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SYFY WIRE Outlander

Outlander's Caitriona Balfe & Sam Heughan on producing S5 & stories they'd explore if books didn't exist

By Tara Bennett
Outlander Season 5 Never My Love

It's been a month since the Outlander fifth season finale, "Never My Love," aired on Starz. It played out the brutal abduction and assault of Claire Fraser (Caitriona Balfe), and then her rescue thanks to her husband, Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan), and family. With Emmy nomination season happening in Hollywood, Deadline hosted a season finale screening followed by a virtual Q&A with Balfe, Heughan, and series executive producer, Matt B. Roberts.

The trio discussed a range of topics including Balfe and Heughan adding the title "producer" for Season 5 and beyond, how they collaborated on portraying the very sensitive topics in "Never My Love," and even what stories they would tackle if the show didn't follow the text of author Diana Gabaldon's books so closely.

On that specific topic, the three initially joked that in our global COVID-19 reality, writing episodes set in Hawaii would be a nice respite from reality. "I would probably, given this moment in time, have them set sail for Hawaii and set up some medical facility," Roberts riffed. Heughan added that Jamie would "invent" surfing, while Balfe laughed that Claire would lend her talent to creating medicinal cocktails.

In all seriousness, Roberts acknowledged that everyone in the cast and crew are really missing not being back in production. Before the pandemic, Outlander Season 6 was supposed to go into production in May, but shooting the scripts already written for the sixth season (based on Gabaldon's book "A Breath of Snow and Ashes") is on hold until the industry settles safety protocols.

But in a "What If" scenario of scripting something for the series outside of the main book narrative, Roberts offered, "I would have them go back to Scotland and be in the Highlands, because that is where we film and we can control the world a little better there."

In the fifth season show narrative, the Frasers now reside in pre-Revolutionary war North Carolina, which has nixed any more Scottish Highlands stories. Heughan agreed with Roberts, but warned about any core changes, "We wouldn’t want to incur the wrath of Diana and her fans. But we all miss [the] Scotland [stories], so to revisit early season stuff would be great."

Outlander FYC Season 5

As to their new producer credits, the actors admit they have taken their new titles very seriously. Heughan explained, "We both got the credit and we're more involved in production meetings and give more input. We’ve learned a lot." He called the show "quite a jigsaw piece" and explained that "Never My Love" was the episode that saw the most of their influence. "There was a lot of back and forth, because of the tough material, but it was rewarding."

Balfe added that because the book and series narratives revolve so much around Claire and Jamie, becoming producers afforded them the opportunity to grow like their characters have. "I want to keep learning and see where we can be of benefit to the show." She also explained that since many of the show's writers and producers have moved onto new opportunities, their titles as leads and producers mean, "We’re a constant, like Matt and [executive producer] Maril (Davis), to help keep the core and essence of our show in the forefront."

As for "Never My Love" specifically (which is the focus of nomination buzz for the series and leads), Roberts says the writers knew they wanted the fifth season to end on Claire's abduction, which is in the books, so they spent a lot of time researching how to handle it right. "There is a lot of rape and sexual assault on the show, so we have a lot of consultants we can go to. We mine their expertise before we start the process."

Episode writers Roberts and Toni Graphia decided to weave in Claire disassociating from her assault by imagining herself, and members of her family in a '60s setting for a family dinner. Since the series at its core is about Claire's ability to time-travel, the writers felt it was a creative way to place her out of time in such an awful situation. Balfe said in regards to how they portray assault in the series, "The fact that we always highlight a POV is helpful to start the conversation. In this particular storyline, Matt talked about disassociation. And at the start of the episode, we made sure there were trigger warnings to give people the opportunity to enter it with their eyes open. We do it in most responsible way possible."

Heughan gave props to director Jamie Payne for guiding the entire cast through the shooting of the intense scenes. "It was a safe environment in part due to Jaime Payne's sensitivity. We're working closely together and we can open up more."

"It was a team effort. Everyone brought their best," Roberts added. "I met with Jaime on weekends, and I had ideas on what [the episode] would look like. We wrote a lot of dialogue and in shooting it, that got trimmed down, and even more so in editing. Everybody all dug in on this one and I’m really proud of it."

For more on Season 5, watch our exclusive cast interviews below with Balfe, Heughan, Sophie Skelton, and Richard Rankin: