'Outlander' Finale Postmortem: Ronald D. Moore Explains Why It Had to Be That Brutal
Fellow time travelers, we have come to the end of our Season 1 Outlander journey. It will be months before we get to watch the ginger and his knocked-up gal pal’s Parisian escapades. Even worse, it will be months before the Highland heinie’s next cameo.
But before the idea of a Sassenach-less summer sends you on a Rhenish bender, Yahoo TV has one last postmortem Q&A to stem the tidal wave of tears — and hopefully help you heal after that emotionally-draining final hour. Executive producer Ronald D. Moore talks with us about the controversial Black Jack-Jamie prison scenes in “To Ransom a Man’s Soul,” what it was like to air after the Game of Thrones rape controversy, and his overall satisfaction with Season 1. He was also kind enough to indulge a few Season 2 queries, so if you don’t want to know anything, there’s a glass of Collum’s finest calling.
Congratulations, you managed to get all the way through book one without hardcore fans calling for your head.
[Laughs.] There were probably a few close calls around the wedding episode, but I feel very good about Season 1, and about how the show was received by hardcore fans of Diana [Gabaldon]’s books as well as by the general audience whose first Outlander experience was the TV series. I think it was a successful year.
The finale was filled with heavy, gut-wrenching scenes to watch — the torture, rape, and psychological breakdown of Jamie, the shame that followed, and his eventual admission to Claire. Were you ever worried about how the audience would respond to just how dark you dared to go?
Well, sure, you are always concerned about audience response. We are not making this show in a vacuum, and we are making it to be watched and enjoyed — although that feels like a weird word to use here. So when you are writing, shooting, and ultimately cutting it together, I am always looking at it with an eye toward how the audience will receive it. My guidepost was my own sense of what is too much and what is not enough. I would look at the scenes and say to myself, “What is the point at which I cannot watch this anymore?” And that was always the line. If I turned away, then we would cut it back. But on the other side, if I felt we were shying away simply because it was hard to watch, being too coy, or not doing such an important plot point and such a life-altering trauma justice…
Why did you choose to show things so graphically?
Because the truth of it is the most important thing to me. The story was taking us to this place. The story was putting these two men in that prison cell, and this is the tale Diana told, and it is an important, intense moment in all of their lives, and it will alter the course of everything, so we had to honor that and tell the tale as truthfully and as emotionally as we could. We didn’t want to tell the PG version just because that would be easier to watch. We trusted that the audience would go there with us. The audience is smart, tough, and invested in this story by this point, at least you hope they are, so they will go with you as long as you give the story the respect it deserves. Of course, you have to do it in a way that doesn’t make them feel like you are taking advantage of them, or being exploitative, or milking their emotions unnecessarily. Those are all very subjective things, so you try to make the best decisions as you are doing it.
Strange coincidence that Game of Thrones featured a rape scene that caused quite a commotion online two weeks before your finale was going to air. Did the response make you nervous for the reception your finale would receive?
When I read the book, I knew that it would be a shocking moment in broadcasting. So throughout the entire filming and editing process, we knew we were ending on this huge, inevitably controversial moment and tried to work our way to it and earn it with the viewers. The timing with Game of Thrones, who I think we share a good number of fans with, was interesting. It stirred up a lot of controversy. It was unexpected that our episode will now be viewed in that context, but it doesn’t change how I feel about how we handled it. I’m sure there will be people who will hate it and be upset by it, and I am sure there will be people who will think it is well done.
Some of our readers posted criticism after the penultimate episode saying that the sex scenes and torture were gratuitous. Then others defended the intensity as necessary. What would you say to those who chastised you?
I would disagree. That said, every reaction is valid, and they are going to feel what they feel. I can’t argue with how a person responds, but I can tell you what our intent was and why we made certain choices. We did not try to go over the top. We went to these places because that’s where the book took us. We set out to make a faithful, interesting adaptation of Diana’s book. That’s our story. The books have huge followings, and those fans have read them many, many times, so that story obviously worked. The end is part of this story, a big important part of the story. This is the culmination of that story arc. We had to go there, too. Our intent was to play the horror of this, and to make the audience suffer with the characters and ultimately release you, and get to that beach and that boat and instill the hope of a better day tomorrow.
