I think everyone considers, at least once in their life, and usually when they’re young, the idea of pursuing fame and fortune as a movie star. I know I did.
Lately, though, I have begun to think screen actors have the worst job in the world. Just to begin, most of them have to shuck off their clothes on a regular basis. Often they have to simulate incredibly frank sex, all while surrounded by an entire set of cast and crew.
Then they have to do it all over again. Dozens of times.
Work hours are murderous — twelve hour days are not uncommon and working conditions can be incredibly uncomfortable.
Ugh. No, thank you.
I was reminded of this all over again with the third season of Outlander, which we just finished watching.
If you haven’t seen it yet, you might want to bookmark this post and come back to it when you have. I can’t finish the post without spoilers, I’m afraid.
I have already spoken about Outlander in this series, but that was a few years ago, just after the first half of the season had been aired and everyone was waiting for the second. You can find that post here.
I’m ruminating on my reaction to the third season and thought it would be worth another post.
I had some interesting reactions to the third season.
There were several positives and also some negatives.
The negatives I’ll get out of the way quickly, because ultimately, they are cancelled out by the positives.
I stopped reading the Outlander series after the first book, so everything that has happened in the TV series in the second and third seasons was a surprise to me. That gave me an interesting perspective. I didn’t know what was coming and simply had to wait out the narrative to see what came next.
Unfortunately, for the third season, there was a lot of waiting. The series is about a time travelling heroine and her back-in-the-past hero, yet the first half of the third season, they were in different times. I actually grew impatient with the slowly-told story of the twenty years they spent apart. I kept wanting them to get on with the real story of Jamie and Claire and had to keep reminding myself of the differences between telling a story and telling a romance. These books and this TV series are not actually historical/time travel romances. Diana Gabaldon has admitted several times that when she first wrote them, she had no idea what genre her books were, for they didn’t really fit into anything.
It is only the fans who have decided they are time travel romances.
The producers of the TV series are clearly more interested in telling a story, not a romance. Keeping the hero and heroine apart for half a season is perfectly reasonable, and there was a lot of story to cover. On the upside, taking so long to get the two of them back together paid off spectacularly: The moment Claire found Jamie again was a humdinger. I also liked that they didn’t rush it: There was almost an entire episode devoted to their reunion.
After the reunion, though, the story fell flat on its face. All the narrative tension had evaporated.
This is a structural thing that writers dread, and readers/viewers can spot without trying. When it feels like you can’t be bothered to turn the page/keep watching, you know something has gone wrong. It’s not you who is the problem. It’s the story structure.
I have to get into a bit of story craft to explain why this happened with the third season.
Season 1 had huge narrative “drive” — energy, if you will. There was a big question in our minds: Can Claire find a way back to her own time…and does she really want to?
Season 2 heaped tension on top of that question, as they worked to divert Culloden and failed, over and over…until Culloden was upon them and suddenly the tension spiked enormously: Claire didn’t want to go back…but had to, for the sake of Jamie and her child. Jamie and she both knew it was a one way ticket.
And there’s the problem.
Season 3 opened up with her in 1948 and Jamie in 1746, both facing getting on with their lives apart from each other. And there the story stayed for many episodes.
Then, suddenly, (thank the stars), the reunion and a nice episode dealing with the past twenty years (I’ll touch on this again, later). Then…well…where do you go from there? They’re together, happy, safe, and yeah, there’s some issues to deal with that would naturally arise from being apart for twenty years (even if your’e in the same time zone), but everyone knew–hell, even I knew–they would figure it out.
So why keep watching?
Writers know that once a story question is resolved, the story is done. Season 3’s question was: Will they ever get back together again? The answer was “yes”.
So why didn’t the story end?
Don’t get me wrong. I found the rest of the season very interesting, because I’m a history geek and because of where the story went. I just wasn’t invested in it the way I was for 2.5 seasons before that, because that big story question had gone.
