Romance, drama, swordplay, and time travel are the principal components of Starz’s hit series Outlander, which is based on Diana Gabaldon’s popular novels. The show starts its third season on Sunday, after two Certified Fresh seasons that have brought its series score to an impressive 94% on the Tomatometer. And the early reviews for season 3 are glowing: “TV’s best romance, soars by making you fall in love with it all over again,” writes Entertainment Weekly’s Jeff Jensen.
Eager to hear what the new season has in store, Rotten Tomatoes caught up with the cast on set — stars Caitriona Balfe, Sam Heughan, Tobias Menzies, Laura Donnelly, Steven Cree, Nell Hudson, and more.
The new season kicks off with Claire (Balfe) and Jamie (Heughan) separated by time and space with pregnant Claire in 1940s America, and Jamie back in 1740s Scotland. Here’s what the cast and executive producer Matthew B. Roberts said fans can expect when the Droughtlander ends on September 10.
But the investigation does at least give viewers a lot of good Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and Roger (Richard Rankin) scenes — Roger in particular dives head first into the historical research, not only because he’s interested in Bree, but also because he really needs this in life.
“He’s just lost the reverend, so there’s a void to be filled for Roger,” Rankin said in a later by phone. “He’s quite lonely when you find him … and all the ingredients come at Roger in this whirlwind of drama — he just kind of grabs it with both hands. He’s aware of the stones, he’s aware of the rumors of time-travel, so even just the idea that any of that might have even a hint of truth to it is enough to get Roger excited and invested in it. It’s a history project for him, trying to find this mythological creature Jamie Fraser.”
“Jamie has lost Claire, he’s sent her back to the future [laughs], and he goes to battle thinking he’s got only one thing left to do and that’s to die by the side of his men,” Heughan said. “He doesn’t expect to survive, so when he does it’s a bit of a shock to him and then going through the next few episodes, we see the effect that has on him, living without Claire, him recovering fromthe trauma of the battle, but sort of losing his life [in losing Claire].
“Season 3 is about discovery, because he’s lost Claire and he goes through some quite dark moments,” Heughan continued. “It takes some quite big things to happen to his extended family for him to realize he has people to live for. He also has to go through the stages of grief for losing Claire — from loss and anger to ultimately acceptance.”
Executive producer Roberts added, “That’s their journey in the first half of the season … their journey is to find their own lives without each other while they mourn each other the entire time of being apart.”
Back in the 1940s, Claire and Frank (Menzies) try to make their marriage work for the sake of their unborn baby, but it’s not easy.
“We find them struggling to make a new life together, struggling to rebuild things, despite the commitment they made to each other. That [struggle] is temporarily broken, maybe relieved, by the arrival of Brianna,” Menzies revealed. “Claire does not love Frank like she used to — there’s no getting away from that. But hopefully if we get it right, it’s full of regret and sadness. Two very well-intentioned people failing to reach each other — that’s the tragedy of it.”
Asked if Frank ever truly believes Claire’s story about time travel, Menzies said he doesn’t think so.
“I think he chooses to accept the story that she tells because he loves her, because he wants to move forward with his life. But that’s an emotional decision, it’s not logical,” he said. “He probably just goes, I either just walk away from this, or if I stay — he has to just draw a line. I think he buries it.”
Roberts tells us that it was important to the creators of the show to see the Battle of Culloden on screen, even though it is not a large part of the book. But they wanted to “show Jamie’s plight” and that all starts with Culloden — and another gripping face-to-face with Black Jack Randall (Menzies).
Heughan said of the showdown between Black Jack Randall and Jamie, “It’s been a remarkable journey for Jamie. It’s an interesting first few episodes.”
The writers have definitely heard the fans about keeping Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) alive after Culloden, Roberts said. The EP revealed nothing about the character’s reappearance, but he did say that kind of decision has big story implications.
“This is the difference between a book and film. We bring characters in and then they live and breathe, where in the book you can kill that guy and bring another guy in, because the reader reads the character and they fill in all the gaps,” Roberts said. “In the books, Murtagh is not very big. He’s there, but he’s not as big as he is in our story. We have received tons of letters and social media saying please keep him alive, but if that happens, what happens to the characters that come after? Do you just get rid of them? There are story implications.”
