Sometimes, they say, after the highest of highs comes the lowest of lows. I wish it weren’t so. I wish we were here to discuss anything but what book readers knew was likely coming in this episode of Outlander, but alas, that just wasn’t to be. So now, I feel it is my responsibility to not pull my punches when it comes to this review, and this show’s – a show I love at times – issues with assault in general.
But first, I want to issue a trigger warning. This is going to be a really hard review. I’m going to be frank about issues of assault, and delve into this show’s history with the subject. If you need to stop reading now, please, put yourself first. I’ll be here next episode.
And if, for some reason, you’re checking this before watching the episode, stop around minute forty five. You don’t need to see the last scene.
Now, as a book reader, I knew this was coming, though a part of me somehow hoped that, as much as this particular instance of rape colors the narrative as it goes forward, the show would choose to not go forward with this. This isn’t, after all, an innovative storyline for Outlander by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, at this point, I’m more shocked when there is no sexual assault than when there is, and that isn’t exactly a compliment.
Here we are, though, and the show apparently decided this was one thing they couldn’t change. And, as much as I have, at times, praised this show for the changes they’ve made and for the strides they’ve made in presenting other cultures in respectful way, there’s very little praise in me right now. Just honesty.
So, let’s go into the beautiful reunion, the implications of Murtagh being alive, and this show’s use of rape as a tool, as we review “Wilmington”:
YOU HAVE ALL OF ME
Roger and Brianna love each other. There’s no doubt about that. Roger and Brianna also have many, many issues that they need to work through if that love is going to work out. But all that, of course, is put on hold when you travel back to the past and the damn guy you love, and who you were doubting if you maybe loved the way your mother loved your real father, and if he loved you back the same way, follows you through the stones.
When Brianna tells Roger he has all of her, it’s because he always did. When he asks her to marry him, he’s giving her all of himself. That part was never in doubt. Ironically, like Jamie and Claire, the thing is that these two somehow managed to love each other in a real way before they ever really knew each other, and how to deal with each other.
So they predictably fight, and predictably know what buttons to push and then predictably react in stupid, overdramatic ways to every fight. That doesn’t change their feelings one bit, but the thing is, they’re going to have to learn to communicate when there are disagreements if they ever want to make it.
Walking away is not the acceptable way to settle a dispute. It never was.
Before they do that, of course, they’ll be treated to another separation, because idiot Roger walked away, and idiot Brianna told him to, while they’re stuck in a place they don’t know about 200 years before they were ever born. Talk about bad ideas.
Ah, Murtagh. We knew you were going to cause problems, we just didn’t care. Scratch that, we still don’t care. You can cause any problems you want; we still want you around, and so do Jamie and Claire.
This is proven by the fact that despite his promise to not get involved, Jamie risks absolutely everything to save Murtagh, even if that tips the governor’s hand that someone in his inner circle is leaking information. Him suspecting Washington cannot be good for the future, but I guess we’ll worry about that when we have to.
For now, we have enough to worry about with the fact that the Governor now trusts both Jamie and Claire, and that means, at some point, he’ll go to them and ask them to do something they will not, under any circumstances, be willing to do, considering who is on the other side. Loyalty is all very well, but Murtagh is family.
And family matters more than anything.
RAPE AS A TOOL
Finally, we come to this – the most important part of this review, if you ask me. Now, if you’ve read the books, or if you’ve been watching this show for a while, you can’t exactly be surprised that we are here. I’m not, not really. But I am supremely disappointed, not just that they decided it had to happen, but that they decided to shoot it the way they did.
This problematic storyline – the whole idea that because we are in a moment in time where sexual assault wasn’t an exception but a norm, we should be exposed to it as much as we have – is not on the show, but the books. And credit where credit is due, the show has tried at times to dilute some of the sexual violence from the books, with mixed results. Changing the victim isn’t the same as changing the actuac, after all. They have also, in general, done a really good job of centering male victims of sexual assault, and even, in one particular case (Jamie’s), of showing the repercussions of such a violation.
But just the fact that I can say this is what makes what happens to Brianna problematic. They have done this before. Not once, not twice, not three times. We know they can handle this storyline. We know they can do it with care. We know they can show that this is something that sticks with you, and not just brush off the mental health effects. We know all those things because we’ve seen the show do it before. Again and again.
And we’re only in Season 4.
So, at this point, why does it need to happen to another character? The lesson has been learned (one that, arguably, we didn’t need to learn in this way at all), and to suggest Brianna’s growth as a person depends on being assaulted is to suggest characters cannot grow without being subjected to violence, which is insulting at best, disgusting at worst. Her relationship issues with Roger, her personal issues with her parents, all of those could have been explored without this ever happening.
Rape should not be used as a tool to make characters stronger. Rape shouldn’t be used as a narrative tool to get characters, ANY CHARACTERS, to do shit. Period.
