Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse...In the season finale, we find out if Claire can save Jamie from the horrors of Wentworth Prison. (Spoiler alert: Yes and no.) Also, a retrospective on the first season of Outlander.
To Ransom a Man’s Soul
If you thought last week was hard to watch...you don’t know Jack. I’m going to go ahead and put up the episode’s disclaimer, which was more emphatic than usual. Also, trigger warning: This recap will discuss rape, depression, and suicide.
We open on the British Army hoisting the British flag over the prison - letting us know it’s the morning after last week’s episode - and the formalities of the army give way to the darkness below. Jamie is still in the dungeon cell, naked and staring, and the camera pans to reveal Black Jack in bed with him, also naked. Jamie’s haunted expression suggests that he has suffered through the night, but we won’t know how much until later. For now, Jamie begs Black Jack to kill him, as he agreed. He’s about to do it, too, until Murtagh’s plan interrupts them. Murtagh, Rupert, and Angus are driving MacRannoch’s cattle through the prison, causing Black Jack to get trampled - they leave him lying on the floor, bleeding from his head - and then the gang wrap Jamie in his plaid and cart him away.
They arrive at an abbey, whose monks agree to harbor our fugitives while Jamie heals. Claire treats his hand, setting the bones and sewing him up after he knocks himself out by chugging laudanum. But afterwards, Jamie isn’t interested in being tended or even eating. This wasn’t part of the plan - he was supposed to die. Giving himself over to Randall didn’t matter because he was going to be killed shortly afterward anyway. Now, he has to live with the night with Randall, and frankly, he doesn’t want to. He can’t.
Through flashback, we see why.
In the beginning, Jamie thinks Randall will just have his way with him and be done. (“Just.”) But Black Jack is looking for more than sexual pleasure from Jamie. He wants to dominate Jamie wholly and completely, body and soul. He wants to make love to Jamie; but more significantly, he wants Jamie to make love to him.
And Black Jack ultimately gets what he wants. He breaks Jamie down until he can use the haze of Jamie’s pain, and his memory of Claire, to achieve a shared sexual experience with Jamie. Jamie’s longing for Claire’s comfort, and his wish to escape the pain, brings him to submit to Black Jack. (You can see the moment immediately afterwards when Jamie realizes what has happened, and it’s terrible.)
So Jamie wants to free Claire, and himself, from this prison Randall has trapped him in. At first, Claire, Murtagh, and the guys are at a loss. Willie provides an anecdote of a similar situation - a man who lost his arm, descended into depression and killed himself. (Thanks, Willie, good pep talk.) Both Murtagh and Willie try to talk Jamie out of it. Somewhere, someone needs to translate that talk with Murtagh in Gaelic (or maybe not - I liked having to read the conversation entirely from Lacroix’s and Heughan’s performances). Jamie asks Willie for his blade to end it faster. Willie doesn’t agree.
Finally, Claire has had about enough of this, and confronts Jamie about his choice to kill himself. They talk it out, and Jamie reveals the truth about what happened in that cell. Claire finally gets through to him, and it seems he is willing to live with what happened, for her.
I’m going to digress for a moment - I have a slight problem with this scene. The show spent so much time building up the agony that Jamie experienced, and how terrible it is for him, but it gets resolved by...Claire telling Jamie she’ll die if he does? It just feels like another way to make him feel guilty. She’s guilting him into not killing himself.
In the book this confrontation is very different, and in my opinion portrays a better way for Claire to bring Jamie back to himself. She essentially uses opium and a little bit of witchery to make Jamie think she’s Black Jack, and then gives him the opportunity to fight back. She gives him back the power that Black Jack stole from him. I like that concept - that the way to heal is to overcome the feeling of powerlessness, shame, and guilt. (E.g. “I should have been able to stop it.” or “I should have been stronger than my attacker.”) In this case by literally making Jamie think he’s fighting back physically against his attacker.
However, I suppose the show’s portrayal is consistent with the idea that Jamie will sacrifice anything for Claire. Last episode, he agreed to be tortured by Randall to save her; this week, he’s doing much the same thing by agreeing to live with the experience. He’ll do that, too, for Claire. Maybe it’s just that they seem to have spent a lot of time building up the horror of Jamie’s experience, and not a lot of time resolving it. (But there is no quick resolution for victims of rape, is there?)
