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Outlander's Frank "Problem"


It has not gone unnoticed that there is a small skirmish (not yet war) raging between Outlander book fans and the Outlander showrunners. The latest dustup happening between Co-Executive Producer Maril Davis and fans this past weekend. So what is causing this simmering sniping?
By way of background, Outlander fans are fierce and loyal, some might say "fiercely loyal", which is why an infant show such as Outlander has already garnered a People's Choice Award and other such fan awards (Here, Here, Here). 

In turn, the Outlander showrunners are incredibly interactive and giving with the fans. Executive Producer and Head Writer Ronald D. Moore regularly fields questions from fans on Twitter as do the aforementioned Maril Davis and Terry Dresbach, Outlander's costume designer. Diana Gabaldon, the author of Outlander has always been open and responsive to fans even going so far as to release "daily lines" from her upcoming Outlander books.

So why does this symbiotic relationship now appear to show fraying at the edges? (Even if it's just a minor fray one can cover up by pulling the coffee table over). The answer appears to lie squarely on the shoulders of a fictitious character: Frank Randall. Or more specifically, Tobias Menzies' Frank Randall and Frank's portrayal in the show.

As Outlander fans know, Frank Randall is Claire's husband at the start of Outlander (both the show and the book). He seems a lovely fellow though does appears a bit dull as he prefers dusty studies and genealogy to crazy sexy time with his wife on their second honeymoon to Scotland. All in all though, if Claire chose him, we must like him, right? 

Claire is of course whisked away to 18th Century Scotland when she touches a standing stone. There she meets Jamie Fraser and the rest, as they say, is history. Claire's love for Jamie soon eclipses her love for Frank to the point that she chooses to stay with Jamie in the past rather than return home to the future.

Claire and Jamie's love story is the heart of the Outlander books (8 in total, 9th currently in progress). Their journey to find each other and stay together represents a love that fans adore. And fans don't want anyone messing up their couple: not Frank, not Black Jack, not Laoghaire (the young girl who crushes on Jamie and more), not other people we don't want to mention so as not to spoil things, and definitely not "Hollywood" types.

The main concern from fans seems to be as the show moves forward is that an undue amount of time has already been spent on Frank and Tobias Menzies' terrific Emmy worthy portrayal of him (and Black Jack Randall in a remarkable dual role). Fans worry that Frank is going to be elevated beyond what they deem necessary for season two because Tobias has been so terrific. They're concerned that Frank's increased presence on screen will detract from Jamie and Claire's love story, that it will somehow diminish it's gravitas.

This concern has been directly communicated to Outlander's showrunners. Scrolling through the timelines of Mr. Moore, Ms. Dresbach, and Ms. Davis reveals those, er, "discussions."  It has been a lively debate and one with fans on both sides chiming in with their support. All of this discussion by the fans is, of course, purely academic at this point as no one has or will see Season 2 until it premieres sometime in 2016 (why God why?). So what is there to say about Frank at this point?

For starters, the obvious: the television medium requires very different storytelling than a book does. Ms. Gabaldon has repeated many times that she understands there is a difference and realizes choices will be made to tell the story in a different way than how it was told in the book. It is also one thing to read that Claire loved Frank and another to see it. This disparity between the visual storytelling medium of television and the visually limited world of the Outlander books would appear to be the cause of all the tension.

We know that Claire loved Frank. We know that the lived together for many years. We know that there is a history beyond, in some ways, what she had with Jamie and that her relationship with Frank constantly bleeds into Claire's life with Jamie. It's not just Claire's relationship with Frank that affects her relationship with Jamie. The complexities of Jamie's life also continually bring about repercussions for his relationship with Claire: sometimes in life threatening all out brawls. As a book reader, one can simply skip that chapter or give short shrift to it if you want to remain focused on Jamie and Claire. 

One can of course try to fast forward through a show and skip over the bits that aren't pleasant. Even then, however, it's very difficult to get the image of say Jamie's hand lingering near Laoghaire's breast out of one's mind. Once seen, it reaches a level of more importance than when it is read about. 