You want to hear the worst part? This isn’t even my only issue with the scene.
Now, I know the Outlander team was probably thinking shooting it the way they did, removing the actual violence and making it so we can only hear it and see other people’s reactions to it would be better. Except, it’s not. It reduces someone’s pain, depersonalizes it, makes it about someone else. When Jamie got raped, we got treated to two of the hardest episodes to watch in the history of TV, but we got to see it through his eyes, because he was the one suffering, and as horrible as that was, as much as I can never re-watch those episodes, I understood that choice.
I don’t understand this one. It reminds me, eerily, of Game of Thrones Season 5 and how they shot Sansa’s rape scene and spent the whole time focused on Theon’s reaction, as if HIS pain at seeing what was being done to Sansa was more important than the victim’s.
Storylines like this are overdone. I hope Outlander realizes that, because the show, as good as it can be at times, is awfully triggering and at times, it even comes close to glorying abuse, and I’ve shied away from recommending it to people because of this very topic I just discussed. But I also hope they realize this for the sake of their characters, because I want to see them grow and evolve for other reasons than because violence was inflicted upon them.
However, if, and when you decide to tackle a storyline like this, you owe it to the victim to at least make it about them, to not hide being storytelling techniques to make what happened more palatable for your viewers. Anything other than that is disrespectful to the pain so many people have suffered through.
Either you don’t do it, or you have the balls to show it. For your sake, I hope you pick the first lane. Because I’m really, really tired of pretending this show is good enough to constantly “forgive” this shit.
Things I think I think:
- First things first – Outlander has had many female writers/directors in its history, and in this season. Why this episode, OF ALL EPISODES, was written by a man, I will never understand.
- Roger, my baby. Looking so forlorn.
- HE ASKED FERGUS. FERGUUUUUUUUUS.
- I’m going to cry.
- For like, forever.
- Of course, after that we get Claire and Marsali talking about motherhood, because I haven’t suffered enough yet.
- THIS IS BREAKING ME.
- We’re only like five minutes in, I’m not going to be able to survive all these feelings.
- AND ROGER. So freaking close. Claire, go out or something!
- Fine, I cried.
- That little pause when he hears Brianna. The subtle change in his face. The way his posture changes.
- Lizzie, assumptions are bad. Take it from another Lizzie.
- Also, Roger, stop being so Roger for ONCE IN YOUR LIFE.
- Not the nicest way to tell someone you love them, but it’s the sentiment that counts, I guess.
- “You have all of me.”
- She’s so sure, and they’re so happy, and I love them so much. Can they stay in this moment forever?
- SO CLOSE. SO CLOSE.
- Don’t you just love how Jamie and Claire can still have entire conversations without speaking?
- No one wants to listen to a woman, shocker.
- In that regard, not much has changed.
- Coronel George Washington.
- I’d be freaking out a bit too.
- “If Brianna were here.” HA. FUNNY WAY OF TWISTING THE KNIFE.
- This ceremony is the most emotional I’ve been watching this show this year.
- Roger Jeremiah?
- Time travel sure affords you some perspective.
- Man and wife. It doesn’t feel as soon as when Jamie and Claire got married, but boy, the journey is just beginning.
- Ah, so that’s how Murtagh being alive is going to fuck shit up – loyalties are coming into play.
- I deserved this long ass fucking Roger/Brianna scene, okay. I really did.
- We really did.
- Tenderness is a hard thing to act out, but this is perfection.
- “For always.”
- “Feel my heart, tell my if it stops.”
- HYPERBOLE, I KNOW, BUT GAAAAAAAAH.
- I’m allowed the positive feelings, okay?
- Just, can we make this scene last the rest of the episode? I don’t want to see anything else.
- I usually hate the ‘was it alright’ trope, but these two are acting the hell out of some cheesy lines.
- The intrepid team of Jamie and Claire strike again!
- Claire taking control is my aesthetic.
- SO CLOSE AGAIN.
- I’M DYING.
- Well, at least you go the Governor to trust you, Claire.
- Fergus, my baby. Let me hug you.
- You too, Murtagh.
- Now, time to find that spy.
- Dude, I’m not saying lie to her, but use your words better. This is always your problem, you get mad and say shit you don’t mean and then it all goes to hell in a handbasket.
- “What could you do?” Really, Roger? THIS, EXACTLY. WHAT SHE DID.
- Look, not that I don’t get you, but you did take her choice away, and she has every right to be mad at you.
- Roger, shut up.
- Shut up.
- Forever, really.
- Don’t speak again.
- God, both of you. But mostly you, Roger.
- This temper is getting on my last nerve.
- I hate this so much. I know he isn’t going to leave for good, but I hate THIS so much.
- Fucking Stephen Bonnet.
- It isn’t better because we don’t see it.
- It never is.
Agree? Disagree? Share with us in the comments below!
Outlander airs Sundays at 8/7c on Starz.