Friday, August 15, 2014

Woman on Top: Feminism and Subversion of Themes, Roles, Gaze in STARZ’ Outlander Episode 101

[graphic: STARZ via]
Outlander’s overwhelmingly female fanbase has been waiting more than 20 years for the adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s eponymous first bestseller. The author turned down a number of opportunities for the book to be realized as a movie, but it was Ron D. Moore’s treatment as a cable TV series that got the nod.

Since the series was announced over a year ago, fans expressed concern as to whether the series would adequately reflect the rich history of two war-shattered periods — the aftermath of World War II, and the ramp-up to Scotland’s 1745 Jacobite uprising. The book had been pigeon-holed as a romance when first published, though it crosses historical, sci-fi, fantasy, and romance genres. Would the series fully realize the breadth of these fiction categories?

But readers also worried about the preservation of the book’s strong female protagonist, Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser, and the feminist themes she represents. Feminists point out that the series is helmed by a man, and only one of four directors are female. Could the show tell Claire’s story with so much testosterone on board, and not revert to a male-centric swashbuckler?

Dinna fash, as the Scots might say — not to worry. The first episode demonstrates in subtle but deep detail that this is not the usual fare. We are definitely “outland” of traditional cable series.

Let’s take a fine-toothed comb to this first hour of programming, giving it the deep analysis this long-awaited adaptation merits. It bore the additional burden of establishing canon for viewers not familiar with the book, while adding new reinforcing content to replace the level of detail only the text could provide.


It’s important to remember as viewers we don’t know how much of these details were created consciously or unconsciously. But we can analyze them for what they may say to us at both levels. Details are listed here by the minute:second they appear in Episode 101.

Caitriona Balfe’s name appears first in the cast listed during the title sequence. Modified as the theme for the series, the lyrics to the traditional Skye song, have been changed from 'lad' in reference to Bonnie Prince Charlie, to 'lass' in reference to Claire.

The hour opens with Claire in voice over, looking at a shot of Glen Coe, Scotland — the beauty of which transcends conflict and is beyond time in appearance. Like the book, this story is told from Claire’s perspective — hence her voice first and the lack of a gendered gaze. By way of her voice it’s implied her thoughts are more important than her appearance.