The “Outlander” torture chamber: A shockingly brutal rape transforms a hero into …

31 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Michelle and Mandi on ‘Outlander’: To Ransom a Man’s Soul.

Last night, “Outlander” aired the most upsetting scenes I’ve ever seen on television. 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.Jamie (Sam Heughan) promised himself to Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) in exchange for Claire’s (Caitriona Balfe) life – but he very nearly lost himself in the process on Saturday’s season finale of Outlander.

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. 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.

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. Randall got out of bed to fetch a knife, saying to a catatonic Jamie, “you owe me a debt.” He approached him … then stopped, distracted by the noises far above him. 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. Jamie was left with disturbing emotional and physical scars that couldn’t be healed with Claire’s usual nursing methods—that is, until her heady concoction of lavender oil combined with a bit of role-playing psychology brought him back as the man she first fell in love with.

Moore, the show runner and an executive producer, spoke about the difficulty of adapting this controversial scene from Diana Gabaldon’s best-selling series of historical novels. 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. 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.

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? And it worked! “You’re safe now,” Claire consoled Jamie as Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) carried him out. “I’m going to help you, I swear.” But for Jamie, the fight was just beginning, as Claire’s face blurred into Randall’s. As a bookend to our chat with Moore shortly before the mid-season premiere back in April, Speakeasy recently caught up with the “Outlander” series creator to discuss the two final harrowing episodes of the show’s debut run. 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.

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. A violent flashback overtook Jamie, showing Randall taking care of him (after injuring him in the first place). “Dear god you are a magnificent creature,” whispered Randall reverently, bending to kiss him. “It’s like kissing a corpse,” Randall said. “I know you can do better.” Still Jamie resisted his lips, so Randall pressed: “My men can have Claire back here in an hour.” Jamie answered that he said he would not resist, but he never said anything about willingly participating in Randall’s dark fantasies. “Take your pleasure and be done with it,” he said. 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. 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. Have faith wasn’t exactly the answer she was looking for, particularly as Jamie’s condition continued to deteriorate as he refused all food. “It’s not his wounds I’m worried about,” she told Murtagh. “It’s the not eating.” Murtagh, seeing how upset Claire was, called Jamie out for his behavior. 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. The cast was fearless in their performances and the director was committed – and, it was just one of those things where we really wanted to make this work.

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. Jamie ignored him, reaching for Murtagh’s blade “to put me out of this black misery.” Murtagh pulled it out of his grasp and left the room to report back to Claire. “Why does he want to die so badly?” she wondered, tears in her eyes. “He’s been tortured, raped,” answered Murtagh, adding that he hoped Jamie would recover, but that if he didn’t he would kill him long before he starved to death. 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.

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. Desperate, Claire took matters into her own hands, waking Jamie up with a slap in the middle of the night. “You only respond to strength,” she said, pummeling him. 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.

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. Jamie finally opened up to Claire. “He made love to me Claire,” he said helplessly. “And I … ” he trailed off into another flashback. “These are Claire’s hands,” Randall said, caressing Jamie. “Think of Claire. 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. Randall forced Jamie to call out Claire’s name as he came and when he did, he sealed his horrific torture with a few words. “How could she ever forgive you?” he asked. 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. 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.

There was this weight to everything that we were doing, so, you just created this space to really give the cast an opportunity to go as far as they possibly could, and to push themselves to push each other. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

So you make all this preparation, and you’re still terrified that on the day the cows are going to freak out or are going to refuse to run, so you brace for this whole trauma…and the cows were troupers! [Laughs] The cows were perfect, they were outstanding cast members! 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. 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. Much has been written about the creative decision to have a female directorial perspective on episodes like “The Wedding” (directed by Foerster, who helmed the penultimate and the finale).

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. 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). 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. 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.

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. 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. 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. And when I watched it I was really happy that after this dark, harrowing journey, when you get onto that beach, it’s like, “Aaaahhhhhh!!!!!!!” You just feel better! [laughs] I loved that. 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.

So that gave us the ability to intercut her trying to find him in Wentworth with the scenes of what was happening with Jack, which made it all just more tense and immediate. 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.

I mean, Angus is going to come crashing through the window at any minute, or something.” So that let us open [the finale] with the aftermath, with Jamie already broken and lying there, and Jack sits up in the bed next to him, and you go, “Oh, my God. It really happened.” There’s not going to be a suspense of “will they, won’t they?” It happened, it’s real, we’re going to have to deal with it, and then we can kind of get into the flashback structure of what happened. 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. There were times where you would see full-frontal on either guy, and go, “Well, at this moment it’s distracting me,” because, let’s be frank, you’re not used to seeing c–k on TV.

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 daunting, but it is exciting, because that was one of the attractions of the book series at the beginning, was [that] the books just kept moving forward. It was weird – we thought this would be a major element of the whole sequence, but it ended up just being something distracting that we just kept going, “No, we can’t use that, because we’re not paying attention anymore.” Oh, it’s a real ship!

I’m sure to the uninitiated, probably like you, when you watch the first episode, Claire ends up at that castle and there’s a part of you that thinks, “Oh, well this is now the story about a woman in that castle.” Then we leave that castle behind, and then you just keep going. I’m verra happy, Sassenach!” Jamie and Claire’s embrace, passionate kiss and big, sweeping shot of them on a grand, three-masted ship sailing off to France, is terribly clichéd, especially for a season finale. 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. 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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