'Outlander' midseason finale: EP Ronald D. Moore answers our burning questions
Well, it looks like poor Jamie will spend the next six months crouched in Black Jack’s window, considering Outlander won’t return to Starz until April 4, 2015. (The upside: His quads will look HUGE when he finally gets to stand upright.)
Saturday’s midseason finale—in which Claire once again found herself confined in close quarters with the ruthless Redcoat—raised more questions than it answered, so we rang up showrunner Ronald D. Moore to chat about that cliffhanger, Frank’s increased presence, and, of course, male nudity.
EW: Congratulations on a great first half of season 1. What reactions have you been hearing from fans?
Ronald D. Moore: I would say that I’ve just been getting a very positive response. Fans of the book are definitely appreciating how close we’ve stayed to it, and I think for the most part, they’ve understood why we’ve made certain changes, and they’ve been excited to just see the scenes and storylines come alive. And the reaction I’ve got from new viewers has been very positive. People have just been intrigued by the story and wondering where it’s going and say they haven’t really seen a tale like this one on television. It’s just been a very positive response, overall.
I’m hoping you can settle a debate I’m having with my editor over the midseason finale: In that really great scene in which Frank and Claire were simultaneously standing atop Craigh na Dun, could Frank hear Claire through the stones? Or was it just Claire who could hear Frank?
That’s a good question. We left that deliberately ambiguous so that it would be ambiguous in Frank’s mind. Did he hear her voice, or was it just the wind? We kinda wanted to play it a little bit mystical but not so overtly that he had concrete evidence that he had heard her.
All right, that settles nothing then! Moving on…Frank’s gotten a lot more play in the TV series than he did in the book. Can you talk a bit about the decision to include him more?
I thought it was really important because Claire’s drive through a big chunk of the first season is to go home, to get back to Frank, and return to her own time. So I thought you had to sort of get the audience inside of that. The audience had to understand emotionally why she wants to do that because otherwise, they would just go, “Come on, lady! What’s the matter with you? Just stick with the redhead guy and enjoy yourself.” I thought it was very important that the audience have an investment in that triangle, that they understand her dilemma, that they understand that she is torn between these two men and these two periods, and that you had to sort of invest in Frank as a character to pull that off.
In “Both Sides Now” we see Frank’s hunt for Claire—something we’re not privy to in that first book. When you create new threads like this, do you talk with Diana Gabaldon or just dive in?
We just kinda jumped in. We kept Diana in the loop, and she saw scripts and dailies and cuts, and she’ll comment back from time to time, and she’s been very generous and very free to say, “You know what? I’m the author, you guys are the TV writers, you do what you do, and I’ll just trust that you don’t destroy my book.” And that’s kind of the attitude that we’ve taken. We try to honor the book, and we try to preserve the spirit of it, and we try to stick as close to the storyline as we can, but it is an adaptation, and we are adapting it for another medium. It has different requirements, so we embellish on things and we change things around, but we’re always at pains to get back to where the story goes.
You ended on a nice little cliffhanger. Was that the one you had in mind all along or did you consider other options?
I knew from the outset that that was the perfect midseason finale. It falls just about midway through the book. It’s the most exciting image. It’s the moment in the book where you go, “I have no idea what’s going to happen next, and how the hell did he get in that window?” It’s a great moment to fade to black on.
I can only imagine what you would have faced if you’d concluded before the wedding. Fans probably would have mutinied!
Oh yeah! [Laughs] We weren’t going to tease that much.
Much has been made of Outlander having a strong female gaze. Does that come inherently from the source material or is that something you made an extra effort to capture?
Well, obviously, the book is told through the female perspective, but as we do the show, we just kind of tell the story as best as we can. And I guess as we were approaching the sex scenes in particular, we had a long conversation with the director and the cast, and my mandate was just let’s not over do it. Don’t do the blowing drape and the candle. Let’s not overly fantasize and romanticize it. Let’s not make it just soft-core porn. Let’s make it sex. How do people have sex? Let’s try to do the most naturalistic interpretation of how two people have sex in this context. So the first time is going to be getting it over with. There’s a lot of chemistry, and there’s a lot of anticipation, and there’s the taking off of the clothes for the first time, and there’s all that excitement. But he’s being deflowered, and she’s really uncomfortable, and the first time’s probably not going to be that great. And it’s going to be over kind of quick. But once that’s out of the way, it kind of creates room for the second time to be about something else, and the third time you actually move to love. We just wanted it to feel real. We just wanted you to believe that these were two people making love for the first time in this extraordinary circumstance, and it just didn’t feel like we were trying to be fancy or over-glamorize it or just overdo it. Sex is exciting enough, and let’s just have two people just have sex.
I don’t want to call it disappointing editing, but we came so close to seeing all of Jamie but didn’t! Since this is Starz we’re talking about, do you ever foresee going there with one of the male characters? (And by “there,” I mean the full enchilada.)
Yeah! I mean, we don’t have anything against it. It always depends on what we want to do in these scenes. Does it distract you? Does the scene become all about that suddenly? In the second time they have sex and she says, “Take your shirt off, I want to look at you,” and he looks at her, if he had been standing there with an erect soldier, it would have been what the scene was all about all of the sudden, and that wasn’t the point of that moment. We wanted you to be with them as people not just going, “Wow, I can’t believe they showed that on television!” I just think it would have taken you out of it. That’s not to say in future episodes there isn’t a time where it would feel more natural and it would feel more appropriate to what we’re doing.
Have you filmed anything like that yet?
There’s all kinds of footage sitting in the edit bay as we speak… We shall see.
Commenters sometimes complain that something significant—a moment that will pay off seasons down the line—has been cut from the episode. How mindful are you of the long game?
We’re aware of all that, and we talk about it in the room. Some of the writers are more familiar with subsequent books than others. I like the mix. We’ve got people who are focusing on this year and other people who have the whole show in their hands, so we always talk about the interconnectedness of the mythology. If there’s something that we drop that’s important for a later episode, we just file it away as something we have to get back to or revisit or explain. I’m sure there are various pieces that may seem like they’ve gone by the board that we’re aware of and we plan to explain or rationalize or do something with later on.
Looking ahead to the back half of the season (and without getting too spoilery), Jamie has some pretty intense, painful scenes coming up. How much of that will we see?
We did it. It’s pretty intense stuff. We just got finished shooting those sequences. Some very brave actors and some emotionally and psychologically difficult material to deal with on set. It’s such an important part of what the book is and what the story is about that there’s really no way to shy away from it. It hasn’t been edited together yet—we literally just finished shooting it.
Is there a scene in the remaining season 1 episodes that you’re particularly excited for fans to see?
The whole story once you get involved with Geillis and the witch trial—that’s all really cool and exciting. It’s just great to bring her back, and she’s such a fun character, and it’s really great to see her and Claire together. I’m really looking forward to people seeing that whole story.