Through a Glass, Dark and Dull: OUTLANDER season 2 Premiere, Review & Recap

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Spoilers,
Dull & Drear

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Two years ago, when Starz aired its first episode of Outlander, based on the best-selling novels by Diana Gabaldon, which I had not read, I wrote a post saying that the network was taking a huge risk by creating a show whose intended audience seemed to be solely women. Not only is Outlander more romance than historical fiction, but the show’s writers further restricted its audience appeal by concentrating on the sexual relationship between the time-transported Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and her 1740s Scots husband Jamie (Sam Heughan).

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Even if Parts One and Two of Season One, which were divided by an entire year, had been brilliantly written and acted, I doubt the show could have maintained its viewing audience  between seasons, simply because it divided the book on which it was based in half, and because non-readers of the Outlander book series, like me, would have had absolutely no incentive to continue watching.

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As Outlander was neither brilliantly written nor acted, it was no surprise to see its ratings plummet between the finale of Part One and and the premiere of Part Two (from 1.4M to 1.2M, a 32% decline).

Given the graphically violent content of the final two episodes of Part Two, with its explicit torture and rape of the belovèd male protagonist, the ratings drop of those final episodes was to be expected (1.01M for episode 15, down another 7% from the Part Two premier; with only .98K for episode 16, down a further 3.25%). (All these figures, including the percentages, were taken from the Nielsen ratings to which the post is linked in the word “ratings.” If I made a mistake in writing any of them down, I will correct them.)

After all, it is one thing to read about your favorite hero telling his wife about what happened to him in prison. It is quite another to see it dramatized. And in such an explicitly horrifying and graphic way.

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Despite Outlander’s numerous book fans, therefore, the show itself averaged only about 1.04M viewers per episode.

Compare that to the highly successful Game of Thrones, which pulls in an average of 8.1M viewers per episode.

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Apparently, the writers of Game of Thrones know something that the writers of Starz’s Outlander do not.

How to adapt a best-selling book into a successful series.

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Despite the fact that Outlander the show was not necessarily a dramatic success, judging by its low ratings, I was hoping for an improvement for Outlander Season 2, only because it was claimed that author Diana Gabaldon would be more than a consultant. She was to be one of the writers.

I thought Gabaldon’s being among the writers would vastly improve the show, even though I thought it highly unlikely that Starz would get any viewers beyond the book fans based the the dramatic weaknesses of the first season of the show. I read Book 1 after watching all episodes of the show on which it was based, but have not read any additional books. I am blogging, once again, on the show Outlander as a stand-alone drama. Further, I am only watching it because book fans begged me to give my opinion on Outlander, the show.

Unfortunately, the poor writing and cringe-worthy acting of Season One was even more blatant in the premiere of Season Two.

That does not bode well for Outlander, the show.

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When we last saw Claire and Jamie, they were on a ship to France. He had just been rescued from Wentworth Prison, where he was tortured and raped by Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies). Claire had just informed Jamie that she was pregnant, despite her previously thinking she was sterile.

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I assumed that their going to France had something to do with the historical conflict between the Scots and the British, which would ultimately lead to their return to Scotland and to the Battle of Culloden, when the Jacobites, who were attempting to restore Bonnie Prince Charlie to the throne of Scotland, were not only defeated, but the Scottish clans were virtually wiped out by British reprisals against the rebellion.

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Imagine my shock and horror, therefore, when, instead of seeing Jamie and Claire either on the ship or landing in France, the Season 2 premiere opened with Claire, alone, back at Craigh na dun.

Alone.

In 1948.

Dang, was I disappointed.

Furthermore, I was jarred.

What happened to Jamie? What happened to France? What on earth was going on?

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Claire’s return to the stones and to 1948 was accompanied by the Voice-Over that was present in Season One. If Claire’s Voice wasn’t saying things that viewers could see her doing (“I went for a walk along the docks” as she was walking along the docks), then it was so vague it made no sense (“I touched the edges of oblivion” while lying in the grass in the midst of the stones). Voice-Overs are to provide ironic commentary on the characters’ actions, as in Madame Bovary (2000), or to provide viewers with insight into the narrator’s mind, insight which the other characters are not privy to, as in most recent version of The Great Gatsby. Once again, in Outlander, we get pointless Voice-Overs.

Instead of the Voice-Over giving us insight into Claire’s feeling or her character, it tells us what we can see her doing on the screen. I realize that the book readers are probably still accompanying the narrator Claire in all her private thoughts, but the show is not giving us much of that in the Voice-Over.

Claire’s unexpected return to the stones at Craigh na dun was followed her screaming, screaming, screaming as the camera pulled out. Then we were treated to a scenery-chewing-Cait screaming at some poor driver about what year it was and about who won the war. As you can imagine, he thought she was talking about the recently ended World War II. When she shrieked, “Who won the Battle of Culloden?” he must have thought she was bonkers, and not just because she was walking down the middle of an isolated Scottish road wearing a bad wig that didn’t match the front part of her hair and a dress that was clearly two centuries old.

“Who won the Battle of Culloden?” she screamed-shrieked.

“The British,” the startled man dutifully replied.

Cue some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen as Claire collapsed, screaming and sobbing most falsely, into the road.

Viewers started off Season Two with a shock: Cait’s acting had not improved; it had, in fact, deteriorated. And, worse, Claire was not with Jamie on the boat to France.

Instead, she was in the “present” — but two or three years later than when she was first transported through the stones to the past — and her husband Frank (Tobias Menzies, in a dual role) was back.

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Oy, vey, I can hear all the book fans who don’t like Frank screaming their annoyance and disappointment.

During season one, book fans already vociferously voiced their objections to Frank’s getting so much screen-time, telling me in the Comments to my posts that Frank was not in the book after the beginning and he should not have been in the show.

Honestly, I was in the viewing-minority since I liked Frank, and I wanted him to have more screen-time.

