Why Outlander was right to pull the Bonnet storyline forward

Outlander Season 5 -- Courtesy of STARZ
Outlander Season 5 -- Courtesy of STARZ /

Outlander pulled the Bonnet storyline from Book 6 and included it in Season 5. This was the right thing to do from a TV standpoint.

While it would be wonderful if the entire book could be adapted to screen, that’s just not possible. It’s not just about time, but about creating a storyline for show-first fans or even those who only watch the show. Outlander pulled the Bonnet storyline forward, including a Book 6 in Season 5, and it really was the right thing to do.

TV shows tend to work through themes. Specific storylines tend to be grouped together, and it makes sense from a TV production point of view. A show needs to make sure particular actors are available for storylines. We’ve already seen how storylines have to be scrapped or adapted due to actors being unavailable. Just recently, Phaedre couldn’t be included in fifth season because actress Natalie Simpson was unavailable.

So, instead of running the risk that Ed Speleers would get a major role in another TV show before Season 6 could film, it makes sense to push the Bonnet storyline forward.

And it’s not just on a logistical point of view. From a show-watcher point of view, including the storyline from A Breath of Snow and Ashes in a condensed form in Season 5 makes sense. It keeps the theme of the big bad contained. We had two seasons with Black Jack Randall and now two seasons with Bonnet. Who will the next big bad be?

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If the show pushed it to Season 6, there would be episodes where Bonnet has to be forgotten about. He’s somewhere in the wings waiting to attack. In a novel, that’s fine. There can be a lot of other things to focus on. Or that looming threat doesn’t need to be remembered constantly. There are little stories that bring some of the danger and books get away with slower parts in between the drama.

A TV show doesn’t get away with highs and lows. An episode with a low point can be dull depending on the events. These slower-paced episodes tend to feel more like bridges to the next storyline, and with 12 episodes to a season, Outlander can’t really get away with that. It works well for a 22-episode season, but for a 12-episode season, the storylines need to be focused and contained.

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Plus, it keeps book readers on our toes. What can we expect from the show moving forward? Are there storylines from “The Fiery Cross” that will be completely abandoned or will they be included in the sixth season instead? How much of the sixth book will be used in the last two episodes of Season 5? Will some of the seventh book be used in Season 6?

The show has gained a new life. No longer can book readers confidently say “well, this is going to happen because that’s what happens in the books.” Now it’s a case of saying, “well, this could happen, but that’s if the show keeps the full storyline.” TV shows can’t keep the full storyline, so condensing in a way that make sense for a TV show standpoint is best.

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Outlander Season 5 continues on Sundays on STARZ.