Outlander Producer on the Challenges of Making Season 2 and Why Season 3 Will Be Easier

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Spoilers ahead for the season finale of Outlander and the Outlander book series.

Even with its 90-minute running time, you might feel you didn’t get enough time with Jamie and Claire in the Outlander finale. Certainly, Claire didn’t get enough time with her one true love, and still mourns him 20 years after they parted just before the Battle of Culloden — a battle that, despite their best efforts, they could not prevent. But as we leave her, an older, wiser Claire realizes that she has a second chance to reunite with Jamie, and with their daughter Brianna’s understanding and blessing, looks at the standing stones with hope. Can she steer her way back? Can their marriage stand the test of time? All will be revealed in due course, but to help us say goodbye (for now), co-executive producer Maril Davis took a break from preproduction to admit she’s just as confused about the time-travel rules as we are, the challenges of season two, and why making season three will be easier.

You did warn me that there would be tears in the finale.
[Laughs.] Yes. Did you cry? Awww. What part, if you don’t mind me asking?

The good-bye …
I was on set when we filmed that, the good-bye scene at the stones, and [writer] Matt Roberts, who with Toni Graphia wrote this episode, came up with this great idea to have Jamie dance Claire back to the stones, and it’s so beautiful. Every time I see that, I cry. It’s such an emotional, magical way to get her to the stones, like, “I know you have to go there, but I’m going to hold you close.” Every time I see it, I get teary. And the poem that Jamie and Claire say to each other is the inscription on Claire’s wedding ring, from the books, which we never got a chance to do. That’s a little fan-favorite moment.

Even after 20 years apart, they now have a chance to be reunited. We don’t see it in the finale, in that moment, but it’s implied that it’s about to happen. And when it does, they’re going to be different people.
We talk a lot about that in the room right now, for season three. It’s a big transition. People expect that if they were to just see each other, things will fall back easily into old habits. That doesn’t happen. Twenty years is a long time, and they both met when they were very young. So we’re talking about, “How are they different? How does that change them?” Also, in your mind, you build up things about a person that aren’t really reality, and they were together for a relatively short time. Certainly Claire was with Jamie longer than she was with Frank, but still, you change as a person, and your expectations get built up, and once you see them again, that’s a huge thing to go through.

Originally, we had a fun idea for the end of season one: We’d cut to black, and fade up, knock knock, and it would be Claire knocking on Reverend Wakefield’s door, 20 years in the future. In anticipation of that, we started looking for Brianna and Roger early. We decided at the end of the day not to do that, and suspended the search until later. But then we came up with this idea of starting with, “Oh my God, Claire’s already back. Holy crap! How did that happen?”, and then the rest of the season not peppering it through the way the book does, not dealing with it until the end. In some ways, it should be like the books, but telling the TV version should be fresh. Even for book fans, you want to give them what they want, but in a different way sometimes. We want try to do that for season three as well.

Let’s talk about Geillis. She returns for the finale here, but we’re not quite finished with her yet.
Even though Geillis saves Claire at the witch trial, there’s a little more animosity between them in the books, or at least that’s what I felt. We tried hard to give them more of a friendship in season one, to give Geillis some more layers. I love Geillis from the book. She’s witchy and mysterious. But we wanted to make her more human because that was a little more interesting to show. So even though Geillis does a lot of bad things, she still sees Claire as a true friend. Granted, her ways are a little more wicked than Claire, and for a different purpose.

Because she’s trying to control her time travel, and she’s willing to use blood sacrifice. We get to glimpse her notebooks, and we’re getting more of the rules, such as they are.
I can’t tell you how many discussions we’ve had in the writer’s room about the rules of time travel. [Laughs.] I’ve certainly pestered [author] Diana [Gabaldon] many times about her rules, because quite honestly, when you realize Claire went through the stones the first time without many of the certain elements you need, it’s a little confusing. Like, Claire went through without anything, so how did that work? And obviously she can do it, but Jamie can’t. Do we show that, or do we not? There are certain things you read in the book that you naturally accept, and you don’t think too much about it, but when you’re trying to dramatize it on screen, you have to. It almost makes your head hurt! [Laughs.] So I’ve asked Diana things about Master Raymond being a time traveler, or the Comte St. Germain, since she’s written that he might be a time traveler in The Space Between. But we didn’t really delve into that in this season.

So long as Claire gives more thought to her return journey, and realizes that she should bring some things back with her before just stepping through the stones again. Penicillin, for instance, could be handy.
Of course! She has to bring that back. [Laughs.]

