So, we’ve hit the end of the first half of Season 2 of Outlander on Starz, and it’s been an exhausting and emotionally draining experience. I expected that I’d be posting recaps and set design commentary after every episode, but found that it was all so gorgeous as to be overwhelming. And, as we hit episode 207 called “Faith” this weekend – with all its endings – it’s the perfect place to sum up the entire first seven episodes as a whole.
As part of the advanced promotion of the second season of the show, we were treated to many images of the gorgeous sets and costumes, not to mention amazing new characters and scenery. It’s been a true visual delight at a level that is rarely done on in a television series. A huge shoutout to Jon Gary Steele and Gina Cromwell for their amazing sets and to Terry Dresbach for her incredible costume design.
As the season begins, the Frasers, Claire (Caitroina Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan), embark on their Paris adventure having had to leave Scotland, and all of Britain, to avoid being arrested. It’s an exciting time as Claire has just announced her pregnancy – something she didn’t think would ever happen for her. Being a time traveler from the 20th Century, she knows the devastation to come when the Scots follow Bonnie Prince Charlie, son of the rightful heir to the British throne, into battle against the world’s most advanced army. The Fraser’s set about spoiling the plans by ingratiating themselves into the upper echelons of Parisian society and with the Bonnie Prince himself. This is helped along by Jamie’s cousin Jared, a successful wine merchant who entrusts his business and household to the couple so he can travel to the West Indies. One of the big questions in the books: can one change the future? Or, as the Robert Burns poem goes:
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!
Best laid schemes was also the apt title of Episode 206 where we see how well their plans are going – which is to say, not at all.
The Paris house – aka Cousin Jared’s crib – is pretty sweet. This entire house and courtyard were built on the soundstage in Scotland. It was big enough for a horse and carriage to drive into the courtyard, but not turn around. The courtyard also played the role of street market when needed.
The main parlor – filled with the most gorgeous French design – including mirror, gilding and lots of candles.
The image below is the same room, but the hand held camera (or even iPhone) without all the lighting shows how different a set can look from how it appears on screen. The curved hallway outside the main parlor features a gorgeous tapestry and parquet floors.
A production shot of the hallway where we can see that the tapestry is in fact painted.
The bedroom just dripped opulence.
There were several scenes at “Versailles” though they were not actually filmed there. I showed a lot of pictures in this post from the Episode 202, their first time at Court.
This crown with chandelier – gorgeous day or night!
There are several scenes held in the “chess room” or library at “Versailles” – which was actually shot in an existing library in Prague, just with the French gilded furniture shipped in.
There was a memorable day trip to the royal stables and gardens. Below is the King (Lionel Lingelser) and his entourage walking the manicured grounds.
This image below is a publicity still and not from the actual episode, which featured Jamie there to help the Duke of Sandringham (Simon Callow) purchase some royal horses. In the episode – which is a major turning point in the story – Jamie is wearing his kilt and a more work-a-day coat and waistcoat. But Clair is wearing this amazing dress and hat. As a side note, costume designer Terry Dresback found this fabric – which is woven not embroidered – at Britex Fabrics in San Francisco. They only had 11 yards and needed 15 to make the dress, which is partially why there is an underskirt. The bodice was cut from scraps and they had to embroider the pink flower on the her right side because all they had left was a plain section of the fabric. The fabric was produced in Turkey and due to its popularity, they are producing more of it! You can read about it here – and I’m on their list to purchase a panel because it will make great pillows for my living room and I can have a little piece of Outlander for my very own!
You can see Claire strolling in the gardens below in this dress. The episode culminated in the return of the scourge that is Black Jack Randall and Jamie challenging him to a duel. Duel’s were against the law and punishable by death – but after what he put Jamie through in Season 1 – Jamie just did not care. Claire, however, did care for many reasons. One, BJR could kill Jamie, and if he didn’t, the crown could because it was a crime punishable by death, or at least a long stay in the Bastille. But, Claire also had come to realize that if BJR were killed, then her 20th century husband Frank might not ever be born. In her sometimes myopic insistence that she can control the future – Claire sets in motion a series of events that brings their whole world crashing down on them.
