What is It About Outlander?

Sing Me a Song of the Best Fans at New York Comic Con

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – OCTOBER 05: (L-R) Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Duncan Lacroix, Maria Doyle Kennedy, David Berry, Ron Moore Maril Davis and Diana Gabaldon speak onstage during a panel for STARZ “Outlander” at NYCC 2019 on October 05, 2019 at Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for STARZ)

I was one of the first to walk into the Javits Center on Saturday morning, but as soon as I spotted a clutch of women dressed in tartan bustles, I knew I was already too late. All the plaid hoopskirts were headed to the same place I was–to see the Outlander cast do a 15-minute interview on the Live Stage. I followed the closest Sassenach to the taping area and it seemed totally appropriate to wait there for the next two hours. For you, dear reader, I endured two hours next to a popcorn machine belching out an oleaginous cloud that was at total odds with my dream of kilted Scotsmen and coming home to Lallybroch.

Worth it.

In the last two days, I attended screenings and panels for Watchmen, Lost in Space, For All Mankind, Picard, Castle Rock, and Outlander. No fans were as loud, enthusiastic, or as appreciative as the Outlander crowd. No other show showcased family bonds rather than ultra-violence. And no other panel included and revered the author the way that Outlander did. And no other cast had as much true intimacy with one another.

What is it about Outlander? Yes, the actors are stunning and the NSFW bits are pretty much dynamite. It’s a time-shifting romance series that could easily have become ridiculous after the first time a character touched a moldy old standing rock in Inverness. Instead, it just gets better. Season 3 in particular is a master class on pain, memory, and living half a life without your beloved. As Caitriona Balfe put it during the panel, the twenty years apart don’t matter to Claire and Jamie, since “Their hearts and souls are ageless with each other.”

If you’ve slogged through The Fiery Cross, the basis for season 5, then you know what to expect: about 500 more pages than there ought to be about making penicillin. But even reading the series won’t help you discern the plot points. Diana Gabaldon joked that “when I kill ‘em, they stay dead,” but that hardly explains why Duncan Lacroix, aka Murtagh Fitzgibbons Fraser, was sitting front and center on the stage. Producer Ronald Moore broke with the books and kept Murtagh, and it’s clear that the overstuffed Fiery Cross will be pared down to a neat 13 or so episodes.

During both their brief Live Stage appearance and the panel at Hulu Theater, the cast refused spoilers. But here’s what I gleaned:

Maria Kennedy Doyle would rather drink a shot of whisky onstage (and she did) than answer any questions about Aunt Jocasta. Sam Heughan laughed and called her “Mrs. Blooper” as her habit is to talk too much. Kennedy also spoke movingly about the loneliness in playing a blind character, as she is never able to meet anyone in the eye while on set. She deeply appreciates the chance to have a passionate love affair with Murtagh, as she said to much applause, “to show that love exists beyond people in the twenties.” Since Jocasta will appear in season 5, it’s safe to assume that she and Murtagh (lucky, lucky Jocasta) will continue their relationship.

Duncan Lacroix, whose presence onscreen convinced the show’s producers to bring him back from the dead, is a formidable actor with a generous soul. He was full of praise for his co-stars, especially Kennedy, and wore an Outlander t-shirt with Caitriona Balfe on it. He gave no clues about how Murtagh would escape colonial string ‘em up justice, but he did volunteer that Murtagh’s theme song would be the Motörhead classic “Ace of Spades.”

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – OCTOBER 05: Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan speak onstage during a panel for STARZ “Outlander” at NYCC 2019 on October 05, 2019 at Hulu Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City. (Photo by Michael Kovac/Getty Images for STARZ)

Lord John, played by David Berry, will also appear in season 5. In fact, Gabaldon revealed that Lord John and Jamie will end the season by absquatulating together. Look it up–Berry joked he didn’t know what it meant, but he was glad to do it with Sam Heughan. Gabaldon revealed that the much-anticipated ninth book in the Outlander series was going to be a monster. She estimated at least several inches thick. In other words, don’t hold your breath.

Sam Heughan spoke about what it meant for Jamie to live for twenty years without Claire. Jamie knows that Claire is his ultimate destruction, but that his life has no meaning without her. The two actors have worked together for six years, and their friendship is obvious and palpable, and the two are now producers on the show. Heughan described a scene they’d just shot where they “are making love without making love,” and while he blushed onstage, that is how deep the intimacy is between Claire and Jamie. David Berry instantly asked if they perhaps had phone sex. “Nah,” said Heughan. “All emojis.” Besides, any true fan knows a scene like that already occurred in season 3, when Claire and Jamie are standing in line to meet the new governor of Jamaica.

Caitriona Balfe, resplendent in green, graciously accepted a birthday gift and a chorus of “Happy Birthday To You” from the thousands of fans in MSG. She almost said too much–Claire is going to find something, and my guess is that it’s penicillin. Balfe fielded the most questions from the audience, most of whom thanked her for representing a deeply intelligent woman who finds more strength in the past than in 1960s Boston. One fan asked a question that certainly made the producers nervous. She said she’d be visiting Scotland this year and was told the cast would be filming at Midhope Castle, which is the stand in for Lallybroch. Everyone looked at each other but no one really answered. A return to Lallybroch means only one thing: Jenny! A fan can only dream.

 

Rebecca Kurson

Rebecca Kurson writes about literature, pop culture, television, science fiction and music. Her work has appeared in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus, Observer, The Federalist and Rodale's Organic Life.

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