Wednesday, January 13, 2016

RECAP: Outlander 1x16 - We're Not Out of the Woods Just Yet

The only thing harder to watch than an episode where you leave your hero to be tortured and probably raped by the man who's haunted his nightmares for four years is the episode right after that where you get constant flashbacks and have to actually deal with the emotional fallout. 

That's right, chickadees, strap in because this recap is absolutely definitely going to be a bumpy ride.

We ended last episode with Murtagh's declaration that he knew how to get Jamie out of Wentworth Prison. Well, this episode we come in on the following morning. Except instead of following Claire this whole time, we're more with Jamie now, seeing his unblinking stare as he lies in bed next to none other than Captain Jack Randall. Jamie's not in a good place.

He's so much not in a good place that as the drummers strike up their tune above, signaling the dawn and hence Jamie's upcoming execution, Jamie calls out to Randall in a hoarse voice to say, "You owe me a debt." If you'll recall, that debt is simply that Randall promised to kill Jamie before his execution if Jamie surrendered to him. Jamie did.

Fortunately, before Randall can make good on his promise, he hears a rumbling and goes to investigate. Said rumbling? About twenty-one head of cattle charging through the prison hallways, knocking down Captain Jack Randall and cracking his skull open on the rocks. It's an ignominious end for a horrible horrible man.* Murtagh and the boys rush in and bundle up the semi-conscious Jamie before using the confusion of the cattle to pop out the prison's back door. The jailers will have to sort out the cattle before they realize a prisoner's gone.

Still, no time to waste. Claire is thrilled to see they've found Jamie, but simultaneously horrified by the extent of his injuries. Worse, it seems he can't even stand for her to touch him. He freaks out and hallucinates that she's actually Randall looming over him. It's an understandable freakout, but still. For some reason, he can't look at Claire without seeing Randall. Probably the accent or something.

The men race them all off to take shelter in a nearby monastery, a place even the English wouldn't be rude enough to barge in and search, but by no means a place they can stay forever. The goal is to get Jamie well enough to travel and then to figure out where Claire and Jamie will go now. Because now? Now there is literally nowhere in Scotland they are safe. Not Castle Leoch, not Lallybroch, not any of the places they've known or hidden in.

But that's a matter for later. The first order of business is to get Jamie well and that...that is easier said than done. Oh sure his body is mendable. It's hard work but Claire saw much worse in the war. She's pretty sure she'll be able to make it so he can use his fingers. There's a high risk of infection, but, again, Claire is a badass and her medical skills are second to none. No, the real problem isn't Jamie's wounds or his broken bones or even his fever. The real problem is Jamie himself.

Jamie doesn't want to be well. In his mind he was ready to die in that cell and so everyone should let him just hurry up and go already. He doesn't get why they're trying to save him so hard, especially Claire. He figures Claire should just hang in the towel and move on. He's dead already.

Claire is not having it.

Now, I should mention that throughout the episode we get continual flashbacks to the night that Jamie spent as Randall's prisoner. The flashbacks add more context to what Jamie is going through and shed light on why he's being so hard on himself and everyone else. Namely, what the flashbacks reveal is that it wasn't all bad, and that's what hurts Jamie the most. Parts of his torture were almost kind of nice. He didn't hate all of it, and he can't forgive himself for that.

Claire doesn't know how to deal with a husband who is intent on wasting away. She's always been more of the action type, and it's always been clear that in their marriage Jamie is the one with the empathy skills and love of talking about feelings. Claire tends to bottle it up until it bursts out at horrible moments. Actually they're both awful with feelings, it's just that Claire is awful with literally everyone's feelings and Jamie is awful with his own. Anyway.

In lieu of any other way to find some peace while trapped in a monastery with her suicidally depressed husband, Claire finds herself spending a lot of time in the chapel. It's there that she runs into one of the monks, and has a cathartic moment of her own. When the monk asks Claire if she'd like to give confession, Claire politely declines. She's afraid it wouldn't make any sense to the man. His response - that it would make sense to God and that's what counts - is adorable and made me love him.

