Well, here we are–the end of Outlander’s first season. It only took most of the year to get through sixteen episodes, what with the lengthy gap midway in the season, but ultimately, I think the show had a solid outing. As an added bonus, it’s already been renewed for a second season, so don’t get too sad about it ending. At least not yet. Wait until it’s midway through the fourth season and the story’s spiraling out of control because the source material went off the rails two seasons before and we’re all like, “Man, they really should have stopped at the end of season two.”
Outlander’s season finale, “To Ransom A Man’s Soul” was a brutal way to end the season. Following on the heels of “Wentworth Prison”, Jamie is still imprisoned and being tortured by Black Jack Randall. Claire et al have their plan set in motion to free poor Jamie, but as we see early on in the episode, they may be too late. Over the course of two episodes Jamie faces the noose, has his hand pummeled with a mallet, and has that same hand run through with an iron nail. Chained and battered, Jamie is then raped, emotionally tormented, and then raped again. After finally being rescued, he is a broken man, a man who has given up on life and sees death as the only way out of his misery.
Two weeks ago, I wrote a lengthy article about the rape of Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones and why using such an act was a bad decision for the show. It wasn’t that HBO didn’t handle the rape scene well. All things considered, they filmed it in the best way possible. However, deeming the scene necessary in the first place is what I objected to. It wasn’t integral to the story, and as we have seen in the most recent episodes, hasn’t factored into the story. Without Sansa’s rape scene, the story continues without a hitch.
In Outlander’s finale, Jamie’s rape is significantly more brutal. Nothing is left to the imagination and the camera certainly doesn’t pull away from the scene for the sake of decency. Much of the final two episodes is difficult to watch, so much so that even though I knew what was coming, I had a hard time watching it play out on screen. Why then, am I not denouncing Starz in their decision-making, passing out pitchforks and screaming in rage? Because unfortunately, at the end of the day, these scenes of rape, torture, and depression are integral to the story. Jamie’s rape isn’t a trope used to hasten the severity of a certain plot, to easily show the desperation of a character’s situation. Jamie’s rape IS the plot.
Don’t get me wrong, Outlander isn’t perfect by any means. After the sixth episode, I lost count of how many times Claire was threatened with or nearly raped. I can understand that the writers stayed true to the source material (which is very rape-y) but watching I couldn’t help but think there were much better ways to convey the danger she was in, which is a similar complaint many (myself included) have with Game of Thrones.
Throughout Outlander, we learn very quickly that Black Jack Randall is a monster. He tortures Jamie, attempts to rape both Claire and Jenny, and he gets a sick sense of pleasure from breaking down his victims piece by piece. In the final episodes we learn that Randall is adept at not only physical abuse, but mental abuse as well. Randall knows full well how strong Jamie is–it’s a trait he admires–but he also knows that Claire is a way to bring him to his knees. In Jamie’s fading consciousness, Randall mixes pain and pleasure, using Jamie’s memories against him, tricking him into being complicit, so that after the rape, Jamie is left ashamed, certain that Claire would never want him after what he’s done.
Jamie’s rape is painful to watch because it should be. It isn’t meant to sensationalize or redeem his character; nor is it used as motivation to “make him stronger”, as is the case in many literary situations involving rape. Nothing about rape and abuse spurns a person into becoming a hero or “the person they knew they’d become.” Rape is a harrowing experience, one that can ruin a person in every way imaginable. We see it in Jamie’s depression after being rescued. He wants to die. He cannot look at Claire without seeing his attacker, without being reminded of all that he has endured.
“The…it’s all linked for me now. I canna think of you, Claire, even of kissing you or touching your hand, without feeling the fear and the pain and the sickness come back. I lie here feeling that I will die without your touch, but when you touch me, I feel as though I will vomit with shame and loathing of myself. I canna even see you now without…” — Jamie, Outlander by Diana Galbadon
Jamie is a broken man. He knows he could handle the physical abuse, but rape isn’t just a physical act. Unfortunately, rape has become so commonplace in media that it’s become almost accepted as an inevitability. There’s an entire Law & Order series dedicated to sexual offenses; we’ve become desensitized to the act. It’s used as a means of control, as a political platform, and as a trope to show the growth of a character. There is no 45-minute resolution for a rape survivor. It’s a long, tormented process, and in the case of Jamie, it takes the one he loves stepping into the darkness with him to begin the healing process. They are a pair that has suffered, fallen to darkness. They aren’t triumphant and it isn’t a beautiful ascent back to normalcy. It’s fraught with anger, shame, depression, and fear.
Outlander manages to subvert many rape tropes, especially by showing Jamie as the victim and not Claire. Rape is often thought to be a crime against women, but men can be and are raped. Jamie is not considered to be a slight man by any means; he has survived lashings, war, and near-starvation, and yet, he was still raped by Randall. In our culture, male on male rape is regularly treated as joke, used to warn a man not to misbehave because he might end up in prison and “heh heh butt sex.” Jamie’s experience is anything but a joke.
I’ll be honest, I found the ending of the episode to be a bit too sugar sweet, considering the subject matter of the previous two hours. However, with it being the final episode of the season, I can appreciate that they needed a higher note to end on, should it have been the end of the series. It’s made clear, however, that even though Jamie and Claire have reunited, Jamie is still recovering from his rape and torture.
I don’t enjoy watching rape and torture on television. Personally, I prefer avoiding such sensitive subjects altogether. However, should I watch such a thing, I’d rather it were shown for what it is, a demoralizing act that isn’t sexually provocative, or part of becoming a superhero. It’s an act that can and does break down a person so much they cannot bear to live with the memory of it all.
If a show, movie, or book is going to depict such a heinous act, it damn well better have a purpose.