‘Outlander’: Inside Claire’s “Survivalist” Solo Journey


'Outlander': Inside Claire's "Survivalist" Solo Journey

Claire's (Caitriona Balfe) harrowing journey back to Jamie (Sam Heughan) involved more than a few natural obstacles in a new story that book readers weren't expecting. Executive producer Toni Graphia breaks down creating that adventure for THR.

[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Sunday's Outlander, "Uncharted."]

Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is no damsel in distress on Starz's Outlander. Time and again, the drama's central heroine has proven that she doesn't need a knight in shining armor (or tartan) to save her in times of trouble. She can take care of herself. And Sunday's episode provided the latest example of that.

During Sunday's episode, the time-traveling doctor proved her worth again after jumping off the side of the Porpoise into the ocean. Finally free of the British military men she helped cure of typhoid, Claire knew she had to get back to Jamie (Sam Heughan) before he was arrested by those same men in Jamaica. But first, she found herself washed ashore on some unknown island, with no clue where she was or how she would get back to her husband to warn him of what was coming.

But first she needed to survive her solo adventure. For days (and the first half of the episode), she wandered the island alone, looking for signs of human life, food, water and shelter. She ran into several obstacles, from waking up covered in biting ants to a large snake slithering over her body as she fought the elements and nearly died from thirst until she found Father Fogden and Mamacita, who helped nurse her back to life.

In a stroke of luck, Jamie and the rest of the Artemis crew became shipwrecked on that same island. When Willoughby (Gary Young) stole and ate one of Fogden's goats, Claire realized who the shipwrecked men were and ran to the beach just in time to signal the crew. Jamie noticed her on the beach and immediately turned around for a romantic reunion with his wife.

But before Outlander could reunite its two star-crossed lovers again, Claire had to go through hell first. "This was a very interesting script," executive producer Toni Graphia tells The Hollywood Reporter. "It was very challenging in the writers' room, because we actually started with a completely different story of what happens to Claire on the island."

While Graphia couldn't reveal what the initial plan was "because it might be a spoiler for something that's coming later," it was something that happened to Claire on the island.

"We decided to scrap that story for now and push it down the line a bit, and it will be revealed possibly later if we end up doing that story at another time," she says. "We ultimately went with this version and we called it our survivalist episode. We all loved the wackiness with Father Fogden and Mamacita and the coconuts, so we knew we had to play that, but it wasn't quite enough for an entire episode."

The writers decided to combine two characters from the book — Father Fogden and Jewish natural scientist Lawrence Stern, who helped Claire after she washes ashore on Hispaniola and brings her to Father Fogden. "The two characters seemed similar to us," Graphia says. "We wanted to do justice to both characters."

But since that left half an episode to fill with story, the Outlander team "decided to get creative and do something out of the box, something that's not done on TV." Graphia remembers a time before Outlander, when she worked on a network TV show and tried to pitch an episode where the whole first act was without dialogue. According to Graphia, the network was "outraged" and didn't allow them to do it.

"They thought we were crazy," she says. "It was something you can't do. So that's where you appreciate working on something like Outlander, not only because it's cable but also because Starz trusts us and lets us do something like this. So the first 20 minutes or so is a tour de force for Caitriona with no dialogue and very little voiceover."

While Claire's time on the island "plays out much differently in the book," Graphia admits, where "Jamie's joined some kind of militia and pretends to be French and it all gets kind of crazy," the writers decided to "tell a simpler kind of story that strips Claire down to her bare essentials to survive."

"We threw everything at her that we could think of," Graphia says with a laugh. "This adventure is a big homage to her roots, and how she grew up traveling with her Uncle Lam around the world and camping and learning all these techniques. [Executive producer] Matt Roberts is always talking in the writers room about the rule of threes: you could go without air for three minutes, water for three days and food for three weeks. That was our guide for Claire."

She continues, "We thought, 'What are all the awful things that could happen to her and challenges she would have to go through?' So we put her through the ringer because we knew she could handle it."

And that includes the actor, since Balfe gamely took on everything the writers threw at Claire. "The snake was completely real," Graphia reveals. "They found a snake, his name was Scar, and they introduced him to Caitriona and let her play with him. She pet him and got familiar with him, and she insisted on doing it herself. So the snake was actually on her."

And the horrors didn't stop there for Balfe. "The ants were real as well, but they didn't have as many," Graphia says. "They had some ants and the rest were multiplied by visual effects. But most of what we do is real. The beetles in the jar were real. We always go for it on Outlander. If something can be done practically, we do it practical. The actors are always troopers, I have to hand it to them. Sam and Caitriona love to do their own stunts, anything with animals, they'll give it a try and it shows."

But the episode wasn't all doom and gloom. After Claire and Jamie tearfully reunited on the beach, Jamie decided to give everyone a bit of joy for a change, and convinced Father Fogden to marry Fergus (Cesar Domboy) and Marsali (Lauren Lyle) that very night. And when Father Fodgen asked Fergus for his surname during the ceremony, Fergus faltered since he was an orphan and never had one given to him. That's when Jamie stepped up and gave Fergus his last name: Fraser.

"That's my favorite part of this episode, when Jamie gives Fergus his name," Graphia says. "This is a more light-hearted episode that has a lot of fun things but it gets me every time when Fergus says he doesn't have a last name. Fergus and Jamie have such a deep relationship, so to see this moment come full circle where he's like a son to Jamie, that moment to Fergus was as important as his marriage to Marsali. He not only got a wife, but he got a father."

Even though Jamie has essentially been Fergus' surrogate father all this time, this moment was what "made it official."

"That scene was so beautifully done," Graphia says. "The look Sam and Cesar give each other is full of love and appreciation. It's my favorite moment in the script."

And back on board the Artemis, Claire, drunk on Mr. Willoughby's turtle soup, playfully seduces Jamie in a fun, carefree scene to close the episode on a much different note than the last few chapters have.

"The episode was originally titled 'Turtle Soup,' because that is such a fan-favorite that people have been waiting for," Graphia says. "Ever since season one, people have been tweeting and writing to us asking, 'When are you going to do turtle soup? You have to do turtle soup!' Of course we never would have left that out."

But since they didn't want to give away the fun in the title of the episode, the writers "hid it a little" and changed the title to "Uncharted" instead.

"That's why we used the turtles swimming as the title cards, so book fans will know as soon as they see the turtles swimming," she says. "We always like to say no turtles were harmed in the making of the episode. Caitriona had a lot of fun with that scene; the actors were looking forward to that one for a while."

Ending "Uncharted" on that fan-favorite moment from the book allowed the writers to give it its full due. "We didn't want to shortchange that moment so we decided to make it a nice, long scene," Graphia says. "It's a challenge sometimes to make all the sex scenes different. If all the love scenes were the same it would get boring. So they have angsty love scenes, long, drawn out love scenes, the quickies in the woods and then the light-hearted ones. That's very much like a real couple, every time there could be a different mood for it."

Because Outlander hasn't shown this specific mood in a love scene before, the writers knew that ending the episode on the turtle soup moment would give this chapter the most emotional impact.

"Seeing Claire tipsy is so fun, especially with Willoughby knocking on the door," Graphia says with a laugh. "It was time to lighten the mood after all that typhoid ship sadness. We're barreling towards these last few episodes and we're going to leave fans with enough to get them through the next Droughtlander which hopefully won't be as long."

Outlander airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz.

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