So Claire decides what the hell and actually tells this elderly monk the entire story of what she's been through in the past year. She tells him about her two husbands and the time travel and choosing Jamie and all of it. At the end Claire reels back, ready for the guy to call her a witch, but instead he just praises God and calls her a miracle. It's this that gives Claire the courage to confront what's really going on. 

Murtagh reveals that Jamie has asked him to kill him, and Willy confirms it. Claire swoons a bit**, but recovers and wants to know what to do now. As always, it's Murtagh who has the solution and Claire who will be the one to carry it out. If Jamie won't come to the light, someone is going to have to get down there in the dark with him.

This is what prompts probably the strangest but most interesting scene of the season: Claire strips down to her shift, covers herself in lavender oil (the stuff that Randall used on Jamie during his torture), and slaps her husband in the face until he looks at her.

Admittedly it's an unorthodox approach, and basically the opposite of what any reputable therapist would suggest, but it also makes a lot of sense. James Fraser is a stubborn, prideful, angry man. He'll stew in his own juices forever if someone doesn't get in there and remind him of how to be alive. So Claire does exactly that. She hits him and he hits her back because he still can't stand her touch. And she fights him. They fight hard and dirty and surprisingly evenly (which is probably because he's extremely injured, but still, Claire has moves). Finally, she pins him down and demands to know what happened that he won't tell her. What's the horrible thing that is poisoning his soul?

The answer is awful but, again, makes a lot of sense. Jamie is dying inside because he swore to himself that he would never submit to Randall, not inside, but he did. When Randall was raping him there was a moment of tenderness that broke Jamie. Even worse to his eyes, he had an orgasm. Randall violated him and hurt him and destroyed him inside, and he had an orgasm. Jamie can't forgive himself for that. Even even worse, while Randall was raping him, he intentionally made Jamie think of Claire so that Jamie would associate Claire with his rape. In other words, Jamie's soul is dying because he did this to save his wife but now he confuses her touch with his rapist's, and he can't forgive himself for not staying strong.

Claire's response? That it is horrible and sad and Jamie deserved none of that, but that Jamie blaming himself for all of it is complete bullshit. Randall doesn't own him. His surrender meant nothing. Jamie belongs to Claire and no one else because that's what he swore in a church before witnesses and with a clear mind. He is Claire's and Randall doesn't get to have him.

So I guess the question coming all season has been, is Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser strong-willed and bloody-minded enough to bully her husband out of his suicidal tendencies? Yes. Yes she is. And, no, that question wasn't explicitly coming all season, but whoa is this a confirmation of how much of a badass Claire can be when she puts her mind to it. Impressive.

At any rate, with that conversation, Jamie and Claire turn a corner. He's told her the whole truth and she doesn't hate him. His pride might have taken a mortal hit, but it's just his pride and he knows that now. Jamie starts to mend. What I like is that they don't say it's all better now or that everything is okay, but rather show that the first steps have been made. It's a start, but there's more to come. I can appreciate that.

Granted, they kind of had to start now because the time has come for the Frasers to leave their monastery hideout. They need a plan. The easiest solution? France. It's a Catholic nation and therefore allied with Scotland against the Protestant (Anglican) England. Plus, both Claire and Jamie have family there. Claire has to hot-step to get around why they can't go see her family (said family being a lie), but she gets through it and everyone agrees that Jamie, Claire, and Murtagh will sail off to meet Jamie's merchant cousin in France.

Time for goodbyes, then. Claire and Willy exchange a heartfelt and sincere goodbye that makes me genuinely hope Willy shows up next season because he is wonderful. Seriously, he is one of the most consistently good men on this show, and watching him mature over the past season has been a really cool story. Also Angus and Rupert get their goodbyes, which go about how you would expect of them.

And then we're off! Jamie and Claire are very literally on a ship headed into the unknown future, with no real plans, no money, and no clue what they're doing. Which is precisely when Claire gets an idea. A clever little inevitable idea. See, she knows everything that's going to happen to Scotland. What if they just sort of...changed it?

That's right! After a season of this time travel show being more about historical accuracy than hijinks with the timeline, it looks like season two (which comes out in April) will have some good old time-mess. I'm very excited.

Oh, and there's other news too: it turns out that Claire is indeed pregnant. I have a suspicion that she figured it out sometime in the search episode, but she's definitely pregnant now. Her suspicions of her own infertility were wrong, which happens sometimes. Jamie is over the moon, and once she sees how happy he is, she's very happy too. Which is how we leave our star-crossed lovers. They're sailing off into the great unknown, but at least they're together and they're facing it as a team.

End of season.

I think at this point we can all agree that Outlander is a very good show. It's even got the Golden Globe nomination to prove it. But I think we can also all agree that it's a very different show to anything we've seen before. Sure, there have been historical epics and miniseries that dealt with issues not dissimilar to what appears here, but not ones that have been so firmly rooted in what it's like to be a woman without title or property in a time when women aren't shit. 

Outlander is unique in a lot of ways, but I think aside from Claire's storyline the way it's most unique is actually in Jamie. It would have been so easy to make Jamie into your average romance novel hero, a swashbuckler who sweeps in and takes Claire off her feet. But he's not. He's an awkward, stunted man who loves her dearly but sometimes can't get over his own pride and stubbornness enough to remember that. Jamie's not perfect. He's a good man, but he's still a person. The show has done an amazing job keeping him real, down to earth, and genuine.

That's why this episode and the one before it hurt so much. Jamie's human and weak and breakable and that's why it hurts so much to see him get broken. We love Jamie for his flaws so much more than we would love him for being perfect. So not only has Outlander given us a radical female hero in Claire, it's also given us a new image of traditional masculinity in the shades of nuance that are James Fraser.

I give them a lot of credit for managing to work in a rape narrative that is sensitive, painfully realistic, and yet also hopeful. I think none of this episode would have worked if we hadn't spent so much time on Jamie and Claire before now. Because of the deep understanding we have of them, this episode cuts like a knife. But not like seeing Sansa's rape on Game of Thrones did. 

This episode didn't feel gratuitous or overblown. It felt like we were watching a person we love hurt very badly and seeing it from their perspective.

The most meaningful scenes are the ones where you can't even see Randall at all - the camera just stays close on Jamie's face while he flickers through different emotions. And when he's finally able to exorcise Randall from his mind and his body, by cutting out the brand he left, Jamie's face is again our focal point. It's all about Jamie, and not about Randall. Heck, they even cut out a significant plot point from the book to ensure that this stayed about Jamie and not his abuser.

I respect that.

So that's season one of Outlander. It well lived up to its promise. Prestige television has long suffered a dearth of lady-centric shows that can stand up to the boys, but with this show, Orphan Black, Strange Empire, and a few others, it looks like we're starting to come into our own. We're not their yet, but we're on our way.

Just like Claire and Jamie and their hypothetical baby are on their way to France to change the future. See what I did there?

*But then this is television and Randall is a great villain. Since no one bothered to stab his body a couple of hundred times, he might not be dead. It's hard to tell.
**She straight up faints, and between that and how she's holding her stomach the past few episodes, I think we all know what's coming.


  1. Hi, Deborah... I've been following your recaps of Outlander since I found them. I've been reading the books and watching the show, wondering if I should just stop reading and just watch. You know how it is..."Why did that do that when it went this way in the book?" Second guessing the show.

    Anyway, I love your recaps. You're such a good writer and I just love your sense of humor. I hope you'll continue to recap the series for Season 2, also. I look forward to them.


  2. Hi, Deborah... I've been following your recaps of Outlander since I found them. I've been reading the books and watching the show, wondering if I should just stop reading and just watch. You know how it is..."Why did that do that when it went this way in the book?" Second guessing the show.

    Anyway, I love your recaps. You're such a good writer and I just love your sense of humor. I hope you'll continue to recap the series for Season 2, also. I look forward to them.


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