So Claire pulls Jamie out of the darkness, or at least convinces him to try to live with it. The last order of business is to cut out the brand that Randall left on Jamie’s skin, symbolically eradicating Randall’s claim on Jamie for good. Then, it’s off to the coast, where Murtagh has hired a ship to take Claire and Jamie to France to get away from the Redcoats. France, it just so happens, is the current location of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and Claire decides they should try to change the future and prevent the ‘45 Rising to save the Scottish Highlands. (Hellooooo, season 2 plot!)
And the last bit of hope as our dynamic duo sails to France - Claire is pregnant! So that’s what the deal was with all of her vomiting and fainting (aside from all of the drama). Next season brings not only changing the future by preventing the Rising, but also changing the future with a tiny Fraser!
(I can’t hear you, Dragonfly in Amber, lalalala....)
(I’m forgoing the usual quote section and Scotland pic this time around - feel free to post your favorites in the comments. Though I fear the most memorable quotes are from Black Jack Randall...unfortunately.)
Outlander is somewhat famous for flipping romance tropes on their head. While we did get our fair share of the heroine almost getting raped, and the man saving her, we also got:
- The heroine almost getting raped, and stabbing her attacker in the back.
- The heroine going into shock after stabbing her rapist.
- The heroine trying to bluff her way out of her captor’s hands.
- The heroine deflowering the hero.
- The heroine having 18th century marriage roles thrust upon her, rejecting them, then finding equanimity with her husband.
- The hero having 20th century marriage roles thrust upon him, rejecting them, then finding equanimity with his wife.
- The hero suffering at the hands of the villain, only to be rescued by the heroine. (x3)
- And lest we forget (not bloody likely), it was the hero who was physically and sexually abused by the villain.
You have to admit, it has deviated from the traditional “romance” tropes. And I think Outlander falls favorably in the spectrum of “writing the rape of a character to force another character’s development” that we’ve seen so often lately. Though perhaps it did include rape too often as a way to raise the stakes...as if it didn’t have any other stakes to raise. But Outlander has always been stronger on character than on plot; I was hoping the show would remedy this but I think Moore is probably too interested in pleasing the fans of the books to deviate too much. Claire’s characterization was at its strongest when she was trying to get back to the standing stones; when that motivation changed or lessened, the plot tended to lose momentum. (A characteristic of the books, too, not solely of the show.) But what larger themes did the show present?
One of the themes of this season has been power. Who has power, who wants it, and how do they get it - or not. Power over the MacKenzie clan dictated a lot of the maneuvering between Colum and Dougal. (Claire and Jamie often felt the byproducts of this clash.) Claire’s power to heal was a blessing and a curse for her. Plus knowledge of the future is a power of a sort - one she doesn’t really actively wield until late in the season, though. The power dynamics of Claire and Jamie’s marriage went through a few phases. The main villain of the season, Black Jack, constantly sought absolute power over pretty much everyone in the Highlands.
There were explorations of bonds and loyalty as well. What bonds are strongest? Where does everyone’s loyalty lie? Dougal’s loyalty to Colum conflicted with his loyalty to the Bonnie Prince, and Scotland’s freedom; he prioritized the latter. The MacKenzie men had to decide which chief to follow, and sometimes they chose differently. Black Jack used his loyalty to the British Army as cover for his true aims - to serve the darkness within himself. Frank was forced to question his wife’s loyalty, and finally to dismiss it as nonexistent. For a little more than half the season, Claire’s bond with Frank warred with her bond with Jamie, and until she chose to honor the one with Jamie.
In the end, Claire’s bond with Jamie was the power that saw them through all of their difficulties, and ultimately defeated Black Jack. Randall even needed to use that bond - twice - to be able to exert his power over Jamie. (First by threatening Claire to get Jamie to agree to submit to him, and second by making Jamie think of Claire to get him sexually aroused.) And in the end, it was this bond that saved Jamie from his depression and suicidal tendencies. A character in an earlier episode said it would take an army to defeat Randall - but all the Frasers needed was their love. (D’awwww, let’s all group hug via kitten gifs. Lord knows we need it.) Next season we’ll find out if it’s powerful enough to stop nations.
All images via screencap.