And suddenly, the beauty of Versailles, of Paris, and their life there seems to start feeling more and more hollow and unimportant.
Jamie promises Claire that he won’t kill BJR for a year, which Claire believes is enough time for him to get that nice English lass Mary Hawkins pregnant, thus (in Claire’s mind) ensuring Frank’s existence. Claire and Jamie have seemingly thwarted Bonnie Prince Charlie’s schemes by stopping the money train, but it proves only temporary. Meanwhile, Jamie is called to bail the not-so-Bonnie Prince out of his debts at the oft-visited brothel Maison Elise. Fergus, Jamie’s adopted French son/personal pickpocket tags along “to guard his right”. But ten year old boys being who they are, he wanders off and finds himself in Black Jack Randall’s room trying to steal a bottle of perfume for Claire. And sadly, no good comes of that. He cries out as he’s being molested and Jamie comes to his rescue and re-challenges BJR to an immediate duel. He leaves Claire a note saying “I’m sorry, I must”. Though very pregnant, exhausted and already showing signs of physical distress, Claire rushes to the Bois de Boulogne to try to stop the duel. Both Claire and Jamie are hot-headed and impetuous when things come to it and it often leads to dire consequences. As episode 206 ended, Jamie was being arrested for dueling, BJR was wounded in his privates (yay) and Claire was visibly bleeding as well. She passes out in the arms of butler Magnus who accompanied her after he couldn’t stop her from going. She asks to be brought to the L’Hopital des Anges and Mother Hildegard for care.
Episode 207 – entitled “Faith” – opens with a quick and somewhat jarring jump ahead to “Boston, 1954” and a 20th century Claire looking at library books with her red-headed daughter. There is an illustration of a blue heron, and Claire recalls seeing one in Scotland “a long time ago”. The scene changes to her lying in a hospital bed back in Paris, waking to the realization that she has lost her baby. As a book reader, this section of the novels was one of the most beautifully written and saddest parts of all the novels. Bringing it to the screen had to take great care and concern for the subject matter and the emotional journey of the characters. And, they hit it out of the ballpark and then some. I cried through nearly the entire episode and then for another twenty minutes after the credits rolled. Caitroina Balfe, as Claire, summoned up something special to play a woman who has lost her child during late term pregnancy. They didn’t shy away from the pain and anger, denial and despondency. The music by Bear McCreary captured the beauty and loss with such simple poignancy. Mother Hildegard baptized the baby and named her Faith, even though she was already dead and it was against the law to do so. McCreary created a musical theme for “Faith” with a simple piano and string accompaniment that makes me cry just thinking about it.
After weeks at the hospital, during which time Jamie is locked up in the Bastille, Fergus convinces Claire to come home. The shot above is when they arrive in the carriage. Fergus (Romann Berrux) has brought her blue flowers – a thematic color of the episode (starting with the blue heron) as it depicts the healing and motherhood of the Virgin Mary, as well as Claire’s motherhood. Because while her baby had died, she is still a mother, and a healer. The scene where she steps out of the carriage, frail and devastated, to the somber greeting of the household staff – a kind of honor guard – is one of the best I’ve ever seen on television. They took the time to show, without dialogue, the pain of a childless mother returning home with empty arms. The staff bowed to her as one – not just because she was their mistress – but in honor of Faith’s passing and her loss. Her ladies maid, Suzette, breaking down and her moment with Magnus, honoring him for what he did for her by bowing to him. (I’m literally crying now as I write this).
At this point, Claire blames Jamie for the loss of the baby – but it’s really just projecting her own feelings of guilt. She didn’t know about Fergus being molested which resulted in the duel. She hears him having a nightmare one evening and gets him to open up about what happened to him. She realizes that she needs to find some kind of forgiveness for Jamie and decides that she needs to seek the King’s pardon. Unfortunately, as Mother Hildegard warns, the King is going to want something in return for his favor. Claire responds that the loss of her virtue can be added to the long list of what she’s already lost in Paris.
So, with her usual determination, she dresses herself up and heads off to the Versailles to seek Louis’ favor.
