Character Counts … A reflection on Outlander Episode 11



I was perusing Twitter on Saturday before watching Outlander episode 11 the Devil’s Mark when I came across a tweet from someone who had already watched the episode. Aside from being a little pissed that I hadn’t gotten to watch yet, I found the statement intriguing. The author said,

Because the tweet intrigued me, I re-tweeted it.  I felt my excitement to watch the episode heighten.  Had they really done it? Had they really shown Claire in all her wonderful nerve-wracken-ly principled glory?  I sure hoped so.

The episode was exciting and full of all kinds of wonderful, but per usual there was a theme that stood out for me. Character. In a real-world and TV world full of characters with ambiguous moral character, Outlander has the potential to be something different. Saturday night, I saw some of that potential realized. Our main characters had moral and ethical dilemmas that they solved in ways that have sadly become a-typical. They made selfless decisions. They did the right thing despite knowing the price they would pay would be dear.

I enjoy watching Game of Thrones, a show Outlander has been compared to. In my opinion, this comparison by journalists is weak at best and most often used by writers too lazy to look any deeper.  There seems to be a tendency among these types to latch on to what is the most “pop culture” popular thing to repeat. I have nothing against R.R. Martin or the show based on his works.  They are what they are, but what they are is a far cry from what Outlander is or tries to be.

Last years’ GOT season was full of characters acting out of warped emotions, values and needs. I don’t expect anything different this year. Lots of titillating stuff to discuss around the water cooler, but I must admit the most shocking thing about this show is how hard it is to find a redeeming character. I wish I could say this trend toward pushing the moral and ethical envelope was the exception rather than the rule on TV, but I can’t.  It is all too common.

My reaction to the GOT characters and their actions is very different from what I feel when I watch Outlander.  Folks on social media said they used a box of tissues watching this episode. This is very understandable, there is some tear-jerking stuff!  I cried some tears myself, but I came to examine my feelings a bit closer and realized there was something deeper going on here. When I watched Claire and Jamie and Ned and even Gellis make their choices, I felt a real connection. My eyes filled with tears for the human compassion I was witnessing. Our characters made unselfish choices. They made me feel proud to be human.

My Twitter author Lady Jane commented that Claire was principled to a fault. I think I understand what she means if she meant that Claire puts herself in danger by stubbornly remaining a person who cares about others ..then yes…I agree, she does. It’s the “to a fault” part that I find myself still thinking about today. The kind of choices Claire has to make come with a risk to herself and others, to say the least.  But…I resist the idea that her ethical and moral center is somehow flawed because she chose to be unselfish. I’m pretty sure Lady Jane agrees with me because she loves Claire for it. These are the character traits of the everyday hero who saves a child from drowning, pulls people from a burning car or donates an organ to a stranger.  These are the kind of people we should be admiring and celebrating.

Claire would not give false witness, even against a woman who admitted to killing her husband and even if it would save her own life. I cried bittersweet tears for Claire. Under extreme distress and pressure, betrayed by those who should have represented innocence and mercy (Leery and Father Bain), surrounded by a sea of faces that desired to see her burn, she stayed true to herself.

Sad, but wonderful too.

She is saved at the last-minute by the zealot murderess Gellis who sets aside her own desires to help another. I cried for Gellis’ courage, for her self-sacrifice, and for her wasted life.  She will not be the last person to give over her thinking and decision-making to a cause nor the last to step over a moral and ethical line for that cause.  Once again, it’s all too common.

The evening’s monumental plot twists weren’t over and neither was Claire’s decision-making.  In fact, a much harder decision awaits her upon her escape from Cranes Muir in the arms of her 18th-century husband Jamie.  I’m thankful that the decisions were made back to back.  It helped the viewer understand who Claire is and that is a person who will do the right thing despite the pressure to do otherwise.  It makes her decision at the stones that much more poignant and meaningful.  She did not take the decision to leave or stay lightly. In fact, given her moral center, the agonizing choice would have left her shattered. She is married to Frank and finally has an opportunity to return to him and yet,….Jamie.

The other person in this triangle made a few difficult choices of his own. First, he decides to suspend his disbelief for her sake. If I had any disappointment in this episode it was the fact that they chose to let the audience believe that Jamie never doubted her story.  He was human, of course, he did and maybe part of the reason he took her to the stones was to shatter Claire’s delusions.  In the book, when he grabs her back from the rock it’s because she starts to go right before his eyes.  I wish they would have kept that part.  Despite his extraordinary emotional intelligence this would have seemed the more reasonable reaction to me.

