Ranking Outlander, Part 1

We have Ronald D. Moore to thank for bringing Outlander to television.

Give credit where it’s due—to Ronald D. Moore

The Outlander part of the SciFi Chicks Summer Series 2015 is to list highlights and lowlights of each episode.  Since I’m behind schedule on that, this week’s outing provides a ranking of the episodes.  We’ll start at the bottom and work our way up.

I’m not your typical Outlander fan.  I’d never heard of the series of books until I watched the television show; nor did I find the television version until four months after the first half of the first season had ended.  You see, obsession knows no time limit.  All that is to say, you may not see a typical episode ranking here.

A caveat:  Even though these eight episodes represent the bottom half, they have much to recommend them.  No episode received a less-than-average rating.  Hell, some of them are nearly flawless, garnering 5 (out of 5) stars. They lag behind simply because the other episodes are more engaging.  At least for me.

16.  The Search (114)

Contrary to popular belief, the bottom ranking is not due to the lack of Jamie Fraser (or Sam Heughan).  Actually, Jamie’s absence emphasizes just how dire his situation is.  We feel Claire’s frantic worry and fear.

No, the reason “The Search” is on the bottom is timing.  There were only two episodes left in the season with a lot of ground to cover, yet too much time was spent on frivolity, scenery, and montage.  That’s not to say there aren’t superb moments.  The idea of Claire and Jenny, two strong women, roaming the Scottish countryside dealing with whatever comes their way is highly appealing.  So is the bond that grows between Murtagh and Claire.  But there are far too many missteps in their attempts to draw Jamie out.  And far too many montages, a clear sign there wasn’t enough plot to fill an entire episode.

15.  Both Sides Now (108)

Frank Randall revisits Cragh na Dun to search for Claire.

Frank Randall revisits Craigh na Dun.

I’m not particularly interested in Frank Randall.  I’m not convinced Claire and Frank have this all-consuming love for each other.  Their relationship is built on sex, and while it’s an important part of marriage, it’s not the glue that holds a couple together during the tough times.  Claire is not the strong, independent woman with Frank.  She dotes on him, seemingly out of duty, whereas he takes no interest in what’s important to her.

Plus, events in the 18th century aren’t so great, what with all the raping and kidnapping.

14.  The Garrison Commander (106)

Claire is invited to dine with the British officers.

Claire is invited to dine with the Redcoats. Dougal is not.

This episode tops many Outlander lists, but I can’t give it a high rating because I despise Captain “Black Jack” Randall.  I don’t care if Tobias Menzies is a great actor, nor that the episode features a supposedly intricate cat and mouse game.  We learn that Black Jack is a sadist, getting sexual pleasure from inflicting pain on others, but that’s the most “interesting” thing about him.  There is no depth to Black Jack, and that makes him a tedious villain.

13.  Wentworth Prison (115)

Its merits are the strong performances of Catriona Balfe and Sam Heughan.  Claire puts on a brave front when meeting with prison warden Sir Fletcher, but goes to pieces the minute she’s left alone.  Jamie is defiant up to the point when he gives himself up to save Claire, after which he’s devastated and (dare I say?) frightened.  But the episode is dark and twisted.  And again, Black Jack is no more than an evil villain with no subtext.

12.  By the Prickling of My Thumbs (110)

I was pretty harsh on this episode when it first aired, but I’ve softened toward it.  Claire still frustrates me, and Dougal’s “berserker” scene still feels inconsistent with the character.  But it has some great moments.  Claire proves to be a savvy politician, Jamie’s gets to display his awesome sword-fighting skills and wear “trews” (trousers) for the first time.  And it introduces a new character who’ll appear again as part of the plot, not just on the periphery.

11.  Sassenach (101)

Frank and Claire try to reconnect after World War II.

The adventure begins!

Pilots are tough.  They tend to be exposition heavy by necessity.  In preparation for my highlights and lowlights series, I recently rewatched “Sassenach.”  It easily rates 5 stars; and yet, here it is, closer to the bottom of the heap than the top.  Which just goes to show you how incredibly good this series is.

10.  The Gathering (104)

Dougal and Jamie battle it out in a game of shinty.

Jamie and Dougal battle it out.

It boasts stellar performances and terrific scenes.  We see a softer side to Dougal, and it’s a joy to behold.  (Graham McTavish said the scene with a gravely injured Geordie was his favorite because of its emotional depth.)  The shinty game is grand fun, and gives us yet another look into the Jamie/Dougal dynamic.  And let’s not forget when Jamie looks lovingly into the camera and says, “Je suis prest.”  Gah.  Yet, here it is, nearer the bottom that the top.

9.  To Ransom a Man’s Soul (116)

The season finale took a lot of heat from long-time fans because some elements from the book were left out.  But I always found the book’s abbey scenes tedious, if not outright weird.  I liked this shortened version, and I loved setting the abbey in Scotland vice France.  I understood the need for including the rape scenes, even though they turned my stomach.  Shortening Claire’s physical confrontation with Jamie may have felt disingenuous to some; but in true fan-rationalizing form, I’ve come up with my own theory of what brought Jamie back to Claire.  So I’m satisfied.

That most glorious final shot of Jamie and Claire sailing off to their new life in France gives me goosebumps.  And then my heart explodes.  But here it is in the bottom half of my episode list, mainly because it’s so hard to watch.

Stay tuned for the top half of the episode rankings.  In the meantime, tell me what your favorite—and least favorite—episodes were.

3 responses to “Ranking Outlander, Part 1

  1. 16. Yep. In a slow-paced show, this crested the hill of tolerance. 🙂

    15. Totally agree. Though one small saving grace was that Frank’s obsession with getting his wife back did redeem a little bit his disregard of her as a whole person before that.

    14. Again, I agree. This is probably where I started feeling queasy when watching much of the show. 🙂

    13. I liked the teaming-up of forces in this episode. Claire became…well, okay, not an equal, but the guys were willing to follow her and work with her to achieve her goals.

    12. I have no comment on this one, which probably is comment enough.

    11. We felt it was slow (I know, I’m repeating myself, sorry LOL) but it was compelling enough to keep us watching. (My husband fast-forwarded a lot of episodes that we didn’t watch together.) We agreed that the richness of the setting and characters were the show’s strengths.

    10. I really liked this one. It gave us many new perspectives and showed us Claire’s value, too, with her out on the hunt. Any episodes that showed her healing or interacting with people on a proactive level were good ones, because there were too many that were the opposite.

    9. Ditto. Nuff said. 🙂

    So far, we parallel pretty well. I have no doubt I’ll feel the same way you do about favorites, too. 🙂

    • 15. I look at Frank’s desperation to get Claire back as him losing a prized possession. That may be saying it a bit too harshly, but I’ll have more to say when I get to that episode specifically. (At some point in the future.)

      10. Yeah. “The Gathering” and the finale could have easily switched places. I put “To Ransom a Man’s Soul” higher probably because of the ending. Although the ending of “The Gathering,” riding out in the early morning with Claire wearing that gorgeous coat, was pretty terrific, too.

      “So far, we parallel pretty well. I have no doubt I’ll feel the same way you do about favorites, too.”
      Um, I bet we don’t agree on our favorite episode. 😉

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