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  • Lynette Mejia

Book vs. Screen: Outlander, Season 3, Ep. 6, "A. Malcolm"

As it's undoubtedly been the most anticipated episode of this season, I thought I'd start a new series of posts on book adaptations by taking a look at this week's episode of Outlander, the Starz hit television show based on Diana Gabaldon's series of books about the time traveling Claire Fraser and her family.

Though I understand that time constraints often alter the story when in translation from book to screen, I'm generally a fan of screen adaptations that stay close to the source material. Maybe this is because, as a writer, I can imagine it hurts to see one's creations changed fundamentally, even if those changes end up being good decisions. This is your baby, after all; you've sweated and cried and worked hard to bring it into existence. Who wants to be told their baby needs to be a little more trim?

This is one of the things I've always liked about Outlander's adaptation. Most of the changes are careful and considered, and it stays pretty darned close to the book. The emphasis is on adapting Gabaldon's story for the screen, not on using her broad strokes to create something vastly different and almost universally inferior.

Initial thoughts on this particular episode: One thing the Starz series has always done well is to retain the sense of Claire's feminism, and this episode was a reminder of that. Though the book and show could both very easily have descend into a yawn-inducing bodice-ripper, both are careful not only to insist on Claire's enthusiastic consent to sex, but on giving her equal power in the relationship. It's an interesting way to throw tension and sometimes conflict into her interactions with historical characters (most especially with Jamie), but it also signals that the story's creators are aware of their own place in history, and are actively working to push the boundaries of modern expectations as well.

That said, however, I wasn't entirely pleased with this episode. Point one: I do wish the show had done a better job of aging the characters. Twenty years is a long time, especially considering that Claire and Jamie are far from teenagers even when they meet and wed. It's therefore completely unrealistic to expect that approaching 50 would only mean Jamie's need for glasses and a tiny streak of grey in Claire's hair. (which she'd dyed before leaving the twentieth century - a point which I don't think is in character with a woman too practical to concern herself with those kinds of vanities). Besides, what's wrong with the two lovers having aged? For my part I enjoy Claire and Jamie much more in their older-and-wiser incarnations, and I wish the show had allowed the characters to explore more of what's changed between them, physically, in the time they've spent apart. These two people, who vowed to spend the rest of their lives together, have aged separately. There's a profoundness in that, and in their new acceptance of one another, each with new limitations. The show did briefly touch on it, I think an opportunity for tenderness and discovery was missed there.

Which brings me to my next point. Though I do think the show handled the sex scenes between the long-separated lovers quite well, I have to say I liked Gabaldon's description of their initial reunion in the print shop much better.

"I shook so that it was some time before I realized that he was shaking, too, and for the same reason. I don't know how long we sat there on the dusty floor, crying in each other's arms with the longing of twenty years spilling down our faces.

His fingers twined hard in my hair, pulling it loose so that it tumbled down my neck. The dislodged pins cascaded over my shoulders and pinged on the floor like pellets of hail. My own fingers were clasped around his forearm, digging into the linen as though I were afraid he would disappear unless physically restrained."

I love that image of the two of them, not kissing passionately, but sitting quietly, twined together on the floor, crying their hearts out in grief for the time they've lost and in joy for the time they've suddenly been granted. The rawness of it, and of their emotion, rings true and sincere, and I think it would have been worth it to try and bring that to the screen.

Despite the above quibbles, I do think that overall the show managed to convey the feeling of the reunion well, though it could have done a better job handling the emotional heavy lifting that the book managed so effortlessly. Was it as good as the book? Probably not. But honestly, for a bibliophile like me, they almost never are.

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