BY EMILY GAGNE
I’ll admit that when I walked into a media screening and party for the first episode of Outlander earlier this week, I wasn’t expecting too much. Aside from my knowledge of my mom’s ongoing reading of the book series it’s based on, I didn’t really know much about the plot of the show and what I did know–’40s nurse accidentally travels back to 18th century Scotland and has to choose between the man she left behind and the man she falls for in her new home!–didn’t particularly intrigue me. You see, I’m not one for either historical dramas or epic, sweeping romances, so I figured that this series wouldn’t really be for me. But then once I had a taste of the series, I reverted back to the girl who was picked up by a few Highlanders (some costumed guys literally lifted me for a impromptu photo shoot at this party!) and tried haggis for the first time earlier that evening. I wanted more. Ohhhh, I wanted more.
While I’m still a little unsure on the time travel specifics of this show (and certainly don’t want to spoil them for the uninitiated), I am positive of one thing: this show is the most female sex-friendly series since Masters of Sex. From the start of the premiere, we get to see our leading lady, Claire (Caitriona Balfe), getting hers in the bedroom sense. Within the first five minutes, she’s bracing herself on a table as her 1940s-set love interest Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies) goes down on her spontaneously in a seemingly dirty cabin (very Harlequin, but also very sexy). Shortly thereafter, we see her in bed with Frank and taking full control as she doesn’t just lie there and let her ravage her, but instead pretty much ravages him.
There is a scene in the first episode where someone tries to make Claire feel bad about her sexual urges, but that’s really the only time her friskiness is treated as anything but natural, and that’s where we can start comparing the show to Showtime’s feminist sexual manifesto. It seems as though we are meant to treat (and rightfully so) Claire as we do Lizzy Caplan’s Virginia Johnson, viewing her sexuality as both an innate part of her persona, but also not the only thing that defines her. Because much like with Virginia, the scenes of Claire coming out on top in the sheets are equally balanced with scenes of her coming out on top professionally. And that’s going to continue, I’m told (by my mom and Showcase) as the books and the series go on.
I did worry that once Claire was in 18th century Scotland and in the presence of her soon-to-be Highlander lover Jamie (Sam Heughan), she was going to forget about how good she was at her nursing gig in real time. But right away she starts applying her skills, helping dress the wounds of Jamie’s crew with the only kind of rubbing alcohol available back then: alcohol. Admittedly, it might be a bit unrealistic that Claire would accepted as a power figure so quickly in that society, given that women were not liberated back then and generally expected to follow the standard steps of patriarchy (Step 1: Make me dinner. Step 2: Clean up my dinner. Step 3: Screw me, but only on my terms. Step 4: Sweep our rustic kitchen. Step 4: Repeat without complaint). But this is also a fantasy series, and don’t we all fantasize about fiction (and, I suppose, reality) where women with strong tendencies and desires can act on them?
The only downside of Outlander premiering this Sunday at 10 p.m. ET/PT in Canada is that it has to go head-to-head with Masters of Sex on The Movie Network/Movie Central and Showtime, meaning we’re asked to choose between two of the most important dramatic series for our gender right now (luckily, Sunday’s other female-powered powerhouse, The Good Wife, is on at 9 p.m. in Canada starting Sunday, Sept. 21). But the fact that we have come to this moment is something to celebrate. Perhaps over haggis. Or whiskey. Or kilted men carrying you around. Or whatever you get off on.
Outlander debuts on Showcase this Sunday, Sept. 24 at 10 p.m. ET/PT. It airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on STARZ in the U.S.