‘Outlander’ season finale’s graphic violence gets Twitter talking

31 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Outlander’ Finale: Ron Moore on Boundary-Pushing Rape Scenes, Season 2 Plans.

If fans of Starz’s adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s novel series Outlander thought the depiction of the rape of Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) by Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) would be toned down after the harrowing physical torture that made up the majority of the penultimate episodes, they were proven wrong in Saturday’s season finale.Mandi: I had a moment in the beginning minutes of this episode where I was so glad they rescued Jamie and I didn’t have to sit through anymore of the torture Randall was inflicting on him.After two very dark episodes to close out the season, Outlander ended, Saturday, on a hopeful note, with Jamie and Claire on a ship and headed to France, far, far away from the vicious Jack Randall.After weeks of steamy Highland romance, wrapped up its first season on May 30 –– and there’s no doubt that the finale was the most jaw-dropping episode yet.

After an already intense evening — “a dark night of the soul,” Menzies explained — of physical and mental torture, there was yet another layer to Black Jack’s sadism that had yet to be explored.It feels safe to say that never before has so graphic an act of sexual violence taken place between two men on television. A few films, here and there, have surpassed the horror of “To Ransom A Man’s Soul” — but it’s significant, I think, that the few I recall are all about genocide, such as “The Killing Fields” and the Canadian film “A Sunday In Kigali.” “To Ransom A Man’s Soul,” the first season finale, tells the same story as the books. As the author of the “Outlander” books and the woman who started this remarkable journey for millions of fans with several strokes of her keyboard, she had every right to make the following statement.

Although Black Jack’s sexual desire of Jamie was noted in previous episodes, it was harrowing to see it play out, even if it was told in flashback as Jamie attempted his recovery in an abbey in the countryside. Though Black Jack was ostensibly killed at the top of the episode, when Claire (Caitrona Balfe) courageously rescued her Highlander husband from Wentworth Prison, the damage had been done. To hash out the details of the final episode, and get a glimpse at what’s in store for Season 2, Richard Lawson spoke with Outlander show-runner Ronald D. Waiting for him to be well enough to board a ship to France, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) nursed her husband back to health with ample amount of water, stitches, a bit of lavender oil and tough love. It was no easy road, though: there were several moments when Jamie attempted suicide or begged for death from others as he was unable to cope with the mental and emotional ramifications of what he went through.

Martin’s brutal, misogynistic fantasy world, or so the defense goes.) The move came after a well-documented pile-up of such savagery over successive weeks that alienated female viewers. A surprise pregnancy announcement from Claire as the pair set sail for Paris capped off the final minutes of the time-travel show, but several burning questions remain. Spoilers ahead for the season finale, as well as some details about the upcoming second season (though nothing book readers aren’t already expecting).

The combination of adorable cows plus a jaunty Scottish jig would have been enough to illicit chuckles if it weren’t for Jamie, who the gang found naked and immobile on the floor after being raped by Randall. Where in the last episode, the physical pain of nailing Jamie’s hand to the table turned my stomach, a layer of emotional manipulation was added in this episode, throwing Jamie into a dark, dark place.

Explained the website’s editor-in-chief Jill Pantozzi: “Our stance is not that sexual assault can’t or shouldn’t be in TV ever (but) that we want creators to really think about how they are portraying those crimes and the effect they have on the survivors.” Last Friday, Bryan Fuller, the executive producer of NBC’s Hannibal, which begins its third season on June 4, told EW’s James Hibberd that TV’s rape glut – a byproduct of moment super-saturated with crime dramas—spurred him to ban such stories from his show. Richard Lawson: I haven’t read Outlander, so I am curious if there is anything major in the final two episodes in particular that deviated from the books in a significant way, or was it pretty faithful to what was written? His sensitivity to the issue has even inspired him to modulate aspects of this season’s adaptation of Red Dragon, the first Hannibal Lecter novel by Thomas Harris. “It’s one of the things on the show that we really wanted to avoid. Claire struggled to set a visibly traumatized Jamie at ease as he recovered in a local monastery, but he refused to eat, suffered delusions (he thought Claire was Randall –– the horror), and decided life wasn’t worth living.

