I didn’t write a reflection after season 4’s finale. It is true that I was sick and really couldn’t think clearly enough to write, but if I’m truthful with myself…a part of me really didn’t want to. Then because so much time had gone by and so many had written exhaustively about this season, I really thought I would just pass. But, in the last few days, I’ve had readers asking me where my review is and I guess I owe them at least an explanation. I love this show and it hurts me to have to say negative things. I really am rooting for them. I was holding out hope that my patience this season would be rewarded. It wasn’t. My overall initial feeling after watching the Outlander season 4 finale was one of dissatisfaction. I wasn’t angry just sad. My thoughts wandered to previous finales and I particularly remembered how I felt after season 1. As I watched Jamie and Claire sail away on that ship to France I was tearfully smiling. I can remember thinking that I would miss this couple and overall pleased with the adaptation. I was proud to be a fan. I’m still proud to be a fan, but with a few exceptions, I struggled to write about this season. I would find myself sitting with my thoughts for far too long. I wasn’t inspired. And, I think my writing this season reflects that.
It is telling that my most popular blog posts this season have been when I felt the need to negatively critique an episode. I hate that. I’ve had some time to think and to read other fan’s reactions and I find myself agreeing with bloggers and fans that I usually don’t. I hate that. But, I can’t write this blog if I’m not genuine. My readers trust me to be honest and my conscience would bother me if I was wasn’t. I really love Outlander and want it to succeed. Let’s be clear, there is still a lot to love about this show. It is beautiful and transportive and I have always believed it was made with obvious love for the story they were telling. It is a remarkable tv experience. What it isn’t …is …the same show.
I’m still not buying into some fans’ intricate conspiracy theories and need to denigrate cast and crew for not giving “fans” what they want. But, something HAS changed. None of us on the outside really know, but there are a lot of theories out there and at least a few make some sense. There were a lot of changes to the TPTB and I have no idea if that resulted in different work relationships and expectations and maybe changes to budgets as well. There were new writers, bad weather, and some really concerning comments from the cast about their characters and the amount of input they would like to have in the writers’ room. I THINK that might be a good idea, but what if their ideas about their characters aren’t what we think they think, lol. I still haven’t forgiven Sam for not letting Jamie “quietly fall to pieces”. Then this week some fans were sent questionnaires. I guess that would indicate that they are trying to listen, but why not just say we hear you? Why send surveys to select fans? What was the criteria? I’ve always felt that the majority of fans are happy with the show, but not as vocal as those who seem to be invested in finding fault. Was this questionnaire sent to a true representative sample of fans?
I’ve been here since the beginning and I don’t think PR has EVER really known who their audience is for this show or how to market it. Can anyone say “the kilt drops”? Are these surveys going to insure that PR and the TPTB will get an accurate picture of what fans want? I think they might offer some insight, but shouldn’t be taken as gospel or as a definitive barometer of fan opinion. Quite frankly, if some fans actually get what they think they want they still wouldn’t be satisfied. I’m afraid it is the nature of the beast that is fandom. As much as fans like to think they know how to adapt Diana Gabaldon’s bible sized tomes, they don’t. Nevertheless, there are some consistent and legitimate concerns played on many of the broken records. Sorting those out from the irritating scratches would not be an envivable job. This questionnaire thing feels like a mistake, one that is undermining the creators. If I was them I’d be looking for another job. And, some folks NEED to stay.
I believe something happened this season that impacted what we saw on our screens. The show has taken a turn and is on a path that is far from the show I love to love. It is a feeling, a change in attitude, and focus. In my humble opinion, Outlander shines when it focuses on relationships. And, that held true for this season as well. Blood of my Blood and The Birds and the Bees were two of this season’s most well received episodes for that very reason. I agree with fans who say that to in order to care about what happens to the characters we have to care about the characters. As wonderful as the Cherokee village and Roger’s rescue were it was far less important than bridging differences and mending relationships in this story. For example, just because you can write an episode of someone trekking wordlessly through a jungle doesn’t mean you should.
Character development just wasn’t up to par this season. The Claire of the Ridge has always been my favorite Claire and after watching this season, I’ll have to reread Drums to remember why. She seemed a faded version of the woman who finally becomes who she was meant to be. She wasn’t the only character that was less than they should have been. Watching Fergus and Marsali I wondered why in the few minutes they were on screen their relationship was so much more dynamic and their persona so much clearer than Bree and Roger. These two are so important to the rest of the story and they just don’t seem to be as clearly developed and/or portrayed in a way to make us care about them as major players. I’ve written before about some choices that I felt were a few “fatal” mistakes that have reverberated throughout the seasons: Loghaire at the witch trial and not allowing Claire to fight Jamie’s demons. I read the explanations, but in truth Roger isn’t the beloved character he should be. I’m hoping Roger’s leaving Bree and not choosing to come directly to River Run will not be one of those fatal mistakes that reverberate throughout the rest of the seasons. I think they dealt with those two previous mistakes as best they could and I’m hopeful that Roger and his relationship with Bree will be righted too.
I’m completely aware that I am just one more fan voice and one more opinion in the ocean that has been written about this season. It feels ironic to find myself saying, I’m criticizing, but I truly just want the show to be better, having criticized that type of critique previously, but I truly just want the show to do better. It isn’t too late to fix what was wrong this season. I just want to write about a show that inspires me, I want the Outlander I wrote this about:
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 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 women 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 character’s 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.