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.