blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Outlander (2014) s01e01 – Sassenach

I’ve been operating under the misconception the home video version of Sassenach was an extended cut, and they’d added all the nudity. Nope, it was apparently in the original Starz version. Cool.

The nudity’s all of star Caitriona Balfe, who’s the narrator and protagonist of the show, but when it comes time to drop her drawers, the eyes are all director John Dahl’s. “Outlander” is a historical hard sci-fi romance. Except for the most history in this episode is Balfe’s husband Tobias Menzies droning on about his family genealogy. The only thing more boring than actual genealogy? Some boring dude talking about fake genealogy. Menzies and Balfe are in Scotland on a post-World War II holiday; they’re trying to reconnect after being apart for five years. He was in military intelligence—not an agent himself, but the office guy who sent them to their deaths—and she was a nurse.

Supposedly they’ve been having a rough time since the end of the war, but it seems mostly to be a lack of trying. In the tedious narration, Balfe explains whenever they’re having problems, all they need to do is get jiggy, and then they’re fine. Though they may need to get jiggy in public for it to work. Or at least be a little exhibitionist-y about it. Not to kink shame. Though it’s very unclear why Dahl’s so keen to ogle Balfe (especially since “Outlander”’s target audience is women, you can even google it) and not Menzies. Other than once Balfe gets to the past and runs into Menzies’s ancestor he can’t shut up about, it turns out the ancestor is an eager rapist and cruel piece of shit.

Eager rapists and cruel pieces of shit are two different things on “Outlander” because Balfe eventually ends up with a group of Scottish highlanders—there be many more than one—but only two of them don’t want to rape her. One because he’s not cool with rape (Graham McTavish, who gives far and away from the best performance) and one because he’s the hot guy (Sam Heughan). Everyone in the past is filthy and gross except Heughan, forecasting his and Balfe’s chemistry. Plus, he’s injured, and she has to nurse him over and over.

The present-day material starts dull and gets worse as Menzies gets more and more enthusiastic about the genealogy, but it also becomes clear the narration isn’t going to stop. I’m not sure if the narration’s from the source novel or the writers’ room (Ronald D. Moore got the credit, which is an inglorious one), but it’s terrible. And never once matches the corresponding action. It’s like an object lesson in why poorly executed narration is so damaging.

Once Balfe gets to the past, where she brings mid-ish-twentieth century mobile army nursing techniques, the occasional helpful future knowledge tidbit, and enough curse words to shock all her new wannabe rapist pals, the narration pretty much stops. At least until the cliffhanger. But the quiet’s nice. And Heughan and Balfe do seem like they’ll have sufficient charm together. But, wow, is it a rough and endless sixty minutes.

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