Outlander: Faith

Posted on May 23, 2016

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For a show that doesn’t mind torturing its characters, “Faith” may represent a high (or low, depending on how you look at it) point for Outlander. Claire, Jamie and Fergus were put through the proverbial wringer in this episode and by the end, we found ourselves wondering whether this is a story we want to continue watching unfold. Put more directly and more bluntly, we think the show’s creators are going to have to make some hard decisions regarding how much they want to adhere to the books going forward.

But first, sing us a song of a lass who acted the shit out of this episode. Caitriona Balfe definitely has her Emmy reel submission with this one. We don’t think we’ve ever seen the emotional aftermath of a miscarriage or stillbirth depicted with such rawness and ferocity. It was, like Jamie’s rape of last season, almost unbearable to watch – except unlike the physicality of Jamie’s horror show, Claire’s was almost entirely in the emotional realm. Her loss and grief were so palpable it felt like we could reach out and touch them through the screen. Every scene dealing with the loss of her child, whether she was playing off Mother Hildegarde or Louise (in a surprisingly effective scene) or Master Raymond (in a scene that completely abandoned any pretense that this wasn’t a fantasy tale, complete with its own wizard) made for riveting, emotional television, perfectly acted and directed by all involved. We cried – a LOT, which is a testament to the skills of everyone who worked to put these scenes together. Would that the show had stayed there and let these emotions have time to breathe a little.

Unfortunately, this was another episode with some fairly dicey scripting and plotting going on. While we have no doubt the creators of the show feel beholden to the books and to making sure that every workable aspect of them is faithfully recreated on screen, the show is beginning to suffer, both from the overstuffed storytelling and the rather questionable plotting and thematic choices found within them. Outlander has two essential problems and we fear that the show is doomed if they’re not addressed and concessions not made toward correcting them.

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The first problem is rather simple to address and it’s one that virtually all screen adaptations deal with when moving from one medium of storytelling to another: Outlander is overstuffed and occasionally overplotted, and it’s full of diversions that – on the surface, at least – go nowhere. As we said, it would have been more than enough, from a storytelling point of view as well as an emotional one, to spend this episode dealing with Claire’s ravaged emotional state with some focus on her climb back to the light. And to be fair, a decent amount of time was spent on these scenes. But we were also treated to a truly bizarre and almost out-of-left-field diversion that had her poisoning St. Germain in a private audience with the King inside some sort of French star chamber.  We cannot WTF that scene enough. Sure, it was a wonderfully acted bit of intrigue, and we understand its place in the plot as part of Claire’s efforts to get Jamie freed from the Bastille, but aside from the occasional rumblings that Master Raymond was in danger, none of this was really set up all that well. Worse, it made for a truly awful sendoff for St. Germain, a character whose usefulness to the plot was so secondary it forces us to wonder whether the series would have been better completely ignoring this part of the books. It’s very possible, given the twists and turns of the plotting, that we haven’t seen the last of St. Germain, but to be perfectly honest, we’d rather not. As gorgeous as Stanley Weber is, and as delicious as it was to have Claire face off against an opponent with whom she’s perfectly matched on the intrigue and scheming scale, he has never felt like anything but a Parisian diversion and his “death” held no emotional value at all. Claire didn’t vanquish an enemy. She played along until someone else did it for her. And since we never truly got confirmation that St. Germain was behind Mary Hawkins’ rape, his death didn’t even act as a catharsis for the viewer. It was just a thing that happened in the middle of a bunch of other things – and we’re sorry to say it, but that’s how season 2 is starting to come across as a whole; things that happen in the middle of a bunch of other things. Diversions piled upon diversions. When Jamie and Claire both light up at the prospect of getting the hell out of Paris and back to their home, we’re stuck wondering whether there was a point to … well, this entire season so far. There’s a rather repetitive arc of Jamie and Claire making plans, their plans falling apart in the most disastrous manner possible, and their rather swift exit from that part of the story so they can run off somewhere else and make more doomed plans. After a while, a viewer wants something more from a show like this.

But if you really want to talk about problematic repetition in this tale, then you’ve got to address the rape issue. Game of Thrones is a show that came in for a lot of righteous criticism over the years for its treatment of female characters and the way it so casually used rape as a plot point. We’re struggling to come up with any sort of justification or explanation of how it’s different in Outlander and frankly, we can’t. It’s not just that Outlander resorts to rape way too quickly and easily as a way of motivating characters or establishing the evil of other characters; it’s that virtually every main character save Murtagh (who inexplicably disappeared this episode) has either been raped or had a rape attempt perpetrated on them. With Fergus’ tearful admission to Claire about what really happened to spur Jamie to betray her, it occurred to us that this was the THIRD tearful scene with a rape victim discussing their rape this season. That alone made us a bit uneasy when we realized it, but when the people behind the show made the decision to actually depict a scene with a child getting raped, we vaulted past unease and straight into disgust. And no, we do not buy the explanation that the scene “had” to be depicted in order to understand Jamie’s anger or Jack’s villainy. We’d have rather they hadn’t resorted to raping a child at all in order to get Jamie to that point, but if they felt they had to stick to the book’s plot, they could have at least found a more artful, subtle, and less revolting way to get the point across. A shot of Jack actually thrusting his way into his child victim is simply grotesque as a form of entertainment.

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The fact of the matter is – and this got us in a lot of trouble with the book’s fans when we noted it last season – the Outlander books – which originated a quarter century ago –  have some rather questionable sexual and gender politics; whether that’s Jamie lovingly beating his wife, or the constant use and depiction of rape, or the fact that the only character with any sort of queer tendencies in the story so far is a sexual sadist and monster. Outlander the TV show has both an opportunity – and we would argue a responsibility – to interpret some of the book series’ more questionable aspects in a manner that is both more suitable for television and more suitable for 2016. We don’t expect many of the books’ more ardent fans to agree with us on that, but as TV viewers, we were revolted by some of the choices made here – and it left us completely confused as to how to feel about the episode. On the one hand, grief and sadness for Claire and Jamie. On the other hand revulsion over a child rape used as a character motivator and frustration over the bizarre and uneven plotting.

Yes, get back to Scotland, Frasers. As much as we’ve enjoyed the costumes and intrigue of Paris, we’re convinced the show should probably ignore a lot of the books and just keep things situated there. It’s the only time and place Claire and Jamie’s story works. Paris was a bust and a dead-end, in every sense.

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We ask that you please not discuss any aspect of the books at all in our comments section. We are here only to discuss the episodes of Outlander the TV series that have aired up until this date and nothing else. If you’d like to discuss the “Outlander” series of books check out theOutlander thread on our Books forum.

 

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