Synopsis: A daring plan to rescue Jamie proves successful; Claire attempts to save Jamie’s heart and soul as his mind lingers on the torture he endured.
While so many television shows and movies touch on the terrors and darkness connected to sexual assault, few have ever managed to accomplish what was accomplished in the Outlander season finale. Not only did the episode deliver a startlingly dark episode concerning Jamie’s rape and painful recovery, but it did what shows seem to be missing when it comes to this delicate subject matter. It didn’t glamorize it.
I’ve galvanized shows for glorifying rape, using it as the easy road as far as plot devices go. Television undeniably sensationalizes things like violence and sex for the sake of the viewers; shows like Game of Thrones are notably excessive with their use of both to a degree that some might call numbing or offensive. And while Jamie’s rape was visually more gruesome than the most recent rape in Game of Thrones (I use this as an example, but many other shows have been guilty of throwing in rape as a convenient plot device), it never once felt cheap. We never once felt that the victim’s suffering was to benefit any other character’s development.
After engineering a rather outrageous scheme to break Jamie out of Wentworth Prison, Claire and the group find sanctuary in a monastery in order to allow Jamie to heal before they go on the run again. The episode sets a dark tone immediately as we open on Jamie lying on a bed naked with his injured hand and Randall next to him. It paints an entirely different man than the youthful one we knew from the beginning of the episode, full of exuberance and naivety.
The slow delineation of Jamie’s rape and torture is interspersed within the episode with his recovery. It’s no secret to anyone what has happened to Jamie, and it’s good to see that no one defaults to victim blaming or ignorance, another rarity in television. Normally you can expect at least one character to be willfully antagonistic, but here, everyone understands the gravity of Jamie’s assault.
Aside from the physical pain that Jamie undergoes, the episode doesn’t shy away from the mental assault that Randall doles on him, as well as the suffering his wife and family have to go through, struggling to empathize but also acknowledging that, in many ways, it is impossible. Randall’s mental torture was two-layered. Not only was it overt, but over the course of the assault, he was drugging Jamie and skewing his interpretation of the situation. Confusing him, brainwashing him.
Outlander has undoubtedly broken the mold with their season finale, and in a very good way. It has always been a personal gripe that rape and sexual assault is so often glossed over in television. It’s stereotyped, it’s sexualized, and sometimes, after a few episodes, it’s completely forgotten. When approaching such a delicate subject matter, it’s important to not only treat the characters with respect, but also the story. Jamie’s rape wasn’t just the sexual assault, it was the recovery afterwards.
Watching Claire mend his broken bones was painful, but it was equally painful watching Jamie wrestle with the aftermath of the trauma. The slow reveal that Randall not only broke his hand but also forced Jamie to brand himself with Randall’s brand. Jamie wrestles with suicide and it takes a lot of bravery and trust between Claire and Jamie to finally confront his suffering together.
Much of the episode is dedicated to Claire’s frustration with the situation, and the distance placed between the couple that have been irrevocably changed. The shame that Jamie feels, from a man we know to have been so prideful, is understandable, and their connection stands as a testament of stability and strength that they can both hold on to.
Despite Jamie’s desire to give up, Claire’s determination pulls them through together. It’s what makes a scene like cutting out branded skin so cathartic. They’ve begun the process towards healing. There isn’t any miscommunication, there isn’t any reluctance on Claire’s behalf to understanding and devotion. There is no disgust or revulsion in anyone’s faces, because that should only be reserved for the monster who conducted these acts: Randall.
After mending enough to travel, Claire and Jamie must flee, and while Clan MacKenzie is ready to accept them, they decide to escape to France where they can be out of the reach of Randall. Although the finale scenes of the episode were lighter than the rest, it gave an optimistic end cap to an incredibly dark story arc. When Claire tells Jamie that she is pregnant, it brings levity to the finale.
Book readers know that Claire’s pregnancy didn’t come out of left field, but the episode hints at it here and there. Much of it was saved for the last scenes so as to not overshadow Jamie’s story and lose the momentum they had gained. We see Jamie smile, we feel hope, we see it in their eyes.
Yes, Randall is still alive. Yes, Jamie was still raped and he’s still recovering from the trauma. Yes, Culloden is coming and if they don’t try to change history, thousands will die. But the message is clear; we can move forward. We can still have hope. There’s no unnecessary cliffhanger, meant to shock or disturb. The episode already took you there, and brought you back.
Standout performances go to both Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies for tackling such a difficult shoot with nothing short of respect and professionalism. Heughan and Menzies play off of one another perfectly in such a disturbing setting, and Menzies manages to make me hate him and marvel at his acting all in one episode. As you know, I have been a massively huge fan of him all season, and my opinion hasn’t changed. Heughan, who I have been waiting to shine all season, has done so with heartbreaking perfection. Of course, Caitriona Balfe’s entire season has been on point, and she did not falter in this episode. It’s hard for the storytellers not to focus on their protagonist, even in moments like this, but the show managed to spotlight the protagonist without losing the focus from the episode.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining season. Congratulations to Diana Gabaldon and Ronald D. Moore, as well as the cast and crew, on the success of the series. We are looking forward to season 2 of Outlander come the fall time!