“Outlander” fans were in for a surprise in the Season 2 premiere when Claire (Caitriona Balfe) was suddenly back in 1946 Scotland, when the Season 1 finale left off with her and Jamie (Sam Heughan) setting sail for France to try to stop the Jacobite rebellion.
But this wasn’t only a shock for fans who’ve only seen the TV series. It was also a marked change for book readers. But executive producer Ron Moore tells Zap2it they chose to tell the story this way for a couple reasons.
Warning: Some spoilers ahead for the books, so don’t keep reading if you haven’t read them and you don’t want to be spoiled.
In the book Season 2 is based on, “Dragonfly in Amber,” Claire is in the 20th century when it begins, but she’s not in 1946. She’s in 1968. But Moore thought that was a little too much of a shock for viewers.
“Essentially I thought it was too much for the audience to swallow at once,” says Moore. “What I loved about, what Gabaldon did in the second book, starting that way was a shock — ‘Did I miss a book? Wait a minute, I thought they were going to France.’ Suddenly you’re in the 20th century, Culloden did happen, she left Jamie in the past, she brought the child forward, holy shit, the whole thing was a failure. That’s a huge amount of material to tell the audience.
“But then on top of it to also say she’s lived 20 years in the future and she’s a doctor and Brianna’s grown and Frank’s dead, I thought that was too much, especially since I’m probably only going to want to stay in the 20th century for roughly 30 minutes in the first episode, like we did in year one. I couldn’t imagine how I could cover all that material plus tell the story of how she came back and all that. It just felt like let’s start at the beginning of the 20th-century story, let’s see how it all began, which is still a shocking change for people who don’t know the book. They’re still going to be like, ‘Whoa, wait a minute, she’s back in the 20th century, how the hell did that happen?'”
The 1946 scenes with Frank (Tobias Menzies) are actually not even in “Dragonfly in Amber.” They’re actually part of “Voyager,” the third book in the series. But Moore thought that was a great jumping-off point for Season 2.
“There’s drama to be had in Claire’s return to Frank happening on screen,” says Moore. “What did she say to Frank? How did she convince him to raise Brianna as his own and why did he agree and what were those first scenes like? That’s juicy stuff. Let’s just start at the beginning. We’ll get to the 1968 stuff in the season, but now we’ll have more of a foundation for what that was all about once we get there.”
He adds, “I hope we preserved that element of surprise without just overloading the audience with too many things.”
Another big change for book readers is how Frank reacts to Claire’s story. In the TV series, he’s much more receptive to what she’s telling him happened to her in the time she’s been missing — but Moore says that’s in line with how “show Frank” already differs from “book Frank.”
“We made some choices in Season 1 that were different than book Frank. Our Frank already started to change in year one from book Frank,” says Moore. “Our Frank has heard the story of the stones from Mrs. Graham. He was told that this was a possibility. He actually went up to Craigh nu Dun, so he at least thought there was a remote possibility that some of this was true. He actually stood on that ground and thought maybe he heard Claire’s voice in the wind, so he traveled an emotional road that book Frank has not.
“So now when she does return, she tells him this crazy story, but he has something to touch on — he has heard this before, it was what Mrs. Graham told him. So [we thought] let’s take him at his word when he said in the pilot, ‘I will love you no matter what.’ Let’s say he really believes that. So she’s going to tell him this story and he’s going to go back to that place and say, ‘I will believe this. I’m going to believe you. I missed you, I love you, OK, moving on — until she says she’s pregnant, he’s right there with her.”