Did you bring Laoghaire back this season, in anticipation of her larger role in season three?
Laoghaire, certainly, whether you love her or hate her. We changed a few things so that Laoghaire was much more involved in Claire’s witch trial, wanting to see her burned at the stake. And we thought because of that, we had to change her character a bit moving forward, to deal with that change. In episode 208, we didn’t have to redeem Laoghaire, but it’s just making sure that Claire and Jamie don’t see her as as big of a villain as they used to see her.

Some of the characters, you’ll have to recast and use older actors in season three: John Grey, Fergus.
Yeah, we need them aged up. That’s a challenge for us in season three because you’ve seen younger versions of them, and we have to cast off of that. I love Young Ian as a character, but I’m not sure who he is yet. We’re trying to figure out who those people are. We haven’t actually started looking at anyone, but we’ll be starting fairly soon. It’s the ones that will stay with us for hopefully many years — Marsali, older Fergus — who are trickier. Some won’t make it, of course. The Dougal death scene in the finale was so hard, to let him go, because I love both Dougal, the character, and Graham McTavish, the actor. The thing about this show, and I’m sure Game of Thrones goes through this as well, is that you build a family. We built a family of Highlanders, and they’re slowly dying off.

Every time I talk to one of your actors — even Graham McTavish suggested this — they usually ask if they can come back as their ancestor or descendent. He thought he could be Roger.
[Laughs.] Now, I take that as a good sign. Every single actor we’ve had on the show that’s not Jamie or Claire has asked to come back. The actress who plays Mrs. Fitz asked us to ask Diana if maybe she comes back in a later book, and so I actually asked Diana what happens to Mrs. Fitz, because you never find out! She said that Mrs. Fitz and Hamish end up in Canada, so maybe Mrs. Fitz can come to America with us.

Can you compare some of the challenges you faced in season two with what you’re facing now with season three?
Season two, it was split into two completely different seasons, in a way. Dragonfly in Amber is a much more difficult book to adapt, from a writing perspective, because everything is Claire’s perspective, but she’s not as active. So much happens off-camera, and you just hear about it. Jamie is going off and doing stuff and coming back and telling her about it. In order to see what’s going on, we had to create a lot of story that wasn’t there. But Voyager is so much easier, because we know what the stories are, the emotional arcs, and every storyline moves. We’re not finding that we’re having to make up stuff just to try to explain things.

What about locations?
Paris was a huge undertaking for us, for the costume department, for production design. You cannot get more opposite in terms of the clothing and the exteriors, the interiors. And we had a whole new cast of characters. Then halfway through, we had to switch it and go back to Scotland. The fact that we don’t have standing sets, and we’re always filming on something, breaking it down, starting to build another — the traveling-show nature of it all — is hugely difficult. Season three, the biggest challenge for us is a production challenge. That’s the thing that’s crazy and wonderful about Outlander: Every season is a reinvention.

I think your only recurring set is Lallybroch?
I love the scene in the finale where Claire goes back to Lallybroch, but Lallybroch is the only set that recurs throughout all the books, which is kind of sad. I’m sure [production designer] Jon Gary Steele wants to tear his hair out, because look at the Star Chamber! We only used that for two days, and it was a tremendous, enormous set, and then we never go back there. So for season three, we’ve got the Scotland portion, and then the Jamaica portion, and obviously we’re not shooting that Jamaica portion in Scotland. [Laughs.]

You’ve mentioned before that you would like to go on a little research trip to scout locations in Hawaii, to double for Jamaica. 
[Laughs.] Hawaii is still the dream, but sadly, I don’t think Hawaii is going to make the cut, as much as I would like it to. We’re zeroing in on the places where we can pull it off. I’m hoping that Diana writes in one of the later books that they have to go to the Polynesian islands.

Your production company is called Tall Ships, so I’m going to guess that you’re excited about the upcoming ship voyages.
Yes, I know! It’s funny. All the guys in the room are so excited, and the rest of the room at first was like, “Yeah, whatever,” until we started breaking it, and now we’re all excited. We’re still trying to figure out the ships. But I’m not too worried; we have a great visual-effects team. I imagine some we’ll build on our sets.

Can you borrow any ships from another Starz show, Black Sails?
You never know! Maybe they’ll give some ships to us for free! [Laughs.] A lot of people have been reaching out to me about [Black Sails star] Zach [McGowan] for the character Stephen Bonnet down the road, but I keep saying, “I’m so invested in this current season, I can’t really chew off the Stephen Bonnets of the future, the future villains.” Not yet!

Outlander Finale: The Challenges of Making S2