And thankfully, the series did end its season on a high note: after believing herself to be barren, Claire’s found herself pregnant with her first child. They’re ubiquitous on television, and there’s an entire series [NBC’s Law & Order: SVU] that’s about rape,” said Fuller. “We didn’t wanna glorify it—well, not “glorify,” because I don’t think any of the crime procedural shows are actually “glorifying” rape. But it is certainly explored so frequently that it rarely feels genuine.” He added: “‘A character gets raped’ is a very easy story to pitch for a drama. The book is told first-person narrative all the way through, including all these sequences, so all the sequences between Jack and Jamie in the book are related after the fact to Claire. First, Randall washed Jamie and commented on the fact that he’s a magnificent creature (literally cannot with the creepy-factor), and then he quickly proceeded to assault him.

The two awaken the morning after “Wentworth Prison” ended, and to our distress, the once-affable Jamie is now a living corpse with eyes that have gone completely dead. Well done to Moore and Behr for that creative decision: Having us witness Jamie’s escape and Jack being knocked senseless before we got into the harrowing flashbacks made the upcoming disturbing scenes the teensiest bit easier to handle.

At first Jamie resisted, but he eventually told the truth: he was broken down to the point of having non-resistant sex with Randall –– partially because Randall convinced a delusional Jamie that he was Claire. “I couldn’t help myself,” Jamie told his wife. “It felt so good not to be in pain.” After this revelation, Jamie decided he could no longer live, so Claire threatened to kill herself (Romeo and Juliet style). But other than the knowledge that Jack is still alive, the episode came as close to a fairy-tale ending as it possibly could after putting its heroes through the kind of hellish emotional wringer you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. This horrifying reality finally snapped Jamie out of it, so he rid himself of the terrible experience the only way he knew how: cut off his branded skin, threw it in a fire and spat on it.

But it was an important scene to her, so we were like, “Okay, let’s find a way to make it work within the context of what we were doing.” So we shot it and moved it around in editing a coupe of times. It went in and out and shifted positions in the show [laughs], and then finally we got to a place where it seemed to work comfortably with the character. Yes, Jamie is on a healing path now, with Claire by his side and the happy news of her pregnancy allowing him to smile for the first time in several episodes. It also meant that at the end when you did leave Scotland, when you finally got to that beach and the shot of the ship, it would feel like a breath of fresh air. In almost every other way, though, it’s a flat episode — in large part because it struggles to recover from the brutality it introduces with Jamie’s torture.

The show sets off a narrative bomb and then tries to glue the shattered remnants of story back together, ending, as the book does, on a moment of quiet triumph. Everything I said about Caitriona Balfe’s, Sam Heughan’s and Menzies’s Emmy-worthy performances in the penultimate episode also rings true in the finale. As such, “Outlander” raises a lot of questions, ones that have already been circulating this month following yet another disturbing rape scene on HBO’s “Game Of Thrones” and the continued obsession with sexual violence against women exhibited in shows like “Law And Order: SVU,” “True Detective,” “Criminal Minds” and others. Even the brief instance where Menzies goes full-frontal – atypical for TV, premium cable or not – seems organic, because he has triumphed in breaking Jamie. When I read that chapter, I was like, “Wow, this is not at all where I expected we were going to go, and if we translate this to a TV series, it’s going to surprise and shock the audience.” And that’s a good thing.

Up until now, the conversation about rape as it is depicted on television has mostly argued that (largely male) writers are creating a violent fantasy for an (intended to be male) audience. Creators of television shows often use the convenient moral corruption of the worlds they’ve built to absolve themselves of responsibility for what they’re portraying. (“Game Of Thrones” is the most highbrow example, but this irresponsible storytelling about the vulnerability of women’s bodies ranges from Nancy Grace to “Law And Order” to the recently canceled “Stalker.”) But “Outlander,” from the start, had differentiated itself from the pack. This scene, where Claire finally breaks down the wall of shame Jamie has erected for himself, after he admits that he surrendered to the sadistic Redcoat, enabling Jack to make love to him (“I couldn’t help myself, Claire. It then tracked Claire’s efforts to mend Jamie’s broken body, then mend his broken spirit by getting him to share with her what Randall had done to him.

