Why Outlander used the saddest song ever to end the penultimate episode
Something may have felt — or sounded — vaguely familiar at the end of Sunday’s Outlander episode.
When Roger (Richard Rankin) returns to the Mohawk village after attempting to escape, he finds the Jesuit priest he befriended burning at the stake. There are no words spoken between Roger and the Mohawk but words weren’t needed: the tear-inducing tune did all the talking.
It’s called “Adagio for Strings,” a haunting work by Samuel Barber that has become the go-to sad song when any film or TV show wants to convey, well, a super sad scene. Written in the ’30s, the piece has also been used at funerals for real-life dignitaries. But it’s most recognizable use occurred in the 1986 war film Platoon, during Willem DaFoe’s iconic death scene.
The Outlander producers didn’t set out to use the well-worn composition for the end of “Providence.” It was dropped in the first rough cut as a suggestion by director Mairzee Almas to serve as temporary music. In most cases, temp music is replaced with a new or different composition. But when the producers saw the scene, they knew Adagio for Strings had to stay.
“We all just went, whoa,” executive producer Toni Graphia tells EW. “I mean, we were sobbing. We were just sobbing. It was a perfect piece of music. Sometimes you get accused of what’s called temp love, like, ‘Don’t fall in love with that temp music because it’s going to change’ because it’s really meant to be temporary. But this was one of those rare, rare times where we said, ‘You know what? This piece of music is just perfect for this scene.’ We fell in love with it and we didn’t want to let it go.”
That doesn’t mean they ignored the music’s long legacy. “There were folks in the editing room who said, ‘You know, this is from Platoon. It was so long ago. The music sounded familiar to me, but I didn’t connect it with Platoon, because I just didn’t remember it. So we thought, ‘Are people going to remember this? Are they going to say, Oh yeah, that’s the Platoon music?’ We ultimately had to say, some people may recognize it and some people may not. We just decided we’re going to go for it because it felt really perfect to us.”
Want to continue the discussion about the penultimate episode? Make sure to turn into EW Radio at 1 p.m. ET Monday for another edition of Outlander Live! We’ll be chatting with Graphia! EW Radio can be found on Sirius XM 105.
Outlander airs Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on Starz.