Gabaldon and the series writers did what any good writer does. They immediately introduced a whole new set of story problems. Warrants for Jamie’s arrest, abducted nephews, a previously unreported wife, and more. The story ends up in Jamaica, and then finishes on the shores of Georgia, where, one presumes, Season 4 will pick up. However, one of the things they did do at the end of the season was re-introduce the time travelling element…and no one travelled through time. Claire hovered on the brink, but that was all. They even killed off Gaelen, the only other time traveller in the series. Time travel was the theme of two seasons yet for the second half of season three, we got a historical story and nothing more.
Season 4 seems set to do the same: A story set in late eighteenth century America and that’s all. There’s no reason for Claire to do anything but stay right by Jamie’s side. There’s not even any story problems passing over into the fourth season.
Now, those of you who have read the entire series know what is coming and I’m sure you’re screaming at me right now, going “Just you wait and see!”
But can you see why, not knowing the story, I have a bit of an issue with the telling of it so far?
None of the above “issues” are huge enough to outweigh the crackerjack story they did tell, this season. Even as a straight historical tale (for the romance is resolved), it’s interesting. There are great characters and the era isn’t a popular one, so the issues of the day are not the run-of-the-mill ones we’ve seen in hundreds of historicals.
So let me get to what I thought were the upsides to Season Three in particular:
Sam Heughan and that accent of his, and the twinkle in his eye…and those shoulders.
Let me have my girlie moment, then we’ll move on.
I heard that Diana Gabaldon burst into tears when she met Sam Heughan, because he was such a perfect Jamie. I think she was right to do so.
The casting of Jamie would make or break the series. Luckily, they got it right. It helps that Heughan can act (although I’m twitching to see him in another role and see what he does with that).
Older characters, mature romance.
It’s a fact of Romanceland that stories end once the couple are together. We don’t get to see them grow old together (or not). Particularly when traditional publishing was the only reading option, ten years ago, we were given hundreds of young couples falling in love…and that was it. The End.
Indie publishing has allowed authors to carry on with some of those stories — very carefully, I might add. The boom in series and series-length stories means that couples who have already committed to each other can feature in later stories. I love being able to revisit couples who have already told their story, and show how their lives have changed and how they are as an established couple. I do it all the time in my own series, and get huge numbers of emails and messages and reviews from readers saying how much they enjoy it, too.
So it was lovely to watch the already committed couple in Outlander sort out their relationship problems.
And problems they had. I think one of the most touching moments in the reunion was Claire’s panic when she was finally naked and Jamie didn’t immediately touch her. She hid herself, worried that the passage of time made her undesirable.
It was a very real and telling moment.
Even though the two of them fell together, it wasn’t a straight forward “I love you!” moment…another plus in the story-telling box. They were hesitant, worried about the impact of the intervening years and how they would “confess” all that had happened.
And I love, love, love that they had gray hair and wrinkles (sort of) and Jamie’s face was weathered with years. Yes! Older people can be in love, too! How refreshing!
Another lovely moment for me was when Jamie got embarrassed, pulled out spectacles and put them on. That single moment summed up perfectly the awkwardness of their reunion.
Lord John Grey
I liked John Grey from the beginning. I had no idea he was such an important series character until one of the writers mentioned it in a behind-the-scene interview. He was just the new prison governor, but he caught my attention. I don’t know what happens to him in the future, but I have a feeling he’ll show up again, as some of the key character have a habit of doing.
But I would be remiss to not point out that most of the pulse pause moments in the series (as they are the point of this blog series) for me, all arose when John Grey met Jamie’s eyes…and held his gaze.
I’m not adverse to MM romances in the slightest and have even written a few, myself. I found the tension of unrequited love, however, a very interesting take on it. I also really enjoyed the way Jamie and John Grey’s relationship/friendship developed.
And I must admit, I love his rich, plummy accent.
LOL moment: He’s an Australian Canadian. 😉
On the whole, Season 3 of Outlander ended up on the positive side of the ledger, although, given the lack of story questions going into Season 4, I’m wondering how that one will go…
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