PASADENA, Calif. _ Caitriona Balfe's character went through emotional hell during season one of "Outlander." Claire Randall is sent back in time, marries a man she barely knows, is accused of being a witch and is sexually assaulted.

And that was all in the first half of the season. Later came an unforgettable episode with her 18th-century husband, Jamie (Sam Heughan). All of it will serve as a jumping-off point as the second season of the series based on the books by Diana Gabaldon launches on Starz on Saturday (April 9).

"The second half of the season was very intense," Balfe says, "especially with what they are calling the 'punishment scene.' It was a very traumatic thing for her to go through as a woman but also in the framework of this man she loves and trusts. It was a very deep psychic wound for them, but they get through it.

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"It was very difficult for her to watch the man that she loves go through that and know on some level it was because of her."

The brutal assault of Jamie created an emotionally draining scene to perform and watch. Balfe says she learned a long time ago that actors have to be very careful with exposing their own emotions when doing dark scenes, lest they end up exhausted or crazy.

Those dark scenes were played so strongly that Balfe picked up a Golden Globe nomination.

She was able to handle the scene because of the smart writing done under the guidance of Ronald D. Moore, executive producer of the series, and the strong cast. Both will be tested again this season as the relationship between Claire and Jamie faces more challenges.

Claire must put aside her 20th century thinking to face her new world. The second season opens with Claire and Jamie arriving in France. Their task is to infiltrate the Jacobite rebellion so they can stop the battle of Culloden. Failure to do so could mean the end of Scottish life.

Instead of the wilderness world of the first season, the couple find themselves in the lavish world of French society.

"Claire gets to stay in one place for an extended period of time and even though they have this goal of changing the course of history, there is some semblance of a normalcy in life," Balfe says. But, "as with all of Diana's writing, nothing stays solid for very long."

Balfe says the biggest difference between seasons is Claire's perspective. In season one, Claire was mostly a passive observer to events in her life. This year, Claire will become more active in trying to maneuver through her relationship with Jamie, especially in dealing with what happened to him at the end of the first season.

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There's also a pregnancy. These elements are giving Balfe more avenues to pursue. Expect to see Balfe pushed to the edge emotionally because of all that has happened to her since being ripped out of her own time period.

The 36-year-old Irish actress has been looking for good roles most of her life. After starting her career as a model, she made the leap to acting in 2011 with a role in "Super 8." She's also appeared in "Crush," "Now You See Me" and "Escape Plan."

"Outlander" has given her a very complex role to play. Despite all that has happened, Balfe says she has always seen Claire as a very hopeful character.

"You couldn't bounce back from all of those things if you didn't have an enormous well of hope, if you didn't have an understanding of the goodness in humanity," Balfe says. "That's a very strong characteristic of her.

"It will never be completely extinguished in her but it definitely takes a knocking in this season."

Posted by:Rick Bentley, Fresno Bee