It’s the season finale of Outlander and the time has come to rescue Jamie (Sam Heughan) from Wentworth prison…and from himself.
Let’s bitch it out…
In an unexpected turn of events Jamie is rescued from prison – and Black Jack (Tobias Menzies) – within the first few minutes of the finale. The remainder of the episode is spent repairing his physical wounds and trying to diagnose the mental and spiritual issues that are preventing his recovery. It’s a surprisingly intimate episode for Jamie and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) whose marriage stands on the brink in the wake of the torture Jamie suffers at Jack’s hands.
Initially it seems as though we will be spared the details, but as the episode unfurls we flashback to Jamie’s time with Jack in the dungeon. I won’t lie: this episode was rough to watch. Last week’s hand mangling seemed like the worst possible thing that Jamie would endure, but it turns out that it’s only the start (this show certainly knows how to push buttons, no?). It was pretty evident last week that rape was on the table: Jack, in true sadistic form, wanted Jamie to submit to him. It’s actually more complicated than that, though; as we learn throughout ‘To Ransom A Man’s Soul’, what Jack desires is is to break Jamie. I can’t imagine what it was like for Heughan and Menzies to explore this mindset, but as a viewer, watching Jack manipulate Jamie into associating the pleasure and pain of the dungeon with Claire is an emotional rollercoaster.
I wondered how Outlander would explore the rape without being exploitative or even homophobic. In the wake of recent criticisms leveled at series that use rape as a narrative device *cough Game Of Thrones cough*, it’s hard not be wary at rape-centric plots. Initially it seems as though those reservations are well-founded; Jamie is deeply affected from his time in the dungeon and initially it seemed as though it is his proud masculinity that’s the problem. Obviously in the historical period that Outlander is set homosexuality is barely a concept (Jack associated it with deviancy in last week’s episode), and Jamie clearly defines his identity in part on things like his virility and his physical size. There was a concern that Outlander would end up associating “buggery” with weakness or being less of a man, but that fear proves unwarranted. In fact the source of Jamie’s shame is revealed to be his betrayal of his love for Claire, making it more about his belief that Claire will not forgive him than the fact that he took pleasure in consensual sex with Jack. In this way Outlander retains the notion that Jamie was raped and tortured within condemning homosexuality as an evil perversion.
This is not to say that director Anna Foerster and writers Ronald D. Moore & Ira Behr cast Jack as anything other than a monster. Throughout the episode the blocking of Heughan and Menzies repeatedly reiterates the power differential between them (Sam is frequently shown on the floor or in wounded/vulnerable positions, whereas Jack is usually upright or towering over him). Credit Menzies for continuing to find glimmers of humanity in Jack – despite the deplorable physical and psychological acts he commits, there is a sense of intimacy and affection in the way that Jack holds and touches Jamie*, particularly in the moment after he removes the nail from Jamie’s hand.
*For the most part. Commanding Jamie to scream while he aggressively takes him from behind and pulls his hair is an uncomfortably vivid and likely nightmare-inducing scenario for Outlander’s straight male viewers. (I assume you exist)
Without focusing exclusively on the flashbacks, ‘To Ransom A Man’s Soul’ is also a great showcase for Balfe and Heughan. Over the course of the season, both actors have done exceptional work developing their characters and the palpable physical chemistry in the early episodes has grown into something more resonant as the challenges in Claire and Jamie’s relationship have grown in the latter half of the season. There is real love between them and their aggressive tussle before Jack’s brand is revealed is a great examination of how well Claire has come to know her Scottish husband. Jamie is such a physically impressive man (has he ever been bigger than he is in this episode? Seriously, the guy is jacked) and his ability to withstand physical trauma is a defining trait. Knowing this allows Claire to break through Jamie’s mental defenses: she recognizes that attacking him with her fists and feet will engage him more than coddling him and the result is the emotional break through that’s required to save his life. Without someone like Claire, Jamie would have almost certainly followed through on his desire to kill himself. Claire’s ultimate confession to Jamie – that without him she has nothing in this time – is just as honest. Without the other, this pair doesn’t work.
And so, with adventure in the air, they depart for France…and S2. Au revoir Outlander, but not goodbye. Here’s hoping you return in the very near future.
- I liked the casual revelation that Claire is pregnant. Not only is it another reason for Jamie to reconnect with her emotionally, it’s a good pay-off for the earlier scene when she vomits after treating his hand. Initially I thought that her visceral reaction to her husband’s abuse might have been the cause, but considering her training as a war nurse, it seemed unlikely that she would have been so deeply affected. Lo and behold, it’s morning sickness!
- At times I wonder how much money STARZ is giving the show. Not only is the series regularly moving from one location to another (thereby reducing its ability to reuse sets), a huge portion of the show is filmed outdoors. While the majority of this episode is set inside the simple monastery set, the final images – featuring a massive period boat filmed from a bird’s eye point of view shot via a helicopter – must have cost a fortune!
- After an episode of emotional heavy lifting, leave it to Angus (Stephen Walters) to provide some levity with a highly inappropriate “au revoir” kiss for Claire. Cheeky bastard.
- Willie’s (Finn Den Hertog) affection for the couple is truly affecting. He’s super young and naive, but his idealism is so honest that I almost wish that he were accompanying them to France as whatever the Scottish version of a squire is.
- I cannot imagine which is worse: the pain of removing a recent brand from that part of your body or the smell of flesh sizzling on the fire <barfs>
- Finally, a minor shocking development concludes the episode: Claire decides that they should try and change the future. Guess now we know where Outlander plans to go in S2!
- Murtagh (after Claire faints): “You collapsed like a sack of grain. Scared the piss right out of me.”
- Grant O’Rourke’s Rupert (acknowledging why it’s good Claire is leaving): “Keeping you and Jamie out of harm’s way is a full time job.”
Your turn: what did you think of the finale? Did you find the dungeon scenes challenging to watch? Did Outlander‘s take on rape feel more organic and justified than other recent examples? What do you think of the revelations that Claire is pregnant and that they’ll try and change the future? Sound off below.
Outlander has now finished airing its first season. It has been renewed for a second by STARZ.