Obsession of the Week: Outlander

Though I had planned to begin posting previews of my trip to Ireland, given my obsession with Outlander I feel that I have to reflect on last night’s finale.  Here is the big question for me: With all of the hype and all of the reviews, how do I truly feel about it?

I’m discussing it as if any readers already know what is going to happen, so if you’re avoiding spoilers stop reading now.

First, what happened.  In order to protect Claire, Jamie promises to let Randall do whatever he wants with his body.  What Randall wants to do is have Jamie submit to him completely, body and soul, including making love.  Claire is able to rescue Jamie, but not before he is completely physically and spiritually broken, seemingly beyond repair. Randall’s tortuous actions are revealed in flashback as Claire and some monks try to save Jamie from his dangerous wounds and his strong desire to die from the shame of what happened to him.

I agree with one article I read (New York Times) that said TV missed the long healing process that takes place in the book, including a wonderful scene in the hot springs below the monastery.  Claire’s salvation of Jamie’s soul is far more hard won in the book, including a near fatal battering of her body to exorcise his demons, while the swim in the hot springs marks a cleansing for both of them.

True they had to move rapidly through the story to cover all the ground they had to cover, but here I agree with a podcast I heard (Outlander Cast) that bemoaned the wasted time spent in two episodes called “The Watch” and “The Search.” Particularly in “The Search,” there was far too much repetition and wasted time given the constraints of episodic television to finish the story.  However done is done, and perhaps, (just perhaps-this is my own speculation) they were trying to save wear and tear on their actors, who all made their respective roles in the last two episodes incredibly, horrifyingly realistic.

All of that said, the episode achieved its goal of being fundamentally true to the book, which of course meant it had to be shocking and disturbing. I ask myself why did Diana Gabaldon do this to Jamie?  What role does it play in the story?  It shows exactly how villainous Jack Randall is, but we already hated him.  Jamie had to be less naïve, but there are far easier ways to do that.  Lots of people become more jaded about the world without being violated in this way.  So why?

I think because she (the author) needed to introduce true evil into her world.  There is a big difference between badness and evil, which has largely to do with intent. To kill someone is one thing, but to break them so  you can own them–that is true evil. Randall is aware of his place in the darkness and says so.  I recall the scene in “The Garrison Commander” where he asks Claire if he can be saved, then sucker punches her in the stomach.  He has no need or desire to be saved; he fully recognizes and embraces his depravity.

How does that further the story?  It makes Jamie and Claire peers, for one thing.  She has seen the evils of war and carries those visions with her.  Jamie had seen a lot, but nothing like what Claire saw as an army nurse.  Now they both believe in evil, and they both know that everything does not always turn out alright.  Also, it makes real to Jamie the coming massacre that Claire has warned about at Culloden. Therein lies the rub, I believe.  Jamie’s appealing optimism and naivete did not prepare him for the problems yet to come. The author had to find a way to make him more than just physically tough.  He has to believe that there is badness coming that must be avoided because it cannot be defeated.

Finally let me say that I was so happy to see Jamie smile again at the end of the episode.  Claire’s announcement of her pregnancy was a joyful end indeed.  Thankfully there is reason to look forward to the next season

3 thoughts on “Obsession of the Week: Outlander

  1. Hi Beth!

    I read two of the Outlander books (a gift from my husband, who knows me and the things I like very well!) but have not been watching the series (for one thing, I don’t have that channel on my cable.) I fell in love with book Claire and Jamie and was engrossed and impressed by their story… its imagination, its heart and its realism. (Series Clare is the literal embodiment of how I imagined her as I read, and Jamie is close). Paradoxically it is likely BECAUSE of that that I would find Outlander a hard series to watch… even harder than it was to read. Because I find that most of the time I can’t handle watching someone I have affection for (even if the person is fictional) experiencing pain, trauma or humiliation. As a reader, my picturing of a horrific situation is constrained by what my mind is willing to conceive, but when depicted on film/tv the images are forced past my eyes and into my head… sometime I try to avoid at all costs. I sometimes make exceptions, but they’re rare! Would be interesting in knowing how usual or unusual my reactions are!

    • Maria, I am thrilled to hear from you! Thanks so much for visiting my blog!
      I would have guessed that you would like Outlander if I had known you had read it; it contains many of the elements that we both love in our stories. There is a heroic hero and an equally heroic heroine; an easy to identify bad guy with no redeeming qualities at all; a beautiful and interesting setting; and an engaging ensemble of secondary characters. That said, I could not wait to see what they did with it on television, and they have not let me down. The first half of the season was absolutely stunning and irresistibly romantic, particularly the wedding (episode 7). If you get a chance to watch the first 8 episodes you can do so without concern. The second half was also wonderfully wrought until the last two episodes mentioned above. They were hard to watch for the very reasons you say in your comment. It was much easier to stand as a reader, given my inability to fully realize what happened. I watched it because I felt loyal to the series and characters, but unlike many of the other episodes, I will not be watching them again. Seen cannot be unseen, and in that respect you are most wise.
      Best wishes as always.

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