SPOILER ALERT: This story contains details of tonight’s Outlander Season 2 finale.
After a dazzling 13-episode run that saw Outlander in the 18th century salons and intrigue of Louis XV’s Paris, the Jacobite uprising and then back among the Scottish highlands, the Starz series led by Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan wrapped up its second season tonight with renewed hope. It also saw the end for a major character, revelations in many eras, and a trip back through the Craigh na Dun stones from the late 1960s to the late 1740s for Balfe’s Claire.
As fans of the Diana Gabaldon books on which the sensual Outlander TV series is based know and viewers discovered in the 90-minute finale, it seems Heughan’s Jamie Fraser did not die at English hands at the Battle of Culloden, but War Chieftain Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish) did meet his end tonight — at Jamie’s hand.
Deep into production on Season 3 of the series, executive producer Ronald D. Moore spoke with me about tonight’s finale, crafting the now-concluded cycle and changes it saw from the Dragonfly In Amber novel on which it was based. The show won’t be at Comic-Con this year, but the former Battlestar Galactica EP also discussed adapting Gabaldon’s 1993 book Voyager for the next season and whether the author will pen a script. Moore also sketched out plans for Season 4 of the show from Sony Pictures Television and Left Bank Pictures and how he thinks Outlander will fare in Emmy nominations this week.
DEADLINE: Season 1’s finale may have been more brutal, but this year’s ender certainly matched it for dramatic twists — especially the killing of Dougal. How do you think fans will react?
MOORE: If they don’t know the books, I think they will be surprised and shocked that we killed Dougal MacKenzie because he’s such a great character and such a powerful force. Especially since Colum (Gary Lewis) just died the week before, and you would think that there would be a long route to go with Dougal. I assume that the broadcast audience was assuming that we would see Dougal fighting to the death at Culloden, right? He would be one of the principal players in that story, so I think it will come as a pretty big surprise.
DEADLINE: Last season ended with the rape scene with Black Jack and with Jamie, about which there was a huge and shocked response from fans. This season finale had a different tone. Was that intentional?
MOORE: It was certainly intentional what we went for, but I don’t think we set out to set it apart from Season 1. It just had its own kind of organic feeling to it. It had a different rhythm and a different kind of overarching idea to what we were doing in the finale this year. Last year’s finale was a one-off, that was where that story ended. I don’t think the show or the book set out to try to top themselves each year or at the end of each book. That was the end of that story, and this one is the end of this story.
DEADLINE: Now that you are even deeper into the series and hence the books with Outlander, how do you balance the small-screen adaptation to keep both audiences involved?
MOORE: I’m constantly trying to keep both audiences in mind. It’s a source of ongoing conversation in the writers room and in editing. It’s my job to keep my eye on both those audiences. I know the books, but I always have to try and watch the show with a mind toward if I don’t know the books, if it doesn’t make any sense to me, I have to ask, “Am I engaged by it emotionally? Is it a great piece of entertainment whether or not I’ve read the source material?”
And I always go to my own experience on Game Of Thrones. I watch Game Of Thrones. I think it’s great, I enjoy it, but I’ve never read those books, and so there are definitely times, especially in some of the earlier seasons, where I was lost. I would have to hit pause and turn to my wife and say, “OK, wait a minute, who is that and how did this happen?” and then she would explain it and I would watch the show again.
So with Outlander, I’m always remembering my own experience as viewer who doesn’t know the source material, and using that to sort of help guide me through Outlander because they are very different audiences. I think it’s easy for us to sort of start with the fan experience that knows the books so well because we know the books now. So, as we’re outlining the show and as we’re writing the show, we know what the major tentacles are, we know what the backstories are, we know the narrative, and we’re moving this around — and it’s OK because this is what happened later, so we have all that stuff locked in. It’s the other audience that you have to take a step back for. I kind of see it as my job to constantly try to keep the broadcast-only audience engaged with it.
DEADLINE: To that end, you made a number of strategic changes from Dragonfly In Amber the book to Outlander the second season – all of which in many ways saw us end where things started, in the UK of the 20th century…
MOORE: I mean, the biggest change we made obviously was starting in the 1940s instead of starting in 1968. That was the biggest change from the book. I just felt that at the beginning of the season it was too big of a leap to take the audience from Claire and Jamie on the ship sailing off to France to then suddenly jump all the way to 1968 and reveal that not only did Claire return to the 20th century, but she has a grown daughter and she’s a surgeon, and the reverend’s dead and Frank’s dead, and it’s just like, whoa — traumatically that was just too much.
