I have a very cool job. I watch television shows, then I talk about them with amazing people from all over the world. That's not work, that's fun, right?
Well "To Ransom a Man's Soul," the Outlander finale, was work. There was no fun to be had for any second of the long, painful hour I spent watching the finale, and I would not have made it all the way through it without the responsibility of a deadline hanging over my head. Last week hinted at coercion and sexual abuse, this week's episode portrayed it in real time.
I wrote a lot last episode about the value of representing male-on-male sexual assault, and how Outlander subverted the idea that some acts of violence were "unspeakable" and too shameful to be confronted in media, and thus saved victims from alienation. However there is a line where bold creative choices bleed into torture porn, and this whole episode danced on that line. Sometimes, social justice aside, the world is just hard and cruel enough without seeing a beloved character bleed out of every orifice while weeping on the floor of a dank prison.
I affirm, once again, that representation of sexual violence between males is necessary and valuable. Yet I have to say if this had been a female character being tortured, I'd be screaming bloody murder about the gratuitousness of it all and the utter lack of any emotional justice for the audience after 45 minutes of intimately shot, grisly rape scenes. And I think a shade of that applies: WE GET IT, OUTLANDER! VERY BAD THINGS HAPPENED! BUT SEEING THE DETAILS OF SEXUAL ABUSE IN REAL TIME IS NOT WHAT WE SIGNED ON FOR! YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO SING US A SONG ABOUT A LASS THAT'S NOW GONE! INSTEAD YOU SANG US A SONG ABOUT INCREDIBLY GRAPHIC SEXUAL ASSAULT
So let's get to it. Jamie woke up next to Black Jack Randall and begged Randall to kill him, but before he could a herd of Angus cows (the especially adorable kind of cow with the emo bangs) trampled into the prison, knocking Black Jack Randall down and allowing Murtagh and company to scoop up Jamie.
Jamie was rushed to a really chill abbey, where we were treated to what felt like several hours of flashbacks of Black Jack Randall raping Jamie, and then coercing him to brand himself. Then we got a little relief from all that emotional tension and physical pain when we got to watch Claire re-set her hub's broken hand. Honestly by comparison to the scenes that preceded it, this felt like a teddy-bear picnic.
Then Jamie had some pretty interesting-looking scenes where he talked heatedly with Murtagh in Scots Gaelic but too bad I don't know Scots Gaelic, I guess. Then Claire talked to a monk and "made him a confession" of the entire story up until now, including her time-travel experience, which is asking a lot for any monk to sit through with a straight face. Like, that was an 800-page confession. However the monk was like, "Wow that story... would be weirdly popular as a book I bet. Especially if you threw in lots of sections about really specific herbology!"
Then we found out Jamie had been talking in Scots Gaelic all this time about wanting to kill himself, so it was time for Claire to pull out the big guns: she made some lavender oil and slapped him around. To get her to knock it off, Jamie confessed that during his night of torture, he and Randall had made love, and he'd been into it (though with the caveat he'd been thinking about her) and Claire was like "No worries, over it. Now be a part of this marriage again or I will just die." Which, you know, way to make this about you Claire.
This was a sort of watered-down version of what happened in the book. BOOK SPOILER AHEAD, jump below picture if you want to skip: In the book, Claire basically got into a Jack Randall costume, got Jamie high on opium, covered herself in lavender oil, then did her best Jack Randall impression and re-enacted the rape with Jamie. Yeah. Except he was allowed to fight back, and boy, did he ever! He almost killed her, but then when things started getting hot and heavy Claire pretended to be his mom. I KNOW. This apparently gave Jamie an emotional catharsis that allowed him to get started on his road to healing, sort of like an exorcism but with pirate costumes?
Then they sensually swam in some underground springs together in a moment of almost baptismal renewal, and Claire was like, "Check this: I'm pregz"; cue final make-out session.
Granted, it would be extremely insane to show, on television, this kind of pseudo-psychological role-playing as effective therapy for someone with PTSD from sexual abuse. That particular scene in the book is indefensible, unreadable, and certainly un-filmable. Like, fire that fact checker, because no. The series definitely had a plot hole to navigate there. But surely they could have found a way to illustrate Claire saving Jamie that was more visual? More dramatic? More satisfactory? That perhaps didn't collapse his healing into what read like 48 hours?
As it was, Jamie and Claire sort of hugged it out, then he cut his brand off, and then they got on a boat, and then Claire was like "We're okay right? Also I'm pregnant."
This was so hard guys. I truly appreciated that Outlander portrayed the sense of shame survivors can impose on themselves when they physically respond to sexual abuse. And I will always stand behind a thoughtful depiction of sexual assault in the service of furthering awareness and empathy and justice for survivors. But under no circumstances would I inflict the Outlander finale on a survivor. It's just too damn triggering. And without the cloak of social justice, as an act of story telling, it is a punch in the gut for the audience.
While Claire's reconciliation with Jamie was both ill-conceived and improbable in the book, at least it carried the emotional catharsis of a climax. Claire and Jamie's confrontation in the series was both rushed and half-baked and woefully inadequate. The finale established many levels and nuances to Jack Black Randall and Jamie's relationship, but Claire and Jamie got short shrift, and considering we've invested our time in them for the past year and a half, that was unsatisfying. Perhaps if they'd split the episode evenly between Jamie hurting and Jamie healing, the audience might have had a fighting chance to reach a sense of emotional justice. As it was, it's hard to feel anything but sad after this episode. Jamie went from being tortured to being yelled at to being on a boat. Sort of anti-climatic. This episode could be summed up by the same line Jamie used to describe his torture session: "Too much. Not enough."
Sing me a song of a series that was way loyal to the book in the respect of showing every painful detail of graphic rape, and then scrapped it's canon ending! Ugh. What did you think? Too much or not enough?
... Ready for Season 2 or do you want to go back in time to before you heard of Outlander?
... Tobias Menzies: most committed actor on the planet?
... Did Claire and Jamie's reconciliation feel rushed to you or did it feel like a breakthrough?
... Too much or not enough?
... Book readers: I have never fully understood the way Claire "saves" Jamie in the book. Have I missed a key piece in my summary? What do you think happened and is it a bunch of bullshit?