[Warning: The following story contains spoilers from Sunday’s episode of Outlander, “Heaven and Earth.”]
Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is out of the frying pan and into the fire on Starz’s Outlander. Or rather, make that out of the infested plague ship and into the ocean.
After getting abducted to try and cure a ship filled with men battling typhoid fever, Claire got to work during Sunday’s installment of the Starz genre drama and found the source of the infection. But when she learned that as soon as the ship would dock in Jamaica, the men would use her as bait to arrest Jamie (Sam Heughan) — who was also sailing toward Jamaica to reunite with his wife — Claire knew she couldn’t let that happen. With the help of a new friend on board, Claire jumped off the ship and into the ocean with only a barrel to hold on to with the hopes that the current would bring her to shore.
Meanwhile, back on the Artemis, Jamie attempted to go after Claire but ended up being thrown in the brig. He tried to bribe Fergus (Cesar Domboy) and convince other sailors to commit mutiny by offering his blessing for Fergus and Marsali’s (Lauren Lyle) proposed marriage. By the end of the episode, Fergus and Marsali convinced the captain to let Jamie out of his cell to lend a hand on deck, and he gave them his blessing anyway, seeing how Fergus proved his love and devotion for Marsali.
“We knew Jamie must be going nuts trying to get to her, and the challenge for us in the writers room was we wanted to see what Jamie was doing, and honestly, what can he do?” exec producer Tony Graphia tells The Hollywood Reporter. “He’s a hero, so he’d do something right? He would climb up over the railing with a knife in his teeth and rescue her. But we realized he really couldn’t do that. He’s outnumbered on this ship, it’s someone else’s ship with another captain. And that ship would never catch up to this military ship. How do you make a story out of that?”
That’s how they decided to get Jamie thrown into a cell for the majority of the episode. “We came up with this story where Jamie flips out and tries to do all these things and gets himself thrown in the brig,” Graphia says. “Our hero that we imagine would have jumped off the boat and swam after Claire is now locked up. For him, we made drama out of inaction instead of action.”
That allowed the heart of the story to become centered on emotion instead of high-stakes action, something that the Outlander team always tries to find ways to incorporate into its adventurous plot.
“That’s why we called [the episode] ‘Heaven and Earth,’ because it’s the essence of the episode — you would move heaven and earth for the one you love, and Jamie and Fergus both proved that,” Graphia says. “And sometimes moving heaven and earth means not moving heaven and earth; sometimes it means doing the smart thing and showing the things you won’t do for them.”
When it came time to break this new storyline, the Outlander producers did not seek out Gabaldon’s advice in advance.
“She reads all the scripts and gives her input, and often we take her notes because we greatly respect her and she knows the material of course better than anyone,” she says of the author, who serves as a consultant on the show. “She always adds something, but when we’re first breaking the stories, if they’re different from the book we don’t consult her up front about them.”
Sunday’s episode did, however, make one key change to the story that even diehard book readers would likely only notice after the fact: Claire did not come face-to-face with Jamie’s former companion Lord John Grey (David Berry) while he was on board the Porpoise.
“We did make the choice to not meet Lord John on the boat,” Graphia says. “Sometimes when we have to fit these stories into an hour, we have to be selective in what we portray because Voyager is such a dense book. If we feel as if there’s not enough room to do it justice, we come up with a different plan of how to do that particular story point.”
She confirms that they “do have a plan for Lord John down the road,” though she wouldn’t reveal in what capacity as to not spoil the story arc.
“As everyone suspects, we will see Lord John again but there is a different plan for him than what happens on the ship [in the book],” Graphia teases. “And because we made the decision to have Jamie tell Claire about [his son] Willie [Clark Butler] in the reunion episode, we had that struggle early on about how much Jamie tells her when. So since Claire already knew about Willie, it would have been weird for her to run into John on the ship. That figured into our decision.”
By the end of the episode, Jamie is out of his cell on the Artemis and Claire has successfully escaped the Porpoise. But their journey back to each other will not be an easy one. Thankfully Claire is the kind of woman who doesn’t back down from a challenge, as was showcased in her work on board the Porpoise saving the lives of the men who kidnapped her.
“I loved how even though Claire thinks she may have lost Jamie, she doesn’t slow down and she keeps kicking ass and saving a whole ship full of guys, hundreds of guys,” Graphia says. “She doesn’t just fall apart because she misses her man. That’s why we love Claire, and that’s what makes her a true heroine.”
As for ending the hour on that cliffhanger with Claire alone in the middle of the ocean, Graphia laughs.
“Claire jumping off the ship into the dark, that was everyone’s favorite part of the book. We knew we had to do that,” she says. “We had to show that. It’s such a rock star move. It’s a superhero move. We loved leaving the episode with Claire in the middle of a dark ocean, floating, with nothing. Where she ends up and what she has to go through, the next episode will entail some favorite book moments plus a new story, just like this episode. She may regret that jump.”
Outlander airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz.