Outlander Season 6 started last week with “Echoes,” an episode that finally delivers on something fans had been waiting for — actual follow up to trauma. And yet, considering Claire is not the first, or even the third person, to suffer through the same kind of trauma on Outlander, it’s worth examining if the long overdue focus might just be too little, too late at this point.
A caveat, of course. What Claire went though, what Jamie went through before her, and Brianna, and Fergus — and that’s without going into the two situations Outlander attempted to make blurry, Claire and Louis XV and Jamie and Geneva —leaves a mark, and the show should, absolutely, explore the trauma that comes with it without handwaving the journey of healing. We’ve been asking for that since the end of Season 1, when Jamie was the first person to get sexually assaulted on this show.
But we didn’t get it then, not really. Nor did we get it with Claire in Season 2 (she didn’t want to have sex with Louis XV, so that’s rape), or with Jamie in Season 3 (he also didn’t want to have sex with Geneva). We got a little of it with Brianna, but it was just a few episodes, and then the focus shifted to Roger’s feelings, Jamie’s feelings, or worse, Bonnet’s.
At the end of Season 5, Outlander pulled out the rape card, once again. If you’re counting, that’s six times in six seasons when it comes to our main characters — which is not something the show should be proud of. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise; they’ve refrained from changing a source material that relies too heavily on sexual assault to advance the plot more than once. But Claire’s horrible assault left her with not just physical, but emotional, scars; and when we pick up in Season 6, she’s self-medicating with ether.
None of this is shocking, and in and of itself, the fact that the show is actually exploring Claire’s trauma is a good thing. She deserves to feel things, to struggle, to break down, and to process her trauma in her own way. The problem is, of course, that Outlander has denied various characters — including Claire herself — this very chance before.
This sends a complicated message. Is trauma something you’re only allowed in the circumstances Claire went through at the end of Season 5? Do you have to process in silence, and off-camera, otherwise? Is the show more interested in rape as a storytelling tool than it is on examining the very real pain victims go through, a pain that extends far beyond the actual moment?
Let’s not even go into what it says about the show that we have so many points of comparison (because more than half of the main cast has experienced sexual assault) and focus on the most crucial question we can ask in this very moment, which is: Why now?
Because it serves the plot? Because Caitriona Balfe has some more say in the storylines? We don’t have an answer, but the question still needs to be asked. Particularly as, yes, it’s a good thing that Claire’s trauma is being explored, but six seasons and as many rapes in, it doesn’t feel like nearly enough.
I’d still love to see it — don’t get me wrong. It should be explored, and it needs to be. But the more time we spent on it, the harder it is to forget that Jamie, Fergus, Brianna and even Claire before, were not afforded the same opportunity to heal on camera. And if, as we explore Claire’s trauma, there is no on-camera awareness from the show as to how many other characters have been in the exact same place she is in right now, then, well …. we’ll just have to believe nothing has changed. The show has learned no lessons.
Which means we’ll probably be here again, ruing another rape that will be used just to advance the plot.