Where you’re saying, “What’s the point where I’m not watching anymore, where I have to look away, where it’s just too much?” And then you take it up to that line — because that’s the truth of this story. And the political history in the background of “Outlander” is secondary to the storytelling of the individual characters’ relationships — meaning that everything boils down to trust and intimacy, physical or otherwise. Between Claire’s unwavering fight to reclaim her husband’s soul (“If you take away the one last thing that makes sense to me, then I will die, with you, right here and now”), and Jamie’s heartbreaking hesitation before allowing himself to reach out to his wife (much like Julie Delpy in this scene from “Before Sunset“), the love between these two was so real that I’m not entirely positive anymore that Balfe and Heughan are merely just really great acting partners.

Jamie’s shame, humiliation and despair (brilliantly portrayed) are heartbreaking to watch, but his depression also challenges his array of caretakers on how to best treat him. However, what sets “Outlander” apart from so many other TV shows out there is the finale featured something rarer than multiple sexually explicit encounters between two men: The role of the woman as the hero. Throughout the season, given her circumstances as a person in an unfamiliar century, Claire was stuck in the damsel-in-distress role a little more often than most 21st-century viewers would prefer. The recovery methods have that realistic and practical vantage point from the expected inward seeking of faith, to allowing and respecting Jamie’s need to retreat, to volunteering to end his misery, if the time comes for that necessity. Jamie in particular was made to confront his personal and cultural attitudes about gender roles, understand how they impact Claire, and recognize the value to him of having a wife that was his equal in every way.

Murtagh, Angus and Rupert (along with Sir Marcus’s 19 hairy cows) may have led the rescue mission out of Wentworth Prison, but it’s Claire who ultimately saves Jamie’s body and his soul. I think everyone will probably draw their own conclusions about what this is about, and I think many people will potentially read it differently, and I think that’s fascinating. By exploiting Jamie’s love for Claire in order to bend him to his will, Randall poisoned that love, and more so, their sexual connection, turning something vital to them into something painful.

Turns out resetting Jamie’s nine broken bones in his hand was the easy part, even after she remarks it’s nothing as bad as what she saw during WWII. When Claire tried to show him tenderness, Jamie recoiled from it, and even lashed out at her for it, because it conjured memories of Randall’s “affections” toward him, and triggered his self-loathing for succumbing to it.

There, as they said in this finale, they’re going to try to change history and they’re going to try to get inside the Jacobite movement and try to stop it from happening. Jack had used such brutal psychological tactics to torture Jamie that the Scotsman began confusing Claire with the British captain (and vice versa during the flashbacks). You try not to get too outside your head and start thinking about what you’re saying on a sociopolitical context or how this will be interpreted by other people.

While Claire’s decision to tie her hair in a low ponytail and dress in her singing trousers and a man’s shirt initially made sense for her utilitarian purposes, she had no idea she would be inadvertently triggering horrific hallucinations post-rescue: When Jamie looked at his wife, he only saw the evil grin of his captor, and therefore refused to look at Claire or let her touch him as he recuperated. With that stubborn quality and determination, she ties a rope around her waist and climbs into the black well of depression and loss to pull out her husband. As a character built so consciously to please female audiences, Jamie is something of an exciting anomaly, an example of a story going against the grain of the dominant narrative. This is a lot to juggle, mentally, while approaching the “Outlander” finale, which rather viciously breaks apart any sense of security the viewer might feel in this historical and fantastical world.

Back at the abbey, the more Jamie spouts suicidal intentions (“You cannot save a man who doesn’t want saving”) and recoils from his wife, the more dire his situation becomes. All along this season we kept laying track to get us to this place and once we got there it was all about following the arc of character, following where the story was going to take us. But ironically, it was a vaguely shaming guilt trip that roused Jamie from his spiritual stupor: Claire made it clear that if Jamie gave up on life, she, too, would do the same.

