Outlander 5×12 “Never My Love” is, sadly, the episode we expected it to be. There’s nothing surprising about what happens, and there really shouldn’t be, all things considered. The books are there, and the show has never really deviated from them. Why would they now?
And yet, the thing is, even though it made very little sense to me, the previous times the show had depicted rape, had made one of its protagonists into a victim, it had done so with the pretense of plot behind the whole thing. “There are plot reasons why we can’t change it,” they’d say, and we all knew that was bullshit, but the previous rapes were, indeed, pretty transformative (at least Jamie and Bree’s), and though characters can and should change for other reasons, the show still tried to use the idea that this things just couldn’t be changed as a shield.
Where’s that shield now?
Because there really isn’t a reason for the show to keep what happened to Claire in the books (and I’ve already gone into Diana Gabaldon’s obsession with rape as a plot device) the same for the show. There isn’t an “unavoidable consequence” or a storyline that would not work without it. Hell, I’d argue there isn’t even that much change to Claire’s character to be had from it, at least in the books. Claire, has, after all, already been raped (remember season 2?), though not as brutally as in this episode.
That, I guess, is the point. It’s torture porn. Pain for the sake of pain, not for the sake of storytelling, much less for the sake of telling a story rooted in the times. Outlander has never been interested in being historically accurate, Claire goes around behaving like women were rarely afforded to do in those days, Jamie is way more modern than even Roger, and slavery is apparently not a big deal. However, when it comes to pain, and not just pain …sexual assault, this show never misses an opportunity.
I’ve covered this show for a few years. I’ve mostly done it because I felt the show needed to be called out, and I wanted to make sure I did it. I tried to get through the books, and I more or less did, ages ago, but I was put off by the same reasons the series has put me off, and so I never considered myself a book fan. I don’t even keep copies of them in my home, as I am never interested in re-reading.
Jamie and Claire’s relationship was one of the reasons I wanted to love this show. I think, despite many other missteps, at times the show has understood that what we wanted was an unequivocally romantic show, one that was based on a couple’s love, and that drew from that. Yes, obstacles could be thrown their way, but we wanted their love to be the center of it.
However, the more I look back on the show, the more I realize it hasn’t been. Love – the one between Jamie and Claire, or between the two of them and their daughter, or even between Brianna and Roger, has never been the linchpin. Pain has always been. That’s the legacy of this show, the reason for its existence. It isn’t about love; it’s about surviving unimaginable pain.
And, you know what, I could see that as the basis of the show, if it happened to one character, maybe two – not EVERY MAIN AND SUPPORTING CHARACTER that has ever gotten a decent amount of screen time.
It’s not that the show shouldn’t show sexual assault, and/or deal with the consequences, with what the act does to the victims and family alike. It’s that there was absolutely no need to do it again and again and again and again, to the point where we now know when to look away.
Claire’s spirit is supposed to be commendable, that’s the point of this episode. She’s a strong woman, and this won’t break her, life won’t break her. She will get through this. And I get the notion that this is an important message to send, for survivors and victims. Sexual assault doesn’t define you. You aren’t what other people did to you.
But Claire was already strong before this, and the show has already sent this same message many times before. Just as it’s already sent the message that this family would kill for each other – as Marsali ends up doing in this hour.
Marsali, however, isn’t strong because she paid violence with violence. She isn’t more worthy of our admiration because she would kill for Claire. We already knew she would. We didn’t need to see her actually doing it.
In fact, the only positive thing I can say about this episode is that at least I wasn’t forced to endure that horrible moment in the books where Jamie basically insists they have sex so, if she gets pregnant, she can pretend it’s his. But hey, in an episode that was already dealing with one unnecessary thing after another, that feels like a small victory.
There’s a part of me that’s always wanted to love this show, one that was presumably about a strong woman taking control of her life and her destiny. I’ve never truly been able to, not the way I’ve loved so many other shows. I’ve never truly wondered why, either. I’ve always known this was the reason.
When you start watching a show, you enter into a kind of unspoken contract with the show-runners and the writers. You accept the journey, with its ups and downs. You take the good with the bad. All you ask in return is that the choices, the story makes sense. That the things you see are done for reasons other than to get a reaction out of you.
Outlander has never respected that unspoken contract. It’s never respected us, the viewers, the people here for the love, and the family, not the repeated rape and torture for the sake of furthering storylines that could be furthered a million other ways. And that’s why the show will never be what it could have been, despite the good moments, the great ones, and even the outstanding ones.
You make this choice enough times, you become the choice. That’s it.
Outlandermade the choice, and then they’ve stood by it. So, at this point, the only thing we can do – should do – is take their word for it when they make it clear that this isn’t a show about love.
It’s a show about pain. Their pain, our pain. And is that really something we want to invest in?
Agree? Disagree? What did you think of “Never My Love”? Share with us in the comments below.
Outlander is available to stream on the Starz app.