I appreciated that you didn’t gloss over it simply because rape, especially between two men, is hard to stomach and not shown very often on screen. You could have easily not shown it and instead implied it or discussed it in dialogue.
To me, that would have been such a cowardly move. We decided to face it and not shy away from it simply because that’s what a lot of other people would do. This is one of those places that you don’t often take your male hero. This is one of those things that a lot of your audience will be uncomfortable with, but we needed to do it anyway because again, we committed to telling this story and this is the story Diana wrote.
Will this continue to affect Jamie and his relationship with Claire in season 2?
It will definitely have repercussions for him and for their relationship into the second season. If you know the books, you know that throughout the whole series of books, Jamie never fully lets this experience go. It may not be there in every moment or storyline, but it continues to haunt him and the emotions resurface throughout his life. We will treat it the same way. It certainly doesn’t dominate the second season, but it is now a part of who he is.
And Claire’s pregnancy will obviously be a major story?
The pregnancy definitely figures heavily into Season 2. It is certainly motivation for changing the outcome of the rebellion. Season 2 is more political, especially when they are in France.
Lucky, you already got experience with fake bellies with Geillis and Jenny.
We have some extra belly laying around. It’s still TV, man. We have to find ways to shave a dollar here and there.
Is there anything you regret about Season 1? Anything you would change or do differently?
I am pretty satisfied. There are always deleted scenes along the way that you are disappointed didn’t make it into the show, but there isn’t anything that didn’t get in that I am kicking myself about now. There’s nothing I would change about Season 1. Some of those might end up on the DVD. By and large, I’m happy with the changes and the cuts we made. It was a strong season, and we are quite proud of it. I was glad we got 16 episodes so we could give the audience a chance to really sink into the world and connect with the characters. The pace and plot starts to pick up in subsequent books. Things happen quickly, so the first season/book really gives us time to detail this time and universe.
What do you think will be the most challenging aspect of Season 2?
Just the scale of it. It is grander. It is more political. It is Paris. Nothing that we created for Season 1 is relevant for 2. We have to make new sets, new clothes, new props. Instead of pastoral, rural Scotland, we will be in urban Paris where even the fabrics are different. We are also shooting outside of Scotland. It is basically a new show, and inventing a new show is exciting and terrifying simultaneously.
Will French be treated in the same way as Gaelic or translated?
There will be French, but it will be subtitled because both Claire and Jamie speak that language. It is not the same concept as the Gaelic. Claire didn’t understand Gaelic, and it is told from her perspective, so I wanted the audience to be lost like her. But in Paris, pretty much everyone speaks the language, so we should understand what is being said as well.
How are the actors’ French lessons coming along?
They are all coming along well. Probably easier than Gaelic. Cait spent years living in Paris as a model, so she already spoke fluently and that helps tremendously.
Did that play into your decision to hire her?
No. I didn’t know at the time we cast her. Just a happy coincidence. Of course, we lucked out with her in every conceivable way.
I hear shooting will take you guys to Southern England and Prague, both of which will stand in for France. Did you guys look into shooting in France?
Yes, but there wasn’t really a moment where shooting in Paris seemed practical. It would be more expensive, but also Paris obviously doesn’t look today like it did in the 18th century. So you start looking around for where you can find streets that still look like 18th century Paris, or interiors to sub for Versailles, an apartment or a hospital from that era. We looked around Scotland first, because we were hoping to keep as much of it there as we could because we are set up there already. Prague came up quite early in the search because our line producer had shot there before. It didn’t quite fit all of our requirements, so we looked at the estates and palaces of Southern England. You assemble this mosaic, but a majority of the interiors will be built at our studio.
Will we follow other characters back in Scotland while the others are in France?
We will be with Claire and Jamie in France, but eventually they go back to Scotland. The show will not return to Scotland until they do.
Season 2 will also herald a return to Tobias Menzies as Frank.
Frank is a great character. We will do some flashbacks, or I guess flash forwards, to Claire and Frank’s life in the 20th century. I think that is a nice component of the show. Tobias is a tremendous actor, so we jump at any opportunity to keep him in the show.
Have you cast fan favorites Roger or Brianna?
No, not yet. We shoot out of sequence in TV, so we have not had to make those decisions yet and we’re fine. There was never going to be as much pressure as there was for finding the right Claire or Jamie. Once we cracked that, I felt people decided they could trust us to cast well.