There was a lovely long montage of her walking through the chess room/library (photo up top) and several other rooms, as she gains access to the inner private rooms of the King deep within the castle.
Again, we have the breathtaking sets and costumes. The King offers her hot chocolate and oranges, and kissing both her husband’s wedding rings, in a kind of “wooing” that wasn’t particularly necessary. He agrees to help her, but of course there is a price to pay.
But before the price she’s expecting, is another surprise. The King leads her to the mysterious “Star Chamber” where he holds a “King’s Trial” of two who have been accused of practicing the dark arts – Master Raymond (Dominique Pinon) and the Comte St. Germaine (the very dishy Stanley Weber). Due to Claire’s reputation as La Dame Blanche (a “White Witch”), Louis wants her to suss out just how dark are the two gentleman in front of her. Master Raymond is more than her friend – he helped heal her postpartum infection in the hospital by use of a kind of Reiki and internal massage, at risk to his own safety. Meanwhile – St. Germaine had previously tried to poison her – which he admitted when trying to claim that she’s a witch who could withstand poison. A healer at heart, Claire doesn’t want St. Germaine to die, at least at her hand, but in the end, that’s just what happens. Which is a shame, because Stanley Weber is devastatingly handsome and made much more of the character than I suspect was on the page. In the end, Master Raymond has been saved and Claire walks out with a little bit of her virtue compromised (the King still wanted what he felt was his to take) and the orange she didn’t previously have a chance to enjoy. A little moment of triumph.
True to his word, the King allows Jamie’s release from the Bastille and arranges a pardon for him with the British so they are free to go home to Scotland. But not before the difficult business of making amends to each other, accepting their loss is theirs to carry with them – together – and taking leave of their baby, now buried in a Paris cemetery. The image below is Jamie begging to know about Faith – he didn’t even know if the baby had been a boy or a girl. In a final flashback Claire recounts the day she held the baby – counting her fingers and toes, taking in her little ears and the slant of her eyes, her wisps of copper hair, and singing her little songs. It’s all she had to give and then she had to give her up.
The beautiful rooms have lost their luster – the candles are out, the light is cold.
On a costuming note – the two are dressed alike here – white puffy shirts, black vests and skirt/pants. Despite the pain and loss – they are united. This is the underlying theme of the entire Outlander book series – that no matter the distance they have to travel – through emotions or time itself – they are united.
And the final painful scene: a visit to Faith’s little grave. They left one of the Apostle spoons that had been a Christening gift sent from Lallybroch – fittingly the St. Andrew spoon so a little piece of Scotland was left to watch over her.
I have to say – this was one of the most beautiful, and painful, hours of filmed story I’ve ever seen. Caitroina Balfe is an extraordinary actress and should absolutely win an Emmy and the Golden Globe for this episode. I can’t imagine any other performance coming even close. In addition to Sam Heughan as Jamie, the entire cast is stellar. Bringing a much loved book series to life is a big task – especially one written with the kind of rich detail that writer Diana Gabaldon brings to the page. Book readers come to the television series with very specific ideas of what each character looks and acts like. It’s impossible for any adaptation to show everything from the source material, but I believe they have captured the essence of the story with great thoughtfulness and distilled it into a very special work of art that stands on its own.
A few detail images I’ve been collecting to drool over:
France was beautiful, but it’s not their place and has cost them dearly. So, we now go back to Scotland for the second half of the season. What adventures to come!
Some recommended websites for more Outlander fun:
Outlander’s official page on Starz
Showrunner Ronald D. Moore’s episode podcasts offer great back stories on production decisions. He includes other production people, writers, etc.
Production Designer John Gary Steele’s Blog
Costume Designer Terry Dresbach’s Blog – An 18th Century Life
Tom and Lorenzo’s blog does story recaps and posts about the costuming of the series
Frock Flicks – two historians who cover fashions depicted on screen
Outlander-Online – a gathering of all things Outlander, including screen grabs and lots of images. Thanks to them for many of the images used in this post.
Connie Verzak’s very funny recaps on Scotland Now are not to be missed.
Production Designer Jon Gary Steele’s Instagram has lots of great behind the scenes pics.
All Outlander photos are owned by Starz.