blogging by Andrew Wickliffe

Outlander (2014) s01e03 – The Way Out

With a new writer credited (Anne Kearney) and a different director (Brian Kelly), is “Outlander” all of a sudden much better?

No, but it’s less rapey. Even if the “Previously On…” reminds us lead Caitriona Balfe is constantly under threat of assault if she’s not with highlander hunk Sam Heughan. Heughan doesn’t live at the castle with her, however, so theoretically, she’s always in danger when he’s not there. So most of the time. Only even the regularly rapey guy (Stephen Walters) isn’t very rapey. He’s a dipshit, but not a dangerous one.

And the show is a little better. A little. At least it’s not as bad as it could be. Even though there are now daydreams, which look just like reality, the show’s got another device to deceive and manipulate the viewer instead of just telling a story. Though there’s a lot less narration this episode. There’s barely any in the first half of the episode, which has its own plot. Balfe hears about a village boy being possessed, and because she’s from 1945 and everyone in 1945 was an atheist, she knows he’s not really possessed. He must be sick. Will her hunky highlander and her knowledge of European herbs somehow save the day? Or will the backward villagers go with God, with very evil, very vicious priest Tim McInnerny?

There’s also some more with Lotte Verbeek as Balfe’s only friend, who stops being a friend in this episode to spy on her and try to discover her secrets. Balfe’s been considering taking someone into her confidence, but she’s convinced she’ll end up burned at the stake. Or at least nailed to a pillory.

We also find out Heughan’s extremely well-educated, which is why he talks with a vocabulary and cadence of a twentieth-century man, while everyone else is obviously Balfe’s inferior. Though Balfe does exhibit some cruel indifference and a pronounced drinking problem, living in a time without potable water can’t help. Everything’s booze.

The soft cliffhanger is exasperatingly apparent and silly. Ample narration doesn’t help things.

“Outlander”’s a strange show. It’s far from incompetent, but it confuses clutter with clever, and Balfe’s a flailing protagonist. It’s not her fault, it’s the concept, but they’re three episodes in, and they’re shakier than they ought to be. Maybe if there were better breakout performances, no one impresses yet. McInnerny’s cameo is fine—there’s also one from John Sessions—but inventive cameo casting when your narrating lead actor can’t hold the show is a flawed formula.

It’s a show with dire prospects.

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