Therefore, we can intellectualize why Claire, in Outlander the book, is running away from Jamie to try and get to the stones to get back to Frank and come to the conclusion that it's just one more minor bump in the road for our super couple: Jamie and Claire. To see it on screen, however, it becomes a visceral moment: Claire is screaming for her husband, desperate to get to him, with her agonized husband screaming in response desperate to find this wife that he loves so desperately. That is powerful and not easily dismissed. Did it happen that way in the book? No. But it is a visual interpretation of how incredibly powerful that love was and the desperation this woman felt to return to him.

Aye, there's the rub. Fans will perceive this and other scenes with Frank as detracting from the great love story that is Jamie and Claire. It cannot be avoided. Our imaginations are wonderful things, and the way that Jamie looks at Claire in the book, and thus our head, can never be captured on screen (though Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe come damn close). It seems, therefore, that the show Outlander may always fall short in the eyes of some fans when it comes to portraying Jamie and Claire.

However, it is seeing this scene with Frank that makes the moment when Claire arrives at the stones later in the season with Jamie that much more powerful. Here is a woman who was literally running and screaming at the top of her lungs to reach the stones and return to Frank but is now frozen, completely unsure about moving forward towards them. Claire is sweating, delaying, pale and completely unsure of whether or not to return to Frank. This tells us everything we need to know about the nature of her feelings for Jamie and would not have been possible without the visual example from her earlier thwarted trip to the stones.

Are there things the show could do to improve the perception that Jamie and Claire's love is somehow getting shortchanged? Yes. Fortunately, most of that happened in the final two episodes of Season One. Claire's desperation to save Jamie was leaping off the screen. There can be no doubt that this man is everything to her moving forward. One can assume Season Two will only continue to show that desperation to be together. But Jamie and Claire's tale is not a clean one, nor one without interlopers.

Throughout the entire series there are characters who threaten their relationship on intimate levels. We just got a taste of it with Black Jack at the end of Season One. He almost derailed the entire thing, and he won't be the last.  And that brings us back to Frank. There is a lovely passage at the beginning in Ms. Gabaldon's "Fiery Cross," the 5th book in the Outlander series. Without giving too much away, Claire is confronted with a "memory" of Frank:
Go away, Frank, I thought sternly.
Despite Claire's wishes, and apparently those of some fans, Frank remains a presence throughout the Outlander books, and remains an influence on her relationship with Jamie in varying ways and degrees. There is no way around this. It has to be embraced by the show in order for the rest of the series to make sense.

Outlander will, hopefully, continue on for at least another two seasons and more. As it does, we will have to journey with Claire, Jamie, and yes, Frank. We can only hope that Outlander will show the true depth and complexity of Claire and Frank's relationship. It is the only way that the full depth and love Jamie and Claire have for each other can be explained.
Outlander's Frank "Problem" Reviewed by Deborah Thompson on 12:37 PM Rating: 5

5 comments:

  1. I think you have hit it on the head when you used the word 'perception'. I think many, fans - book readers - have come to Outlander with a certain set of expectations and those expectations aren't being realized in a way many had perceived they would be.

    Please know I say the following in the spirit of honest debate. I am not personally attacking anyone and I own, up front, my biases and preconceived ideas. Outlander is not made *just for me*. I accept that. **Caution - one very small, non-Earth shattering spoiler toward the end of the novella I have written**

    Now, as a long time fan, I came to the television show, Outlander, with the idea that this would be about Jamie and Claire. The show runners said they were sticking to the book. I took that to mean that this would be the story of Claire's life taking a serious left turn and things changing for her once she meets and marries Jamie. The two of them are the center of the story - after they marry. I have never, ever, ever met a fellow Outlander fan who failed to mention Jamie and Claire. **Jamie and Claire**. Jamie is mentioned time and again as a favorite alpha. Never, in the history of my being on the Internet discussing Outlander has anyone EVER mentioned Frank as an a favorite 'leading man'. Nor has anyone ever said that they loved "Outlander, the story of Frank and Claire". I am assuming other book reading fans thought the same I did - this show was going to be Jamie and Claire centric.

