‘Outlander’ Series Premiere Review: Something Ancient and Powerful

Published 9 months ago by

outlander season 1 premiere claire Outlander Series Premiere Review: Something Ancient and Powerful

[This is a review of the Outlander series premiere. There will be SPOILERS.]


Starz has been a network in a desperate sprint to find a gem in its orginal program lineup to match its acclaimed rivals HBO and Showtime. There have been success stories, like the highly underrated Spartacus franchise, and even some critical admiration for Kelsey Grammer’s performance in Boss. Now, a new gem emerges called Outlander, which is based on of a best-selling series of books (eight to be exact) written by Diana Gabaldon.

The premium cable provider chose wisely when deciding who should lead this new ambitious series with Battlestar Galactica executive producer and showrunner Ronald D. Moore. Starz even found room for the former BSG musical composer Bear McCreary, whose haunting melodies can currently be found on AMC’s juggernaut, The Walking Dead.

There is no denying this team’s formidable gifts as a creative force, but a television series is nothing without an equally talented cast to bring Ms. Gabaldon’s epic story to life. This brings us to the gorgeous Irish-born actress, Caitriona Balfe.

If one were to examine her acting resume, you might find yourself disappointed, as this former Dolche & Gabbana model is a relative newcomer compared to most of her fellow cast members. Fortunately, Balfe uses her supposed weaknesses as strengths and gives an excellent performance in what could be a breakout role.

outlander series premiere jamie claire Outlander Series Premiere Review: Something Ancient and Powerful

In the premiere, entitled ‘Sassenach,’ Balfe portrays a former World War II combat nurse named Claire Randall. Her husband, Frank, who is a newly appointed history professor at Oxford, is played by the versatile Tobias Menzies (Game of Thrones). Together, the acting pair possess a chemistry rarely seen on television, or even film for that matter. It’s almost as if we’re reconnecting with them as the couple rekindle their love for each other during a second honeymoon in the Scottish Highlands.

Frank is that kind of character you can’t help but like. Menzies brings charisma to a man who could easily be made to look clumsy and foolish with all of his rants about the historical significance of the town they’re visiting.

One of the more beautifully shot scenes by director John Dahl (Arrow) takes place during a ritual atop a hill with large stones, named Craig na Dun. The stunning choreography of the druids dancing in the early morning light transports you to somewhere else. Claire is haunted by the sight, realizing it’s a place she has no right to be in. Where does that feeling come from?

As with any popular book series, like Harry Potter and Game of Thrones, there will be a strong debate between those who have read Gabaldon’s works and those who have not (this reviewer included among the latter). Phrases such as, “Just wait and see,” and “Oh, you should just read the books” are likely to ebb and flow, but

Moore doesn’t seem concerned with all of that, as the premiere simply states its case without getting too bogged down in details better served for a text over 800 pages in length. It’s important to note that this is no easy task and very few directors/writers ever get it right. Peter Jackson with Lord of the Rings along with the plethora of creative teams involved in the Harry Potter franchise found both financial and creative success. Hopefully, Moore and his staff will be as fortunate.

Balfe’s portrayal of Claire Randall brings to light another issue that has been getting only slightly better in Hollywood over the last ten years, which is the importance of having strong female characters onscreen. Moore, with his work on BSG, knows how wonderful a strong female cast can be. What’s so impressive about Balfe’s performance is that unlike BSG, she doesn’t have a large ensemble to feed off of. During the premiere, it’s mostly her and Frank, along with the 1740s version of Frank and the strikingly handsome Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan).

outlander series premiere frank Outlander Series Premiere Review: Something Ancient and Powerful

Every time she utters the simplest of words, Balfe dominates the screen. Even when standing toe-to-toe with the imposing Scottish-born actor Graham McTavish (The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies) she easily holds her own. Her resume may be short, but she handles herself as well as any seasoned actor. It should be fascinating to see what she’s capable of as the season progresses.

Whether you’re a loyal fan of the books or a newcomer to Outlander, Starz latest entry in the world of television dramas looks to be a story you’ll want to stick with until the end. There will be 16 episodes in total for the first season, with 8 airing over the next several weeks, then a short recess to pick back up in early 2015.

What did you think of the premiere? For book readers, did writer Ronald D. Moore do justice to Gabaldon’s book, or did you find it lacking? Keep watching to see what happens to Claire in 18th century Scotland.

Outlander continues with ‘Castle Leoch’ next Saturday @9pm on Starz. Watch the entire premiere below:

Follow David Griffin on Twitter @griffinde
TAGS: Outlander
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  1. Outstanding first episode. Scottish accents are always a bugbear of mine and this episode got them spot on.

    No aliens or super heroes but engrossing.

  2. I liked it as well, it started slow really slow but the moment she went back in time things started to pick up

    • I agree. The first half does start slowly, but I think we’re in for a real treat as the season progresses. Hope you all keep watching.

      • I will give it a try, i want to see what will happen to her. besides there is nothing much going on TV right now anyway.