As Frank, of course, not as his evil ancestor Black Jack Randall.

Not only is Tobias Menzies the only principal in Outlander who can actually act, I thought the love-triangle set up a nice conflict with Frank’s searching for his missing wife, and Claire’s continually mentioning that she had to get back to the stones to get back to her husband Frank (though I did think her saying that she had to get back was “tacked on” by the show writers since the character didn’t behave as if she really wanted to get back) even while she was getting more involved with 1740s Jamie.

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Despite the show’s jarring return to 1948, I was willing to see the premiere of Season Two as a sort of artistic parallel to the premiere of  Season One Part One, where Claire and Frank were on their second honeymoon. Initially, in the Season Two premiere, Tobias did an admirable job as a grieving man reunited with his missing wife.

Cait just played a dazed and supremely insensitive, self-centered Claire. Not only did she not say anything — for over a week, at the very least — about where she had been, she was obsessively hunting through historical books for mention of the survivors of the Battle of Culloden. Viewers and the Reverend’s housekeeper, whom Claire had told about Jamie, knew she was looking for the name of her Scots husband.

Frank did not.

How cruel of Claire.

I felt sorry for Frank.

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Claire eventually told Frank about Jamie, in an extremely drawn-out scene, and a weeping Frank told his wife that he was just happy to have her back. But then the writers further extended the scene, dragging Claire’s story out so that it could include news of her pregnancy, with her callously emphasizing that the child was not Frank’s.

Over and over and over.

If I’d had any sympathy for Claire, it would have evaporated when she kept rubbing the fact that she was pregnant with another man’s child into the grieving Frank’s wounds.

Cue Tobias-as-Frank getting angry, making a fist, and lunging at the seated Cait-as-Claire.

Oh, no, they did not, I thought to myself, even as I realized that the show had just made Frank a violent idiot.

I don’t care if the show’s writers were trying to emphasize Frank’s relation to his ancestor Black Jack Randall with the fist-aimed-at-Claire scene. They’d already had Claire flinch when Frank attempted to kiss her in the hospital room, as an image of Black Jack Randall flashed before her eyes. One’s ancestors, no matter how remote or near, do not determine one’s character.

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When the writers, or Tobias himself in an improv moment, made Frank ready to punch his wife — his wife — after he weepingly claimed to love her and to completely accept everything that had happened to her and to just be happy to have her back, Frank’s character fell apart.

I disliked him intensely.

As I would dislike any man who threatened any kind of violence toward a woman, especially toward one who was his wife, especially toward one whom he claims to love so much that, despite her being missing for so many years, he still madly loves her and wants her back.

Bad move, Outlander writers or Tobias.

I just lost all empathy for Frank.

Forever.

Then, in an unbelievably slow move — making the Frank and Claire episode last 40 minutes out of the show’s hour premiere —  Frank told Claire he had been offered a job at Harvard, which he had been planning on turning down but now he was thinking of accepting. By accompanying him, Claire would never be able to return to the stones at Craigh na dun or to her Scots husband Jamie.

As viewers saw Claire and Frank on the plane to America, saw them disembark, saw Claire stare at some generic American skyline, I found myself wondering what in god’s name was going on with the story. Having not read the books, I didn’t have a clue about why Claire was ending up in America, but I did realize it would ruin her chances to return to Jamie.

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And as Frank held out his hand to Claire at the bottom of the plane’s stairs, as Claire reached out to place her hand in his, as the camera shifted its angle to show the two hands reaching toward each other from below…

Bang!

We were back in the past with Jamie helping Claire off the boat in France.

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I gotta tellya, it gave me a headache, trying to figure out not only what was going on, but also how the show’s writers could have taken a story with so much dramatic possibility and made is so drearily insipid.

That took some hard work, dedication, and imagination, turning the Jamie and Claire story into something so boring.

Too bad the writers didn’t use all that dedication and imagination writing a really compelling drama: the kind of drama that readers find in the original books.

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So, now we’re back with Claire and  Jamie, in France, and he seems to be wearing a wig, too, since his hair is so much thicker, longer, curlier, redder, and closer to his forehead than it was in the previous seasons, and like Claire’s hair, his also has no discernible part: one of the telltale signs of a bad wig.

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What happened in France, you may ask?

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Jamie’s cousin Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) is apparently there, despite the fact that I did not see him board the ship with the show’s two protagonists.

Jamie and Claire seem to have come into some serious money, despite their being exiles and Jamie’s being an escaped British prisoner, because their lodgings do not look like those of ostensible criminals on the lam.

And what are Jamie and Claire doing in France?

Trying to infiltrate the Jacobites who are hiding in France in order to prevent the Battle of Culloden from happening in the first place.

‘Cause, you know, Claire is so dense that she never paid attention to all the history lessons Frank was giving her while they were at the monument on Culloden Moor, and so Claire doesn’t know anything about the battle except that the Scots lost and the Brits decimated the Highland clans.

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And though Jamie says, in dismay, that it’s “not a very honorable path [Claire’s] laying out for” them, he is apparently going along with this plan because… because… even though he’s a warrior and he wants to fight and he believes that Claire’s knowledge of the Battle’s outcome can help him galvanize the clan members more successfully so that they win the Battle of Culloden, Claire is the boss in this relationship because she’s from the future and because she’s more sexually experienced than Jamie and Outlander the show specializes in making Jamie nothing more than a weight-machine body with a very pretty face.

I guess Claire didn’t remember that the French assisted the colonists and the Native Americans against the British in the French and Indian War (1754-1763, known, internationally, as the Seven Years’ War), or that the French helped the American colonists with their Revolution against the British, or that the French even had a Revolution themselves, so she didn’t think to ask the French for military or financial help in the Battle of Culloden.

No, silly wittle girl that she is, she wants to infiltrate the Jacobites in France in order to convince them not to try to restore Bonnie Prince Charlie to the Scottish throne.

Am I the only one that thinks this makes no sense whatsoever?

