“Yo, sh–, Outlander! You ever read this? Lady travels back in time to Scotland… Hooks up with this big sexy outlaw type, and they be gettin’ it day in and day out. Yo, it’s hot!”
Obviously, there’s no topping Litchfield literary critic Tasha “Taystee” Jefferson’s synopsis of Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling book series–upon which Starz’s new drama is based–so I’m not even going to try. But, for the next 16 episodes, I have accepted the challenge of being your intrepid tour guide through the treacherous wilds of the 18th-century Scottish Highlands (kilts optional).
If you’ve somehow missed the hype surrounding Outlander (and, really, you’d need to be a 1700s-dwelling clansman to have done so), the Starz adaptation has plenty of big names behind it. It’s executive produced by Ronald D. Moore of Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica fame and boasts a hauntingly beautiful score by his BSG collaborator Bear McCreary. The lush, painstaking craftsmanship shows.
The premiere opens on a grisly scene only alluded to in the book series—a flashback to our protagonist, English army nurse Claire Randall, furiously tending to a soldier’s mangled leg while a femoral artery spurts red droplets onto her pretty porcelain face. Tough as nails, she wipes the blood away, nonplussed, and as she leaves the quarters, is consumed by a cheering throng. The war is over. It’s VE-Day. She swigs a bottle of proffered champagne in somber celebration.
Back to the future: Claire has reunited with her husband Frank, a historian who served as an intelligence officer in the war, dispatching spies to the frontlines. With the business of suturing and surveillance behind them, they arrive in Inverness for a sort of second honeymoon, to reacquaint themselves with each other after five years apart. But they’re met with a rather inauspicious welcome: blood on the doorposts.
“I had no idea Inverness was such a hot bed of contemporary paganism,” Claire jokes good-naturedly.
“Oh, my dear, there’s no place on Earth with more magic and superstition mixed into its daily life than that of the Scottish Highlands,” Frank explains. (Also: foreshadowing!)
As it turns out, the couple have arrived on the eve of a Halloween-like holiday. So there’s that.
Claire and Frank shuffle into their room, apprehensive about how to behave with one another after such a long absence. Timidity melts into playfulness as Franks tests out the squeaky bedsprings. “So much for marital privacy,” he muses, before he and Claire noisily hop on the mattress together, warming even more. She confides that she tried to remember his laugh during the war but couldn’t. He confesses that he once doodled the lines of her hand into the margins of an important military document. Moments later we hear—though not see—their re-consummation.
The couple haven’t come to Scotland to simply stare at the ceiling of their B&B, though. Frank’s interest in history (specifically his genealogy) and Claire’s in botany lead them to a day touring the countryside. As they ramble through the Highlands they spy Cocknammon Rock, which Frank explains used to serve as a hiding spot for British soldiers ambushing the Scots in the 17th and 18th century. They finally pull their car over at a set of ruins: Castle Leoch, home of the MacKenzie clan through the middle of the 19th century.
NEXT: Let’s talk about sex, baby