One of the themes of Outlander is war and what it does to people–perhaps not surprising since executive producer Ron Moore explored similar ideas in his re-booted Battlestar Galactica series. All four of our main characters (Claire, Jaime, Frank, and Jack) are shaped by what has and what is happening to them during the conflicts they’ve participated in.
As our story opens, we meet two returning veterans, Frank and Claire, just six months after having mustered out of the British Army and still adjusting to each other and to civilian life. Frank, in some respects, has had a harder war than Claire. Frank worked for British Intelligence and, as a result, was involved in a lot of secret missions that he can’t talk about. Claire, at least, can discuss her service as a battlefield nurse openly. The whole reason they are in Inverness is Frank’s interest in genealogy, his escape from his wartime memories.
Their idyll is short-lived as Claire falls through time and winds up essentially fighting for her life behind enemy lines. In some ways, Claire has been thrust back into the military life that she left, traveling with a band of soldiers, patching up the wounded, seeing men fight and die. Claire doesn’t spend her time the way I would –curled in a ball and weeping uncontrollably–but it’s a mistake to think that the constant stress is not affecting her and her actions in the series.
She’s lonely, she’s miserable, she’s drinking too much, she’s irritable, and acting rashly. Through much of the first season, Claire does what a British soldier is supposed to do when captured–stay alive, resist her captors, and look for her chance to escape. When she finally makes that pivotal decision to stay with Jamie and not return home, she’s making a bigger decision than leaving her husband, she’s abandoning her duty as a British soldier and citizen.
I have to wonder what would have happened if she would have told Dougal the truth about her travel through the stones while they were at St. Ninian’s Spring. Dougal is pre-disposed to believe anything she says at this point since anyone who drinks from the spring is supposed to be unable to lie. Would he have taken her back to Craig Na Duan, I wonder, or would he have tried to keep her with him?
The fact that Claire is a woman is the thing that saves her life. If, say, Frank had fallen through the stones, he probably would have had a much harder time to avoid being killed. After all, a woman is not considered a threat (a target, yes, but not a threat) whereas Frank really is a Sassenach spy, although admittedly an ex-one who has worked for a different king.
While Claire is trying to survive the 18th century, back in the 20th century Frank is living out a film noir nightmare. His wife has vanished, the police have given up the search, and even his close friends admit the cause is hopeless. Frank winds up in a bar trying to drown his troubles in the bottom of a shot glass when a dame who’s trouble sits down next to him. That’s when things get even more gnoirly (that’s gnarly and noir together).
We’re never told what exactly Frank did when he was part of British military intelligence. The implication we’re given is that he was some kind of paper pusher, but Frank displays a set of street smarts we don’t expect from a desk jockey. The dame lures Frank down a dark alley where he’s jumped by a couple of thugs. Things look bleak for our boy until he pulls out his blackjack (and what’s a nice historian doing with that kind of street weapon in his trench coat pocket we’d like to know) and delivers an impressive and brutal beat down on his attackers.
To quote The Wolfman, “even a man who’s pure of heart and says his prayers at night may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the moon is full and bright.” Frank discovered just how close to the surface his own inner monster is. How often has it been unleashed before, we wonder? [Incidentally, just purely coincidence that Tobias Menzies will be playing a Lycan werewolf in the next Underworld movie and my thinking of this werewolf poem, but ya gotta admire the synchronicity].
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