Jamie has significantly more interiority (he even narrated an episode) and in Menzies’ hands, the character of Jack Randall is horror come to life, not merely a caricature of a caricature. And now it’s her turn to be the romantic one, pledging her undying devotion to the man for whom she gave up her entire 20th-century existence, because she feels more alive with Jamie in 1743 than she ever did with Frank in 1945: “You belong to no one else but me, and I belong to you. You’re dealing with a lot more political stuff: conspiracies, lies, deceptions, backbiting, gossip; things happening in Paris salons and dinner parties and soirees. I wished the episode had provided Claire/Balfe with more to do than love her man back to life; Outlander is her story, after all, and she was owed more from a season finale. (I’m inclined to think that her season 1 arc peaked in the season’s 11th episode, when she made the choice to not return to the 20th century.) I also thought that Jamie’s rehabilitation was a bit accelerated for the sake of ending the season on an upbeat, romantic note. This isn’t just the transition from text to TV; this is the transformation of secondhand story into firsthand experience, of hastily sketched characters into fully realized human beings.

It’s all been for you and me.” After Claire succeeds in pulling Jamie back from the precipice of suicide, there is one more thing left for them to do before they leave the abbey: Have Murtagh cut the “JR” brand out of Jamie’s skin and for Jamie to spit on the dead piece of flesh as it burns away in the fire. And, hey, look at those snazzy new 18th-century traveling clothes they’ve got on there – Jamie’s even ditched the kilt for breeches, stockings and shoes, and a three-cornered hat!

At some point in the night, captive and captor sleep — Jamie likely passes out from pain and blood loss — and their resulting pose, of two naked men sharing a pallet, purposefully recalls a romantic relationship. It’s French aristocracy, it’s the court of Louis XV, it’s cobblestone streets filled with people — the costumes are completely different, [as are] the sets. Still, as a much-discussed but infrequently seen character in the narrative, Randall has been more mythic bogeyman than man, especially during the second half of the season. But that challenge is nothing compared to what Claire throws at Jamie next, which is that she’s with child (three instances of throwing up in two episodes and a fainting spell? Claire, as she’s being led out of the cell, hears Randall tell Jamie he will return shortly, and as she describes it: “It was the voice of a man taking reluctant leave of his lover, and my stomach heaved.” The scene is both homoeroticism and homophobia, portrayed through forced homosexuality put through the paces of what is, on some level, a very drastic form of BDSM play.

It’s been a long eight months months since “The Garrison Commander,” the stand-out episode from the season’s first half that gave us some insight into Randall’s warped morality, and even then, it could have given us more. Another recent buzz moment saw Menzies boldly baring his privates to depict Randall’s inability to generate an erection so he could rape Jamie’s sister.

We spent a long time planning going in, figuring out how to build that corridor, and we had to have consultants who could help us figure out how much space do the cows needed to run up in, and how much space they needed to turn around. Pain breaks down Jamie’s defenses, until he cannot remember the difference between love and pain — which makes him, in that sense, more and more like the vicious Randall, who sees his expressions of horrible cruelty as his way of showering Jamie with affection. Last month, Gabaldon stated that she sees Randall as a “pervert” and “equal opportunity sadist.” This might be sufficient for Gabaldon and her readers, but Menzies’ performance has captured my imagination for something more; “pervert” feels too simple, too reductive for the Randall that I know.

But if the villain continues to be part of Moore’s vision of Outlander, I hope he’ll dig even deeper into his character, or at the very least, provide some remedial education so we can connect anew with his worldview and drive. That evolution of always moving forward, too —not having that home base to go to; constantly adding on and letting go of characters that feel like part of the family—that’s a huge, huge challenge. The show makes a concerted effort to build the sexual assault into a character-building narrative, to limit the perception that the scenes of abuse are random or merely shocking. FOERSTER: I also think that events just were too close to what had just happened [to set the stage for a love scene], because the monastery was not in France and weeks away. What I’ve learned over the past few weeks in attempting to write about rape on TV is that most audience members have a visceral reaction to seeing something so brutal on television.

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