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In reality, it’s only been 14 months since Outlander‘s season two finale aired. But for fans of Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling novels, that one-year hiatus might as well have been 20.
That’s because, as fans of the Outlander book series well know, the first 300 pages of book three, Voyager, tell the separate stories of Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan) after she is sent back to her own time and he is left to die at the disastrous Battle of Culloden.
Voyager begins with the two lovebirds grieving over the loss of one another as they to rebuild their individual lives 200 years apart – meaning a large chunk of season three will find the Sassenach and her Highlander heartbreakingly kept separate. Those who haven’t read the books already know from the season two finale (thanks to a little bit of creative retooling from showrunner Ron Moore) that Claire doesn’t try to find Jamie for at least 20 years, as she respectfully waits until her first husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) passes away before trying to find any evidence of Jamie’s survival after Culloden.
So how does one tell a love story onscreen between two characters who are separated literally by time and space for 20 years? For Outlander producers Moore and Maril Davis, that meant finding similar threads in Claire and Jamie’s stories to tell them side-by-side for the first five episodes of season three.
“The way we structure the first half of the season and the length of time and how we’ve decided to tell the story of Jamie and Claire in their separate parallel storylines will surprise people,” Davis tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We decided to expand on what is told in the book. A lot of what is told about Claire’s story is told in flashbacks or memories at later times, and we thought it would be so interesting to see her journey in becoming a doctor and try to keep the Claire and Jamie journey, the emotional beats, and where they are in their character arcs, in kind of the same places in those 20 years to see what they’re each going through.”
Balfe was intrigued at how Moore shuffled the timelines a bit back in season two, showing Claire after Frank’s death with her and Jamie’s daughter Brianna (Sophie Skelton) all grown up, and how that restructuring lead them into season three.
“We finally pick up with Claire back in Boston and it’s really picking up after episode one, season two,” Balfe says. “When we meet back up with her, Claire is essentially a widow in one way. She believes Jamie has died at Culloden and she has now re-entered into this marriage with Frank, pregnant with Brianna and she’s trying to build a life for herself.”
Still distraught over losing Jamie, Claire agrees to “put the past behind her, as it were,” Balfe says. “She made this promise to Frank and in some ways she compartmentalizes this massive side of herself and shuts the door on it. She’s a compromised woman emotionally, spiritually, and she’s in this very compromised marriage.”
While viewers were surprised at just how much of a glimpse was given into Claire and Frank’s life following her return to her original time back in season two, Menzies reveals that there will be even more Frank in season three.
“We get to unpack some of that story more than you’d expect,” Menzies says. “One of the remarkable things about the show is that it keeps moving very swiftly. You’ll see different worlds, we have very few returning sets, locations, so it’s like each season is a whole new show and season three is no different in that regard.”
An expansion of Frank’s story may be unexpected, but the return of Menzies’ other character, the sadistic, villainous Black Jack Randall, has become one of the most highly anticipated upcoming moments amongst fans. The season three premiere, “The Battle Joined,” picks up after the Battle of Culloden, where Black Jack and Jamie have their final meeting. While not discussed in the book, the TV adaptation will bring that moment to life in a unique and surprisingly emotional way.
“The encounter between him and Jamie is spoken about but not directly, or you don’t see it directly in the books. We see that, and it’s nice to actually see it happen,” Menzies explains. “As Jamie is laying on the battlefield wounded, he’s having these slightly hallucinogenic flashbacks to the whole battle and in there, he remembers the encounter. It’s a slightly dream-like dance of death; part fight, part embrace.”
Thanks to Moore’s creative timelines, viewers have already met the grown version of Brianna, as well as Roger Wakefield (Richard Rankin), the adult version of the little boy seen way back in season one before Claire fell through the stones and back in time. Roger began helping the Randall ladies search for any mentions of Jamie in history back in the season two finale, and because season three will take its time in telling the 20 years Jamie and Claire spent apart, Brianna and Roger won’t resume their story for a few episodes. But Skelton and Rankin promise that when Brianna and Roger do come back into the picture, their story injects some much-needed happiness and hope into the darker third season.
“At the end of season two, they now finally believe this information, this story that Claire has been telling about Jamie,” Skelton says. “In season three, you’ll get to see, initially, a very bubbly side of Roger and Bree. Episode 13 was quite a heavy episode but the first one we’re in this season, you’ll get to see them delving into the history of Jamie and it’s really nice. Obviously, they’re both avid historians so for them it’s really exciting to get to really go on this quest for Jamie. … It’s every historian’s dream, isn’t it, for this to become a factual event?”
That will hold especially true for Roger. “It’s the ultimate project for Roger,” Rankin says. “There’s a million and one things going on for Roger and Brianna when we pick them up. And then there’s the chemistry that’s going on underneath for them, and it’s evolving as you move through this season.”
After certain events unfold this season between Claire and her daughter, Roger and Bree’s relationship becomes a very important part of the story. “Initially you get that bubbly element of Roger and Bree because there’s the excitement of the adventure of trying to find Jamie in history but then they get that goal, they finally do find Jamie and then everything just plummets for them,” Skelton teases. “This big void they’ve filled with this adventure comes back. Roger just lost his father, Brianna has lost Frank, and both of them have to finally deal with their real lives. They’ve buried their heads for so long with this research and you’ll start to see them having to come to terms with reality.”
Season three is full of iconic Outlander moments, but perhaps the biggest moment in Jamie and Claire’s story over the course of eight novels (with a ninth currently in development) is their inevitable reunion. Claire ends up going back through the stones to find Jamie after learning that he survived Culloden and went on to live another 20 years under a new name and occupation after his time in prison. Moore and Davis painstakingly made sure to re-create the moment the two star-crossed spouses come face-to-face after two decades in a print shop while also giving it their own twist.
“Everything was important to get right about that scene,” Davis says with a laugh.
“It’s an iconic scene in the book,” Moore adds. “We knew fans were really going to be looking forward to it. Gary Steele, our production designer, spent a lot of time designing the print shop. It was a big set on stage. We just knew it was important so we made sure to give it the time and space and energy. We didn’t slavishly follow exactly the moment-by-moment of the book but it basically did tell the same thread with a lot of the same dialogue and delivered what people wanted to see from that moment.”
However, Davis teases that the episode – like their long-awaited reunion – will be worth the wait.
“What’s so interesting to me is that people always talk about the print shop scene, and really for me it’s the print shop episode,” she says with a smile. “[Writer] Matt Roberts did such a great job in giving fans, hopefully, what they want in trying to create his own story as well. For me, it’s just the whole episode I needed to get right, not just that moment. It’s not just one scene.”
Outlander season three premieres Sunday, Sept. 10 at 8 p.m. on Starz.
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