At a cursory glance, it's all too easy to put a show like #Outlander in a box. There's a handsome love interest, plenty of drama, and a ton of steamy sex scenes— oh, and it's based on a series of books adored by women across the globe. It's a show that practically screams "Mills and Boon".
However, it would be remiss to slap such a simplified label on Starz's successful drama, now halfway through filming its third season. It's a show that completely breaks convention when it comes to narrative tropes, as well as subverting expectations of how a show of its nature should be presented. Outlander sets a new precedent for not only its own genre, but quite possibly the future of television.
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The Motivation Behind The Writing
Outlander's daring themes were far from coincidental. The progressive tone of the show is all thanks to author Diana Gabaldon's desire to move away from the less-than-savory themes that abound in the romance genre.
Considering its wild success, it's extraordinary that Outlander was Gabaldon's first ever crack at writing a book. The highly educated scientist set herself the challenge of writing a novel simply to see if she could, and the rest is history.
Gabaldon recently told The Herald Scotland of her initial decision to share her work with online writing communities. The feedback she received compared her writing to romance novels; a genre that remained a complete mystery to Gabaldon. Intrigued, she set out to purchase the three bestselling romance novels at the time— and she wasn't too impressed with what she discovered:
"I’m sure it was complete coincidence, but every single one of them had an 18-year-old virgin heroine and a much older man about 35 or so. In two of the three the heroine was raped before being rescued by the gentleman – I said, 'I am obviously not writing this kind of book'."
Determined to create something entirely different, Gabaldon explored a new dynamic between her two lead characters. Rejecting the traditional rigamarole of a naive, virginal female protagonist being wooed by a virile older man, Gabaldon endeavoured to present the world with the very opposite— and that's exactly how Claire and Jamie came about.
Not Your Typical Couple
In a society still so bound by social convention, Outlander is a complete game-changer. Protagonist Claire is a far cry from the doe-eyed, innocent damsels that are so prevalent in the romance genre. An older and very much empowered woman, she boasts far more sexual experience than Jamie, a 23-year-old virgin, taking on the role as his mentor through his own sexual awakening.
Relationship dynamics aside, the sex scenes themselves are noticeably different from the raunchy romps you'd expect to find on TV these days. For one, there's an emphasis on female pleasure. And while they are undeniably hot, the sex scenes aren't just a ploy to flash the female actor's breasts. It's a little stylized, sure; But Outlander still deals with sex in a much more authentic way than most shows— especially for a story so entrenched in both historic and fantasy elements.
A New Kind Of Female Protagonist
From the very first episode of Outlander, Claire is introduced as an incredibly sexual person. We meet her not long after she's been reunited with Frank, the husband she's long been apart from due to the strains of World War II— and she's eager to make up for lost time. Her sexual confidence is a key aspect to her character, but it doesn't define her.
Claire most definitely fits the archetype of strong, independent female character, which is sadly something of a rarity in most fictional mediums (but especially so on TV). What's really unique about her is that she doesn't have to be broken down in order for her character to find her strength. Sure, she enters the past more than a little bewildered and very scared, but she quickly pulls it together and begins to use her wits to try and get herself out of this strange new scenario.
That's another thing that's so great about Claire: She's bloody smart. An accomplished nurse (and as we find out in Season 2, later, a surgeon), she knows how to make herself an asset, working diligently with both the highlanders of Scotland and the sickly patients of Paris.
She's ambitious, too. Rather than blindly follow her husband around, she seeks out her own purpose, busying herself with her work and finding her own friends— who, it's crucial to note, often have more important matters to discuss than the men in their lives. In terms of her involvement in the Jacobite uprising, Claire and Jamie work as a team, both doing their best to further a cause that they're equally passionate about.
Not Another Damsel In Distress
Claire demonstrates time and time again that she's more than capable of looking after herself, bailing both her and Jamie out of their fair share of sticky situations. This is a value that's represented in not just Claire, but a number of the show's female characters— just check out this video from Starz on the topic:
Admirable as she may be, Claire is far from the perfect woman. She struggles constantly with her own ethical and moral dilemmas, often acting selfishly and letting her heart get in the way of her sensibilities. But it's her faults that make her human, and all the more relatable.
Far From Flawless
Granted, Outlander isn't perfect. It's got its fair share of problematic scenes, and the source material has been called out a number of times. In fact, Season 3 is set to show us some of the books' more controversial scenes.
But it's certainly leaps and bounds ahead of most romantic fiction on modern screens. And while its many themes dictate that it shouldn't be limited to the one genre of romance, Outlander definitely does some incredible work at redefining it. Who knows what Season 3 will hold?
How progressive do you think Outlander really is?
(Source: The Herald Scotland)