There's Jamie, daring noble hero; Claire, lovely stubborn heroine, a WWII nurse who has fallen through time from 1945 back to 1743; sadistic villain, Captain Jack Randall; and throbbing plot doings that include the beautiful mysterious Geillis and McKenzie clan politics.
But it so happens that Gabaldon's 3 science degrees and her faithful interest in the details of history, medicine, and human behavior add surprising substance to the pocket romance formula. Filmmaker Moore mostly succeeds in following her intention. At least this pair is forcing the romance consumer to think as well as feel; at best the last episodes of Book I may help redefine how rape is portrayed for the violence it is, not the male fantasy it has always been. Here's how Outlander ups the game.
Even more trauma unfolds with Jamie's later capture by the British (a price remains on his head for a false accusation) and falling into the hands of villainous captain, Black Jack Randall, a sadistic, morbidly dark homosexual. Pictured below, Claire has gotten into the prison and Jamie persuaded Randall to release her in return for his submission to sex.
In a modern therapeutic setting, a patient is repeatedly walked through violent memories which gradually lose their hold in a 'de-conditioning' process that extinguishes their power. Claire's method is cruder and more drastic. Using opium and Randall's lavender scent she impersonates him, rousing Jamie from his delusional state to fight off his torturer which he could not do in prison. In the book they tear apart his monastery cell until both are spent, but Jamie wakes in the morning with his fever broken, in effect having defeated his torturer. In Moore's version the brawl is too brief and Claire talks it through with Jamie, a less medically- feasible means of recovery -- "talk" does not pierce a delusional state, as anyone knows who has tried to reason with an addict. Gabaldon's version played out logically in the beautiful abbey chapters concluding her first book.
Still, a catharsis is pronounced and we accept it, for as the Frasers sail away to France, the gorgeous, sweeping sea departure morphs in our minds from a scene on a romance book cover to overwhelming relief that our couple's relationship has survived.
Game of Thrones instantly felt outdated and unworthy. Can a film industry largely run by men improve its thinking on this subject? Maybe Outlander will be a turning point.
Tobias Menzies and Sam Heughan were particularly brave and vulnerable in their painful scenes as sadist and victim. All the artists involved deserve kudos for taking the bodice-ripper genre into believable realms of human emotion.
Outlander is available now on demand at Starz. My earlier review of the first 8 episodes is here. Moore reports that filming is in progress on Gabaldon's second book, Dragonfly in Amber which moves Jacobite politics to a new setting -- the French court of Louis XV.