And… then, the audience learns that Jamie has chosen to let Claire go. What this choice reveals about him is nothing short of staggering. This is a man of integrity. Everything he feels tells him to beg her to stay, but he chooses to let her go…why?

He now knows the truth and it cannot be ignored. There is a man…a husband … with a prior claim. Claire is the wife of another man and as a man who honors the vows spoken between two people, he must acknowledge Frank’s claim on Claire. She isn’t his wife because she is still wed to another.
He must acknowledge that Claire doesn’t belong here. Her being here and with him is an unfortunate accident. She had no choice. She did what she needed to do to survive. And, after the witch trial, he knows she is a woman out of her time and it will place her in danger again. She will be safer if she goes. He knows she has tried to get back to her husband and life over and over again. He will not add himself and his need of her to the equation. He loves her, so he will let her go.

I know I cried at every agonizing staggering step he took down that hill; my heart was breaking with his.

It’s a wonderful story full of redeeming characters who don’t always have to be right or have their own way.  My husband is a big fan of old TV Westerns and I think I know why. Even though I complain about their predictability the plots usually center around someone making a moral choice and often those characters choose the self-sacrificing or ethical/moral high road. The characters learn lessons about doing the right thing for your fellow-man and having honor …like the characters in Outlander.

Somewhere, in TV and maybe our real-life culture, the idea of self-sacrifice as being a noble action has fallen away to the need for self-fulfillment at any cost.  Maybe it is because people don’t believe there is anything more to life. If that is so then I guess fulfilling your own desires at whatever the cost to others would make sense. But,  “I have to inform you, I am no of that opinion myself”.  I’m happy there is a production on TV that isn’t afraid to tell a story of people who wrestle with choices and choose kindness, honor, truth, and self-sacrifice.


41 thoughts on “Character Counts … A reflection on Outlander Episode 11

  1. Molly

    Insightful as always, Beth! I regret the non-reading Outlander audience is missing out on the depth of the characters found in the books. When you know the full story it makes their decisions all the more worthy and poignant! I’m looking forward to your next blog entry!

      • Regina

        It led me to the books 🙂 I binge watched Outlander S1P1 this past February and immediately downloaded the books from Amazon and have finished all eight. I am anxiously awaiting book nine to be released as this book is reportedly supposed to answer all those pesky questions we have.

  2. Wow….Love this. I pretty much stopped watching TV because so much of it is just crap. Character IS so important. The other person I have to applaud for hard choices is Ned. He is already in hot water with Colum and knows this will make his position more uncomfortable – but he is there anyway. He fights the good fight as only a lawyer can and is willing to risk himself with that mob to give Claire a chance! Thanks for this interesting view!

  3. GGW

    Wow, Beth! This one is a powerhouse! Thanks for capturing so much of what I feel but don’t have the talent to put into words!

  4. Pat Rice Talma

    Beth, well said AND you nailed it. It’s a pity that there are not more shows on TV like this. I could so easily go back to the old cowboy days!!! Thanks so much for your words!!

  5. jenn

    this was beautifully written and a wonderful breakdown into what was really going on in this episode. I watched the whole second half with my heart in my mouth and tears in my eyes and reading your blog brought that feeling right back. The choice Jamie makes, to truly give CLAIRE a choice, shows more about who he is than anything he’s done so far. what a beautiful character he is — they both are.

  6. Hi Beth!
    First, forgive me if this is a duplicate. I commented and WP asked me to log in and then my comment disappeared.
    I just found your blog because Diana Gabaldon retweeted you. I’m an instant fan! This is the only post I’ve read so far, but I will definitely go back and read the older ones too. I love your insights and I feel like your observation on the character question is one of the main reasons I love this series so much– first the books and then the TV series. Seriously- I can’t stop talking about them. I can’t believe what a silly fan girl I’ve become.

    I wanted to add a comment and I’m interested in your thoughts, and maybe other’s. I just watched episode 11 today and I was pretty sure I saw the doubt you felt was missing from Jamie’s reaction to Claire telling him the truth. Maybe it is because I have read the books and I knew it was there, but it was all in Sam Heughan’s facial expressions. He is so amazingly expressive, and I felt like you could see in his face- there was incredulity, and then I felt like you could see him listen– hear her out– ask questions– and then conclude that she believes it is true and he decides to stand by her– to believe her for her sake, if not for his own. Again, I saw it in his facial expressions. But was I seeing it just because I knew it was there? If I hadn’t read the books, would I have assumed he just plain believed her?

