Now for something completely different: I like Outlander! The TV series, that is. I have not read the novels it is based on … and if I am entirely honest, I don’t think I would like them. If I go by quotes and excerpts that I have seen, it’s just not a writing style I could enjoy, so there’s that.
Anyway, why did I start watching Outlander? Because videogames! That’s right, a conversation about Uncharted inevitably led to the topic of Graham McTavish, who played
my everyone’s favourite Uncharted 3 character, Charlie Cutter: What’s McTavish up to these days? Oh right, he’s on that Scotland TV show, probably headbutting the English* …oh, it’s on TV, let’s just check it out!
The first positive surprise was that Graham McTavish doesn’t just play some random grizzled background Scot! He’s the leader! His role is amazingly large, especially during the first six episodes where he is essentially the male main character. I mean it: It is the tension between Claire and Dougal (his character) that drives the plot in the beginning. Meanwhile, Jamie’s role is surprisingly small and nearly peripheral.
This is no criticism, by the way. I think it speaks to one of Outlander‘s strengths: confidence. It doesn’t worry about audience expectations, but just proceeds at its own pace. And there really is no organic reason for Jamie to take a prominent role so early. He’s just a friend to Claire at that point. He also holds no power within the clan hierarchy. Claire wants to find a way back home, so she has to take things up with Dougal and Colum, who are the ones calling the shots. It’s only once circumstances throw Claire and Jamie together that his role becomes bigger. That makes sense to me. And it feels like it’s very much the point that he doesn’t have a huge role at first, and that his actions don’t drive the story.
Actually, a lot of people summarize the show’s plot in a way that suggests a very stereotypical and uneven dynamic between Claire and Jamie, and a lot more agency for him. It makes the show sound more cliché than it really is. Example:
The Outlander books (which I haven’t read) are romance-laden, and so it’s no surprise that once Claire lands back in time, she’s saved by Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), a strapping Scots clan member who is also dramatically more pleasant than the rougher members of Clan MacKenzie, which he serves. (The Hollywood Reporter)
This bit is funny/interesting because Jamie doesn’t save Claire in that scene, Murtagh does. Jamie’s real introduction comes afterwards and actually presents him in a state of powerlessness: Not only is he injured, but it is Dougal and Claire whose actions determine his survival in that scene. He does not act himself, but ~is acted upon~. That scene is also a very accurate first impression of Jamie, the most injury-prone of all the Outlander characters! It is an early sign that despite his tough façade, Jamie is extremely vulnerable, both physically and psychologically. Complex topic, but briefly put, I think this is where the core of Outlander’s feminism really lies: Claire may not be a ~tough action chick~ who single-handedly fights her way out of every scrap and needs no man to save herself!!1 But even Jamie, the most heroic/masculine/admirable male character, who often comes to her help, is not always in control, and cannot always protect himself. Which is OK. This has nothing (much) to do with being a man or a woman, it’s just a human thing.
Okay, that was a lot of analysis when I was trying to stay more general. =_= So my point was: Outlander is doing some interesting things with its premise, rather than dumbly replicating romance novel clichés, and feels a lot more grounded and believable than I expected.
(I have been trying to write this blog post for three or four days, but my computer is having issues and keeps crashing on me, so I kind of forgot how I was going to continue this post. >_<)
Anyway, since I found Outlander via Uncharted 3, I would like to discuss which other videogames it reminds me of.
The first few episodes at Castle Leoch, where Claire is a “guest”, really had the feel and atmosphere of a classic point & click adventure game. Claire is an outsider in a strange place and everyone is either hostile or somewhat obstinate. She has a clear goal, but must work towards it in roundabout ways. It’s all about exploring a place and meeting interesting people. The pace is slow and things proceed without many dramatic action scenes. Of course, most reviewers did not like the slow pace of the first few episodes. Many people find point & click adventures boring, too. Sometimes, I feel so alone in the world. ;(
And then there are a handful of dialogue scenes that I like to call “Reverse Ace Attorney”: Claire is being questioned about who she is and how the fuck did she end up alone in a forest without even a proper dress?! Since Claire can’t say “time travel”, she has to bullshit her way through these interrogations, trying to keep her story of lies straight with each new question! This is especially tricky because Claire – my kind of girl – will drink any alcohol you put in front of her.
It’s like the opposite of an Ace Attorney cross examination, where instead of exposing someone’s lies, you have to uphold your lie. In the sixth episode, when Claire is faced with arch-nemesis Black Jack Randall, she is forced to do something that Ace Attorney liars always do: admit that she was lying, and fabricate a completely new lie that also explains why she was supposedly lying in the first place! Dun dun duuuuuun.
We’ll see what the future brings. So far, the second season has given me some Anno 1404 vibes, but I don’t think that’s going to be a major thing … I’ll make a blog post about the episode as soon as my computer lets me.
*) In the end, Graham McTavish did not headbutt anybody in the first season of Outlander.