‘Outlander’ Executive Producers Toni Graphia and Matthew B. Roberts on the Emotional Season 2 Finale

"This is the arc of a couple who faced great challenges over this season."

Outlander finished its excellent, heartbreaking second season on Saturday with a 90-minute episode that answered the big questions posed in the premiere: How the hell did Claire get back to the 1940s? And will Frank really raise her unborn child — Jamie’s child — as his own?

Dragonfly in Amber” takes us to 1968, where Claire brings her grown daughter, Brianna, to Scotland for the first time since leaving for America with Frank decades earlier. All that time, Claire assumed Jamie had died in the Battle of Culloden, immediately after he sent her back to the future through the stones at Craigh na Dun. But the finale ends with the revelation that he didn’t die in the battle, which makes Claire determined to go back in time to reunite with the love of her life.

Flavorwire spoke to the episode’s writers, executive producers Matthew B. Roberts and Toni Graphia, about Claire and Jamie’s painful parting, adapting the second book in Diana Gabaldon’s series for TV, and the relative lack of sex in Season 2.

Flavorwire: I thought you did a great job weaving all those plot strands together in the finale.

Matthew B. Roberts: And you’re a non-book reader?

Yeah.

Toni Graphia: We wanted the scenes in the 18th century to have the urgency of only taking place over a few hours, and the other story rolling out more languidly over days and days — to juxtapose the pace. It is a lot of dense material but I think the juxtaposition makes it really cool.

MR: Did you cry?

I did, I cried when Jamie and Claire parted at the end.

MR: Alright, very good.

TG: It was Matt’s idea to have Jamie dance her back towards the stones. Sneaky man that he is, Matt said the only way he’ll get her to that stone is to sort of dance her backward, where she gets lost in the moment and doesn’t realize and then she turns and there they are. That made me cry, I love that moment.

What were some of the challenges in adapting the second book for this season?

MR: One of the biggest challenges for me is, this season we went from 16 episodes to 13 episodes. [The book] Dragonfly [in Amber] is longer than Outlander, it’s a more complicated story, and we didn’t have as much time to tell it. Toni and I in the finale had some extra time, but as you saw it’s a massive amount of ground to cover in just an hour and a half.

It must have been difficult to sustain the tension set up in the previous episode while also giving the viewer all this new information and new characters.

TG: We like to think of the story in emotional arcs rather than plot arcs. We never thought of it as building towards the Battle of Culloden; we thought of it as building towards how that moment in the premiere happened and what could happen that comes between Claire and Jamie and tears them apart. I think [viewers] will be satisfied with the emotional end — “Oh, this is how this happened, and this is why Claire was so freaked out at the hospital when she landed.” Because she had just stepped away from all of that chaos, literally moments before. Going to Paris for this couple, they had this noble cause — to not only stop a war but stop the destruction of the Highland people and culture they love so much.

But it proved to be a huge burden and challenge that literally tore them apart. They lost a baby, they had to deceive friends, they were almost killed several times. We always said in the room that Paris was a very toxic place for them. It was destroying their relationship. Even when they said, “We’ve done all we can, let’s go home and heal,” they’re sucked back into it when the letter arrives that has Jamie’s signature. So this is the arc of a couple who faced great challenges over this season.

There was much less sex in this season than the first. I thought was a really smart choice to focus on how the trauma of sexual abuse lingers and affects Jamie’s relationship with Claire. Did you get any pushback about the lack of sex?

TG: There has been some talk of that. Book two has a lot of sex in it, but that’s not what the story’s about. It’s about the connection between Jamie and Claire. On a lot of TV shows people are just jumping into bed right and left, and we feel that it’s inorganic to the story and we’re not doing it for gratuitous reasons and just to titillate people. We’re trying to show what happens between a real man and woman. Have you ever seen another show where a woman is on horseback and riding next to her man, heading towards a giant battle? That’s a different kind of romance and love and commitment, and I think if you want to just watch sex you can see it on any channel.

I think our true fans understand that this is a hard season and that Jamie did have this trauma and that we had to show the repercussions of that on him. It would have been a disservice to rape victims everywhere if we had just blown past it and acted like they could go back to normal. So her being patient and working on that with him — that’s the kind of love and intimacy that I think makes people respond to Outlander. That having been said, Season 3 is more of an adventure story and they’ll probably have a little more [sex] in Season 3 because we won’t be in the aftermath of rape and we won’t be on a mission to stop a war.

Have you started writing the next season?

MR: We’ve already written quite a few scripts. We know what the season’s going to look like. I don’t know how much we can share with you because there would be massive spoilers.

TG: I think it’s safe to say the fans will be very happy. We don’t follow the books exactly — Season 3 we can promise will have all their favorite moments, but there will be some curveballs as there were in Season 2.

Like what?

TG: One of them that Matt and I are especially proud of in Season 2 is that we brought Geillis Duncan into the finale in a way that didn’t happen in the book, and that the fans will not be expecting. In the book, Claire sees Geillis at the stones just as Geillis is about to go through. She calls out to her and Geillis goes through and they don’t have any interaction. Matt and I kept saying, “It’s such a drag, it would be so great to have them meet! Couldn’t they just brush shoulders in a crowd or something to have them in the same frame?” But logic prevailed, because if Geillis had met Claire she would definitely have remembered her and then when Claire arrived in the 18th century it would be like, “Oh, you’re that woman I met at the pharmacy that day” or whatever. We thought, well, if we can’t cross her with Claire, what if she meets Brianna instead? We have to shake the books up a bit and keep people guessing to keep it all exciting and fresh and unpredictable.

You’ve hired some more writers for the next season.

MR: Once we get into production, we lose two writers out of the room to go and prep and cover shooting. So we found over the first two seasons we immediately were reducing our staff by half as soon as production started, and it started to get taxing for the writers. It absolutely helps to have new, fresh voices and new takes on things.

TG: We decided when we knew we had the two-season pickup that there was really more work ahead of us. We had the luxury of knowing that we’re going to come back and that factored into the decision to get some more people, so not only can we get a jump on these scripts for Season 3 but we’ll have advanced teams to send into book four.

Do you guys ever get breaks?!

TG: This year we really didn’t!

MR: Unfortunately no, we did not. I’m actually in Scotland right now prepping Season 3, so I’ve been scouting non-stop for the last two weeks. We’re a big machine. If we stop it feels like — well, we just can’t stop because it just keeps coming.

TG: It’s a hard job and we don’t get many breaks but I have to say it’s the best show I’ve ever worked on. It’s not as taxing as it sounds when you love the material and you love what you do.