'Outlander' Director on Midseason Finale: "We All Went Beyond Our Comfort Zones"

Anna Foerster talks to THR about Saturday's episode and what's next
Starz
"Outlander"

[WARNING: Spoilers ahead from Saturday's midseason finale of Outlander, "Both Sides Now."]

How's that for a cliff-hanger?

Outlander closed out the first half of its 16-episode freshman season with Jamie (Sam Heughan) barging in just as Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) was about to cut off Claire's breast (Caitriona Balfe). Ouch. "Get away from my wife!" Jamie proclaims, a wry smile creeping up on Black Jack's face as he laid eyes on the young Highlander. Readers of the books know what's about to come for the three unlikely compatriots, and it's fair to say, it'll be even more disturbing than Jamie's violent flogging at Black Jack's hand.

Read more 'Outlander' Sets Spring 2015 Return

The episode, titled "Both Sides Now," also spent significant time with Claire's grieving husband Frank (Menzies) as he struggled to grapple with and figure out what may or may not have happened that day at the stones. Did she really run off with another man? Is a supernatural force at work here? Frank, after arriving at the stones at Craig na Dun, nearly catches wind of Claire's screams from 1743 but alas, it wasn't meant to be.

Director Anna Foerster, who also helmed last week's wedding (read Heughan's take on the episode here), talks to The Hollywood Reporter about Saturday's midseason closer.

In addition to episodes seven and eight, you're directing the final two episodes of the season that will air next year. Have you wrapped production yet?

They are finishing today [Sept. 24] with pickups and inserts. We did the last wrap on Monday night. It was quite exciting. Not only was it the season finale, but it was the 200th shooting day for the crew. You could see the strain on the crew. It was a long run for everybody. Including the actors, particularly Catriona [Balfe]. She had no stopping.

This episode followed Claire and Jamie’s wedding, which you also directed. What was the most important thing you wanted to capture in the aftermath and how did last week’s episode inform your approach?

When we shot the wedding episode, it was interesting what’s been happening to Claire. She essentially agrees to do this wedding to survive, so she’s not [getting the wrath of] Black Jack. But on a larger perspective her objective is to go back to the stones, go back to Frank, go back to her time. In a way, being married made it easier for her to get to that goal. She is starting in a relatively pragmatic way and then, as you see in Saturday’s episode, it doesn’t quite go the way she thought because she fell in love. That is the first time, when you see her reaction at the end of the episode, that she is realizing her objective is not clear anymore. In the beginning of [episode] eight, Claire got sidetracked.

As a director, what was the most critical thing you wanted to convey in this episode?

In "The Wedding," we were almost exclusively in Claire’s world except for the flashback with Frank. In this episode, we’re starting with Frank and that is something taken from the book. When I read the script, I was intrigued by that because it’s great to see what’s happening on the other side [in 1945] — to see Frank’s struggle and despair, and what happens to his love of her. What’s really interesting is you get a glimpse of character traits of Black Jack in Frank, even though they are not the same person. There are certain moments, like when Frank beats up the man in the alley, where you can see certain character traits have survived a long time in this family.

Read more 'Outlander': Sam Heughan on Jamie and Claire's Wedding, Nerve-wracking Sex Scenes

Seeing how Frank coped with Claire’s sudden disappearance was an added treat, considering viewers haven't spent considerable time in his world. How did you balance those two narratives visually? Was it a challenge?

 

It was a challenge but I thought it defined the episode, jumping between those two times. You see what one person is doing and what the other person is doing on the other side and towards the end [those two worlds are] basically merging. When Claire and Frank are running to the stones at the same time, she wants to go back to 1945 but the reason he is going is of despair. He doesn’t believe in the mystery and the fantasy. There is a moment when Frank screams for her and it carries over into her world. From a visual point of view, it was very interesting to choreograph that.

The aspect of time travel hasn't been a driving force of Outlander until this episode, when characters like Frank are forced to face the possibility of supernatural events.

There is still no real explanation, there are speculations when Frank gets told what is happening — that the energy comes together and it's a maze that you travel through time. But you don't really know. The only thing we know for sure, and what Claire knows for sure, is that if she would have touched those stones, she would have gone back [to 1945]. Frank touched the stone and didn't go through, so it does take a specific person. Now the question is, how is Frank going to go? Will it be destiny for it to happen?

It's all taken seriously by Frank, which is interesting because he is a very pragmatic person. He, like the majority of the general population, would feel like this is fantasy and not really happening. Then in the biggest moment, he goes up there to the stones against his better judgment. Even he is drawn to the idea that there is something there.

At least from the start, Claire and Jamie seemed happy about being newlyweds, but that doesn't last. How quickly do you think they're falling in love and do you think one is more deeply invested than the other?

The thing is Claire doesn't know, and the audience doesn't know, if Jamie really loves her, or if it's just a marriage for the same kind of reasons as he lists in the wedding episode — to save her, help her, to do the right thing. We suspect it but with Claire during the wedding night and the three different times they are making love, the first time it is just consummating the marriage. By the third time, it is making love. By then, she realizes this has nothing to do with contracts. She really enjoyed [the sex]; she didn't say she's falling in love but essentially that's what's happening. That's why in episode eight, they are starting out in a honeymoon glow.

When they're having a picnic and an arrow hits right next to Jamie, they should have been more alert, more aware [but instead] they're talking about pretty intense feelings. In a way he's not as on guard and as alert as he should be. The second time, it's kind of a similar thing. They're in the meadow and they are enjoying themselves without thinking about where they are going and how they need to be safe. Claire's lost sight of her morals and he is losing what makes him the guy who is always on alert, losing his attention as a warrior. It starts in a happy place and then heads in the opposite direction.

Let's talk about the scene in the meadow. Things take a dark turn when Claire kills one of the Red Coats after he attempts to rape her. What was important for you to capture in that moment?

One of the most important things was she has to protect herself and she couldn't rely on Jamie, who promised her he would always protect her and that she would always be safe with him. Suddenly that's not true anymore. It's one of those things where there is something really terrible happening and in the midst of this terrible thing, when it's becoming almost a blur, she instinctively does the right thing [in killing the Red Coat who was about to rape her]. This is when it becomes clear that Claire is a survivor. She has the instincts of a survivor; it doesn't matter the circumstance.

Claire's reunion with Black Jack was fraught with tension because of what transpired between them two episodes ago. What was it like to film?

Her reunion with Black Jack I unfortunately didn't get to film because they had to shoot it before I moved over there. It was shot three blocks before and it had something to do with the set. (Editor's note: Richard Clark directed the final sequence.)

What was the most challenging scene to get right?

A very obvious one was the reunion … on Craig na Dun. That was a challenge for lots of reasons because it's two characters [Frank and Claire] going there for different emotional reasons. It's a bit of a leap for the audience to go there as well. You don't want it to become too supernatural either; you want to keep it grounded somehow. Another scene was the rape, which definitely required some thought and discussion. What happened [to Claire] isn't straightforward, instead it is the essence of what is going on [and that's how we chose to film it]. It's more of her experience of that moment rather than a clear depiction — more like an impression.

And on a completely different note, when Monroe comes to meet Claire and Jamie and he has a tongue that's been cut out. We did research on when sign language was developed, which it wasn't back then, so we came up with something together for what he could have used as signs that he and Jamie would know because they had been friends before. The actor had sort of an Invisalign in his mouth to pull back his tongue so it was literally disabled.

Any favorite moments from the wedding and this week's episode?

First of all, I have to say all the actors are amazing, particularly Caitriona, Sam and Tobias. All three of them are open to adjustments for each take, so you can approach it one way and then you can throw in something else that twists it in another direction and create certain nuances. That's something the three of them — Tobias especially is the master of that and Caitriona is enjoying as well. One of my favorite moments is at the end of the wedding episode with Claire's ring falling on to the floor. That was always important to me to make that a big moment. In a weird way, I liked when Murtagh and Jamie were in the stable. It was a small and intimate scene, but I really liked it as a moment. And in episode eight, I liked the despair of Frank in the beginning. Those moments gave the episode another full layer of Frank, which isn't really in the book. We all went beyond our comfort zones in a good way. I have never worked on anything that was as emotionally taxing than what we did here, but I'm not sure if television has ever gone to the places [Outlander has and will go]. That's what's exciting about Outlander, from each episode to the next you never see the same thing. That's what I really like about the series.

Outlander returns April 4, 2015 on Starz.

Email: Philiana.Ng@THR.com
Twitter: @insidethetube

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