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'Outlander' exclusive: Showrunner says adapting season 2 was difficult

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Ed Miller/Starz

In anticipation of the season 2 premiere of Outlander (April 9 on Starz), EW talked to Ronald D. Moore on location in England about the challenges in adapting Diana Gabaldon’s second book Dragonfly in Amber for the small screen, and whether the evil Black Jack Randall (played by the terrific Tobias Menzies) will show up in France.

Did you feel like you needed a happy ending to season 1 to keep the viewers coming back?

RONALD D. MOORE An audience will go just about anywhere you ask them to go as long as you’re telling a good story. They’ll just keep suffering with characters over and over again. I did like the idea of at least some light at the end of the tunnel because I had asked the audience to go through two very intense, really emotional episodes at the end.

Does the action pick up immediately in the new season, after Jamie and Claire get off the ship?

Pretty close. They arrive in France and then they’re off to Paris to stop the Jacobite rebellion.

How do they infiltrate the rebellion, exactly?

They have certain connections. Jamie has family in Paris. One thing leads to another so they meet the key people.

Is the second season drafted entirely off of Diana Gabaldon’s second book in the Outlander series, Dragonfly in Amber?

Dragonfly in Amber was a very different book. It was written in different voices — Diana played with a point of view — so we had to decide our point of view in the second season. it just took a lot more work. That was always the crucial decision in season 1. Whenever we vary, how do we get it back to where the book is? Season 2, that was the job, too. There’s probably more changes in the story in the second season than there were in the first season because it was a much more difficult thing to get our arms around. The way the story plays out in year two is very different than year one. Year one was a fairly straight narrative. Claire goes to the past. She tries to get home. She meets Jamie. She falls in love and gets married. Jamie is taken. She goes to rescue Jamie. That’s essentially the plot of season 1. Season 2 is much more complex with a lot more moving pieces. You’ve left most of the characters from season 1 back in Scotland. It’s a whole new cast of characters in the second season. Now you’re dealing with politics, the secretive rebellion. Bonnie Prince Charlie. The King. Trying to figure out where the money’s coming from. How do they stop this? Can they stop this from happening at all? Now they’re a married couple as opposed to a courting couple in the first season. There’s a baby on the way. So, everything’s very, very different in the season.

Will you get back to Scotland?

Eventually we do.

Where does Frank, Claire’s husband from the future, play in all this?

He’s still in the 20th century. He’s still looking for her.

How will you work Frank into the plot for this season?

We saw him quite a few times in flashbacks in season 1. And we’ll definitely see him in flashbacks as well in season 2.

Does Black Jack end up in France?

Perhaps. It’s always tricky because, obviously the books are out there. The spoilers are all there to be had for anybody who cares to look for them. But I try to preserve them for the audience that hasn’t read the book or isn’t going go online to read Wikipedia.

Will you hold off on showing any trauma for a while in season 2?

There won’t be anything like that. There’s nothing in the books like that. Don’t worry. We’re not going back to that place again.

What surprised you the most from the first season?

We were most thrilled with the cast. We just really scored. That’s gold in this business. Catriona Balfe [as Claire] was an amazing find. Sam Heughan is the perfect Jamie. And I would say it’s hard to look at any of the characters and picture them as anybody else. Obviously Graham McTavish is McDougal MacKenzie and Gary Lewis is Colum. Before all that happened there was a lot of trepidation about, “Okay, can we find these people?”

Let’s talk about those sex scenes. Are the Outlander books as erotic as what we saw on the small screen?

We tried to take those elements from the book. The book had a strong sexual and erotic component and we felt that was an important part of the show. We always felt like that’s part of why people read these books. That’s the heart of the appeal.

Was the rape scene between Black Jack and Jamie literally by the book?

No, we changed it. The first book is told entirely from Claire’s point of view. So, all of the events that happened to Jamie at the hands of Jack Randall were told later in flashback. So, right away I wanted to tell some of that in real time, that you are with Jamie and you experience it with him as opposed to hearing everything after the fact. Some of those scenes weren’t explicitly laid out in the book. So we invented dialogue, invented some of the situations and the dynamics between Jack and Jamie. But the fundamentals were the same. The story is very much the same. The motivations are very much the same. The reactions are very much the same.

Was it ever too graphic? Did Starz balk?

The network was very supportive. They were very like, unflinching and like, “Do it.” They weren’t afraid of it by any means. Ultimately, it was about the editing. There were times sitting in editing, where you’re looking at the scene and you feel like oh, that’s too much. Usually just a question of how long you linger on an image. How many frames do you hold on a smashed hand? How long do you wanna hear him scream? I also didn’t wanna shy away from it. You should feel upset. It’s a horrible, brutal thing to happen and you should be emotionally challenged by that. But it shouldn’t be so graphic and so overwhelming that you can’t watch it, because I don’t wanna lose the audience.

Does Black Jack love Jamie or was it just an exercise in total control?

I think those are hard questions to answer because I don’t think there’s a simple answer to it. Can Jack love, absent of someone else’s terror or pain or suffering? Is he capable of that? Certainly power is an important part of it, his power over Jamie, his determination to break that Highlander who he was unable to break before. He has admiration for Jamie on some weird level. He’s a complicated man. I never looked at him like a very simple monster. There’s a man in there who is screwed up.

Is Black Jack gay?

Diana has labeled him bisexual. But I don’t even know what he thinks. I think he’s omnivorous. He’s sort of he’s a predator. He seeks women. He seeks men. And he doesn’t seem to like have a preference one way or the other

How was your working relationship with Diana Gabaldon through the season?

Oh, it’s great. You can’t ask for a better way it should work. Here’s an author of successful books who has been doing them for many, many years. [Co-executive producer] Maril Davis and I flew out to meet her at Scottsdale, spent a weekend with her before we even sold the show to just talk about adapting it. And she said “Hey, I’m an author. You’re a screenwriter. I don’t do what you do. I have to trust you and I’ll try to help you as best I can.” We had a really good conversation and good relationship all the way through it. I sent her story outlines and scripts and I’d show her dailies and she would see the cuts and she would comment and point out things. We can’t ask for it to be any better, really.

It must have been frustrating to see how the series was basically overlooked by the Emmys.

I’m a part of the TV Academy but I’ve been frustrated by it for many years because of Battlestar Galactica. Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell never got nominations, which I thought was criminal. We got the AFI Award and we got the Peabody. What can you say? The TV Academy is a specific membership and it also comes down to who actually bothers to vote. You never know. It would be great to get more recognition for all these people that work really hard, from our cast to the set design to costume design. But what can you do? I think we’re doing a great show. We’ve got a good audience. Even the critics have embraced us. Everything else is kind of icing.

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