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WTF Moments: Outlander's Claire creating the 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy' paradox

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Oct 8, 2019

Here's a classic conundrum: You're a woman from 1946, and you've time-traveled to Scotland in 1743, right in the midst of the Jacobite uprisings. You fall deeply in love with a Scotsman, but then he falls into the hands of the English. You hear that he may have escaped, and you really need to get his attention. You don't have his cell number, because cell phones don't exist yet for either of you. What would you do?

I'm not sure what I personally would do, but if I were Claire Randall Fraser (Caitriona Balfe) on Outlander, I'd have a plan. A singing, jazzy plan.

Claire finds her lost husband Jamie (Sam Heughan) in a very unusual way toward the end of Outlander's first season. She doesn't set smoke signals or roam the land screaming his name... no, she has a much weirder (yet highly effective) method of getting his attention.

She dresses as a traveling player and goes to every town and village, performing a little show. Not just any show! This one involves the gallant Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) performing a classic sword dance while the Sassenach sings a song. What song would really make people take notice? Something "jazzed" up, as Claire says, possibly something from her own time period. Jamie would recognize that a weird new song being talked up throughout the highlands would have come from his one true time-displaced love because it has no business being sung in that time period.

This is how we get Claire traveling around singing "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" on any stage that lets her do it.

She changes the lyrics a little, and she gives that song whatever Scottish flair she possibly can, but that's the plan for her and Murtagh. A traveling show, with the central part being Claire singing that song.

This is not even the real WTF Moment, because it's amusing, and Balfe sells it just as well as she sells everything on this series. The song begins to take on a life of its own while their search for Jamie goes on, and a problem soon arises — another traveling player has taken the song and made it better. She and her companion are doing what Claire and Murtagh are doing, and they are doing it better.

But not even that is the WTF Moment, though it is horrible ethical behavior for a traveling player. Townspeople like this other person's rendition better — Claire is a gifted healer, but we guess she's not the best performer in Scotland at that moment. Everyone wants the other player instead.

Claire is about to give up, having sung the song everywhere she can, but then she finds out that it actually worked. Jamie did hear the song, he found out where Claire might be... but then he got captured. We then get two episodes of a very, very dark subject matter (Jamie's torture at the hands of Tobias Menzies' Black Jack Randall), and ain't no one singing "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" in those episodes.

The song sequence is not in Diana Gabaldon's original novel — it's a moment that Ronald D. Moore expanded and inserted into the series. It's a moment of weirdness, but again, Balfe sells it, and we're happy that we just got that levity because like we've also said, torture is coming.

The real WTF Moment is this: In the world of this show, the general tune of "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" presumably then went through the highlands, was passed down through the generations, and was somehow eventually heard by The Andrews Sisters in the 1940s, who then stole it and made it their own. Even then, Claire sings the real lyrics to the song first before she changes them. Where did The Andrews Sisters get the exact same set of lyrics from? Did it just end up the same way as if by magic?

Who really wrote "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy?" We have a bootstrap paradox situation here. We also have a "your cousin, Marvin Berry..." situation here. That's not all, either.

Another WTF to throw into this WTF stew: There has been debate for years over who the real "Boogie Woogie Bugler" actually is (the person that the song sings about), with some believing the song to be based on the life of Clarence Zylman, a radio personality who got drafted into the war. We know that in Outlander, the actions taken in the past do affect the future. Taking that into consideration (and assuming that Zylman is the real-life Bugle Boy), did Claire... accidentally invent the entire story of someone's life?

In the world of this series, did Claire Randall sing about the life and story of Clarence Zylman over 200 years before Zylman was born, and then Zylman just happened to live out his life in that exact fashion?

If that's what really went down, then perhaps all of our lives have been altered (or conjured) by Claire Fraser in some way. Perhaps the sun only rose this morning because Claire Fraser talked about it once in Scotland.

My mind is spinning, and seriously... WTF.


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