Outlander: A deep dive into 'A. Malcolm'
Executive producer Matthew B. Roberts, along with Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe, break down the year's most-anticipated episode
A slow build: that was executive producer Matthew B. Roberts’ grand plan when penning “A. Malcolm,” Sunday’s most-anticipated episode of Outlander that depicts the reunion between Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) in his Edinburgh print shop. But to achieve that, Roberts had to ignore the typical time constraints of episodic television.
“I always thought this episode was about letting it breathe,” Roberts tells EW. “Sometimes, when letting things play out in a normal episode you would say, pace this up. This was all about letting it play naturally so if it took 15 minutes to do something? Let it take 15 minutes and we’ll cut that accordingly. If it goes over the 59 minutes, so be it.”
Lucky for us, it took a whole 74 minutes! Here, Roberts, Heughan, and Caitriona break down the key moments of the reunion.
Clever title card! That was all Roberts’ idea. “It was something that I thought of as soon as I saw the printing presses and knew they worked,” he said. “We switch up our title cards all the time. Over the course of the three seasons, coming up with new ideas is getting tougher and tougher. I thought this would be a neat way to incorporate the print shop and how it really works. The only tricky thing is that it took a couple takes to get the exact timing of peeling it off the page and then having it displayed on screen, and then moving over to [director] Norma Bailey’s card. I wanted to do three to four cards, but I just didn’t have enough time to do it. So, I was the lucky one. I got my card peeled off the presses.”
Look who’s feeling faint! The sudden loss of consciousness made sense, considering how Jamie, unlike Claire, was not prepared for the shock of seeing his lost love. “That’s why it was important to start the episode by showing this day in the life of A. Malcolm,” explains Roberts. “He’s getting dressed, he’s getting to work, he’s working the press. He’s just a guy at work. Then all of a sudden, his life has completely changed.”
For Roberts, it was important to play out how gobsmacked Jamie was in the moment. “In the book, we see it from Claire’s point of view,” says Roberts. “I’m sure she’s created a million scenarios in her head, like, ‘When I see Jamie, it’s going to be like this or that.’ He didn’t have any of that. She says, ‘It’s me, Claire,’ and he faints. He didn’t have any time to even imagine this. I think he has somehow put her in the back of his mind. He can’t think about her day to day, minute to minute, because it would just be too heartbreaking.”
Why the sudden dash of modesty when Jamie has to take off his pants? Easy, explains Roberts. “When he is being formal, I think he’s still checking to see if she’s real. Jamie is playing catch-up.”
A simple kiss becomes an iconic moment for the series. “Over the past three years there will always be that episode,” says Roberts. “In season 1, it was the wedding. In season 2, it was about [the death of] Faith, and this season it’s ‘A. Malcolm.’ We knew with getting them back together, we had to take a step back from just telling plot. Normal scripts will have plot points that you have to get through. This is not that episode.”
See those bookcases in the background? There’s an easter egg, planted by production designer Jon Gary Steele. It’s a copy of Diana Gabaldon’s “Drums of Autumn,” which will serve as the source material for season 4. Good luck trying to screen grab it, though.
“Sassenach,” Jamie asks, “why have you come back?” For Claire, this moment is as much about anticipation as it is a feeling of extreme vulnerability. “For Claire, she’s left everything,” explains Balfe. “This is the biggest sacrifice that anyone’s ever made for love. She leaves her daughter, her home, career, her life, her time, and she doesn’t know what she’s going to find. And she’s counting on this belief that he feels as strongly about her as she does about him, and that his love has never wavered the way hers hasn’t. But that’s a huge risk.”
The fireside meal served a very specific purpose, explains Heughan. “Of course they find that old spot, but we do find they have become different people who have had different experiences and lives. So it’s about them rediscovering each other. We wanted to mirror that with the wedding episode from season 1, which was about getting to know someone.”
Has time really passed for Claire? She doesn’t look much different than when she passed through those stones 20 years ago. “I think they really wanted not to have us change too much,” explains Balfe. “The aging has been really subtle. There’s a bit of weathering and stuff that we’ve done, but it’s been very subtle. Claire, she’s just turning 50. We’ve people on the crew who are that age and they all look pretty good. And hey, it’s TV.”
What’s this newfangled thing that keeps her bodice together? Jamie learned a few 20th century terms in this episode, including the word “Jell-O.” “Jamie’s well aware that Claire says things that he’s not going to understand,” explains Roberts. “He lets them go every now and then and he’ll question it later. It started in season 1 when he says, ‘What’s a sadist?’ He just kind of lets it roll off his back because you have to imagine they have spent so much time together traveling that they have probably had a ton of these conversations.”
Yep, we know what you are thinking: those scars look way different from season 1. But that’s not exactly true, says makeup artist Wendy Kemp Forbes: She has used the exact same silicone mold from the beginning. Click here for more details.
Right before Jamie and Claire are about to get busy, he inadvertently smacks her in the nose. Like, really. “I think he probably hit me at one point, if I remember,” Balfe told EW. “I loved that Matt Roberts wanted it to be like that. In this business, a lot of us go for long periods of time with not seeing your significant other. There is always that time when you are not in sync with each other. Its almost like we’re teenagers again. I thought it was a really sweet way to reintroduce this couple. Neither of them have been intimate in quite a few years. It’s that shyness but also that clumsiness that comes with not being fully confident and open. It was really fun to shoot.”
Bravo to Roberts for including one of the more memorable moments from Voyager, when Claire enjoys breakfast with the whores. “The girls were so great and it was really funny,” recalls Balfe. “It’s nice to give them a voice and not just be a backdrop. It’s nice to hear them have their chat.”
Want to keep diving? Join me and Amy Wilkinson at noon ET Monday on Outlander Live!, Sirius XM 105. We’ll gladly take your calls (observations? criticisms?) before talking with Chris Parnell, the co-president of Sony Pictures Television Studios, which produces Outlander, about the chances of a fifth season!