    There is so much subtlety in the way this show is acted and scripted that I am not sure if I am seeing things that aren’t there, or if I would have seen it if I didn’t know already.

    Either way, yes, I missed Jamie’s “ah-ha” moment, and I found myself waiting for him to say “I saw you start to go” as he does in the book.

    Thanks again for the lovely blog! I thought about starting my own, but the niche has already been filled and done well!

    • Thank you so much! I’m glad you found me and hope you follow the blog. There is a lot here to read. I agree with expressiveness and the incredulity on Sam’s face. I remember in the book Claire said Jamie had his “battle” face on. What I missed was the whole idea that even to the point where she touched the stone, he really didn’t believe even though he said he did. I believe Claire confronts him about it and forgives him because it really was tough to swallow. To me it makes his sensitivity to her needs that much more remarkable and his letting her go more real! Thanks again!

      • Agreed! All I meant was that I felt like I was seeing that he didn’t believe her until she touched the stone. I just wasn’t sure if I was really seeing it or just imagining it because that is how the story goes in the book. And I agree absolutely. The fact that he is willing to stand by her no matter what– witch, delusional, time-traveler– no matter what, is one of the things that makes him such a noble character.

  7. clara

    What a great blog, so smart, thoughtful and refreshing. I read some of your other posts and enjoyed them as well. Thanks!

  8. Susan Van Hoven

    Wonderfully written. My observation is that the idea of character and honor has been absent for so long from popular culture that it is hard for most people to relate to. But we fans of Diana’s writings are immersed in every heartbreaking, and glorious word. I don’t know where Ron found so many writers, and directors imbued with these sentiments, but I think this one of the triumphs of this production, and what sets it apart.

  9. Cheryl O

    What a great posting Beth, I so agree with you!!! And for me, the same four characters stood out as well. Geillis’ bit of “hippie” rebel-all for the cause, was so there, wanting to change history and almost stop the carnage if she could! And of course, she thought Claire was there to do the same! What a disappointment when she wasn’t! But, you were right, both still had their integrity, which makes them empathetic! And Ned, what a hero! He tried so hard, pulling the gun even to save them.

    I love the interactions with Jamie and Claire. At times they don’t even need to speak and their faces say it all. Those two actors have such a strong connection, it’s beautiful to watch! I know the show will be different from the book, but you had Claire telling her story, full of emotion, pouring her heart out finally, and at the same time we were wrapped up in watching how Jamie would respond to all she had to say. It was perfect how he tried to understand, even with the differences. This was a hankie/tissue moment for sure.

    One of my most heartbreaking moments, or the start of my real crying, was the moment at the water when Jaime’s watching Claire and you know he’s made his decision to let her go home, and when he asks her, she of course, thinks home is Lallybroch. His look and choice so selfless, yet love so strong he would let her go. So hard to let go of those we love…….. I cried for the rest of the episode, it was so touching!

    • I agree! I felt a lump in my throat during that scene as well. But Sam NAILED the last scene. The startled sob the look of awe and bending his head with tears of grateful ness streaming down his face!

      • clara

        Have to add that I agree, that scene at the stream was so beautifully acted by both of them. The look on his face when she looked up the hill and then turned back to him, where he forced a smile so she wouldn’t see his turmoil, and then as she started up the hill, to see his face tighten up to swallow his fear. I have to admit, i played that scene over and over again. So subtle, I had lumps in my throat. The whole episode was kind of that way, especially with Geillis in the courtroom. The part where she reveal’s the mark on her arm, she stole the whole show right there. I could go on and on with parts that affected me, amazing acting by all.

  10. Janice

    Beth, as implied in a reply I left above, I just found your wonderful blog and look forward to keeping up with your posts. I found the books through the TV series and chose to read the first book, at least, after I watch the show. I like to be surprised. I will say that it takes repeat viewings to take in all the subtleties and rich detail so beautifully provided by everyone involved in bringing us this this production.

  11. YPinonR

    Well said. TV common fare lately brings a ton of complicated relationships & twisted plots, but lacking in character.

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