“It’s a difficult decision for [Claire], because if she decides to go back to [Jamie], that means saying goodbye to her daughter, probably forever,” Balfe said. “It’s not something she takes lightly; it’s quite a tough choice. But Brianna is instrumental in pushing her to go and telling her that she has sacrificed her own personal happiness for 20 years to raise [Brianna] and now it’s [Claire’s] time to go back and find happiness and love again, which is a huge sacrifice for a daughter to make for her. It’s quite sweet.”
Skelton added, “What’s nice in season 3 is you actually start to see Bree and Claire as equals. There’s less of the mother-daughter relationship and more of Bree growing up a little bit and more of that equality of respect between them. You have this grown woman, Claire, who is feeling really anxious about going back to see this man that she’s been holding on a pedestal for 20 years, and Bree saying it’s OK. It’s almost this naivety to Claire, this innocence, where she’s almost like a teenager panicking over seeing this boy again and will he find her attractive and all of these things and so it was really nice to switch that around and have Brianna be almost the adult to Claire and say, ‘It’s OK, you have to go back.’”
Balfe said that Claire goes in with a lot of nervousness because she and Jamie have been apart for so long.
“It’s really interesting to try and imagine all of the expectations someone would have after 20 years,” Balfe said. “Here’s somebody that she’s had on a pedestal for so long, and what’s really interesting is how do these two people who revered each other for so long in sort of a dreamlike sense, how do they remove all of that and get to know each other again in reality, fall in love again with the people that they are, because obviously things will have changed an awful lot for both of them in 20 years.
“So there will be the fantasy of what they both expect and then there will be the reality,” she said, “so I think it’ll be really interesting to see how that plays.”
Let’s just say Jamie’s family might not be as happy as he is to see Claire.
“From Jenny’s point of view, she’s seen how Jamie has suffered in those 20 years and when Claire comes back there’s not much explanation offered — not a realistic explanation offered — as to why she’s been away,” Donnelly revealed, “so any protective sister is not necessarily going to be very understanding of a woman who seems to have abandoned her brother, broken his heart and left him to live a half-life for 20 years, so Jenny’s not the most sympathetic of characters. But over the course of the episode that Claire comes back in, Jenny gradually finds a way of making some peace with that, but I think it’s difficult.”
Cree added, “In this instance you kind of get a glimpse of Jenny and Ian being on the same side for a change, Ian backing Jenny up. Because it’s proceeded by young Ian being in Edinburgh with Claire and Jamie, then Ian is actually, unusually for him, quite angry — I don’t know if angry’s necessarily the word, but disappointed.
“Ian’s happy for Claire to be back for Jamie because Ian ultimately always wants Jamie to be happy and seeing how hard it’s been for him, it’s definitely mixed feelings. Mixed feelings would be the short answer there.”
Laoghaire (Nell Hudson) comes roaring back in season 3 in her old familiar way: as a foil for Claire.
No spoilers, but Hudson said when she learned of Laoghaire’s big role in book 3, she was super excited, but added that she eventually realized the relationship dynamics at play are more complicated than she originally thought.
“Laoghaire has rather let herself go,” she said, and despite her initial enthusiasm, “it’s actually a lot funnier than I thought it was going to be.”
Funny-sad, that is, not funny–ha-ha. She was disappointed not to get to wear a fat suit, but she does reveal that Laoghaire has a pretty awesome wig.
“I’m aged up, but I’m not in a fat suit — I thought that would’ve been great,” Hudson said. “I’ve got a wig, I’m actually wearing Mrs. Fitz’s wig from season 1. I’m growing into my granny, I’ve become her.”
Claire’s return to Lallybroch sets up a showdown that Hudson says was a lot of fun to film.
“[Laoghaire’s] being punched in the gut when she finds out Claire’s back,” Hudson said. “I think she loathes her because think of what Laoghaire’s been through at this point in that she’s lost two men — she’s had two different children by two different men, both of them have died and she’s on her own, a single mum, and in these times that’s appalling.”
Without spoiling the drama to come, we’ll just note that Claire (again) throws a big wrench in Laoghaire’s hopes for happiness.
Hudson added, “I get to call Claire the c-word … That was quite fun. I really relished it in the scene. It’s not a nice word to say in real life, but in the scene she really means it, and it’s kind of the right word for the moment.”
Outlander season 3 premieres Sunday, September 10 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Starz.