So I thought, “l right, let’s start in a little bit more chronological way. Let’s start with her return to the 1940s, establish that she’s with Frank and going to have a child, because even though that alone is still a huge leap for the audience, it’s not quite as big.” So from that point, then it was sort of letting the 18th century story pick up the balance of the season while touching base every once in a while, reminding the audience that actually this is all doomed to failure, and then catching up with 1968 at the end and intercutting that with the 18th century story in the last chapter, because I thought that that would be an interesting juxtaposition.
I like the idea that we’re going to take this 20-year leap forward in the 20th century and then catch up with adult Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and a more mature Claire, seeing that she really lived all those years and her life is moving on, while simultaneously telling the audience the last few moves of Claire and Jamie in Culloden and timing it all so that the moment that Claire goes back to the stones and leaves him behind to his doom, we also find out that actually he survived and now the Claire that lived those 20 years realizes that she needs to go back. I thought that would kind of bring everything together in a nice way.
DEADLINE: Are you planning on taking a similar approach with the Voyager book and Season 3?
MOORE: Yeah, some things get moved around, but the third book is not nearly the same challenge as the second book is. Voyager is a little bit more of a straight-ahead narrative and the adaptation process has already proven easier in the writers room because the structure is a little bit more straightforward.
Even in the first season we resequenced things and moved certain elements around, so that’s just part of doing an adaptation, but it’s just not as big a hill to climb in the third season, so we’re all feeling pretty optimistic and pretty good about where the third season is taking us.
DEADLINE: Where are you guys in terms of production and the writers room on Season 3?
MOORE: The writers room is well underway, and we have scripts for the first two, three episodes. We’ve broken stories up to like Episode 8, 9 or 10, and we’re in that range right now in the writers room, which we don’t have formal outlines and all, but we’ve been actively breaking stories. So we have a pretty good sense of where the balance of the season is going. We’re in preproduction at the moment. We won’t start shooting again until late August, early September.
DEADLINE: Will Diana be writing a script in Season 3 like she did with Season 2’s episode 11 “Vengeance Is Mine”?
MOORE: I don’t know. We haven’t talked about it. We’ll see what happens. I know she’s busy with her next book, so we’ll see how it all turns out.
DEADLINE: Voyager has a lot of scenes on the high seas, so are you still going to shoot in Scotland, like you did in Season 2, and make that look work like you did 18th century France this year?
MOORE: Possibly. We’ve got to figure out; that element is a big one. Also, you know, after the sea voyage they end up in Jamaica — which doesn’t look a lot like Scotland either. So we are actively scouting other locations and having conversations about where to do both of those things, but our production base will still be primarily in Scotland.
I think everything’s on the table at this point. It’s a big undertaking to try to figure out where to do all those sequences. So I’m sure there’ll be some CGI wizardry involved. It’s a big puzzle, but we’ve got time to figure it out because the first half of the season takes place easily in Scotland and in Boston. So we have all those things to do before we even get to the high seas and the Caribbean.
DEADLINE: Outlander got a two-season pickup from Starz last month, so where are you at, if anywhere, with Season 4 and adapting the America colonies-based Drums of Autumn?
MOORE: We’re only just sort of talking in very general terms about Four. I mean, we know what the broad outlines are of it, but right now the lion’s share of our attention is on Three. Still, having the two-season pickup makes all that easier because you can sort of put Four over here to the side for a moment knowing that you’re going to do it. Then, as we get deeper into Season 3 — the planning, logistics — we’ll get closer and closer to start talking in earnest about Four.
Also, the writers will start turning their attention to Season 4 while this season is still underway. So we’ll write all the scripts for Season 3, get them all in train, get them all starting to prep, and then the whole writing staff will start to work on Season 4 while we’re still shooting this one. That gives us a big leg up, get on schedule and production and budget and all that — it’s enormously helpful.
DEADLINE: The Emmy nominations are going to be announced July 14. Season 1 garnered only an Original Dramatic Score nom, but at the Golden Globes this year, Caitriona was up for Best Actress in a TV Drama, Tobias Menzies was up for Best Supporting, and the show was up fro Best TV Series – Drama. So how do you think things look this time round for the Emmys?
MOORE: You know, you’re very hopeful, but I’ve been around this game long enough that it’s just such a crap-shoot that you really have no idea. So I’m not holding my breath, and we’ll just take what comes. It’ll be nice to score in any of those categories. I certainly think that the show is at a level that deserves recognition, but it’s really hard to say. The Academy is the Academy. I mean, I’m a member and I don’t know why the Academy votes one way or the other; it’s all a mysterious process and it depends on who votes and who doesn’t, and we’ll just have to wait and see.