I try really hard not to watch or read anything that will influence my reflections. It is too hard to think your own thoughts if you are aware of what others are thinking. But, sometimes I need a sounding board and I will reach out to my friend Jane. She understands my process and I trust her. We knew it was coming, another episode where the writers would have to deal with another rape in their source material. The discussions around the portrayal or even the necessity of showing the rape were expected. I found my own feelings about this episode were confusing and so, this was one of the times I needed to talk before I wrote.
When Mary was raped there was talk in the fandom about the amount of rape in the show and there was even more discussion when they chose to show the rape of young Fergus. As a result, Jane and I discussed whether we thought there was too much rape in Outlander. I know I wrote about our conversation, but I’ll be damned if I can remember where! If I remember correctly, we made a list of how many characters were raped or threatened with rape in Diana Gabaldon’s books and it is a pretty long list. But, then we both wondered why, when reading the story, we didn’t feel there was a lot of rape. We both came to the conclusion that it was because the books were large and so much happened between each event. We also agreed that each character’s reaction was so different and how they dealt with the aftermath so different it felt like there was something new to say about the topic and new perspectives to appreciate and take in. Today, Jane shared with me that an interviewed Caitriona Balfe felt a lot like we did. The books are large and the condensed format of the show doesn’t help with the perception there is too much rape. Jane also shared that the producers felt they had to show the rape because it affected so many story-lines going forward. So, they felt the rape needed to be told. And, if they were going to tell it, Caitriona shared, it had to have meaning to the story. I think this has always been their commitment to telling the parts of the story that involve sex or violence and for the most part, I think they have been faithful to that commitment.
The episode itself was beautiful and riveting. It was full of wonderful symbolism and call-backs. The dreamscape house allowed me to escape with Claire, it helped me too, to think about Jamie and those she loved safe in the future. The drip, however, reminds us that this wasn’t real, as did the empty chairs at the dinner table. Claire has no idea if her child and grandchild are okay. Drip by drip reality would eventually leak through. I loved that even in her futurist dream world, she couldn’t see Jamie as at 20th-century man. It was beautifully filmed, the costumes and sets doing their part to help tell the story, The acting continues to be stellar and moving. I believe the actors. I can see what the characters are feeling. As an episode, it was another story well told. My issue is with the premise that this part of the story had to be told. Claire has and will suffer enough.
Jamie’s rape at the hands of BJR was one of the most brutal and visceral scenes I have ever watched on TV. The conversations that ensued, of course, ran the gamut of revulsion to gratefulness. There were fans who felt it was too much, unnecessary, and triggering. Others felt that it opened a door to necessary conversations about male rape. Fergus’ rape, Brianna’s, Mary’s, and finally, …Claire’s gang rape were all scenes depicted in the books and all, important to the plot except…Claire’s gang rape. I’ve tried and tried to understand how this moved the plot forward, I just haven’t come up with an answer that would warrant this scene being important to the rest of the story…at least for Claire. I looked at how this changed her going forward. She has moments of PTSD, but in truth, I don’t think it does break her or change how she looks at the world. I’m not minimizing the experience, it was awful and she suffers for it. PTSD has a way of making us understand that we cannot control our reaction to trauma whether we claim we won’t be shattered by it or not. But, I just don’t see how Claire is significantly changed. She is still kind, she still has mercy for those who don’t deserve it. She may be more cautious, warier of men, but it does not seem to impact her choices. She seems to be able to compartmentalize what happened to her. I know the death of Lionel Brown has some significance to the plot, but there truly could have been another way to move that story-line forward besides an even more brutal rape than the books portrayed. Jamie, on the other hand, is changed. He always called himself a bloody man, but I always felt his actions could be defended. When he utters”kill them all” some switch was turned on, a line crossed. “What a man will kill for he sometimes will die for” and at this point, for Jamie, the only thing worth killing and dying for is Claire. Jamie’s trajectory is changed by this event, but I have to believe he would have reached this point anyway… it’s not like Outlander lacks enough conflict to turn on his killer instincts.
I’m sure, like previous episodes that feature this subject matter, there will be folks who are angry and folks who are emotionally validated by this presentation. Like in the past, I’m sure I will be able to see both sides, my own confused reaction to this episode confirms that for me. I am just not sure what to think or even feel. I was moved and disturbed. But, when I reflect on all the images, symbolism, and words spoken in this episode, this morning the words that continue to resonate with me were spoken by Marsali. “He thought me no better than the dirt under his boot,” she tells Jamie. This has been our struggle, hasn’t it, to be seen as worthy of respect, dignity, and equality? For me, one of the most important things the series has shown us is the plight of women and how men value and devalue them. Claire moves from respected wife and healer, the valued Lady of the Ridge, to “Hedge Whore” in the eyes of the men who want to teach an uppity woman her place. Lionel Brown is an archetype for male privilege and the evilness of patriarchy. I would love to say women feeling like dirt under men’s boots is a thing of the past, but “casting couches” and every woman inspired to tell her story by the “me too” movement proves otherwise. Men like Lionel are alive and well still trodding us underfoot. We still struggle to be more than “a mere woman of no consequence”. But, thank God the story includes men like Ian and Fergus and Roger and…Jamie who fight for us and beside us. There are men who understand that honor and courage are matters of the bone and that ” in her blood is his honor is christened.”
The image that has remained with me today is Claire naked in Jamie’s arms. I know that the premise is that they have had sex, but that is not what I see. What I see is vulnerability. In each other’s arms, Claire and Jamie are free to be themselves without fear, naked, battered, and bruised. I thought of Jamie’s trauma and his telling Claire that the part that makes him himself was a naked thing out in the open afraid and trying to find a blade of grass to hide underneath. They came together physically then and something was restored and he felt that she had built him a “lean-to” to hide under rather than a blade a grass. In her arms, he is safe, his healing can begin. In his arms,…she is safe…her healing has begun.
P.S. One of my readers pointed out that perhaps, I have answered my own questions, this deep relationship has been deepened by shared trauma.
“If my last words are not I love you. You will ken it is because I dinna have time”