Am I the only one that recalls that, in the show, Claire is already in America with Frank and that she is just remembering all these events with Jamie?

Am I the only one thoroughly disappointed with the writing of the premiere of Season Two of Outlander?

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Instead of a story of Jamie and Claire in wedded bliss, expecting their first child, as the leaked photos would seem to indicate, Jamie and Claire are going to go Bond-James-Bond on us.

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Instead of returning to Jamie’s ancestral home in Scotland and living in fear of Black Jack Randall, which is a more reasonable conflict since, technically, Jamie is a fugitive from the British, the two of them are going to Versailles.

Okay, the Versailles part wasn’t actually in the premiere: it was in the previews for next week.

At Versailles, where the king and the royal court are living, where all the women are wearing dresses like this,

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like this,

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like this,

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and like this,

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Claire is going to be wearing dresses like this,

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like this,

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and like this.

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Then, when Jamie and Claire rub shoulders with all the royalty at Versailles, who will be dressed like this,

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and like this,

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the two of them will be dressed like this,

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and like this (at least Jamie has some ruffles in the photo below).

Oh, I got so bored during the premiere, and so confused by the flurry of Versailles-related events in the previews, that I didn’t even want to know anything more about the ostensibly great love between Jamie and Claire.

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I’m ready to hang it up on Outlander, and not because of the Exorcist-puke-yellow that someone will keep dressing Cait-as-Claire in this season,

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but because the story, which has so much dramatic potential, is simply duller than watching cement dry and become concrete.

I’m not attracted to the actors playing Jamie and Claire, if only because neither of them can act very well.

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I don’t care if it looks like Black Jack is going to either appear in France, or Jamie is going to return to Scotland, so they can have a duel.

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I don’t care about the faux conflict the show’s writers created by having Claire loudly announce that there was plague (smallpox) on a ship,

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earning the enmity of some French nobleman, Le Comte de St. Germain, who vowed revenge.

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I don’t even care about Jamie and Claire’s baby,

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their supposedly life-long, loving relationship,

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or even about the Battle of Culloden,

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since one of the very things that interested me in Outlander —  the show — was how a woman from the future, with knowledge of the historical outcome of the battle that caused the decimation of the Scottish Highland clans, was going to attempt to change that Battle’s outcome.

All I saw in Season One, Parts One and Two, of Outlander, the show, was bad writing, slow storytelling, mediocre to poor acting, and inconsistent characterization that confused and bewildered me.

Unfortunately, in many key aspects, such as in Jamie’s character, the show seems to be very unlike the book Outlander, and I found the show confusing in the extreme.

Looks like Season Two of Outlander, the show, is going to be more of the same as it was in Season 1.

With Versailles thrown in for the costume-designer’s fun.

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Related Posts

Outlander, the Show: My Blogs from Season One

26 Comments

Filed under Actors, Authors, Books, Movies/Television, Outlander, Recap, Review

26 Responses to Through a Glass, Dark and Dull: OUTLANDER season 2 Premiere, Review & Recap

  1. lynn

    Maybe Frank is made worse only to make jamie look more angelic and divine and also Claire’s adultery with jamie is more acceptable in front of fans.

  2. Carolyn

    I have to say, as a show watcher who also read the books after the show, I could not disagree more on nearly all your criticisms of the show. Furthermore, in your previous analysis discussing the differences between book and show- i was utterly shocked to see you neglected the one biggest flaw in the series that the show managed to patch up.

    Jamie. “Consistent” maybe is your way of phrasing it. Book Jamie is so perfect he is essentially divine. Every second paragraph with Jamie and Claire together she has to mention something about his strength. His height. His intelligence. The way he perfectly reads her mind and his sense of humour… he is a master of chess, languages, war… she can’t go a page without, either subtly or directly, swooning over one of his vast plethora of amazing qualities. Book Jamie is a hunk of a man compared to show Jamie, and seemingly a master at everything…except perhaps keeping food down on a sailing trip.

    Even Jamie’s stubbornness is not a weakness. At least, it’s not portrayed as one. As much as Claire huffs and puffs about the “Fraser stubbornness”, it’s clear she still perceives it as something strong, admirable, likeable. More often than not she’s proud of his unwavering personality. His one weakness is portrayed as a strength. Book Jamie virtually has no flaw. He is the perfect fantasy for women, isn’t he? Tall, strong, handsome, sense of humour, protective, perfect at masking his thoughts and reading others, a mighty warrior, a great leader, can do everything – almost effortlessly.

    Show Jamie? For one, the picture that is conjured in the mind when reading descriptions of book jamie make show Jamie look like a little boy. Show Jamie is fit, sure, but he’s no giant that “towers above most men”, who scales buildings that “a shorter man couldn’t have done”. He’s got muscles, certainly. But he’s still very much a mortal, and he looks it. And the scenes where he defends Claire against armed men are so much more admirable BECAUSE of it. He is, or at least he appears, more vulnerable than he otherwise would if he had been some invincible, hulking beast – and any action he would take to defend Claire would seem that much less courageous. You wouldn’t fear for him so much if he had the figure and strength of Jean Valjean.

    And the way he acted when he let the power go to his head at lallybroch was a demonstration that he had weakness. His stubbornness wasn’t just a disguised endearing trait that would only make you like him more – his stubbornness was ugly here. He showed a side of himself that previously he had not been given the opportunity to show. Jamie struck me as the type who had respect for traditional values and tried to uphold them, who wanted to make his father proud and be a strong laird with authoritative leadership. He set an unhealthily high bar for himself and it made him obsessive and controlling. And it was Claire who finally managed to get through to him.

    This was very understandable to me, and I appreciated the decision to expand upon his character. Again, it only made him more real.

