'Outlander' Postmortem: Toni Graphia on writing the prelude to the print shop scene: 'Stay tuned!'

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the “Freedom & Whisky” episode of Outlander.

The Outlander faithful have been waiting for the “print shop scene,” aka Jamie and Claire’s overdue reunion, since the lovers went their separate ways in the Season 2 finale. Contrary to what you think you saw tonight, you’re gonna have to wait a little bit longer. Sure this season’s fifth episode, “Freedom & Whisky,” may end with Claire — freshly restored to the 18th century after yet another trip through the stones — entering the humble printer’s press operated by one A. Malcolm (as in James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser) and knocking the stunned proprietor into unconsciousness with the mere force of her presence. But longtime Outlander scribe Toni Graphia, who penned both “Freedom & Whisky” and last week’s episode, “Of Lost Things,” insists that that scene is a mere prelude to the print shop goodness that’s in store for the sixth installment, written by Matthew Roberts, which airs on Oct. 22. “The real print shop scene and all its aftermath will be in the next episode, which is an amazing episode,” Graphia tells Yahoo Entertainment, unintentionally pouring salt on the wound of having to wait two more weeks to see it. “There’s so much more to come. Stay tuned!”

Let’s not let the closing print shop tease distract from the fact that “Freedom & Whisky” is a pretty terrific episode in its own right. Eschewing the back-and-forth structure of the preceding episodes, this chapter is a Claire-centric story that provides one of the strongest depictions yet of her relationship with her now-grown daughter, Brianna, and as well as the fears she has about returning to a life, and lover, she thought was gone forever. We spoke with Graphia about why she requested to write these back-to-back episodes, the origins of Claire’s Batman-inspired “bat dress” and the Doctor Who cameo that almost was.

I imagine that one of the reasons you opted against doing a bifurcated structure with this episode is to preserve the surprise of seeing Jamie for the first time through Claire’s eyes.
Right. “Of Lost Things” was really a Jamie-centric story, even though we see a little bit of Claire. Originally, both of these episodes were going to be one episode, but then we said, “Let’s split it into two, and do one Jamie episode and one Claire episode.” Not being able to choose between them, I was like, “I want to write both!” [Laughs.] We did end up putting a little bit of Claire into the Jamie episode because we wanted to see her research and how it led her here. But the idea for “Freedom & Whiskey” was always to do a mother-daughter story and then just show Jamie a little bit at the end. We had a lot of discussions about where to end this episode. We talked about ending it when Claire steps onto the street in Scotland, and we talked about ending it as she goes up the stairs of the printing shop. But we didn’t want it to be a television cliché where she walks through the door and you cut to black. That just felt very trite. It’s a mother-daughter story, but Jamie’s the elephant in the room, so we felt like getting a glimpse of him was a great place to end it.

As you mentioned, “Freedom & Whisky” is a mother-daughter story, and I thought that it was appropriate that you wrote this one considering that you also wrote the Season 2 episode “Faith,” where Claire and Jamie lose their first baby. In a way, that story is also about a mother saying goodbye to her child. The circumstances are very different here obviously, but the episodes mirror each other in that way.
I never thought of this as a mirror to the “Faith” episode. That’s fascinating that you say that. I may have to steal that from you now that you brought it up! [Laughs.] I like to explore those kinds of deep and complicated emotions. One of the things that came out of our discussions [in the writer’s room] is that, in the book, Claire doesn’t agonize quite as much about leaving Brianna. We just thought that that could use a little more exploration; we didn’t negate what was there [in the book], we just explored it a little more deeply. It wasn’t just my decision, but after discussions with all the writers and [executive producer] Maril Davis, we decided that what we were all comfortable with was that Claire wouldn’t leave until she had Brianna’s blessing. She couldn’t just say, “Oh, Jamie’s alive, I’m going back,” without thinking about what it would do to her daughter’s life.

