Time-traveling from the 1960s back to the 1770s through the Craigh Na Dun Standing Stones is no easy feat, even for those whose DNA allows them passage. And as much as Brianna Fraser (Sophie Skelton), now MacKenzie, prepared for her journey on Outlander, there were things about life in the 18th century that she had considered, but she had no idea how much worse they would be than in her present-day life.
Foremost amongst them was the role of women at that time. Of course, Brianna, who has a strong background in history, was aware that women didn’t have the freedoms they enjoyed in the 20th century, but she had no idea the extent to which she might be considered a witch for using her engineering degree from MIT to “invent” things like matches.
But after attempting unsuccessfully in Season 5 to go through the stones to return to modern times, in Season 6, Brianna and Roger (Richard Rankin) are reconciled with the prospect of staying on Fraser’s Ridge, which means she will have to adapt.
“There’s something liberating about having choice taken away from you,” Skelton exclusively told Parade in a recent interview. “The previous seasons, Brianna had been through so much: She lost a father (Frank); then her mother left her (to return to Jamie). She went through sexual abuse, she broke up with her boyfriend, she’s had a lot going on.”
So, Brianna was drawn back to a time where she felt safe and where she could be the woman she was born to be: an engineer, an inventor, and most of all, she’d be in a better place to put the trauma of being raped by Stephen Bonnet (Edward Speleers) behind her. But that was not to be.
Since then, Brianna has observed how her mother, Claire (Caitriona Balfe), had been considered to be a white witch for her “modern” methods of tending to the sick on Fraser’s Ridge. In fact, the two women had a conversation about it because Brianna was holding back her own particular talents in order to avoid being tarred by the same brush.
“Brianna’s always known that when she came to the past there were going to be some flags and heads turned and she’d be flagged as a witch for doing witchcraft, and that that was dangerous,” Skelton said. “But everything that happened to Claire in season 5 is definitely a reminder and really resurfaced that fear and ingrained it.”
The problem was compounded by having a family. In Season 6, Brianna has more than just herself to consider. If she invents or otherwise does something that flags her family, then she’s also putting Jamie, Roger, Claire, and her son Jemmy in danger.
“So, for that reason, she’s really trying to squash her itch to be herself and to invent things,” Skelton said. “But she also knows that inventing things could help the Ridge. Now, she’s got to turn it into a positive, to find a way to be excited about creating things that provide convenience, that are from the future. She’s got to turn that challenge into a positive and think, ‘How can I do that with the things that are at my disposal, that won’t turn heads in a negative way?’ It’s almost an exciting challenge for her, even though it is frustrating at times.”
Keep reading Parade.com‘s exclusive interview with Sophie Skelton to find out how she and Balfe handled the show’s possibly traumatic scenes and how she’d like to see the series through to the end of author Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander novels.
Now that Brianna has accepted that she will be staying at Fraser’s Ridge, how will she deal with it?
We’ve always seen an underlying angst with Bree. Whereas this season, I think, she as an individual, and she and Roger as a couple, are just far more settled and far more at home with their decisions. Because they always have had this elephant in the room as to whether they were going to go back to the future, now that that decision’s been taken away from them—the stones made that decision for them when they kicked them back to the past, they can actually calm into their life there, lay down their roots, and start to build the best life possible with what they’ve got.
We saw the scene where Brianna had invented matches, and everyone was disappointed because they thought she had been going to announce she was with child. How does she learn to accept that?
I do think it’s obviously hard for her. She was a modern woman in the ‘60s, never mind in this time. She’s extremely intelligent. So, not being able to exercise that brain power and muscle is obviously really degrading for her in a way and it massively squashes who she is at her core.
With the matches scene, initially, they wanted Brianna to become angry at everyone for just assuming that her big news is that she’s pregnant. But I also think that Bree is empathetic and intelligent enough to recognize that it’s not their fault that they think that way, it was just the way of the times.
The old Brianna might have gotten riled up about that, but the new Brianna handles everything in a much more calm, maternal way, and actually then just problem solves how to power through and how to help educate and change their mindset, instead of blaming them for it.
I think that it’s a really cool, fresh version of Brianna that we’re seeing this season, whereby she takes any issues in stride and tries to move forward. That’s why the matches scene is great, because she’s resigned to the fact and almost giggles at the fact that, “Oh, my goodness! I know how important matches will be at some point and the fact that you don’t need them right now is actually shocking but almost kind of funny, and I’m going to find a way to make you realize that they’re great and help you.” She’s sort of pushing things uphill, but she’s determined and she’s strong and she’ll get there, but she’s just doing it in a far gentler way than maybe she used to.
In addition to her inventions, the other danger she faced in the past was sexual assault. Both Brianna and Claire have been raped as part of the story. What are your thoughts on how it’s being handled and how fans have responded to you?
I feel both Caitriona and I have been hopefully good at ensuring that we put the help lines and charities on the [end of the] episodes, so we’ve been extremely sensitive to the fact that it can be triggering for fans. What we’ve tried to do is not just to use the excuse of it was more prominent in those times, because I know people can do that as a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card, we’ve tried to use each rape as a way of educating and a way of showing that people go through the trauma differently, that recovery happens differently, that PTSD shows in different ways.
This season especially, Brianna is trying to help Claire heal but not doing it in a way that people might often stereotypically expect. So, when Briana says to Claire, “I used to say I was fine,” she’s saying, “Look, I know you’re lying to me, I know you’re not fine but I’m not going to push it. You can talk to me whenever you want to if you want to.”
I think we’ve tried to educate and give really important messages through it, and help people, A, who’ve been through the trauma of it, and, B, who are trying to help people who’ve been through the trauma, if that makes sense. We’re trying to help both sides and at least make those scenes turn into something that can help people heal as opposed to just putting them in there to have them in there.
The Revolutionary War is coming in season 6, and you’re playing an American. You personally went to school in the UK. How much did you learn about the American Revolution? Or maybe being on the losing side they didn’t teach it so much?
Maybe. I’ll be honest with you, yeah, it’s often kind of lost in British education maybe. Different schools have different syllabuses, so I can’t speak for the U.K. as a whole, but the American Revolution really wasn’t something on our syllabus. So, I just researched it myself, because obviously I, A, should know about it, and B, I wanted to know every little detail. The fact that Brianna was a historian, she wouldn’t just know the easy version of that, she would know all the intricacies of what happened. So, I definitely, definitely delved into all the events of that.
How helpful are Diana’s books to you? Or do you go strictly by the scripts? Do you read Diana’s books to help flesh out who Brianna is?
Initially, I used to, and I want to read the books at some point, but I’m going to wait until we’ve done the seasons because Brianna’s very different now. Also, we’ve pulled different scenes from different books and we mix up the timelines, so it’s easy to just stick to what we’re given on the page for the script, otherwise timelines start to get messy.
Are you hoping for more seasons beyond seven? Would you like to tell Brianna’s story through the end?
Of course. It’s such a wonderful job, we all love doing it. We’re all such a close-knit family. Obviously, I’ve been in Brianna’s head for so long now that I would definitely miss that side of it. Who knows? I know that Diana does keep writing amazing books and, hopefully we’ll get to do that justice and tell the rest of the story.
It’s almost like Brianna becomes a friend, right?