank/ Tall Ships

Speaking of shocks and meeting one’s match . . . .

A Grand, uh, Climax:

Toward the end of ep202, the Frasers’ confrontation with the Duke of Sandringham at Versailles presents great suspense and layered implications, thanks mainly to the writing and to Simon Callow’s stunning performance. The exchange between the Duke and Claire after Jamie and Murtagh walk away is so good, subtle, and biting that it deserves a closer look, which I provide in the next post in this series. I didn’t catch several of the layers until I viewed it a second time myself, so stay tuned!

See also Five-Phrase Friday (37) on Simon Callow’s characterization of Sandringham.

A compressed plot, especially in ep202, with overlapping events that are more spread out in the book, works very well. Pacing is on track in the first two episodes, along with the undulation of moods. Overall, the progression of scenes does not feel rushed, and it very easily could have. Kudos to the writers and producers for their care and creativity.

Aspects Somewhat Less Than Stellar

While not quite a detractor, I have been less than impressed with Dominique Pinon’s performance as the apothecary Master Raymond. It may in part be the difficulty I had in understanding his French accent when he speaks English. Perhaps it’s the nature of the role as well, and the fact that I’ve seen Pinon dig into meatier ones, namely, as a jealous womanizer in the quirky, surrealist French film Amelie, starring Audrey Tautou.

Le Comte St. Germain, played by Stanley Weber, provides juicy menace, but by the end of ep202, Weber hasn’t had a chance to shine much yet. It’s been mostly slow striding with his scepter, quiet brooding, and hungry, if subtle, murderous looks of “I will get you” toward Claire and Jamie.

A Lowlight of Episodes 201 and 202

The other time problem, which I wrote about concerning last season, this season turns out to be a mere typographical error in ep201 captioning: “Le Havre, 1745” should have read “Le Havre, 1744.” The effect of this sloppiness? Initial confusion and distress give way to disappointment at its cheapening of the series.

However, it was not until ep203 that I found more to critique, though there is still plenty to praise.


Come back next time for more thoughts on subsequent episodes in season two of Outlander STARZ.

Outlander, 2015 San Diego Comic-Con: Binge On

After beginning my online search for news about the Starz Outlander panel held today at San Diego Comic-Con 2015 (not having had the pleasure of attending in person), I rediscovered Outlander Online.

It is the first one I came across of high quality for lots of up-to-date photos, exclusive or newly released season 1 photos, links to video and radio interviews, and a massive, comprehensive archive of Outlander-related press from throughout season 1. Their tag line is apt: “Your #1 source for all things Outlander.”

Whether you’re just getting started or looking for further indulgence during Droughtlander and season 2’s shooting, Outlander Online is definitely a good place among many to visit.

Another site I find myself returning to often is Outlander TV News.


Other Outlander posts on this blog include the following (the first two are closely related):

Review: Outlander Season 1’s Ironic Chilling Effect

Qualification: I really am one of those “rabid” Outlander fans of both books and TV show (see the links to other Outlander posts at the bottom of this one), but I call it as I see it. I took most of the adaptation’s departures from the book in stride and appreciated the season finale’s brilliant aspects at face value. It was lovingly deep thinking about this last episode and the season as a whole that made me aware of the issue I discuss here. Since everyone else is talking about character journeys and actor performances, which I, too, find fascinating and impressive, I thought I’d approach from a different angle: the show’s story structure. Spoilers ahead.


Pained, visceral reactions to the horrors of the Outlander Starz season 1 finale testify to Black Jack Randall’s icy impact on Claire and Jamie’s relationship. That is as the story and the show intended. Unintentionally, Jamie’s oddly rapid recovery from fever and mental anguish further cools the blood.

But it’s the beginning of Claire’s confession in the chapel that drops a treacherous icicle spear into the structure of the show’s first season. For such an engaging, steamy, now-classic story and its vastly entertaining TV adaptation, the resulting damage saddens me–though not quite as much as do Claire’s attempts “To Ransom a Man’s Soul,” with tearful pleas to Jamie not to give up on their life and love.

But the source of this cold stab may not be what you think.

During the season finale of Outlander, protagonist “Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser” begins her story to Father Anselm at the monastery by saying she arrived in the eighteenth century from 1945 “eight months ago.” Not “several,” not “last fall,” not simply “months ago.” Exactly eight. Hearing this immediately struck me with surprise and confusion, and I don’t think I’m alone here.

How did seven weeks of the first half of the season suddenly hurtle forward into another six months in the second half? Hearing Claire say “eight months ago” became an unwelcome distraction that raised unfortunate questions.

It almost made me wonder if this surge is meant to be the infusion of a new time-travelling element, but that’s definitely not it. Chalk this rationalization up to human nature: “When confronted with the impossible, the rational mind will grope for the logical,” Claire says in episode 101, “Sassenach.”

The time scale imbalance itself could be forgiven if the storyline somehow survived unaffected, but it doesn’t. Instead, the plausibility of outdoor actions and events strains against its crippling entrapment at the cold point of the spear, undercutting the immense care taken in the construction of historical and narrative realism in the season’s first half.

Although the starting time of year in the book differs from that in the show, surely there were ways production could be true to the story without removing major organs from the time line, even in the modified seasonal arc. The results unfortunately fail to manifest any of those presumed possibilities. Let’s examine the evidence.

In the show, Claire time-travels through the stones on the eve of Samhain, October 30. During episode 108, “Both Sides Now,” Jamie tells Claire it will be “Yuletide by the time [they] get back to Leoch.” True enough: In episode 109, “The Reckoning,” observant viewers will notice that evergreen swags with white flowers and red berries newly bedeck Castle Leoch’s thresholds, hearths, and bed posts.

Also during episode 108, Frank Randall provides a more specific indication of timing as he challenges Reverend Wakefield’s theory of Claire’s getting lost near Craigh Na Dun, being swept down a river by the current to a cave, and “living on fish and frogs—for seven weeks.” At seven weeks past Samhain, with the parallel promise of Yuletide’s approach, late December has arrived.

Then, during “The Reckoning,” episode 109, while it snows when Jamie and Murtagh relieve themselves against the castle wall, Jamie resists Murtagh’s suggestion that they escape the MacKenzie clan’s tensions and live off the land. His line gives another sign of intended, or at least written, timing: “Ye’d have me sleeping under a tree, come winter, with my wife?”

With three distinct pieces of evidence, winter has not yet arrived and Christmas still approaches as of episode 109.

Early in 110, “By the Pricking of My Thumbs,” Claire deals with Laoghaire’s episode 109 attempt to seduce Jamie as well as her placement of an ill wish under their bed. Based on the scenes done in the castle, along with the winter coats, shawls, hoods, and cape-like plaid layers worn by the cast, it’s clear that it is still Christmastime or, at the latest, early January.

The problem is–although only days pass between Claire and Geillis’ capture (ep. 110) and trial for witchcraft (ep. 111), and between the trial and Claire’s rescue by Jamie–the outdoor scenery during the last twenty minutes of episode 111, “The Devil’s Mark,” shifts dramatically from early winter to early if not mid-spring.

The tiny leaves on the trees of the hill where Jamie surprises Claire with a view of Craigh Na Dun speckle the frame around the characters in a bright, budding green. Even in Scotland’s rapidly changing diurnal weather conditions, this is spring behavior for deciduous trees. To echo Claire’s voice-over in “Both Sides Now” (ep. 108), when she first realizes her nearness to Craigh Na Dun after the redcoat deserters’ attack, “There was no mistaking it”:

The Outlander TV adaptation has skipped winter altogether.

On one hand, as a native Ohioan who has endured two abnormally brutal winters in the past two years, I can empathize with the impulse to create a more hospitable fictional world to dwell in.

On the other, Outlander‘s actors are steadfast, adventurous players. The crew consist largely of hardy Scots. A clan of unflinching producers and writers have repeatedly claimed efforts to be as authentic as possible in adapting this violent action-adventure, historical romance with sci-fi elements. Combining all these factors, one would think this TV team, if any, could withstand a single Scottish winter, especially if an out-of-season shooting schedule were to necessitate a manufactured one.

Winter’s omission marks a surprising sloppiness not evident in other aspects of the production.

Its absence might not have been as noticeable had the writers refrained from exact time references in dialogue. “Eight months ago” could simply have been “several months ago” with less negative impact, though story incongruities of seasonal climate and daylight pose a larger production dilemma.

Climate-wise, skipping ahead in the story is evident because winter conditions are just as missing from the show as the time span itself is. Another prime example: If it really were winter in episode 111, Claire and Geillis would have been much colder than they appear to be while coatlessly awaiting their fate in the outdoor, underground thieves’ hole.

To rule out the possibility of later compensations for mid-season time warping, let’s take the viewer’s perspective of the time line in reverse from the announced endpoint. A closer look at the sequence and duration of events helps to illustrate how the time problem–like Jamie’s lingering psychosexual conflation of Claire and Black Jack–remains unsolved through episode 116’s final credits.

Eight months after October 30 means the story resolves in late June, early July, come the finale. It is then, just after Jamie’s rescue from prison, when Claire tells her story to Father Anselm. Only a few days pass between the start of the rescuers’ efforts in episode 115, “Wentworth Prison,” and the success of that rescue in episode 116.

Only about two or three days from the end of episode 114, “The Search,” through episode 115 stand between Claire and Murtagh’s recruitment of men for Jamie’s rescue and Claire’s ejection from Wentworth by Randall.

After Jenny gives birth during episode 113, “The Watch,” the next opportunity for a significant passage of time is in episode 114, “The Search.” Here, the story clearly takes at least a couple of weeks, if not a full month. But even if it took as many as two months, there would still be far more than a month’s gap in time unaccounted for.