    On the other hand, book Claire (perhaps because she is often in the presence of book Jamie, who as the female fantasy god-man must of course outshine her in personality and ability) lacks the independence and intelligence of show Claire. Book Claire is just… clumsy. One example – she’s a bad liar, (says so herself) – show Claire, on the other hand, for someone who has been transported to a time 200 years apart from her own, manages to navigate interrogations with impressive skill unlike the books. She’s not perfect, but she can defend herself pretty well until she let’s her guard slip. And she’s damn more assertive. The way the show handled the scene where Jamie apologises for belting her – and swears not to do it again – is so much better. Book Claire is understanding of how jamie felt the need to hit her, she’s upset by it but she reacts in a way that suggests she does blame herself for provoking it. Show Claire was curtly civil, as minimally polite towards him as she could get away with. Book Claire couldn’t last two pages before she couldn’t help but smile and soften as she listened and talked with dashing Jamie about his childhood. She is mad enough to demand he never do it again (by threat of dirk in face), which he sighs and takes it from her and swears not to do it again. In a way that seems as though he agreed to respect her wishes, not because he thought it was wrong.

    Show Jamie approaches her, takes the first step in trying to fix the mess he made, and gives her the choice to leave him when he thinks it’s not enough.

    In this scene, in the show, Claires fate was ultimately in Claire’s hands. *She* did not speak to him any more than necessary until he showed repentance, *she* decided to accept Jamie’s apology, *she* decided to stay with him when he gave her the choice to leave, *she* decided to seal the deal with the threat afterwards. She had a choice, the power to say no, and she chose not to.

    In the book, claire’s fate is in Jamie’s hands. She confronts him and he agrees to accept her conditions- HE agrees. He literally had the final say on the matter. It was his choice, and it’s only fortunate for Claire that he chose not to ever beat her again.

    Show Claire is more subtle, more difficult to read than book Claire, but her regard for Jamie is evident. I don’t understand why you felt it was necessary that the show should explain that Jamie was “different” to other men, that it was more than a “sexual fling” because Claire had been a ww2 nurse and had experienced and resisted temptations of the flesh before.

    Like… no shit? Did anyone really watch this si2 thinking oh wow jamie must be the first hot guy she met, the fact that she’s never cheated before but now is going at it with Jamie… must be the only time she ever met a hunk. Either that or she must be a lying cheating whore who sleeps around with every hot guy she lays eyes on. Because without knowing explicitly that she HAS experienced and resisted physical temptation before, those are the only other two possible conclusions.

    For a show that does have controversially graphic scenes, it also deals with the after-trauma very well. Jamie’s rape is not just swept under the rug. It affects him, and his relationship with Claire deeply. I never got any impression that the show made it seem “right” for jamie to feel shame for orgasming either. The man was quite literally hallucinating and broken. The blame is solely on frank Randall. He abused and traumatised Jamie, and I can’t think of a single person who would watch that scene and think jamie had asked for it or truly enjoyed it in any way. Any disgust regarding Jamie’s forced “pleasure ” regarding the ordeal was rightfully directed at the horrible man who created the whole nightmare.

    Also with Frank Randall, he never hurt Claire. He snapped and saw red for a split second but controlled himself. Something that 100% of the entire human population is capable of. Again, real human behaviour. Of all the shortcomings of Frank’s character, this one moment was the most sympathetic. I daresay if the shoes were reversed Claire would do far worse – she would have no qualms physically assaulting a lover who jilted her, one she had believed to be loyal and faithful. Many women would.

    Finally, for a show that I initially had doubts about watching because the plot seemed like nothing original to me – it was the writing that drew me in. The pacing of the story was excellent, and the graphic scenes were powerful and moving – uncomfortable to watch – and as a major fan of Game of Thrones i thought I’d seen it all. I had deep respect for the way outlander could affect my emotions and portray violence unlike the way GoT does it- slasher and torture porn that doesn’t affect me but I don’t care for it either. The books read like fanfiction – and are most definitely romance novels. The shows genre is much broader. Romance is a major part of the show, but Claire and jamies relationship, the hapless maiden swept away by the irresistable godlike warrior is not rammed down our throats in every scene theyre together. I only got the books because I couldn’t wait for the next season- and for the first time in my life I picked up a book that had been adapted to the TV screen, that was woefully flawed compared to its adaptation. Had I read the books first I probably wouldn’t have bothered to try the show – movies/shows tend to detract, not build upon the books. I wouldn’t have given it a chance.

    • Dear Carolyn,
      Thank you for your very detailed analysis of Outlander, book(s) and show. There were a few times when I got confused about whether you were discussing book(s) or show, but mostly, I gather you prefer the show to the books. Some of my comments were based on the reactions of book readers to the show, and they’d obviously read the books before watching the show, whereas I’d read the book after watching season 1. I didn’t read any other books, as I was only watching the show.

      Re: Jamie. Do you prefer book Jamie or show Jamie? You say he’s a fantasy, and that’s part of the romance genre: neither the men nor the women are very realistic in most romances. But do you mean he’s a fantasy in the books and the show, or only in the books? I got a bit confused.

      Re: Claire. So many of the readers despise show-Claire that I really am not sure how to interpret her. I think she’s stronger in the show than she was in book 1, but I got slaughtered when I said that. I got bombarded with passages from the book that supposedly proved what an independent, strong woman she was, but I saw those qualities more in show-Claire than in book-Claire. You, too, like show-Claire more. We don’t seem to be in the majority.

      Re: BJR. Dastardly is not a bad enough word for him. The only difference I could find between the show and the book, especially regarding the rape of Jamie, was that seeing your fave character get raped and reading the character’s telling his wife about it (which added a great deal of emotional distance for the readers) is totally different experience. It was dreadful enough in the book: the show made it unbearable (at least, for survivors of sexual abuse and incest-rape).

