Ronald D. Moore Interview: ‘Outlander’ Season 2 and the Challenges of Adapting ‘Dragonfly in Amber’

Ronald D Moore Interview: Outlander Season 2
‘Outlander’ writer/executive producer Ronald D. Moore (Photo © 2014 Sony Pictures Television Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

The Outlander of season two will be dramatically different from the world introduced in season one. Adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s Dragonfly in Amber, the second season of the Starz series finds Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) far from their Scottish family and friends. They’ve landed in France on a mission to infiltrate the Jacobite rebellion and stop the Battle of Culloden from ever taking place.

During roundtable interviews at the 2015 San Diego Comic Con, writer/executive producer Ronald D. Moore discussed the changes in store for this second season and the challenges of creating a second season that will satisfy both readers of Gabaldon’s bestselling book series as well as viewers who were introduced to the time-traveling romantic drama via the television series. Moore also talked about the new characters who will be introduced to the story in this upcoming season.

Ronald D. Moore Outlander Interview

With the timeline changes in book two, how difficult was it for you to adapt that and make sure that it played well to both fans of the books and those who only know Outlander via the TV series?

Ronald D. Moore: “It was a challenge. The second book is much more complex. It’s a more difficult book to adapt. It changes the point of view; it plays with time. It’s more political. It deals with the Jacobite rebellion that most people in this country never even heard of, so it’s a challenge. We’re always trying to play this to two audiences. There’s the book fans and then there’s the general audience that has no idea, and you have to play fair with both. The book fans are looking forward to certain things and you want to satisfy that. We also want to surprise them. You want to catch them off guard and sometimes you want to scare them. Like, ‘Oh my god, Frank’s going up that hill?! If he goes through time I’m out of this show!’ That’s great. I’m sitting at home with my wife going, ‘Across America people are losing their minds.’ That’s fantastic and I enjoy that.”

The fans of the books should also have discovery. They should also be surprised. You want to engage their emotions as well. But then there’s the other half of the audience that has no idea what the books are about and you want to tell them the story clearly. They have to be able to follow along. I always make the comparison with Game of Thrones in that I’ve never read those books and that show has to stand on its own. It has to work for me. I doesn’t matter whether that scene’s in the book or not. If I don’t get it, I’m not engaged in it. I have the job of trying to keep both elements of the audience involved.”

Who are some of the new characters we’ll be meeting this season and what are some of the new locations?

Ronald D. Moore: “There’s several actual historical figures that are in the books. For the first time we meet Louis XV. The Comte St. Germain is a real historical character who is one of the villains in the show. There is gentleman named Master Raymond who runs an apothecary shop in Paris and helps Claire. He’s got some interesting things going on in his world. There’s Mother Hildegarde, a nun who runs a hospital in Paris. She’s a key player in the show. She has a dog, Bouton, that the fans are happy is in the show. There’s a boy named Fergus who becomes very important, especially as the book series goes forward, and he’s introduced this year. Bonny Prince Charlie is in it this year – a real historical figure. Those are the key players, I think, in terms of new characters.”

We’re plunging them into a new world. There were no costumes, sets or props that we could use. We had to create a new series for the second season. For the audience, it’s just like, ‘Wow, this is Outlander?’ We don’t have any of those elements in it, other than the three characters who came over. Everyone else is left behind. It’s a whole new world and a whole new story, but then eventually it does get back to Scotland so we’ll regain a lot of that stuff from the first season.

That’s a big deal. The rhythm of the scenes is different; the way it’s shot is different. The fabrics are different and the color palettes are different. Even the most basic things like candles are different. There’s a lot of gilt and a lot of fine china and silver. It’s just a completely different world.”

Can you talk about Jamie and Claire’s mission in season two?

Ronald D. Moore: “They’re trying to change history and that’s a very big deal. The future is helping to inform them on how to find a way to stop the Jacobite rebellions and stop the disaster at Culloden. There’s not a lot of time traveler in the show like in season one, but it’s still such a key idea that it propels a lot of the action in terms of what they’re doing.”

Was it a conscious decision to downplay Jamie’s faith versus Claire’s Catholicism?

Ronald D. Moore: “No, it wasn’t a conscious decision. I think it was just a question of emphasis. We didn’t try to play it down. I guess it just didn’t quite play into the story as much as we could have. It wasn’t a strategic choice; it just evolved that way.”

It’s such a large book. Was it a challenge to make the key events fit into one season in three fewer episodes?

Ronald D. Moore: “Definitely. Another three [episodes] would have helped but it’s still more episodes than Starz typically shows so I’m fine with it. I knew going in there was going to be 13. Fortunately, it’s the thinnest of the books. [Laughing] It’s not like the next one. That book is a whole different animal.”

Was there talk of breaking the third book into two seasons?

Ronald D. Moore: “We talked about it but no decision’s been made. I haven’t focused on it yet. We haven’t gotten a third season pickup so I don’t have that problem yet. Eventually we’ll have to have that discussion. I don’t know what the answer is. Maybe, maybe not. We’ve always talked about generally doing a book a season, but there are books that are just big and complicated. But once you do that, ‘ Okay, are we ever going to get to book eight or nine?’ When you start thinking about how many years we’re talking about…I don’t know. I really don’t know the answer to that.”

Will the look of Scotland change when we finally return to it in season two?

Ronald D. Moore: “Well, it will be a war-torn Scotland so it will be a heavier, darker, more threatening vibe when the story gets back to Scotland. The Parisian part is much richer and much more romantic. It’s a different world and we play that so visually it’s shot differently. It has a different kind of move and feel to it.”

If Outlander receives any Emmy nominations, what will that mean to you and the show?

Ronald D. Moore: “What it means to me is I like being able to go back to Scotland and say, ‘You know what? Your work matters. Those people back at the TV academy recognized you.’ Those people in all the different departments and the cast, those people work really, really hard. They all work harder than I do – trust me. They’re out lugging cameras around in the dead of night in the goddamn snow. That’s tough, and so to be able to go back and say, ‘Here’s this recognition,’ I think it matters for the morale of the show. It matters for people to be acknowledged. If they don’t get it, okay, it’s fine. Battlestar was ignored year after year. We were still very proud of it and we’re still like, ‘Screw the world! We know we’re doing a great show.’ We felt that way and it was always really annoying to me that Edward James Olmos never got a nomination. He’s one of the greatest actors and I think he did fantastic work. I could not believe it year after year that he was ignored. So, those things are kind of frustrating.

I don’t think Terry [Dresbach] cares a lot one way or another, but I want them to recognize her work. She’s done a fabulous job. Same goes for the cast, the cinematographers, and on and on and on. I think all of these people do really good stuff and I think it would be nice to have it recognized.”

More on Outlander Season 2: Sam Heughan Interview / Caitriona Balfe Interview