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[Warning: Spoilers ahead from Saturday’s episode of Outlander, “Castle Leoch.”]
Going home never was this difficult.
Outlander’s protagonist Claire Randall’s (Caitriona Balfe) mission to return to her life in 1945 is proving to be a difficult one. Accidentally transported to 1743 Scotland, Claire is forced to adapt to an entirely new world. There, she meets the charming Scottish highlander Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) — someone she immediately connects with — but Claire’s sudden presence raise red flags for others at Castle Leoch: Is she a spy? Can she be trusted? When Claire’s ticket home is abruptly taken away by laird Colum MacKenzie (Gary Lewis), her primary goal — to return home to her husband, Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies) — seems even further out of reach.
As filming nears an end on the 16-episode rookie season (Starz renewed Outlander for a second run Friday), Balfe talks to The Hollywood Reporter about the events of Saturday’s episode, Claire’s immediate connection with Jamie and being an outsider in another time.
In the second episode, Claire is trying to find her footing in this new world and time. What is her mindset like as she attempts to uncover a period that’s alien to her?
When we open on episode two, she’s had this very bizarre thing happen to her. This journey with the highlanders has felt very surreal. She’s still trying to grasp where she is. She doesn’t even know what time she’s in, really. She has a good sense roughly when it might be. But really, she doesn’t have any kind of knowledge.
When we meet her first in the castle, we have this great opening scene with getting up and trying to figure out, “OK, she has to go and meet the laird.” This is when we see the wheels have to turn very quickly, and she has to very quickly ascertain when [the time period] is. She has to very quickly ascertain where she is and what is the situation, using what she’s learned before from Frank and trying to use whatever she sees around her to pinpoint where she’s at and how she can maneuver her way out of it.
Not every person could step into Claire’s shoes and get away with what she can. She’s someone who can talk herself out of corners.
The interesting thing about Claire is that she has been in a treacherous time right before that — being on the front lines during [World War II]. I’m sure she’s come into a lot of contact with soldiers and her husband Frank. She understands the idea of being questioned, of not giving too much away, of watching and accumulating as much information as you can before you give away anything about yourself.
That’s the great thing about how this story has been written. It’s like everything leads into and feeds the next moment. It’s great in that first dinner she has with the MacKenzies in the castle. You see Colum trying to supply her with alcohol. There’s a sense of her wanting to just relax, and eat and drink, and somehow feel normal. Then she has a quick realization of, “This is not a place I can relax at any time.” It takes her a moment to realize that, but she has had all of these previous experiences that have prepared her for this moment in a way.
There are moments in her internal monologue where she knows she has to hold things back, such as Colum’s medical condition. How does she grapple with that?
I think all of that is her finding confidence within herself — “I know things about this time. I know certain things these people don’t know.” That’s what allows her to believe she can survive and perhaps maneuver her way or figure out a way to be useful. She could use her information to get by. The [medical condition] with Colum is great because, knowing what she knows about his medical condition, she gains empathy toward him and it makes him more human to her, so he’s not this completely intimidating figure. Being able to figure out the balance of power between Dougal and Colum, that comes into play as well.
She believes, at this point, she won’t be here very long. There’s a nice moment where she enjoys taking in this time and learning about it, kind of watching it with a fascination of somebody who has the ability to have a window into another time and place and see what life was really like. She’s an interested person in history and in people. This really allows her to feed into that.
You mentioned that at one point, she feels like this is just a temporary stay. Is there a certain point where she believes this is going to be where she is for an extended period of time? How does she come to terms with that?
I think it comes at the point when Colum says she’s going to stay [at the end of the episode]. She believes she’s lost her ticket out of there. The thing about Claire is she doesn’t know if she can get back, or if she does get back if she can get back to her own time, or back to another time. She doesn’t understand the mechanisms of what happened to her yet. So her goal is to somehow get out of the castle, get back to where she came from and see if she can find answers there. So when Colum tells her she’s staying, that’s devastating to her because all of a sudden she’s become a prisoner in a very fortified place. This is not a place where she can just walk away. There’s people watching her at all times.
In the beginning — I wouldn’t say she’s enjoying learning and experiencing this — there’s a moment of fascination like, “Wow, this is what life was actually like at this point.” We get asked a lot, “If you could go back, what time would you go back to?” There is that sense of that for certain moments in history: “I wonder what life was really like. I wonder what people were like. Were they the same as us? Did they experience the same trials and tribulations that we did?”
I like the way the writers have chosen to take their time showing Claire acclimating to that time period because you do see her say, “I’ve got five days. What am I going to do with these five days? I’m going to actually make the most of it.” That’s the great thing about Claire: She does try and make the best of every situation. When she thinks she has a definite amount of time there, she really tries to integrate into the castle life. There’s a great moment when she sees Dougal playing in the courtyard with the kids. I love those little moments because that really shows you her interest in people and humanity. That’s her compassion. But then when they’re like, “You’re going to stay,” that’s devastating.
Claire and Jamie’s connection was almost instantaneous, and in tonight’s episode things got quite intimate. What is the appeal for Claire?
I think there was an immediate recognition of a kindred soul there. For whatever reason there is a chemistry between them, and he doesn’t seem like the rest of the men there. There’s something different about him. He becomes a friend and an ally at this time. Dougal and Angus are very suspicious of her. They’re weary of her, and they don’t treat her very well. Jamie has this gentleness and kindness. He’s just got that wit and that humor. Very quickly, what you see is the developing of their friendship.
She also continues to learn more about his backstory, which includes flogging. When she finds out about that part of his history, how does her opinion of Jamie change?
She sees his back for the first time, and that’s quite a moment. When you see someone very scarred by war — and this is again where her experience comes into play. She has treated men like him, but never the same kind of situation. The story of what happens to his sister and also the way he tells it. Obviously there’s a deep pain there, but he makes light of it. He really opens up to her in such an honest way, but it’s without any self-pity.
These are things that attract her to him. Here’s a person who’s endured so much pain but doesn’t seem to have that bitterness or poison. His soul and spirit doesn’t seem to be poisoned, and I think that’s something that really intrigues her. It makes him a different type of person who’s not hardened by what’s happened to him. The fact that he opened to her has as much to do with her demeanor, too. She has the quality that makes him trust her right away. The fact that he does trust her and opens up to her, that deepens their bond.
What can we expect for Claire now that there is no timetable for her return to her original time?
What Claire always does is she’s very resourceful and very resilient. Again, I think this is a product of her having just experienced a long war. She’s going to use the resources she has. We’re going to see a lot more of her medical training coming into effect. She bides her time to wait and see what opportunities arise to try and figure out a way of escaping. As much as she’s taking in this time, as much as she’s got this connection with Jamie, these are all secondary happenings to her. Her primary goal is to get back to her own time. We’re going to see more of how she makes the best of each situation that arises so she can figure out how to get back to the stones.
Has there been a fan moment that you’ll take with you?
They’ve all been great. It’s been really overwhelming and fantastic. There was a funny thing Sunday night. I was at a restaurant in Glasgow, and I was walking down the stairs. A woman passed me and said, “Oh my God, what are you doing here?” I didn’t know who she was, and I was like, “Sorry?” She goes, “Oh no, sorry, I follow you on Twitter. I just didn’t expect to see you here.” It was just such a bizarre thing because she was talking to me like we knew each other for so long. It was quite funny, and we had a nice chat about whether she’d seen the episode. That’s the first time it’s happened randomly in person.
It was so nice meeting people in San Diego and New York. There are a lot of women whom I recognized from Twitter. It was so lovely to meet them in person. There was the woman who handles the “Caitriots,” what my fans call themselves. [Co-star Sam Heughan’s followers call themselves the “Heughligans.”] They’ve raised so much money for charity already. So meeting April, who’s the head of the Caitriots, that was really lovely to finally be able to say thank you in person.
The reception at San Diego’s Comic-Con seemed warm.
It’s been really fun and really cool. We all had such a blast when we got away, especially in the middle of production. You can feel like you’re in a bubble, but it’s also, after an eight-month shoot, the brow needs a bit of a boost. That was definitely lovely to go away and meet everyone. We all came back more invigorated. That was the great thing about that.
Outlander airs at 9 p.m. Saturdays on Starz.
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