      Re: Frank. I liked Frank in s1 of the show. He was a professor and scholar, and since I’m familiar with the type, I didn’t find him stodgy or boring, although I suppose he could get that way after enough years of marriage. He and Claire were separated during the War, however, so I was surprised that she seemed bored with him already. Maybe he just wasn’t as exciting as the War itself or her experiences there. I liked the relationship between them in the show, and I was glad to see him portrayed as grieving, loyal, etc in s1. Maybe his reaction to her revelation about her pregnancy in s2 was faithful to the book, but I thought she was a bit cruel in her constant repetition that the child was not his (as if he could have thought, for more than a few moments, that it was his). I didn’t expect him to be happy, but the fist was upsetting, even if he didn’t actually strike her. It’s interesting that virtually all book readers trounced me for my comments on show-Frank, saying that he was much worse in the book, though they couldn’t produce any passages to support that claim.

      After my experiences with book 1 and season 1, and with readers who have interpreted scenes that are not even in the book (like all the sexual encounters between Frank and Claire, which are not in the book at all and are only alluded to, yet the readers insisted that the sex between Frank and Claire was boring, while the sex between Jamie and Claire was phenomenal), I decided not to argue any more with my interpretation of the book or show.

      When someone writes such a detailed, non-ad hominem analysis of book/show, as you did, then I’m very happy to read it. Thank you very much for taking the time to explain your view of the characters in both the book(s) and the show.

      Overall, are you liking the show better than the books? Are you reading the book that corresponds to each season after the season, or did you watch s1 and then read all the books?

      Best,
      Alexandria

      • Carolyn

        I watched both seasons in one go (binge watched several episodes per night), then bought the whole book series and went straight into book 3 because I couldn’t wait till next year when the next season came out.

        My biggest pet peeve was the books’ portrayal of Jamie, who I had come to love in the show. Show Jamie is not perfect and more realistic- the fact that he is not Thor is BETTER, in terms of characterisation- as it makes him more vulnerable and his acts of courage and sacrifice more meaningful. In the books you don’t worry about him as much because (at least according to Claire’s first person narrative) the man is almost invincible and can outfight/outsmart almost everyone/everything.

        Idk, maybe I just don’t care for the romance genre and its typical tropes. I felt like outlander (the show) did a good job avoiding these tropes, and created an epic romance that wasn’t sappy/cheesy/detract from the characters involves. I also love morbid, dark things (I loved GoT and its decision to showcase the worst sides of human nature) – but I didn’t get uncomfortable watching scenes in GoT – even though GoT scenes were objectively worse. Characters that suffered in GoT suffered worse fates. People had their skulls crushed, babies had throats slit – but it was done so quickly and callously and unrealistically for that matter… you never forgot you were just watching a show. You never forgot that it wasn’t real. I watched people get disemboweled without batting an eye.

        As an avid viewer of horror/thriller movies I thought I didn’t get affected because I had been desensitised to violence. Outlander took that as a challenge i guess, and showed me I was wrong- the flogging scene, the rape scene – hell even the early scene where Geordie is killed by a boar – was awfully uncomfortable. I had to close my eyes with the rape scene. And it made me think a lot, because I had to question why it affected me so much – when I had seen much worse and knew I had. I concluded that it was because outlander seemed real. Sure people did historically get slaughtered and maimed and tortured like as in GoT, but not to the frequency depicted in the show (unless it was a period of war or significant societal turmoil). On the other hand, people did (and in some countries, still do) get flogged. People still do get raped- and people like jack Randall really do exist Irl, today. Outlander does not exaggerate. I couldn’t just dismiss it as fiction and distance myself from it like I had done all the time with other movies/shows. The truthful and realistic portrayal of violence and rape, and ptsd, was incredibly powerful and humbling for me.

        Anyway, I went back and read sections of book 1 to compare with the TV portrayal (just to confirm my suspicion that the book’s style and characterisation did not just suddenly get worse in book 3), and I was right – both Claire and Jamie are less likeable in the books – Claire comes off as whiny and sulking when she argues with Jamie, not assertive and self-respecting – her tone is that of a rebellious teenager than an intelligent and independent woman, and Jamie is a God. And the writing is cheesier than fanfiction.

        So yeah, the show is hands down better than the books (as I said, if I had read the books first I probably wouldn’t have got past the first book, and I definitely wouldn’t have given any TV adaptation a chance). I’d say the show actually is one of the best I’ve ever seen – I’d rank it up there with GoT – and is probably my favourite romance story ever. Definitely one of the most feminist shows I’ve seen to date, in a refreshingly nuanced way.

        • Dear Carolyn,
          Thanks ever so much for such a wonderful follow-up comment. There’s so much great content: I have to look it over to make sure I answer everything.

          Show-Jamie is not Thor. I agree that he’s not Thor, and that it’s a better, more realistic portrayal in the show. Maybe that’s why some readers hate the show so much. They must like the fantasy Jamie better than a possible real-life Jamie, though I still think the show-Jamie is kinda unrealistic. He’s too pretty, for one thing, and the addition of the wig/hair extensions this season didn’t help. And Sam has really bulked up from s1 to s2. The first time he took off his shirt in s2, I was like, Whoa, Nellie. When did his breasts get bigger than Cait’s? Only one other person I know mentioned that aspect of Sam/Jamie. At least his character isn’t perfect in the show, which makes him more interesting. My only problem with the show and Jamie’s character is that the writers can’t seem to decide what, exactly, his character is like.

          I don’t care for romance and its tropes, either. In fact, I started watching Outlander because the previews made it seem like an interesting premise: a woman with a hubbie travels back in time, falls in love with a guy there, and then is torn between the two worlds. At least, that’s what the show seemed to be about. I had no idea that, in the book, she just stayed, most of the time, with Jamie, and Frank got dumped. The show had him in a bit, but not much, so I was confused about what kind of story it really was. After reading book 1, I’d classify it most definitely as romance, if only because there are more romance tropes than any other commercial genre tropes in Outlander. Of course, if I’d known that beforehand, I wouldn’t have watched the show. So I guess it’s kind of good that I didn’t know the book was a romance.

          I love GoT. Books and show. At least, show seasons 1-5. I thought 6 was weak in the extreme, but I’m guessing it’s because the writers had no book to condense. Instead, they only had GRRM’s outline, and maybe some dialogue, because there was way too much talking and not enough action. I haven’t written my blog on s6 yet because I want to watch it all again.

          A lot of the worst violence in GoT is “off-stage.” You hear things, but you don’t see it. Sansa’s rape, for example, and when Ramsey sets the dogs on his step-mother and half-brother. Of course, other violent things were front and center: Sansa setting the dogs on Ramsay (my guy Tom groaned at that scene, asking, “Did that really just happen?”), Osha getting her throat sliced, the Red Wedding (which I heard about long before I ever watched the show). Some of it was pretty gruesome, but it didn’t have the same effect on me that the rape of Jamie had. Maybe because it was a different kind of violence. I admit that I cannot watch rapes in films/tv, nor even listen to them. It’s too triggering for me.

          I was incredibly saddened when Geordie got killed by the boar. It was so sad to see him ask if Dougal had been with his sister, then say, he was always one with the lassies. It was very touching. Much sadder than the horrific rape and extended torture scene. That spiking his hand through the table was horrific.

          I wonder if OL’s rape and torture was worse than GoT’s because, throughout, we are never allowed to forget that GoT is a fantasy. I mean, once those dragons come in, my emotions get dulled significantly. I can’t even think of the characters as real any longer. Maybe that element somehow distances our emotions from what’s happening to the characters. I agree that OL is more real in that respect. The rape of English Mary and of Fergus was just as upsetting to me. Too much sexual violence in OL, and not much other kinds of violence. Even the OL battle sequences were dream-like, hazy and slo-mo, and the deaths that resulted were interrupted by (failed) comic scenes.

          Speaking of battle scenes, one of the most horrific scenes in GoT was in the “Battle of the Bastards” when Jon was about to be smothered by all the men on the battlefield, and the camera zoomed up, showing his body disappearing under those of all the other men. I kept shouting at the screen, “But he’s already dead: he can’t die.”

          I most definitely agree that the writing in the OL books is not anywhere near the quality of GoT books. I enjoyed those immensely, though I found it difficult to keep track of all the characters. The writing and character development were very well done in GoT.

          Both shows, of course, have to sacrifice some books things in order to adapt the source material to the screen. The GoT books are better written, but the show clarifies some things, puts actors’ faces to the characters’ names so they’re easier to recall, and has brilliant transitions to guide the viewers. I think the show OL is far superior to the books, but I guess I don’t like my romances to be so predictable, i.e., since I know the source material is a romance, which means that Jamie and Claire will always end up together no matter what the author or the tv writers throw at the two of them, I find their relationship less interesting. After all, if I know they’ll always end up together, then it’s not as dramatic or traumatic as, say, Gone with the Wind or Anna Karenina or even Wuthering Heights.

          This has been absolutely delightful, Carolyn, and so intellectually stimulating. Perhaps we should connect on the twitter or the book of face…

          Best,
          and a big hug,
          Alexandria

          • Carolyn

            Thanks for the reply. Its strange because from your other page where you analysed the differences between book and show it seemed as though you thought the books were generally better, but now you sound as if you think the show is generally better. Which do you think is better?

            I’m happy for you to add me on fb – Carolyn Foot, profile pic is one of my cosplay wedding and my husband is dipping me for a kiss 🙂

          • Dear Carolyn,
            I think the book (#1) gets us into Claire’s head better, and so, in that respect, I understand Claire a little better. Also, the sexual violence is somewhat easier to handle when reading it rather than when watching it. So, at least in those respects, the book is better. But the show has its own weaknesses, including episodes where nothing of importance happens (I’m thinking of the drawn out Loyalty Pledges here, or the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy routine).

            I guess I’m kind of torn about which I prefer, since each has its strengths and weaknesses. But some of what I consider the show’s strengths, like expanding Frank’s role while searching for Claire from the one paragraph in the book to an entire episode, is what lots of book readers hate.

            I guess, overall, I’d take the show over the book(s), if only because I’m not interested in reading the books after watching the show. Dramatic adaptations ultimately have to stand on their own, no matter the source material.

            Best,
            Alexandria

            p.s. Nice wedding pics. So imaginative

  3. S

    You say that the book fans will scream with annoyance and disappointment because the show starts back in the future.

    On the contrary….we expected it. As a fan of the books (read the book series 4 times, amd am rereading for a 5th time) I wasn’t at all surprised that the season started back in the future. Book 2 starts in the future. Book fans won’t be angry of this odd turn of events. The show handled it a bit differently than the book (which I expected because I think translating the way the book handles the jump to the future from paper to screen would be difficult). I was curious to see how the show producers/writers would handle it, and was happy with it.

    As for Frank, again, as a fan of the books who has read them for years, multiple times, I do not like Frank. I really don’t like him. More happens through the books to give reason to not like him (I’m not alone in this at all, it is often discussed and debated among hardcore book fans). So, the show is not handling that differently than the books.

    When you say that Frank wasn’t in the book after the beginning, this also isn’t true. Without glimpses into the present/future, he wasn’t active in scenes. But Claire thought of him often (initially, of how to get back and later, guilt of what he must be going through back in the past). Translating those thoughts to screen is a difficult task, and showing his side was a way to cover what the book covers with internal dialogue.

    “The show was completely unlike the book Outlander.” … while there were changes, as there always is in a screen interpretation, I didnt feel at all like it was unlike the book that i read 4 times before watching the series. A book that was written with a great deal of internal dialog must be changed in order to film action and dialogue.

    • Dear S,

      Thank you for your thoughtful comments.

      I see that I didn’t make some things clear in my post, so let me address them here and then fix them in the post.

