How 'Outlander' Is Rebooting Itself for a Completely Different Season 2

Executive producer Ronald D. Moore as well as stars Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan talk with THR about what to expect from Starz's time-traveling romance drama's sophomore run.
Starz

Outlander is going to look and feel like a completely new show in its second season.

While Starz's time-traveling romance drama gained commercial success in season one, earning Golden Globes nominations for two of its leads as well as the show itself, the sophomore run won't be what viewers are used to seeing from the fantasy series.

Gone are the tartan kilts and Highland castles. In their place are high-society parties in lavish Paris as Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) try to join the Jacobite rebellion led by Prince Charles Stuart (Andrew Gower), but with the mission of stopping the disastrous battle of Culloden before it happens. Where season one dealt with gritty and gruesome battles in the mud, Jamie's trading in his sword to fight with words in the high-stakes world of French society.

Because Dragonfly in Amber, the book on which season two is based, is so different in both setting and plot, Outlander executive producer Ronald D. Moore faced a daunting task in adapting it knowing that some viewers won't be aware of the tonal shift going into the season.

"It was a big challenge," Moore tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It was a tougher book to adapt than the first book was, because it's more complex, it shifts time periods, it shifts point of view several times, it goes from Paris then back to Scotland, it's half in political conspiracy, who can you trust kind of story, then it's half a war story. It was a much bigger challenge to adapt that and figure out what kind of changes we were going to make and how to make it penetrable to an audience who has not read it."

But Moore isn't worried that the "different world" presented in season two will cause Outlander to lose its steam.

"It is such a different show. We're reinventing the show in a completely different key," Moore says. "Visually, it looks radically different from Scotland. Season one was heavy stone walls, heavy furniture, dark wood, thick candles and heavy stuff. Now this is really refined, it's aristocracy, it's sumptuous and beautiful with embroidery and fine candelabras and silver. It's fascinating to put our characters into this world, this completely exotic environment for them. They're still the same characters we know from season one, but just placed into a new world."

The one upside to moving the story to Paris? The costumes.

"I wouldn't say it was easy doing the costumes this season. I think my wife [Outlander costume designer Terry Dresbach] would slap my hand if I said it was easy," Moore says with a laugh. "But at least there were many more paintings and engravings from the period to go from. Whereas there really weren't paintings of Highlanders from the period we were talking about. Most of the painting from that time were of their aristocracy, not the people, not the Jamie's and Dougal's of the world. There was much more reference material to go on this season."

While Claire is able to adapt to life in Paris quickly, Jamie, born and raised in the Highlands of Scotland, will struggle with his new home, especially in light of all that happened to him in Wentworth Prison.

"We will pick up with Jamie and Claire where we left them in season one pretty much," Heughan tells THR. "They've arrived in Paris, this new world, and it's a mixture of hope and elation since they're free and safe, and they're going to be expecting parents. They have a future ahead of them, one that they want to change. And yet Jamie is still going to be healing from what happened to him in Wentworth."

What happened with Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) will continue to haunt Jamie in season two, and that will actually cause some cracks to form in his relationship with Claire. 

"He's not talking about it. Physically, he'll get better but mentally, he still has issues," Heughan says. "He's trying not to think about it and just go to work. He works all day, goes out at night and therefore, that separates him from Claire a lot. That will come to a head. That starts to come out in his dreams. He's plagued by his past, he's tortured by it. They're going to need to fix their relationship, work on their intimacy and their friendship. It will tear apart their relationship until they do that."

Adding extra stress to their relationship is the fact that Jamie is being forced to change his entire worldview when it comes to the Jacobite rebellion. He's dedicated his life to fighting for the Jacobites, but armed with Claire's knowledge that it will eventually fail, he now is working in secret with his wife to sabotage it from the inside to save the culture from extinction.

"He's having to be duplicitous and it's tough because it goes against his very nature," Heughan says. "Jamie and Claire are constantly going to have to put on a persona and air to blend in with the social elite and they're going to struggle with it. It doesn't sit well at all with Jamie, to put it lightly."

Having Claire and Jamie navigate the political intrigue in France will allow them to see different sides to each other now that they're out of the high stakes, life-or-death situations they were constantly in last season.

"You get lost in this beautiful, colorful Parisian world, and you'll see as the season progresses, it feels like we've gone down a rabbit hole in some ways," Balfe tells THR. "We'll peel back more layers on both Claire and Jamie and we'll see them use not very attractive sides of their personalities. There's a lot of duplicity, a lot of lying, a lot of manipulation. They're doing all of this for their greater mission, but it's an interesting, psychological season whereas last season was focused so much on the action."

And despite the fact that both Claire and Jamie were elated over Claire's pregnancy at first, she's going to be having some second thoughts as time goes on.

"We'll see Claire struggling with impending motherhood and what that means to her," Balfe says. "That might drive a wedge between them. Plus, their marriage continues to be put under pressure from external circumstances. So how will they, as a couple, cope with that and grow with that? The biggest challenge I can't even talk about, because it will give away a huge spoiler in the story."

Another plot point Balfe and Heughan couldn't talk about for fear of spoiling was the possible return of Black Jack Randall. Book readers know that the sadistic ancestor of Claire's former husband Frank (also played by Menzies) returns in a major way in Dragonfly in Amber. But will he return to the show?

"It is such a huge event in the book," Heughan says after a long pause. "That whole story almost cures Jamie. It fixes everything. He controls his destiny. He's actually happy to find out Black Jack is alive because it means he can kill him. After that moment, the old Jamie is back. So if we'll get to see that on the show, we'll have to wait to find out. I can't give away too much."

Outlander season two premieres on Saturday, April 9 at 9 p.m. on Starz.

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