    So, when you have the show runners saying they are sticking to the books - and the main reason people have read the books is because of Jamie and Claire - well, when the television show doesn't stick to that as a main focus, there are issues. Some viewers have issues - and I see why. There is a feeling of having been bamboozled - and it's an arguable point as to whether or not that has happened. I say, we the viewers, we quick to assume things. We were so excited, we just assumed it would be the way we thought it would be. We failed to realize the nature of what the show runners want and need to do - which is make a dramatic, watchable show with an ensemble cast. An ensemble cast has to have work to do - and so the story lines are going to have to make room for others besides the two actors playing Jamie and Claire. They are going to ramp up the 'love triangle' aspect of it all because it makes for compelling television. I get that. NOW. Perhaps I was being really, really dumb about it all.

    I am fine with it, now that I get it. And I do get it. The television show isn't the book - and I fear it may go further away from the book, particularly in the Jamie and Claire department, before it's all said and done. That's okay. I have enjoyed the 'expanded' nature of the show and don't feel it has to be exactly as I would like it. I will say something when I don't like it though. That doesn't make me a 'hater' or a 'poutlander'. It makes me an observant fan with an opinion. There will *always* be fans who don't like what they see from time to time. I've come to terms with Frank, who is not the man Jamie Fraser is by a long shot (a thing to discuss elsewhere), but he is an integral part of the Outlander series. He never, ever goes away - much like BJR or Laoghaire.

    I am interested in a further clarification of this though: "We can only hope that Outlander will show the true depth and complexity of Claire and Frank's relationship. It is the only way that the full depth and love Jamie and Claire have for each other can be explained." Would love to discuss this concept further.

    Great post - hope I have not worn out my welcome by going on and on! Much love!

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  2. Love the comments! Thanks so much. That's the whole reason for the post. I think you're spot on and I agree with all you've said. I started out to write this as a criticism of the show and wound up feeling like I got a better explanation for why they've portrayed Frank the way they have. What Frank does, and the depth and complexity of his and Claire's relationship does, is show how incredibly strong her connection to Jamie is. This was a man, Frank, that she loved and adored. Without getting too much into spoilers, she felt so strongly for him that she asked the unthinkable of Jamie in DIA. And Jamie still loved her, and still wanted her. And it is by showing this that we understand how truly strong her feelings for Jamie must be. She has sacrificed her relationship with Frank, those vows, that marriage for Jamie. Therefore, their love must truly be remarkable. If we see Frank as just some worthless husband who didn't really love her enough to stay faithful or cherish her then her sacrifice is cheapened. That's why I hope Frank is shown in a light that illuminates Jamie and Claire. Will Outlander actually do this? Or will they fall into the trap of making it seem like a love triangle? That is where they have failed the fans of Jamie and Claire. This is their story. Not Frank's. I just see him as critical in the telling of it.

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  3. Jen @ OutlanderMusings.comJune 23, 2015 at 10:08 AM

    She did ask the unthinkable of Jamie in DIA. That has always been the one action by Claire that convinced me that she really loved Frank. It will be interesting to see where the show runners take it from here. I am expecting a lot of angst among Outlander fans, quite 'Frankly'. :-)

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  4. This is my third time writing a comment...if the internet gods stop me this time...I'm throwing my kindle through my computer screen!

    Fans are worried every time the showrunner mentions Frank because they're worried Frank and Claire's relationship will be portrayed as being as head-over-heels in love as Jamie and Claire's is...which is simply not how it plays in the books. You are correct in saying Frank is a point of contention in J and C's marriage; but you also have to acknowledge the huge wedge Jamie is in F and C's marriage. As long as Ron doesn't portray their relationship as all sunshine and roses, I will trust his judgement as to the proper amount of Frank necessary for the telling of the story.

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    Replies
    1. Glad the comment made it through! And you're absolutely right. Jamie is a ghost that haunts Frank and Claire's marriage literally and figuratively. Their (J&C) love eclipses everything. If done right, Season 2 should show us that.

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