      During Season 1, whenever I blogged that I was glad to see Frank back in the show (I felt really sorry for him as he was presented in S1P1), readers of the book would comment extensively on how much they didn’t like Frank, and tell me that he never appeared in the book again (and I assumed they meant book 1, Outlander). Based on their feedback last year, when I watched the premiere of S2 and Frank was in 40 minutes of the 1 hour episode, I meant that I could hear them screaming with annoyance about Frank, whom they almost unanimously do not seem to like, getting too much screen time.

      I didn’t mean they’d get annoyed about the scenes being in the future (1948). I am the one who got confused by that, having not read the book DIA, but that just means I didn’t feel prepared for it in the dramatic adaptation.

      Several readers have commented that DIA is in the future again (by which I mean Claire’s original “present time”). Since I am blogging on the show as a stand-alone drama, I am reacting to it as an adaptation, standing alone and separate from the books. That shift confused me.

      Just as I would judge a film on its own merits and not by how closely or randomly it followed any source material, I’m judging the show Outlander by my reactions to it as a drama — not based on how closely it follows the book, or on how it adapts the book’s material.

      I am glad to hear that you were happy with how the adaptation handled the book’s return to the future.

      What you said about your not liking Frank is what most readers have said to me over the last two years when they commented here, or when they posted in Facebook Outlander groups. You say there are more reasons to dislike Frank in the books, and I believe you, but I want to thank you most sincerely for not hitting me with any Spoilers. I’ll find out how the book handles Frank after S2 is over and I read DIA.

      When you say that Frank is in the first book after the initial chapters, I’m afraid I must politely disagree with you.

      Diana Gabaldon never presents Frank actually in the book: instead, she has Claire think of and narrate what he must be going through without showing it directly. The show chose to dramatize one of the paragraphs concerning Frank and what he must be doing and feeling in one of its episodes. I liked that when I originally watched S1, and when I compared the book and show, I said that I thought it was a good dramatization-adaptation of what Claire mentioned in a single paragraph in the book.

      Though you and I liked what was done with Frank in that episode, many readers did not, and they told me so.

      Repeatedly.

      Later, when I said that the “show was completely unlike the book Outlander,” I suppose I meant in terms of how it presented Jamie, mostly. In the book, he is very consistent, educated, witty, smart, loyal, loving, etc. In the show, however, before I read the book and after, I found his character confusing and so inconsistent that I couldn’t figure out exactly what kind of a person he was supposed to be. I’m talking, for example, about his change in character when he returns to his ancestral home with Claire, where everybody seems to get upset with him (in the show, not in the book).

      Also, I meant that many of the things in the show were not in the book. Of course, I realize that it is an adaptation, but even when I was watching it, I didn’t feel it worked dramatically, alone, apart from the book. There were long episodes were nothing important seemed to happen, where Claire’s character seemed extremely unpleasant, where Jamie disappeared for extended periods, where Claire and Jamie did nothing but bicker…

      Those are some of the things in the show that confused me when I watched it. Most of them were not in the book, and when I read it, I wondered why the show writers had left out so many of the interesting things from the book, and substituted other things which did not make for a successful dramatic show on its own.

      Of course, there were changes from book to show.

      My problem with the show is that it is not successful as a stand-alone drama. Virtually everyone who contacts me to complain about what I wrote tells me that if I “read the book, [I] would understand the show better,” but reading a book is not the prerequisite of understanding and enjoying (or being captivated by) a dramatic adaptation. The film or TV series should make viewers want to read the book, not make book fans say you need to read the book to understand the film/show.

      At least you seem to understand the difference between the two mediums of artistic presentation of a story, and if you are happy with both versions, then I am very glad to hear it.

      Thank you also for telling me what, in particular, you were happy with.

      And thank you again for not giving me any plot Spoilers which are in the book.

      Especial thanks for not insulting me about the blog post: I respect everyone’s right to have an opinion that differs from mine, and am always willing to listen to anyone’s interpretation when it differs — and discuss it with them — so long as I am not insulted, bullied, or called ugly, vicious names. I appreciate your being professional.

      Though I doubt that I will blog on every single episode — unless this season differs vastly from S1, when I didn’t have enough to blog on for each episode — I welcome your comments on other blogs: I look forward to hearing what you liked or didn’t like about the show as it progresses.

      Best,
      Alexandria

  4. RB

    You lost me in paragraph 3 with your bad math skills. Going from 1.4 to 1.2 million is a 15% decrease, not a 32% one…

  5. Jane moskevitz

    Well, I have to respectfully disagree with you. Also, you got a few things wrong… She was looking at the Boston skyline – Harvard is in Boston. Cambridge actually. That was in fact the only thing I had a serious issue with – that did not look like the Boston skyline at all…. Definitely not in 1948. I have been looking at the skyline my whole life- flying in and out of that airport too many times to count and it does not look at all like that…

    • Dear Jane,
      I couldn’t find any records of commercial transatlantic passenger flights going from London to Boston until the 1950s. If it doesn’t look like the Boston skyline, what does it look like? (Updated the blog to indicate that it looked like some generic American skyline.)
      Best,
      Alexandria

  6. Anonymous

    I have read and reread these books for years and am a huge fan…of the books. I just cannot get into the show. I’m so thankful someone else thinks the acting is mediocre (at best) and that the show makes very little sense.

    • Dear Anonymous,
      Many fans of the books do not like the show, and they tell me their reasons why. I haven’t read more than the first book, which I read after Season 1 so as to not change my blogging stance on the show as a stand-alone drama. Many Outlander fans suggest that I read the books first in order to understand the show, but that’s not how adaptations work.

      Ideally, the film or series should make non-readers want to read the books: Gone with the Wind, Dr. Zhivago, and The Wizard of Oz are all examples of adaptations that are dramatically successful, no matter the ways they may have strayed from the original source material.

      Enjoy the Outlander books: the show’s writers can’t change those, thank god.
      Best,
      Alexandria

  7. Pat Hanson

    Alexandria, I am a fan of the Outlander books but I can see their flaws and when I love someone or something it is with flaws included. You are able to detect all the flaws in the tv production in such a witty way that I can laugh even when I disagree. I appreciate that you can make me laugh at the plot inconstancies, outrageous costume design, character weaknesses and all. I actually was glad Frank shook his fist at Claire as I don’t like him but as you say, that does ruin him forever. I do think this episode was a complete train wreck. I appreciate that you can pinpoint the flaws yet make me smile. I love honest reviews so I thank you for your brutal honesty which I enjoy far more than the obsequious praise being heaped on this mess by the so-called fans of the show and books.

    • Dear Pat,
      Despite some people’s misreading of the blog post, I never said anything about the Outlander books: only that I watched s1 of the show before reading the book, so had blogged upon the show Outlander as a stand-alone drama, and that I would continue to do so this season.

      I’m not sure why anyone would think that my saying the show’s writing was bad, which is most certainly is, is a reflection on the book’s writing, since Diana Gabaldon is not writing the show as far as I can tell. I do not write book reviews and have never said anything about Outlander, the book.

      If Gabaldon does write any episodes, we’re bound to see an immediate and drastic improvement in the plotting and characterization, despite the different medium of the television drama.

      Glad I could make you laugh or smile, and I, too, am so sorry that this season did not start off well. I was very disappointed.

      Best,
      A

      • Pat Hanson

        Hi Alexandria. I wanted to apologize for causing confusion and to clarify my poorly stated views. I do realize you were discussing the writing in the show and not in the book. I also do not think your criticism of the show reflected upon the book in any way. The disappointment with parts of the book is mine and I sincerely regret any confusion I caused by my statements.
        Thanks,
        Pat

        • Darling Pat,
          You didn’t cause any confusion, and you clearly stated your views. Some other readers, however, seemed not clear that we were discussing the show’s poor writing, without our ever mentioning the book’s writing. I was trying to make that more apparent to them. Sorry if you thought you misstated something. You did not.

          I also think you have every right to be disappointed with any parts of the book: it’s every reader’s right to dislike any portion of any book.

          Hugs,
          A xxx

  8. Jo

    As always, your views on this show are spot on and anything added seems pointless LOL. But please bear with me-

    I hate flash forwards, for one reason and one reason alone, they normally suck the tension or suspense out of anything that follows it. By the time you tell us how it all ends, it would take incredible storytelling skills to keep anyone watching, because basically, viewers have to be interested in the events that led to that end. The few times I have tolerated flashforwards are when the end-game situation is SOOOOO compelling that one just has to find out what led to that event. Or the flashforward is only going to matter for one episode in a season. In OL, it seems that it is going to be a whole season of things going wrong and eventually leading to a dour and snooze-filled ending.Talk about tension-sapping stuff!

    For a feminist tale, I have noticed some thing odd in this show. The two men in this show that Claire has been involved with emotionally (Jamie and Frank) have either beaten her or threatened to pound her to a pulp. And yet, her response has been either to sleep with them or get on a plane with them. Strange.

    The plot seems…well…rather far-fetched. Trying to subvert the rebellion from within. Who? Jamie? Claire? JAMIE? I dunno. It seems rather incredulous. But I’ll give the writers a chance. I guess.

    • Dear Jo,
      Yes, I was rather stunned by the flash-forward, and having Claire going to America: what? how will she get back to Jamie?

      It was tension-sapping: first we see Claire doing something, then we hear Frank telling the Rev Wakefield what Claire told him and his reactions to her revelations, which we already saw. So that was the same thing all over again.

      I totally agree about the Jacobite thing. Why on earth wouldn’t Claire go along with Jamie’s idea about improving the Scots’ fighting? Just because it wasn’t historically accurate? Neither is time-travel, as far as I know…

      I was very disappointed that they took away the last of Frank’s dignity by making him go off on her, almost to the point of hitting her with his fist. Why? It’s not bad enough that no one seems to like Frank already, and that poor Tobias has to play one of the most evil villains ever?

      I’m giving the writers a chance. I just wish they’d learn from their past mistakes. Or switch to show writers who’ve all read the books or something.

      Best,
      A

      • JO

        Maybe they did that to Frank’s character as a lame attempt to make sure Jamie is seen as the better man?

        The acting is as …em…”uninspiring” as ever.

        • Dear Jo,

          Poor Tobias is already playing one of the most wicked, evil, unsympathetic villains in the history of television drama. I was stunned that the writers of the show, or Tobias himself in improv, made poor Frank that violent toward Claire.

          If Jamie’s the “better man,” as you said they might be trying to show, why did they leave in the part about his beating her?

          It’s strange what the show writers leave in and what they leave out. Some things in the show in season 1 were interesting, but most were not.

          Agree on the acting, though.
          Best,
          A

  9. Susan Watson

    Alexandra, I think you are “spot on” with your critique of Season 2, Episode 1. I confess that I’m a book lover, and while I understand that adaptations cannot follow a book slavishly, I think a truthful re-telling is necessary for the show to be successful. We are not getting a very truthful rendering in this series. By the way, and you may already know this. . . the executive producer/show runner is the author of this first episode.

    • Dear Susan,
      Thank you for your comments. I know a show cannot follow a book slavishly: that’s why they’re called adaptations. And if this show itself were compelling, there wouldn’t be a problem. But it’s so slow. So confusing. So inconsistent with its characterizations. Even before I read the first book, I knew the books had to be better than the show or they couldn’t be bestsellers. The show didn’t even get Jamie’s character right in S1, so I’m almost afraid of what they’re going to do to him in S2.

      Yes, I noticed during S1 that the worst shows were those written by the show-runner, Ron. Did you notice that, after the show, on the Starz website, Ron came on and said how he’d written that Frank and Claire were in a car, then jumped to Jamie and Claire on the boat, and an exec at Starz told him he’d better do better than that? God, where was that Starz exec during the rest the the show?

      Best,
      A

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