That’s one way that “Freedom & Whisky” reminded me of “Faith.” Claire couldn’t bear to let go of Faith in that earlier episode, and it seemed to inform why she was so reluctant to leave Brianna as well.
It’s just as much a story of Claire letting her daughter go as it is the daughter letting her mother go. There’s a line in the script where Claire says, “You may never see me again. Are you all right with that? Because I don’t know if I am.” I think that’s really a key line. That’s kind of what the episode’s about — is this goodbye? Claire going away is really a death in a way, since she doesn’t know whether she can come back. She’s saying, “Is it OK with you to lose me forever?” And Brianna, to her credit, is like, “I love you, Mom. I want you to [go].” The irony is that she and her mother were never close because she could feel the strain in her parent’s marriage. Now that she knows the truth, she and her mother are finally free to have this amazing relationship, so it’s harder than ever to lose her right when she got her back. That’s what we were interested in exploring.

Brianna can be a tricky character to write, as viewers are still getting to know her. What did you want them to understand about her in this particular episode?
She learned all these secrets about her past at the end of last season, and she was OK with it while she was in Scotland. But when she came home, her world fell apart; the life she thought she had was a charade. And she has to reconcile that; she’s struggling with the thought of, “Which father am I?” And then she really comes to the conclusion that she’s like her mom because she’s headstrong, rebellious, and all these things. So she has to be unselfish and make the decision to let her mom go. That was really gratifying to write — Brianna growing up in a short period of time, and handling what got thrown at her the way her mom handled what was thrown at her when she fell through the stones and had to acclimate to the 18th century.

My wife is a close reader of the novels and noticed that, in the book, Claire shops for the outfit that she wears on her return trip to Scotland. In this episode, she makes it herself. How did that change come about?
That idea came from Terry Dresbach, our costume designer. In the book, Claire does buy a dress, but Terry was talking to us one day and said, “Why wouldn’t she just make her own dress?” Up until that point, we had made a point of saying that Claire doesn’t sew; she sews wounds and stitches, but she hasn’t sewn clothes. But we figured that being the mother of a young daughter, she’s probably made many, many outfits for her over the years for pageants and school plays and has learned to sew as a 20th century housewife. Terry also thought that if she could make a dress to go back in, it would be great to have these secret pockets. She coined the term “bat dress,” I believe, and it was Ron [Moore, Outlander‘s showrunner and Dresbach’s husband] who suggested that we use the Batman theme music to go with that scene. Claire’s a can-do woman, so we thought it was more interesting for the dress to come from her as opposed to her just buying one.

Do we have you to thank for the Dark Shadows reference in the episode?
I did write that in! I’m not a Dark Shadows fan. We actually wanted to use Doctor Who, because Outlander was inspired by Doctor Who episodes that Diana had seen. But the episodes we wanted to use didn’t air in 1968. So we looked up shows that did and were like, “Ahh, Dark Shadows. That’s perfect!” And the clip that you see in the episode is actually a clip from the episode that aired on that exact day, Dec. 23, 1968. And when we watched that episode, it was about a woman time traveler! It was a little bit of magical serendipity there.

You’ve penned some of the most memorable Claire-centric episodes over the course of the series. What is it about her as a character that you enjoy writing so much?
I love Claire. I love Jamie, too. I wouldn’t say that I choose Claire episodes. What I like to do is choose the parts of the book that I respond to. When I’m reading the book, if there are chapters that I really love then I ask to write that part of the book. So it wasn’t like I said, “Give me a Claire episode.” It’s more like, “I love this part of the book, and it happens to be a strong Claire story.” That’s part of why I did “Of Lost Things” this year; one of my favorite parts of Voyager was the story of Jamie and his son. In fact, if you asked me who my favorite character is, I might say, Geillis Duncan, because I love her and I loved [adapting] the witch trial from the first book. With every book I read, there’s a chapter that gets me the most and I say, “I have to write that.” The episodes around those are just ones that I get assigned. But my best episodes are the ones that I asked to write because I was already in love with them.

