7:00pm PT by Alicia Lutes
'Outlander' Writer on Jenny's "Intimate" Birthing Scene, How 'The Sopranos' Inspired Jamie's Story
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from the May 2 episode of Outlander, "The Watch"]
Jamie Fraser’s life is once again in the hands of his enemies. After the arrival of a roving Scottish gang led by Taran McQuarrie (Douglas Henshall), Jamie (Sam Heughan) was once again captured by the Red Coats. But that was only part of the drama, thanks to the arrival of baby Margaret, the newborn daughter of Jamie’s sister Jenny (Laura Donnelly), which ultimately led to the reveal that Claire (Caitriona Balfe) might actually be barren.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with writer Toni Graphia about Jamie’s dark past, how The Sopranos inspired the show, and Jenny’s intimate birthing scene.
This is an episode that’s actually more of a blend of book and non-book happenings.
Yeah, “The Watch” is the perfect example of blending the stories we [create] with what’s in the book. I don’t think we ever see them in the book, but they’re mentioned as this feared, roving presence in the highland. Horrocks as well. So we decided this was an episode made up out of thin air.
So how did it all come about?
In the book, the Lallybroch section is sort of a lull and in the book you really appreciate it as a sort of breather. But on a TV show you can’t have two breather episodes. You have to keep the tension ratcheted up, which is why we put a lot more conflict between Jenny and Jamie into the first episode. But the second one we decided we’d use a threat from outside.
And if the watch discovers the price on his head, Jamie’s done for, really.
Yeah, so it’s this great tension of him having to hide his identity and act like he’s welcoming these guys when really he hates their guts. What really inspired it was our love of The Sopranos. Everyone on staff is a big Sopranos fan, so we posited this episode as, “What if Tony Soprano took up residence in your house?” Which is what the watch would do back then because they were these extortionists. And so Jamie has to grit his teeth and bear it, causing conflicts between him and Jenny. She doesn’t like it anymore than Jamie does, but what choice did she have?
McQuarrie is a character created for the show, but his relationship with Jamie gives the audience a lot of insight into the man he was before.
We made up the character of Taran McQuarrie, but the idea was for him to basically be what Jamie could’ve become if he hadn’t met Claire. Jamie wasn’t a saint before. He was a criminal and an outlaw when Claire met him [and we] wanted it to create a little bit of a dilemma for Jamie. We wanted this guy to tempt him and say, "There’s a lot of money to be made and a lot of adventure to be had” and there’s a little part of Jamie who is tempted by that.
It’s an interesting shift considering how much he didn’t like McQuarrie at the beginning.
The trick was making McQuarrie likable. Their shared background as soldiers results in Jamie reluctantly liking the guy. He’s not a bad guy. It’s just maybe that his background led him to make the choices he’s made and we just thought that was an interesting relationship.
The biggest shift of that being after Ian (Steve Cree) kills Horrocks.
Well that’s something we added. In the first draft Jamie actually killed the guy, but Jamie’s trying to not cause trouble — he came home to lay low — so the last thing he wants to do is murder someone and cause trouble.
Ian killing Horrocks really showcases the depth of their friendship, too.
Diana [Gabaldon] writes about it, but not in the book. She writes these little short story novellas on the side and there’s one about Jamie and Ian’s adventures in France when they were in the army together. I read that and thought it was so fascinating. But it was [producer] Matt Roberts who supervised the shooting of the episode who said, “What if Ian kills Horrocks instead?” We thought that would be awesome because then we’re showing that Ian’s settled down and has chosen that life but he, too, sometimes misses those days. So Jamie’s seeing the two extremes: McQuarrie as a criminal on one hand and Ian as the devoted dutiful husband.
Let’s switch gears to the pregnancy, because the birthing scene really layered the relationship between Jenny and Claire and bonded them.
In the books they call the midwife and Claire has her Gone With the Wind moment of, “I don’t know nothin’ about birthin’ no babies!” Because she was combat, she fixed up soldiers and wounds. She didn’t deal with childbirth. In the book she’s a bystander [but] on TV no one wants to see the midwife birth the baby, they want to see Claire and Jenny in this intimate setting.
Jenny’s monologue and the act of having the baby certainly did that.
What we wanted to do was do the complete opposite of every other TV show where it’s just a woman laying on a bed doing her usual screaming and “push, push, push!” We didn’t want to see that again. Our director [Metin Huseyin] was really the one who came up with the idea of Jenny crawling around on the floor, though. It was much more primitive then.
The important part of that speech though is how it lands on Claire, because she tried for years to have a child and couldn’t and she thinks she’s barren. The wistfulness of that being what she wants but can’t have played into [the birthing scene]. These two women going through that together really bonds them and gives Jenny gets a new appreciation of Claire and allows a sisterhood to come out of that.
And it seemed to drive Claire to talk to Jamie about her own inability to have children.
Everyone loves that part in the book where Jamie says it’s OK and he doesn’t care about having children. But he did want a family and the shot was designed so that he does right by Claire, he comforts her, but after she leaves we hang on him and we see that he is really devastated, but he’s covering his pain because he loves her.
Outlander airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz.