Dragonfly in Amber: Reflections on the book & the TV adaptation

By theurb03

            So Season 2 ended (with a bang I think!) and “Dragonfly in Amber” (aka DIA) beckoned me from my bookshelf as Droughtlander began. I read DIA for the first time after Season 2 ended. This was a theme I began after seeing Season 1 and then reading the first book “Outlander”. All of this opened a door to an Outlander Wonderland for me!

            Many fans are so intimately familiar with the books before a season starts that they already have the road paved for them and know where it will lead. At times the show’s Producers have taken creative license with some elements of plots or characters and leave devoted book fans surprised. The Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore explained that he likes to keep fans on their toes and I think that idea harkens to his television experience: Always leave them guessing and wanting more so they tune in the following week!

            When Season 1 and 2 began, my road was uncharted and with each new episode the story’s foundation and scaffolding were constructed but only so far as each episode unfolded. Before Season 2 started I really didn’t want to know the story because part of what made my Outlander Season 1 TV experience so fruitful was not having any preconceived idea of the journey that lay ahead. After reading both books I felt like they enriched my TV experience by giving more depth to a character’s thought process or backstory. It answered questions for me that the show didn’t. It offered crunchy, character-driven moments that I could sink my teeth into and exclaim, “Oh!”.

            Now after reading DIA a few times, these are a few of my thoughts on how some of the book’s moments were translated to the show whether successfully or not. These are solely my opinions and the page notations are from the mass market edition. I haven’t read Voyager (yet) so I can only comment on DIA and Season 2 as they are written and shown.



Manipulative Claire or Ingenuous Claire?


Outlander Season 2 2016


            In the book, a major reason why Claire returns to Scotland with her daughter Brianna is for the purpose of unveiling the truth of her paternity (and in a way to free herself of the past). Claire is a woman of action and the methodical planning she undertakes to reveal Brianna’s biological father speaks to her streak of manipulation: Return to Scotland, go to Reverend Wakefield’s home to meet Roger, and then ask him to help her discover who exactly died at the Battle of Culloden. She’s masterful as she weaves a web and pulls in those around her. Whether telling Brianna about her journey through the stones or revealing Roger’s genealogical connection to Gillian Edgars/Geillis Duncan, Claire aims to unburden herself but in so doing, she subconsciously seeks for the other person to share her burden as well.

            Though she may be manipulative it doesn’t make her a bad person. At times that ability to coerce others, even under false pretense as we see in France, can be advantageous but in the chapters with Brianna and Roger, I find that her manipulation can blow a cold wind on me. There are moments of quiet sadness like habitually swallowing the “faint thickening” in her throat (pg.18) or “letting the dark outside come fill the empty spaces inside” her (pg 19). These moments humanize her and we glimpse how she attempts to stuff away her emotions as they bubble up after twenty years.

            In the show’s finale, the writers remove this dubious quality and instead frame the reunion between Claire and Roger as more happenstance: “We were staying with relatives down in London when we heard.” Instead of Claire planning to tell Brianna about Jamie, we have an inquisitive daughter seeking answers about a mysterious past, discovering an apparent affair, and then confronting her mother. Claire is then forced to divulge the story that she had only just closed the door on.

Courtesy of Outlander Online

Courtesy of Outlander-Online.com


            I’m not sure which Claire I prefer – Manipulative Claire or Ingenuous Claire? If the show made her calculating and scheming would we as audience members be on her side? Could you resist the tug of your heart tearing as you listen to her goodbye at Jamie’s grave or as she sat on the steps of Lallybroch reminiscing about her ghosts? On the flip side, would she have more agency if she deliberately planned to travel to Scotland and then tell Brianna the truth instead of appearing passive in the show? It’s possible that she could have been written more like the book and still had moments of emotional vulnerability. I’m not sure where I stand. I find both versions equally compelling and complicated.


Dreams of Frank




How does Claire talk about Frank in the book?

When Brianna asks Claire if she misses him, Claire says:


            “Yes…We didn’t always get on, you know that, but…yes. We respected each other; that counts for a lot. And we liked each other, inspite of everything. Yes, I do miss him.” (pg 47)

            Later the story jumps back in time and after bumping into Alexander Randall, Claire dreams of Frank conducting a lecture in front of his students. She then wakes up with tears that Jamie has to brush away (pg 189). Even he acknowledges that Claire still holds a love for Frank albeit quite different than what they share.

            I feel like in the book, Claire has an affection for Frank that endures through 1968. If they were together for twenty years, there had to have been some good times between them. Perhaps their respect for the other carried them through all the compromise and, I imagine, painful times of their “post-Scotland” marriage.

            On the other hand (Get it? Two rings, one on each…), in the show, Caitriona Balfe’s performance provides a sharp nuance that reveals a reticence. I feel like any affection is misplaced with an abrasive edge that speaks more to a compromised, passion-less substitute (Frank) for a deeper, infinite love (well you know who). It appears to me that when she responds to Brianna’s question, it’s reluctant and almost like she was caught not missing him. Even Brianna says “sometimes it seems like you don’t” as Claire hesitates and finally says yes. I don’t quite believe any sincerity you may have m’dear but time will tell as I read Voyager and as Season 3 unfolds.


So We Meet Again


            “I am called Lord Broch Tuarach for formality’s sake…and beyond the requirements of formality, you will never speak to me again—until you beg for your life at the point of my sword. Then, you may use my name, for it will be the last word you will ever speak.” – Jamie (pg 370)

            After reading this for the first time, I wish the show included this quote for it’s a great moment when Jamie takes back his power from the man that held it for so long. When I watched the episode on which this joyless reunion is loosely based, “Untimely Resurrection”, I was waiting for a really emotional reaction from Jamie when he comes upon Claire and Black Jack Randall. Instead, emotions have to be tightly tethered between the three in the presence of King Louis.

            We see the cracks in Black Jack’s confidence (though not so many cattle hoof marks) and humiliation as King Louis beckons him to kneel. There is a private moment between Jamie and Black Jack but the viewers aren’t privy to their conversation. From Claire’s POV, we only see them talk and Black Jack lay a hand on our dear Jamie’s chest. (At this point, my impulse is to always throw something at the screen and scream “Don’t you touch him!” That Tobias. Always knows how to drive the nail in further.) Both scenes in the book and show are anti-climactic but the feeling of dread and fear are sustained.




            Later in the book, Black Jack shows up at Claire and Jamie’s door in Edinburgh then leads her into a church to ask her to heal his brother Alex. There are a few lines that I despise reading in this chapter but for the sake of this post, I will include them here (bold signifies a line adapted for the TV episode):


“You know as I do the touch of his skin…You know the smell of his sweat and the roughness of the hairs on his thighs. You know the sound he makes at the last, when he has lost himself. So do I.” (pg.723)

“I have had him as you could never have him…You are a woman; You could not understand, even witch as you are. I have held the soul of his manhood…We are bound, he and I, by blood.” (pg. 724)

            At first, I thought this segment was not in the episode “The Hail Mary” but upon review, they are (clearly I attempted to block it out). After Alex begs for his brother to marry Mary, it seems the writers picked the best/worst lines for the scene at the inn between Black Jack and Claire. I cannot help but grimace every time he says to her, “Did he ever tell you the things I did to him in that room?” This line conjures the horrible and monstrous scenes of the last two episodes of Season 1 that we try to forget.

            Ultimately both the book and the episode succeed in making my skin crawl when Black Jack returns. Just the mere question of “Where?” when BJR learns that Jamie is nearby in the “Untimely Resurrection” episode makes me shiver. What I find most vile about what happens between BJR and Jamie is the vulnerability that exposes our hero. We never want to see Jamie left defenseless and BJR is the last person to be vulnerable in front of. He’s the wolf that smells the fear and then pounces.


“Be well, brother”

            In DIA, the Lallybroch chapters amble along as our couple rejuvenates after their tumultuous time in Paris. I love the potato farming chapter but my other favorite moment was never adapted for the show:

“We rode for a long time…and then I heard a small sound behind me, and reined up so Ian’s horse came alongside, and I could see he’d been weeping—still was, wi’ the tears streaming down his face. And he saw me look at him, and shook his head hard, as if he was still angry, but then he held out his hand to me. I took it, and he gave me a squeeze, hard enough to break the bones. Then he let go, and we came on home.” – Jamie (pg 576)

            Ian and Jamie are another love story in of itself and I don’t mean to be facetious. They have a fierce love for one another that only two boys who have known each other since they were wee bairns could have. Jenny explains how growing up Ian was always protecting his Laird by walking on his “weaker” side. As Jamie says to Claire, he didn’t want to feel apart from Ian and so felt the need to explain to him what happened at Wentworth. I feel like Ian’s anger upon learning about it stems from not being able to protect Jamie. They fight and later, as the quote above explains, they reconcile. This scene evokes such tenderness between them that it’s nice to read and gain more insight into their deep bond. How often do we see male relationships whether in books or film/TV that evoke such emotional resonance?

            I wish the show touched more on the relationship between Ian and Jamie and for a moment they do in Season 1’s “The Watch”. Ian kills the redcoat deserter and Jamie eases his nerves by reminding him about when they were young and debated whether it was more sinful to kill or fornicate. Ian says if Jamie’s going to hell he may as well come along since “God knows you’d never manage alone.”


“Damn All Randalls”

            In DIA, Jamie comes with Claire to see Alex Randall after Alex requests their presence to be witnesses at the marriage between Mary and his brother BJR (aka “Johnny” <shudder>).

            Honestly, when I first read this I thought, “What?! Uhhh…no.” I’m not sure what possessed Diana Gabaldon to put Jamie in the same room as BJR at this point in the story. The final touch of Jamie taking him back to his quarters after an excruciating ceremony leaves me further bewildered. “What?” I kept asking. I really had a hard time making sense of this chapter and Claire’s decision to drag Jamie along. Perhaps it was another way to highlight Jamie’s heroism? That no matter the circumstance he will always rise above and be a better man? If so, we already knew that and that he’s willing to sacrifice a lot for the greater good. I don’t need it reinforced by this preposterous scenario of him idly standing by his tormenter in such an intimate setting. It was too outrageous and it took me out of the story.

            The show substitutes Murtagh instead of Jamie and this fits much better (phew). It’s more believable particularly because the show establishes so well Murtagh as a more formidable character that protects our heroes (Remember: Always Bring a Murtagh!).


Courtesy of Outlander-Online.com

Courtesy of Outlander-Online.com


Mark Me, anyone?

            For me there is a sense of time being stretched during Jamie and Claire’s last night together in the cottage. You can luxuriate in the space between them as they relish every moment before their parting.

            When I first read the infamous “carving their initials” scene, I didn’t have a strong affection for it. It was fine writing but I wasn’t swept up in the romance of the gesture. Many fans adored this scene and felt betrayed when it was not portrayed in the show. I have to side with the Producers on this and leave it to their knowledge and expertise. Sometimes time, location, money, and other practical reasons are why certain book scenes are not produced. I know this does not sit well with some fans but some excerpts read better on paper than seen on the screen. I believe this was one of them.

            Although the show didn’t give us the book’s sex-in-the-cottage scene, it instead gave us the ‘quickie’ as described in the book. Right before the redcoats come, Jamie takes Claire again:


“He pushed me up against the wall and I scrabbled up my skirts as he raised his kilts. This was not lovemaking; he took me quickly and powerfully and it was over in seconds.” –Claire (pg 893)


          I didn’t like this scene the first time I read it. I thought it was too strange and almost out of character for Jamie. The redcoats are coming up the hill and you need to hike up your kilt now? As Claire says, it’s not lovemaking but I suppose an impulse that stemmed from some primal instinct and impulse. Men.

            From the TV viewer’s perspective, this was all we’d get for a lovemaking scene in a season generally lacking in steaminess. I for one took anything I could get this season but after reading DIA, I agree that most of the affection and tenderness in the book was missing in the show. Regardless, the season finale still left me feeling the enduring love between Jamie and Claire. Hearing him say the famous “God I loved her well!” speech and watching him guide her hand to the stone made me weepy. I don’t want those two apart! Ever! Even throughout the difficult and tense scenes between the two, there was still love. Again, this is a story about a marriage as Herself has said.

            Ultimately, I believe that in the visual medium (i.e. film and TV) sometimes less is more. For me Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan project their character’s devotion to each other off the screen and into our hearts so I’m ok without the hot-cottage-sex and carving their initials. (Mark me! I’m still waiting for Hot Springs Sex from the 1st book.)

            The ending in DIA had hope for the future as did “Outlander” and I like both endings very much. On the other hand, Season 2’s finale felt like a rocket propulsion to the sky as the camera ramped up to the stone and I heard the clash of a drum cymbal from the song “Time Has Come Today”. Season 1’s finale left me with a trepidatious hope but Season 2 said, Have no fear! She’s going back!

Final thoughts: Must we know the future before we experience the past?

            Does the book’s framing device of beginning and ending in the future work? For the book – yes. Some say that the book’s purpose is to lead up to Claire and Jamie separating and the only way to achieve the emotional punch is to know from the beginning that they will be separated for twenty years (thanks Storywonk).

            Does this work for the show? No. I was struggling with it all season. Remember that I hadn’t read the book beforehand but knew that it began in the future. Throughout Season 2 there were moments that deflated any anticipation and mystery. Remember when Claire visits Master Raymond and he portends that she will see Frank again? Well no mystery there! If Episode 1 never began in 1948 and instead began where we left off at the end of Season 2, can you imagine what that moment would feel like? Or when Jamie makes Claire promise that she’ll return to Frank if something should happen? The emotional intensity was drained for me at these scenes and it was a disappointment.

             Don’t get me wrong – I love Tobias Menzies as Frank (actually I just love Tobias Menzies). I love his performance in Episode 1 and his scenes always stuck with me throughout Season 2. Yet I still feel like the vibe would’ve been entirely different if we didn’t know from the beginning that she went back. For me, it would’ve been a little better and stronger but I still love Season 2.



There it is! Some thoughts and queries about DIA and Season 2! Thanks for reading and let me know your thoughts! I’d love to hear them.


(Oh and guess what? I can’t wait to read Voyager after Season 3 so I’m jumping in before! Wheeeeee!)


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