'Outlander': Co-Executive Producer Matthew B. Roberts Talks 'Je Suis Prest' Episode

In Saturday night's "Outlander," Claire and Jamie Fraser faced new struggles as they inched closer to war with the British. 

(Spoiler alert! This story contains major plot details from "Outlander" Season 2, Episode 9 – "Je Suis Prest." Bookmark this link to come back to later if you haven't watched.)

After recruiting men from Lallybroch and Lord Lovat's estate to fight on the side of the Jacobites in the conflict ahead, the Frasers met up with Murtagh to begin training in "Je Suis Prest," an episode penned by "Outlander" co-executive producer and writer Matthew B. Roberts. 

As Jamie and Murtagh put the men through training, they were joined by some familiar faces from Season 1 – Dougal MacKenzie, Rupert MacKenzie and Angus Mhor – who brought their own ideas about how to face the enemy in combat. 

While Jamie worked to turn farmers into fighters and dealt with conflicting opinions and power plays from his Uncle Dougal, Claire found herself haunted by her World War II experiences as she watched the men train. 

"It came up in the room," Roberts told Access Hollywood, when asked who came up with the idea to add in flashbacks for Claire into the episode. "We were trying to find a story for Claire that wasn’t just kind of preparing for battle. … It felt like not a great way to use Caitriona Balfe's talent. So being an avid book reader… one of the elements that I have always wanted to see is... I wanted to see the moment when she heard 'Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,' and I wanted to know what affected her in battle. I was an EMT here in Los Angeles before I started writing, my brother is a firefighter/paramedic for many years and the trauma of just seeing things has always affected me in a different way than it's affected him. So I wanted to kind of show that on screen, and when I pitched out the story, the other writers liked it, Ron [Moore, 'Outlander's' executive producer] liked it, so he kind of let me run with it and I thought it worked out really nicely."

Claire's conflicts in the episode weren't just internal. Roberts wrote a very charged scene between Claire and Dougal (Graham McTavish), where Dougal tried to blackmail her into talking to Jamie about giving him more power, by bringing up his marriage bargain with her from Season 1 (back then, the deal was she could have his men to try and help free Jamie from Wentworth if she agreed to marry him if Jamie didn't make it out alive). 

"I never once thought that she would ever marry Dougal, I thought that she would escape through the stones and go back to her own time if in fact Jamie was dead. For her, it would have been a win-win. She gets the men, and she gets the men, either way. So, we wanted to do a call back to that," Roberts said. "It felt really odd that Dougal and Claire would be in the same place and never mention that. So, one of the ways I thought it was organic was to [have] him start to blackmail her into getting his own way. It also helped to show Dougal's scheming side, that he's always trying to get ahead, that he didn't like his position of being Jamie's subordinate anyway, so he was trying to work this to where if he could blackmail Claire into saying, 'Hey, maybe it would be good if Dougal was kind of equal with you in this.' Not that Claire obviously was ever going to do that, but it was nice to see him try. 

"And the other thing I wanted to get out -- and I really wanted to be emphatic about it -- is Jamie and Claire do share everything," he continued. "We don't always get to see it on screen because we only have 50-odd minutes to do Diana's massive books, per episode, so we can't fit everything in. So the line I really thought was important in this little section, this little speech of hers was, 'My husband and I share everything.' And she just cuts him off right there. He has nothing to say after that. He really doesn't and then she takes over after that moment and kind of goes off on him. I thought it was an important scene, a nice scene for her in her arc of her story." 

And just like his wife, Jamie too stood up to Dougal, who tried to push for his methods of surprise attack fighting throughout the episode, while Jamie worked to shape the men into a more traditional army, trained in combat techniques of the time. Dougal may have yielded to Jamie's leadership in the episode, but the conflict between the two men and their fighting styles isn't going away any time soon. 

"These guys will never ultimately get along. They'll never see eye to eye," Roberts said. "I think Jamie sees the big picture and that's the difference. If you look at Jamie in this episode, he always keeps his eye on the ball. He always has the big picture in mind. 'Yes, I can take these guys and throw them in battle. We could do that, but we'll lose half of them, we'll lose two-thirds of them. And what's the point of that? Why train our army to lose?' And he says it in the episode — 'I don't want my men to fight and die for their King. I want my men to fight and live for their King.' And for me, that's the line that epitomizes Jamie Fraser. He looks at the bigger picture always. And Dougal's more of a zealot. He's a fanatic. He wants to free Scotland. His heart's in the right place, his head is not and that's a big difference, whereas Jamie's head and heart are both in the right spot."

In Saturday night's "Je Suis Prest" episode, Roberts got to write the show's introduction to a character Diana Gabaldon's book readers will know well – 16-year-old William Grey (Lord John Grey). He also got to write in William Grey calling Jamie, "Red Jamie," and the line where Claire says the words, "dragonfly in amber," which, of course, is the name of the Gabaldon book Season 2 is based on. When asked if one of those moments which was his favorite, Roberts answered by explaining how he approaches each episode he pens.

Oscar Kennedy as William Grey and Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser in 'Outlander' Season 2, Episode 9 -- 'Je Suis Prest'

Oscar Kennedy as William Grey and Sam Heughan as Jamie Fraser in 'Outlander' Season 2, Episode 9 -- 'Je Suis Prest' (Starz)

"One thing I try to do just coming from a person who's read the books long before I got hired on the show, I try to, in every script, put in the nuggets of the book that I like, I think fans will like, book readers. Some of them are much more subtle. I think the 'dragonfly in amber' line is very subtle. It's there, it was cut at one point and then we put it back, and thankfully so. The Lord John Grey scene -- I was really excited to write that. I did want to add the 'Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.' I think [not] just to hear about that moment, but to actually see the moment -- I thought it was kind of exciting to be able to figure out a way to make that organic and fit into the story," he said. "So, I would say for a book reader -- I said this I think in either another interview or post at some point -- is when I write my first draft, I always write it as a writer. [As] a writer of the show, it's my job, it's what I need to do and then, when I do my second pass, I always do that as a fan -- 'Do I want to watch this episode?' is how I take a pass on it. And I always, of course, am slightly biased -- I always want to watch my episodes for a lot of those little nuggets. Like Easter eggs, you kind of plant them in spots. They're not just going to jump out you and I don't like to hang lanterns on them. ... The next episode I wrote, I co-wrote with Toni Graphia, is the finale and both of us were very excited to add book elements and try to work it in, because [the opening of Season 2] is completely different from the opening of the book, so we knew we were going to do certain things and we were really excited about getting to do these things and hopefully the fans will be excited for it too." 

"Outlander" continues Saturday nights at 9 PM ET/PT on Starz.

-- Jolie Lash

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