Caitriona Balfe discusses how the sixth season of Outlander puts a strain on Claire’s recuperation.
Throughout its career, Outlander has never shied away from confronting difficult themes. The plot of Starz’s historical sci-fi drama revolves around World War II medic Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe), who accidently goes back 200 years in time and falls in love with a Scottish Highland warrior named James Fraser (Sam Heughan). The programme is praised for the chemistry between its two protagonists as well as their characters’ persistent, time-spanning romance. However, the programme excels at putting Claire and Jamie Fraser in horrific situations.
On March 6, the sitcom resumed for an eight-episode sixth season. “Echoes,” the first episode, begins Claire’s road of rehabilitation after she was kidnapped, sexually abused, and recovered in the season-five finale (which aired all the way back in May 2020). The episode also introduces game-changing new characters from Diana Gabaldon’s novels, which served as the show’s inspiration. Malva Christie (Jessica Reynolds) and her strict father and brother come to Fraser’s Ridge.
The A.V. Club spoke with Balfe on how this season focuses on Claire’s PTSD, her role as a producer in the narrative arc, the growth of Claire’s relationship with her daughter Brianna (Sophie Skelton), and how Malva could shake up the Outlander world.
The A.V. Club: What was it like to return for season six after such a lengthy gap, and what was it like to put yourself in Claire’s shoes this time? She’s still recovering from another traumatic encounter.
Caitriona Balfe: First and foremost, we were ecstatic to come back to work. In the United Kingdom, we’ve all been subjected to a lengthy lockdown. It was an honour to be able to return to doing what we love. The production team worked hard to ensure that we could film our programme in the same manner as before, with the same expanse and ambition.
In terms of Claire’s journey, it was critical for me to present the opposite side of the horrible experiences she endured. If you’re going to portray a rape or a terrible attack like the one we did, it was critical for me to spend as much, if not more, time investigating the recovery. That’s what we get to do as storytellers: portray things that aren’t pleasant while still attempting to bring something positive to a difficult subject. That’s what I believe we accomplished.
Claire’s PTSD is being investigated. We investigate how someone who appears to be powerful and indestructible on the surface may be shaken to their core. Claire is having trouble figuring out how to deal with the trauma. She is the type of person that compartmentalises everything. She makes a lot of mistakes on the way through the adventure we’re on with her. It’s reassuring to know that, with the aid of her family, there is light at the end of the tunnel.
AVC: This isn’t the first time Outlander has represented sexual assault or violence in general. How do you believe the show’s handling of such sensitive themes has evolved? You’ve been a producer since season five; did you get to have any say in how Claire’s storey unfolded?
CB: Yeah, I consider myself fortunate since we have a great working connection with our authors and other producers. We started talking about how the recuperation would happen last season since we knew we wanted to commit time to it. Finding an honest, internal monologue for Claire was a big part of it. We were determined to nail it and make it truly true.
Everyone has a distinct perception of what others are afraid of or what their deepest, darkest fears are. I had strong feelings about what Claire’s would be like. It was almost like solving a riddle with the authors about how we should portray it to her in a genuine way. We discovered it while we were filming.
How does Claire’s relationship with her daughter Brianna change this season, given that Bree has had a similar experience with Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers) in the past?
CB: Because of what happened when Claire travelled back in time in season four, Bree has a good idea of what Claire has gone through. She is then the first to call her out on her deception. Claire says, “I’m OK,” and Bree understands what that means. They have excellent shorthand. As the episodes go by, you’ll see that Brianna will play an important role in Claire’s recovery. It’s always a pleasure to emphasise the mother-daughter bond.
Speaking of maternal relationships, Claire ends up acting as a mother figure to Malva Christie, a key new character in the novels. What effect will her coming have on Fraser’s Ridge?
CB: Malva is a strange, tiny creature who visits the Ridge. Claire genuinely cares for her. She has a stern and tyrannical father, Tom (Mark Lewis Jones), and a brother, Allan (Alexander Vlahos), so Claire wants to take her in. She notices Malva’s thirst for knowledge and study, which reminds her of herself. At first, it’s a genuine relationship. Malva is a complicated character. There’s a lot going on in Claire’s life that she’s not aware of.