Rape. Abuse, torture, rape. Psychological manipulation, and more gratuitous rape.
That pretty much sums it up! Thanks for reading. 🙂
Just kidding, sort of… May I just say, as many of you know, that I watch a lot of television. This episode of serialized TV is bound to linger in my memory for an awfully long time, and not really for any of the right reasons. Maybe after reading this someone could clear things up for me?
I went into season one of Outlander moderately impressed by its source material. The book series, which currently spans eight installments, is written by Diana Gabaldon. In her novels, the setting is superb. It’s a joy to read; castles are cold and damp, it rains a lot, and baths are not plentiful. The main characters however? No thanks. (It’s great that people are still reading though — truly, that’s a good thing!) Six months after the season one finale, on a fine Monday night last week, I thought, “hmmm, do I do laundry or watch that last episode of Outlander?” Dank castles and muddy horses won. Le sigh.
I apologize in advance for the length of this. I do hope you will stay with me in my attempt to understand the episode “To Ransom a Man’s Soul,” which began in the previous episode, “Wentworth Prison.” SPOILERS AHEAD, but it has been five months after all…
There is a line in fiction, a line that most definitely must be played with and NOT respected. That’s the whole point of storytelling: to challenge the audience, make us think, show what it might be like on the other side of the coin. That line could be a wonderful line or a horrible one. It can be political, speculative, or any number of things, and there are even times when that line should be thrown out the window, and the viewer should suffer along with the story.
In my opinion, this last episode of Outlander did none of that when it could have been brilliant. Allow me to start with the good before digressing to the bad.
Number one: Male nudity. About time! The Bratwurst, the fluffy buns, the whole shebang. What with SO many boobs all over TV, it’s about time guys had their turn. All for it.
Number two: Male rape. It happens and it’s a good thing that it is brought to front, so to speak. Not nearly as common as female rape, but sometimes when the shoe is viewed on the other foot it makes people think.
Number three: The trauma of rape and violence. Do I really need to say more? If you have already seen this episode, you remember Jamie’s wish to commit suicide. Rape is traumatic.
Number one: No complaints, really.
Number two: In Outlander, not nearly as much ado is made over female rape. In fact, on some occasions it’s about as bothersome as an interruption in a busy day. Example one, in Season 1, predator Randall attempts to rape Jamie’s sister Jenny. When he fails to rise to the deed, instead of escaping, she stands and laughs at Randall. Good for her, but everybody I know would be getting the hell out of the house instead of wasting time laughing at the idiot. In essence, the whole attempt was treated as inconsequential, and in the book it almost felt as if Jenny was the cause of the problem.
Example two, again in season 1 (episode 8), after Claire has learned to use a knife to defend herself (great timing), she and Jamie are getting hot and heavy in the woods when Redcoats appear. After taking Jamie captive, they proceed to “take their turns” with Claire, who manages to remember her lessons and stabs the first attacker in the back as he’s humping her. Claire and Jamie escape and moments later they’re like rabbits with each other again. Say what? A minute ago Claire (rightly) killed a man as he was raping her, and then two minutes later she is ready to resume having sex with Jaime? Come on. Please.
Number three: The trauma of rape and violence is hardly at all addressed when it applies to women in this series. Time and again, it is alluded to (I can’t remember if or when it’s shown), but most often passed off as if it’s little more than an irritating task to endure. Once again, come on.
For the season finale, which clocks in at about an hour and a half, the majority of that time is spent watching, and I mean graphically watching, Jamie being abused, beaten and raped. It is awful. Truly awful. Blood, cocks, and lubricant are everywhere.
I understand stuff like this happens in real life. And it is terrible. This is fiction, however, and if the point of this episode is to make us sympathetic for Jamie and hateful toward Randall, well alright then, do show us all this. But for chrissakes, stop after at least a half hour of it! By the end of this episode it was not Randall I resented but the damn writer of the story. It was not abuse of Jamie; it was abuse of the viewer. In other words, sensationalism. Like eating two gallons of ice cream instead of just a bowl FOR NO GOOD REASON. That, in my opinion, is where the line was inappropriately broken.
Don’t get me wrong — I absolutely want to feel something when I read or watch a piece of fiction. And that first rape of Jamie, that horrible, god-awful scene where Randall makes Jamie scream in pain and defeat was just perfect. I was horrified like I should’ve been, my heart was with Jamie and I wanted Randall’s balls to soak in acid for a week before he died a slow death. Great. Stop right there. Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies did a masterful job of conveying the defeat of a prideful man at the hands of a disturbed predator.
But to go on and on and on with it made me wonder if there was another point to it all.
In the book, I made myself read through these scenes because I thought, “okay surely there is a reason.” Nope. None. In the TV show, would they correct that? Nope. Sure, Randall is gay or bisexual, but why portray him as evil ONLY by virtue of that? Yes he wants power, but not nearly as much as he wants Jamie. Randall can’t be evil only because he’s gay, yet so far that’s all I see.
The last straw for me was this: Jamie understandably goes through a period of suicidal tendencies and then a healing period, but it was awfully short. It’s going to take me longer to get over it and I was just a reader/ viewer! When Claire and Jamie finally run off to France onboard a ship, Jamie is still not himself. Claire, seemingly seasick, chats with him briefly before revealing the fact that she is pregnant. Boom! Depression gone. Jamie is a happy camper.
After all that pain and suffering (mostly on the viewer’s part it seems), torture that lasted over two, I say TWO episodes, and everybody’s suddenly happy?? That negated the whole experience.
Randall, who was responsible for ripping up Jamie’s back when they were younger, responsible for the sordidness that was the end of this season, who seems to be evil because he is gay or bi (please tell me I’m wrong about that), who repeatedly tried to rape Claire (but hey, that ain’t no big deal), has nothing more happen to him than being run over by a bunch of cows? THAT is the payback of all this?
So, at the end of all my wordiness, what was THE thing that disturbed me enough to write all this? After several days of thought, I guess it’s this: Excessive, repeated, and pointless sadism does not tell a good story. What could have been brilliant became hateful, in my humble opinion, and made me feel suspicious about the agenda of the entire two-part episode. Was the author reveling in it? Is there an underlying message? Neither of these points appeal to me.
I haven’t — nor do I intend to — read any of the other books in the series. I briefly looked up what happens just to see if I could be wrong in this decision, but I stand uncorrected.
I’d rather do my laundry.
-Ingrid K. V. Hardy