Prior to these events, only “several days” (ep. 111) pass between Claire and Jamie’s departure from Cranesmuir and their arrival at his home estate of Lallybroch, just as only a few days mark the span between their arrival home and Jamie’s capture by the British after joining the Watch on a raid. Two weeks maximum, all told.

In sum, we established earlier that episode 109 resolves in December, and now we also know that no more than eight weeks track back from the season finale to episode 110, which exists within 109’s Christmas time frame.

Thus, the approximate math from season finale back to episode 111:

1 day at the monastery (since it’s on the second morning that Claire declares her eight months’ saga) + 3 days maximum at Wentworth (surveillance plus searching plus confrontation and return to rescue) + 1 day maximum between recruitment and arrival at Wentworth + an indeterminate number of weeks searching for Jamie after his escape from British custody following their ambush of the Watch (at least two weeks, possibly as much as a month or more = say, max 40 days) + 5 days at Lallybroch (day of arrival, followed by Quarter Day, then Jamie’s next-day hangover and attempt to repair the mill, Jamie and Jenny’s reconciliation one day later, and the arrival of the Watch the next morning) + 8 days or so (4-5 days’ fleeing from Cranesmuir to Craigh Na Dun and another few days to Lallybroch) + 2 days of a witch trial =

A total of about 60 days between Christmas and early July. And I believe this estimate gives the show writers and producers the benefit of the doubt as much as possible.

Ouch.

Ironically, the truncated year of 1744 mirrors the two-month interval of the season’s first half, the end of 1743. It’s simply not possible to skip four full months of a year without accounting for the story’s arc across the gap, which the Outlander Starz writing and production team have not done.

In order to make sense of the total amount of time between episodes 111 and 116–stated by the characters as around “Yuletide” (Jamie, costumes of castle and cast) and “eight months” since October 30 (Claire), respectively–it would have to be more like early May in episode 110, “By the Pricking of My Thumbs.” Again, the second half of the season represents a total of six narrative months.

It does indeed start to look like spring as early as episode 108, especially in the woods where Claire and Willie await the return from Jamie’s meeting with Horrocks. But since the whole group has yet to return to Leoch for Christmas, according to Jamie, we know it can’t yet be spring.

Therefore, the viewer’s expectations of approximate time passage for a TV show’s seasonal arc are grossly violated in the Outlander Starz series’ first season. For one thing, the imbalance is stark: less than two months’ time for the first eight episodes, and a minimum of six months—three times the number in the first half—for the second eight episodes. But, for another, bypassing the winter season is a more egregious error.

And why make it? Writing adjustments alone could have minimized the impact, so it shouldn’t have been much of a budget issue. In production terms, because the creators made no apparent attempt to pretend winter occurs by their use of Scottish scenery in the season’s second half, noticing the lack of winter is easy for the audience to do. They must have known we would notice, and somehow the choice was still approved. Budgetary constraints might, in part, explain this fact.

Of all the issues with the book’s first adaptation, a Scotland without winter may not be the worst, but it certainly bothered me when I first saw episode 108, “Both Sides Now,” and it continued to disrupt my suspension of disbelief over the next several episodes. Add to this that, when we’re supposed to be focusing so intently on the emotional roller coaster and unprecedented drama of the final episodes, our main character Claire plainly states the exact passage of time.

The result? Any sense of a carefully woven TV plot structure–which means viewers wouldn’t notice the structure at all–freezes up, a hardening quickened by Jamie’s miraculous recovery from Randall’s twisted form of aversion therapy on him toward Claire, and by the mysterious disappearance of Jamie’s physical fever. But it is winter’s loss that leads us into the cold.

For fans of the book, and even of the show despite these flaws, let’s hope Ronald D. Moore and company find a way not only to translate Diana Gabaldon’s second Outlander book into sound plot structure and story pacing, but also to maintain the depth, complexity, and beauty of season 1 in a completely new setting. Perhaps with much of France being filmed inside Scottish studios, the hurdle of suspending our disbelief about climate and timing will prove more surmountable.

As Claire replies in season 1’s second episode, “Castle Leoch,” to Colum’s query as to whether her journey to France involves “a joyous occasion,” so we the viewers must echo: “One can only hope.” And perhaps the northern hemisphere’s imminent entry into summer will dilute a lost winter’s ironic chilling effect.

That won’t relieve us of Droughtlander’s irksome symptoms, unfortunately. Let us be industrious, then, in seeking solutions. Perhaps our resourcefulness can inspire the making of a season 2 Dragonfly in Amber encased in a more smoothly formed and comfortable home. All of its inhabitants deserve it.

Claire holds Munro's wedding gift of a dragonfly in amber image credit: Outlander Starz, Sony Pictures Television

Claire holds Hugh Munro’s wedding gift of a dragonfly in amber, ep. 108, “Both Sides Now”
Image credit: Outlander Starz, Sony Pictures Television

Note: Filming for season 1 began October 2013 and concluded September 2014. Filming of season 2 is under way as of early May 2015, and the plan is to air the first episode in spring of 2016.


Other Outlander posts on this blog include the following (the first two are closely related):