…You probably shouldn’t watch this show with your mother.
But, because I’m careless, I did.
Outlander, based on Diana Gabaldon’s hit series of books that, statistically, have been read by someone in your life, is Starz’s biggest new hit. (…Is that hard, you ask? A fair point, but the interest that this show has been gathering is pretty damn incredible.) The show follows Claire, a nurse in the Second World War who is reunited with her husband after almost five years of separation; the two try to reconnect by going on a second honeymoon to Scotland.
Naturally, this trip leads to her traveling back in time to 18th Century Scotland. (We spend most of the first episode waiting for this to happen, the show teasing us with the promise of her jump for around half an hour, as tension seeps through her Scottish wanderings, Claire’s foreboding voiceover adding to the sense that something’s about to happen. And then, of course, it does.)
Like most shows with dumb premises (Sleepy Hollow being the main offender here) Outlander doubles up on its ridiculousness by being incredibly smart. And also, you know, sexy as hell. (The eye-sex in this show is off the charts, people.)
Outlander is mostly drawing comparison to Game of Thrones, but, at least so far, Outlander is much more singularly focused. No one in the show is more interesting than Claire, and rather than Outlander being a political drama, like it can be argued that GOT is, Outlander is just your standard, heroic fantasy show. But you know, with a woman in charge, Claire struggling to put on corsets, and raising her eyebrow when someone tries to justify rape. See? Just like your usual male protagonist.
There’s been a lot said about how Outlander is a show for women. Something that I both hope fades away, and yet don’t want to be ignored, either. On the one hand, people should realize what a great show Outlander is turning out to be, regardless of gender. But on the other, I enjoy that there are more media spaces made for, by and about women that we can reference and refer to one another.
But again, this question never has to be asked about a show featuring men. Anyone will watch shows with male protagonists and characters without question, because men – predominantly those that are white – and their presence are normalized in our media. Outlander, with its time travel and its feminist hero isn’t exactly trying to be any kind of average, but I do hope that male viewers don’t close themselves off to the show based on the idea that just because it’s a show about a woman, it’s therefore solely meant for women. We’re getting there, but media featuring women still has the distinction of raising the question of who exactly these kinds of programmes have been made for. (And the answer usually isn’t men, because apparently it’s questionable to watch a woman hold the kind of power that men are granted without question.) It’s tough being the outsider, and yet, that’s exactly what Claire is.
We’re only two episodes in, and already, she isn’t taking anyone’s prescribed notions of gender to heart. She’s a woman that has just left one war, only to find herself in the midst of another (the Jacobite risings). Something that she is, of course, now acclimatized to. If she were to have stayed in the 1940s with her professor husband, the course of Claire’s life would have been fairly predictable. The men were back from war, and it was time for the women to retire from playing at being workers. But when she falls back in time, Claire falls back into unrest, and into a world where it’s possible for her to make a difference regardless of her gender, because of the upheaval and social change that war throws nations into.
Surely, you would think, Scotland in 1743 would be far more constrictive for women than Britain in 1945. But every era has its feminist challenges (including this one, don’t we know it) and Claire doesn’t seem to be letting any of them get her down. She’s a modern day hero that’s been sent back in time.
…And my mum really liked it too.