[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Saturday’s season two premiere of Outlander, “Through a Glass, Darkly,” and the book it is based on, Dragonfly In Amber.]
Outlander season two started off with a bang on Saturday as showrunner Ron D. Moore completely changed the way the series began from its source material, Dragonfly In Amber.
Book readers were well aware that the beginning of season two would take place in an entirely new time, as author Diana Gabaldon’s second novel opens with Claire (Caitriona Balfe) in 1968 — 20 years after having returned to her own time and reuniting with her first husband Frank (Tobias Menzies). The story picks up after Frank’s death, with Claire finally telling her adult daughter Brianna (Sophie Skelton) that her real father was Jamie (Sam Heughan).
But the Starz drama instead picked up when Claire first returned to her own time, depicting her first few days reuniting with Frank. It marked a major detour from the novel as the action completely jumped over Claire and Jamie’s time in France as well as the failed Scottish rebellion.
As Claire re-adjusted to her modern surroundings, she told Frank everything about her time in the past — including Jamie. And when Claire revealed to Frank that she was pregnant with Jamie’s child, Frank did the noble thing and decided he would raise the child as his own. The story then traveled back in time to Claire and Jamie’s arrival in France as they began their mission to sabotage the Jacobite rebellion before it wiped out all of Scottish culture.
The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Moore about why he made that huge structural change from the page to the screen, what it means for the rest of season two and more.
The way season two opened was such a surprise. Why make that change?
I thought that it was a big enough change to suddenly grab the audience and put them in the 20th century right off the bat, which I thought was really interesting. You’re expecting that we’re going to open in France and start that story, so to suddenly go to the 20th century and to say that Claire left Jamie behind, her daughter Brianna was born here and raised here, Frank’s dead, that’s a huge amount to suddenly jar the audience. But to also make it a 20-year jump to the ‘60s where Brianna’s grown and Frank’s dead, it was too much.
It makes it a completely different story.
Exactly. It felt like an overwhelming reset of the show. It’s a big reset just to say that they failed to stop Culloden and the whole mission was a disaster and that she left Jamie behind. So let’s start at the beginning of that story. Let’s see how she and Frank did get back together. How did he accept her, how did she decide to approach him, what the hell did she tell him? That’s a big story. How was this child raised by the two of them? What was their contract? I thought that was an interesting place to start. I want to tell that story before we get into all the other machinations.
How does changing the beginning set the whole season in motion?
It still tells you that what you’re watching in the 19th century stories are doomed efforts, that this is all going to come to a bad end. Despite their best efforts, they’re not going to succeed and Claire is going to be torn away from him for some reason. So you’re wondering how that is all going to come to pass. Why would she possibly leave Jamie behind? How could that have happened, and why didn’t they succeed in stopping Culloden? It creates mystery at the head of the season. And once you get into episode two and three, the Paris story, you kind of forget. Even I forget. As you’re watching, you forget that it’s all doomed because you get involved in the story that’s happening.
Not counting the change at the beginning, will season two follow Dragonfly in Amber closely, or will the structure be different?
Besides that structural change at the beginning of the premiere, the basics are still definitely recognizable as Dragonfly in Amber. It’s still that story, just told slightly differently in how we’re choosing to parse it out. It’s still going to be that story at the end of the day.
Will you cover the entire book in season two?
Yes. We’re going to do the whole book.
At the end of the premiere, Frank decided to raise Jamie’s child as his own. Will we see more of that story going forward?
We’re not going to really keep going back to that story in season two. We told that part of the story in the premiere and now we’re going to go back to the 19th century and stay with that for the rest of the season. You’ll see Frank again in some flashbacks, like we did in the first season when Claire had memories and moments with Frank, but we’re not going to continue to track that structure.
There are a ton of new characters this season now that Jamie and Claire have arrived in France to stop the battle of Culloden before it starts. Which character were you most excited to bring to life?
I’m most excited for everyone to see Prince Charlie (Andrew Gower). It’s one of the historical characters that we’ll meet on the show this year, and it’s probably the only one whose name most of the audience has heard thanks to the phrase Bonnie Prince Charlie. People just have no idea who or what that is. He’s a really complicated character. I’m looking forward to everyone seeing who he is and what he’s about and why this did all fail. When you first meet him, you realize almost instantly why it almost succeeded and why it could never have succeeded because he’s the guy who can rally people to him and is a man with a mission, but he’s also so deeply flawed. You’ll meet him pretty early, in the second episode.
Where does episode two pick up?
It picks up with them ensconced in cousin Jared’s (Robert Cavanah) house in Paris, ready to begin their mission on infiltrating the French court and sabotaging the rebellion from the inside.
Author Diana Gabaldon has written an episode this season. What was it like working on that with her?
She approached it in a really good spirit. She took notes, she made changes, she cut her script, she made production changes. She just soldiered on and I think she had a good time doing it. It’s not easy for someone to write their first script, even if they wrote the books it was based on for 20-30 years. Writing a script is flexing a different muscle, it’s not the same thing. A book is an author talking directly to readers, whereas a script is a blueprint for someone else to execute. It has to fulfill a lot of different requirements. Not all writers can transition between the two forms and she seemed to do it really well.
Were there any challenges working with her?
No, not at all. At the outset, you worry about what it’s going to be like. You don’t want to screw up your relationship with the author of the franchise. That would be a profound mistake. And we really didn’t have any problems — it worked. At some point, you forget it’s the author and she becomes just another writer and if the script is long, you cut and move on to the next problem.
What lessons did you learn from season one that you’re applying to this season?
Mostly we just learned how to produce it efficiently. To work on a show that doesn’t have standing sets, to travel as much as we do, it’s constantly shifting locations and interiors, dropping off characters and picking up new ones, that presents a lot of challenges. Year one was a huge learning curve and that helped us a lot with the second season.
Outlander airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz.