'Outlander' Writer on Jamie's Capture, Dougal's Proposal and Its "Western" Moment

Matthew B. Roberts talks with THR and breaks down the show's dirty take on 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy' and more.
Neil Davidson

[Warning: this post contains spoilers from "The Search."]

With the revelation that Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) has been captured by the Red Coats, Outlander's "The Search" proved time is of the essence for Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jenny (Laura Donnelly) to find him before Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) does. What ensues is an epic cross-country romp for Claire, Jenny and Jamie's godfather, Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) filled with silliness, shenanigans and some seriously game-changing propositions.

The Hollywood Reporter caught up with episode writer Matthew B. Roberts to discuss the hour's The Good, the Bad and the Ugly references, its dirty take on "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" and why we don't know [Black] Jack — yet.



How did you tackle this episode?

It was an odd and difficult assignment, particularly based on the fact that Jamie's not in it at all. I felt a need to keep him very present in every scene throughout the episode. The previous episode, [writer] Toni Graphia had taken on the gangster genre with "The Watch" and [being inspired by] The Sopranos and all that. But this one felt like the Western where a loved one goes missing and you have to find them at all costs. There are horses and guns and it really had that The Good, the Bad and the Ugly feel to it, in three parts. It's actually kind of set up in that way, too: the good, Jenny and Claire; the bad, the Murtagh; and the ugly — no offense to Graham, he's a very handsome man — being Dougal (Graham McTavish).

Well his proposition is what's truly ugly about it.


What did you think of Dougal's proposition of marriage?

The feeling of this is from the book — it's heightened in this scene — but in the books Claire won't agree to it. We wanted her to, though, because it's actually a great tactic to agree. And why not? It's a win-win for her, because if Jamie's dead then she's just going to the stones. For Dougal, his intention has always been to make himself more powerful and in 1744, more land is more power. So if he can take over the Lallybroch land he can be more powerful. These are the three most influential on his character, in Jamie's life other than Claire — Jenny, Dougal, Murtagh — so their feelings about Jamie, and how Claire negotiates each one of them, drives the story in each part.

Jenny and Claire going out together to find Jamie was a real Cagney & Lacey situation. 

I've always been drawn to both the Claire and Jenny characters because they are very strong women and you do not want to get in their way — especially when they have set their sights on something. And together they're even more formidable than they are separately. Claire was just running on pure passion.

Jenny was incredibly tenacious this whole episode — from torturing the courier to the breast milk scene. It just shows how determined Jenny is and it's a moment when you truly see Claire gain respect for her. 

She has been tentative, as I think anyone would be going into a situation like that. The Frasers are not an easy group to get along with: This is home for the holidays times a thousand. This family is rough around the edges! And they don't immediately accept Claire, not just because she's English, but because Jamie went away for four years and came back an outlaw with an English bride they know nothing about. So you can see the wariness on both sides. But the search is not just the search for Jamie, it's the search for the characters in the story to come together as well. They have to search themselves — Jenny and Claire — to become one together.



The same could be said for Murtagh and Claire's second act.

That was the other point of part two: we don't know a lot about Murtagh and his backstory. There was a scene earlier on in the season that was dropped that had a bit more explanation about how he came to be in the Fraser clan outside of being a blood relative. For Murtagh to open up to her is very enlightening for Claire's view of the character, and that's why she allows herself to fall into his arms and acquiesce to his wishes of going back to the beginning and starting over. 


Overall, this episode was the lightest of the season.

We needed to take a breather between "The Watch" and the last two episodes, which are going to be very, very heavy. And in writing "The Search," I already knew what was coming down the road so we intentionally wanted to give the audience a break. We couldn't just hit the audience over the head with dark, dark, dark, dark. It's like a war movie. When you just see battles, you need a moment to let the audience just breathe around a campfire or whatever. For the book readers, they obviously know there's a battle coming in more ways than one. You haven't seen Jack — and you're about to, be prepared.

No doubt the singing and dancing bit added to that levity.

In the book, Murtagh sings and dances. [But] Cat sings quite a bit in between takes; she'll sit down in her chair and hum and sing and I jokingly one day said, "I'm going to make you sing one day on camera" and she said, "No you'll never do it." And when it came about that we were going to train Duncan to dance, I thought, "Let's give Claire the singing part."

How did manipulating that song come about?

It just popped into my head one day. We took an old song and manipulated it. Hearing some of the songs of the day, they weren't necessarily entertaining so you had to figure out what tune would realistically draw a crowd. The lyrics are filthy: it's talking about guys showing their coggies and pencils rising — I'm sure you can do the math here. It's about taking a girl on a date and giving it to her in a very vulgar way. I don't know if you've seen Victor/Victoria, but that was kind of the play on this. And that's why we put her in the juggler costume: This is the Outlander mashup.

Outlander airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz. What did you think of the episode? Click here to read our interview with Laura Donnelly.