        • Rectify, The Knick, The Strain…

      • I liked the pacing. The first half established her character and foretold of her husband’s role. It was also Balfe’s best acting and narration. Some would find the beginning romantic and yet her husband said he would understand being 5 years apart that infidelity could have happened and she would still be forgiven. Sam Heughan and Claire can now fall in love and if she ever comes back, she and the audience won’t feel guilty. Great casting in Graham McTavish as Dougal MacKenzie he looks and sounds the part!

  3. I’m almost halfway through and up until now the Protagonist is defined merely by making up 50% of the beast with two backs. Seems like an utter letdown so far, but I’m confident you two commenters haven’t praised the Pilot just for the heck of it.

    Let’s see whether she actually gains another dimension or two.

    • Gotta admit, it picked up quite a bit. Still, I’m getting a certain Lifetime vibe from this I can’t seem to shake. I wouldn’t mind Standing corrected, should the show focus on the shadowy/ghost-like creature her husband witnessed, the very reason for her being thrown back in time and the repercussions on the course of history instead of her past-love interest-to-be (quite a mouthful and somewhat paradoxical, I know).

  4. I agree with a previous commenter, I found the 1st half to be pretty slow & boring but once she went back in time things picked up quick & it had my full attention. Im still not sure if its a show im gonna stick with but I will give it a few more eps cuz im interested to see what happens between her jamie

  5. It is a change of pace compared to all action shows but I like a change of pace now and then.

    Breaking Bad had whole episodes filled with fluff but is still brilliant.

  6. Self confessed Outlander novel devotee here with high hopes with how this material would translate to the small screen. I’m just thrilled with script, cinematography, costume, casting, dialogue coaching, etc. in managing the entire production. Looks like a hit to me since once those items have been attended I know the story itself can carry the audience. Thumbs up!!!!

  7. Basicly a tv show about ( who should i pick or should i share my self )

  8. yeah, if someone could tell me what it is actually about and what i can expect from it, that would be great.

    • It is a hard premise to describe, as it does sound a little boring to someone who hasnt read it. To put things into context though, I’m a massive reader and this is one of the best books I’ve ever read. Perhaps more female orientated it resonates with me through the emotional and underlying themes of love and life. This all happens in the context of war/adventure and intrigue. It is not really a sci-fi except for the time travel and the rest happens as life would in the 1700s. Action/blood/war ect. Stick with it a few more and see if it grows on you. As said, I wouldn’t expect to much sci-fi. The rest is drama based action…

  9. As one of the “book readers” as described above, I can tell you that Moore and his team executed with perfect precision for the pilot. As someone who was worried when Starz bought the franchise (At the time, I would have had more faith in a Showtime or HBO to properly adapt this to a series), I can admit….I was wrong. Starz has done this justice.

  10. Can’t wait for episode 2. Read entire series (first four books several times) and very happy with how closely episode 1 mirrored the book. In the show, Frank is actually a little likeable… lol One question for Ronald Moore: where did Claire lose her belt?

    • When she rolled down the hill…

  11. so what’s it about?

    • It’s about a 1940s woman trying to adapt and survive in an alien time and place (1743) and figure out how the heck to get back home, and then eventually having to decide just where that ‘home’ truly is. What draws readers to the franchise, I think, is her intelligence and ability to think on her feet. It works for her most of the time. She is very practical and understands she has to be careful and tread lightly. She is no comic book character with ridiculous physical skills, but a real-live person. She makes mistakes but learns from those mistakes. And the other characters are true to the times, I think. And it doesn’t hurt that she accidentally gets matched up with the most perfect man ever. There’s a bit of swashbuckling thrown in for good measure. And some pretty nasty stuff happens here and there.

      • I forgot to mention she is in a location on the brink of war with England and she knows what will eventually happen to the people she is with and has to come to terms with that as well. There’s a lot of political posturing and maneuvering, a bit of intrigue, and she is suspected of being a spy by both sides since she doesn’t have a very good explanation as to how she got there or where she came from. She knows better than to blurt out the truth and wonder stupidly why no one believes her.

  12. Huge fan of the books. Disappointed in choice of actress portraying Claire as in the books her description is specific, while Caitriona may be talented, not buying her portrayal of Claire. Understand just the look of the actor/actress is not everything, however, it makes this particular series tough to swallow. Rest of cast, clothing and settings are spectacular, stunning.

  13. TOOOOO Much of Caitronia naked. I’m watching the 2nd episode of season two. Never thought I’d lodge a complaint like this, but her nudity in EVERY episode is just tooooo MUCH. She’s beautiful, but for Gawdz sake do we have to see her nude in EVERY episode? Also, back then cunnilingus was not regularly practiced. The people of this era bathed once a week, or even month, or, for that matter, never bathed. It was a practice uncommon outside of France. Besides that, do we have to watch that practices all the darn time??? Button this girl up and give her a little modesty. I’m about through with the show because of this gratuitous sex and nudity. And I am no prude. My wife, the ultimate Outlander fan is disappointed by this gratuitous sexuality and about to abandon the show as well. Clean this up, strengthen the plot and acting and let the excessive sex go. Or is it that the show isn’t very good and is depending on the sex to keep fans interested?