Were there aspects of Claire in this particular episode that you relished writing?
I loved writing the parts where she’s vulnerable. She’s so strong and has gone through so much, but I love the human side of her. Like where she’s anxious about seeing Jamie again and wanting to look good — things that any woman would be vulnerable about. And Caitriona is so stunningly gorgeous, to see that even people who are super-attractive have moments like, “I hope he likes how I look,” that humility is something that everyone can connect to, male or female.

One of my favorite scenes [in the episode] that is not in the book is seeing Sandy, Frank’s lover, confront her. In the book, they don’t specify that he’s had affairs, but Diana implies several dalliances with students. We thought it was better for his character if there was one that was special for him, and that Claire gave him permission because she knew she couldn’t give him that and she didn’t want him to be without love and affection. So I loved throwing Sandy at Claire, saying “Why didn’t you let him go? He could have been happy with me.” She has to face this selfish choice she made. Even though Frank agreed to it, she basically held him captive for 20 years. He did it for Brianna, but he held out hope the whole time that she would change her mind and fall back in love with him. She gave it a try, which we love her for, but in the end there was a point in which she realized that would never happen and she could have maybe let him go. So she cost him something.

Remember, Frank told Claire that he wanted to marry Sandy the night he died. So in my first version of the scene, Sandy yells at Claire and Claire ends up feeling bad, so she gives Sandy the gift of saying, “He was going to propose. He was on his way to see you that night.” Sandy didn’t know that that had happened — that he had actually asked Claire for a divorce — and she’s grateful. Ron read that scene and said, “Don’t redeem her. Let her live with it.” I said, “You’re right,” and cut that part. She’s left with no comeback; Sandy ends up filleting her and walking away and Claire just has to live with it. I thought that was an interesting way to go.

I did want to quickly jump back to “Of Lost Things,” specifically the Jamie-Geneva sex scene. That’s a sequence that’s very controversial in the book and proved controversial in the episode as well, despite the changes that were made to it. How did you approach writing that scene, knowing it was going to be watched so closely?
From the beginning, it was always our intention to change [the scene] because we felt that if we did the book version, it would really distract from what the scene was really about. Geneva is a very headstrong and manipulative person, and what she did to manipulate and blackmail Jamie was definitely not a cool or admirable thing to do. In that time period, she’s a victim as well because she doesn’t get to make her own choices, even about who she marries and spends her life with. I know a lot of people will be like, “Oh, she’s not a victim,” but you have to think about the time she lived in and how awful it would be if someone forced marriage upon you, and suddenly have to sleep with this man that you don’t love and would not have chosen.

So she in her desperation to not be forced into bed with a man she doesn’t want, forces Jamie into bed. I’m not condoning it at all, but I think he is man enough to recognize that. He’s angry about it because he doesn’t want to do it, and he loves Claire. He obviously doesn’t want to bed another woman, but I think that once he’s in there, we see the vulnerable side of her and just how scared she is. For us, it was right that he becomes this gentleman. Even in the book version, he’s gentle with her and tells her he’ll take his time. He’s respectful of her even though she is doing this wrong thing to him.

I think that’s what makes him heroic; he’s the mature one who has the experience and realizes that this comes from a sort of childish rebellion and that she’s over her head and is lashing out because of the circumstance that she’s in. So he finds a way to make it the best it could be under the circumstances. It’s an ugly thing that happens between them, but I like to say there’s some good that comes out of it for Jamie in that he gets a son. He doesn’t have family, he doesn’t have Claire, so here’s some light that comes out of this darkness for Jamie. I think he ultimately feels bad for Geneva when she dies. He didn’t love her, but I don’t think he hoped she would die or anything. He’s moved, because he wouldn’t wish that upon anyone, especially upon this innocent child.

So we made a purposeful decision [in that scene]. We even had added a line where he stops and says, “Are you sure you want to do this?” to give her the chance to change her mind. And she doesn’t. That’s just a choice we made, and we all stand behind. It’s no judgment on what the book version was, but when you’re watching it onscreen, it could have landed differently. We’re glad to see that people have been responding positively to it.

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

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