For all intents and purposes, fandoms rule everything around us here at Nerdist. Both Ron D. Moore and Diana Gabaldon understand this well, being fans of and having worked on some of the most epic stories out there, including Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek, and Outlander—the Starz series based on Gabaldon’s novels, a second TV season of which premieres on Saturday, April 9. The tale of WWII nurse Claire Randall/Fraser and her 1740s Scottish lord soulmate Jamie Fraser has captivated many, but even that found its start in another time traveling fandom—Doctor Who.
“I actually would like to write a Doctor Who script sometime, but what it was would depend on where the Doctor was in his particular evolution,” Gabaldon explained to us in January. “I would sort of have to keep up with what the ethos of the current season was and it would also depend on which actor was playing Doctor Who. Because they have different constraints and appeals. So it would all be completely contingent. But I would like to do it.”
You see, Gabaldon’s a fan herself, and the inspiration for Jamie Fraser actually came from Jamie McCrimmon, the Second Doctor’s Scottish companion (also from 18th century Scotland). So she knows how important—and sometimes make-or-break-y—fan reception is to an onscreen story’s success. But sometimes that means changes, big ones: like how the story of Jamie and Claire moves from the Highlands of Scotland to the halls of Versailles in Paris and beyond, as evidenced in the season two premiere, pushing the main pair even farther away from when they started.
“The second book is very different than the first book, so as a result the second season is very different than the first season,” Moore explained to us. “We made more changes probably to the book in the second season than we did in the first season because the book is more complicated and more complex. It shifts time periods and storylines, and half of the book takes place in Paris in the 18th century and half returns to Scotland and becomes a war story. The Paris storyline is much more convoluted and political, dealing with a lot more palace intrigue and the Jacobite Rebellion than first season, so all of those things combine into a very different show.”
He went on, adding that, “we essentially had to reinvent the show in the second season. Every episode in the first season was distinct from each other one. The second season even more so, each one presents new challenges and new problems and new locations and characters, new dynamics.”
For Gabaldon, the most important thing wasn’t sticking to the proverbial script she laid out, but expressing the emotional push-pull appropriately. “Outlander season one is three triangles—three major emotional climaxes; Outlander season two is shaped like a dumbbell. It’s got this big arc in Paris, and then a stretch of domestic tranquility at Lallybroch, and then a big stretch of a big arc during the actual rebellion,” said Gabaldon. “But it’s got these end pieces which are the framing story.”
And it’s that framing story that changes wildly in season two—but Gabaldon, it turns out, preferred it that way. “When I talked to Ron briefly about it before they started, I said, ‘You know, I don’t like to do the same thing I’ve done before.’ [With] Dragonfly in Amber, that was my second book, all I knew was I didn’t want to re-write Outlander or do anything the same.”
“When I talked to Ron about it, I said, ‘Look, I did this because … and this … [but] you are not constrained by the shape of the book and, in fact, I don’t see any way which you could possibly do that.’ I said ‘If I were you, I would just cut off the framing story and start right in somewhere else.’ And in fact, you will get the framing story. You’re just not going to get it where you expect it.”
Are the two worried that the lack of fan service will upset people watching? If they do, Moore doesn’t seem too worried about it, explaining that, “in a way they don’t want that either. They really don’t. They think they do but they really don’t. If they had it they wouldn’t like it.”
“You have to set the fans aside to an extent. We make the show for these two very distinct audiences: the readers of the book and the people who don’t. Its like Game of Thrones is for me: I’ve never read those books but I’ve seen all the episodes. A show has to live, stand on its own, for me. There are definitely times when I’m watching Game of Thrones and I’m hitting pause and turning to my wife and I’m like ‘What? Who is that again? Wait a minute.’ ‘What that battle they just referred to?'”
For Moore, it’s more about telling a good story—one that hints and and/or plays with book reader-centric fan service, but doesn’t live or die by it. “I’m always trying to make sure that the people who just show up and watch the show can watch the show, and that the readers of the book [that] are looking for their favorite moments … I’m trying to give that to them as well [but] never lose touch with the people who just tune in and want me to tell them the story without having to go do homework. It is trying to serve the two masters but I try not to get too caught up in fan reaction.”
Outside of any storyline changes—and we can say this because we’ve seen five episodes of season two so far—there’s still tons of amazing costumes, lush settings, and the brawny and brazen characters you know and love to get excited about.
“It’s fun to see the reaction to Versailles and the court of Louis XV—it’s such a bigger than life setting to go do a story in,” said Moore. “I think we got a great French cast to do everyone from King Louis to the Comte St. Germain whom you saw in the first episode; Master Raymond is a great character that she meets in Paris; the Minister Duverney—its a whole new world and a whole new family of characters. It’s fun to give the audience something fresh and sparkling and new and a whole new horizon and then still get back to Scotland in the second half.”
Speaking of family, there is the matter of Frank, who we see an unexpected return to from minute one of season two. For Moore, this was a thrill because he “really likes how the show has embraced [Frank] and that character and that storyline. It was always important to me, when thinking of Frank, that the story is fundamentally Claire’s story—she’s our heroine, [so] Frank had to be worthy of her, ’cause otherwise she then made a bad, stupid choice.”
If he was lesser than or kind of an idiot of somebody we didn’t care about, you would feel less of Claire as a result, so I liked the process of making Frank a legitimate partner to Claire—someone she genuinely had feelings for and married in good faith, even though she found Jamie Fraser who is her true soulmate and all that, it didn’t mean that Frank was a bad person. It just makes it a more interesting, complicated story that Frank is a legitimate character in his own right.”
“Claire is your normal, intelligent, competent, reasonably self-confident person. I know lots of people like that,” added Gabaldon when speaking about the characterization of Claire’s choices this season and in seasons past. “It’s not really an odd thing to me, you know? And yet they think it is odd. Which leaves me to wonder, what the heck kind of stuff are you reading? Is it all wimps and ninnies? And, if so, why are you watching it?”
For both Moore and Gabaldon, realism is the endgame—be it in story or characterization. Regardless of the wibbly-wobbly, falling-through-time-yness of it all, this is fantasy entrenched in honest human moments and decisions. And that’s the song these two prefer to sing.
“You like to have the characters do things they really would do, and when you’re watching a show and you get to a point where you go ‘why would she ever do that?’, ‘That doesn’t seem like her,’ or ‘that was a dumb choice—why on earth…?’, you check out of the drama, you’re no longer paying attention, you’re longer emotionally invested in the story,” explained Moore. “So the more you can be truthful about who they are and keep them in that lane, the better. You’re holding your audience tighter.”
And, really, that’s all fandom worshippers ever want, right? To be held tighter by the stories in which they revel.
Outlander‘s second season premieres Saturday, April 9th at 9pm on Starz. And keep it locked here for more updates, recaps, and interviews with the cast and creators of the show!
And while we’re at it, see how the cast and creators of the show would change the future if they could:
Image Credit: Starz