Violence and the end of Outlander, Season One

outlanderLately I’ve been thinking about onscreen violence versus book violence. I’ve read two books lately with way more torture in them than I could stand, and as I said in my Water Knife review, you can’t close your eyes and ears when you’re reading.

And then came the second to last episode of Outlander (the finale airs this weekend). You know how I love Outlander.  But I’ve been dreading the end of the season, and if you’re up to date on the show (SPOILERS ahead if you’re not) now you know why. I know people who loved the book but couldn’t keep reading the series after the way this ends. I can understand that. I’ve always wished Gabaldon didn’t take it as far as she did.

If you haven’t read the rest of the books, here’s the good news: Gabaldon doesn’t do this to us again, at least not in the twisted way she does here, in having Jamie not only captive to Randall but forced to submit to Randall physically and psychologically to save his wife.

There are people who find the book homophobic, and that’s understandable too. Randall’s a sadist, which is different of course, but it’s not always clear that Gabaldon gets that difference. She’ll create a positive gay character later in the books, if you’re wondering, and I suspect that was done deliberately to address this criticism. Or maybe it’s just to create dramatic tension with Jamie (but that’s a topic for another time).

Getting back to the episode — if you’d told me that the TV version of this story could be more horrifying than the book, I wouldn’t have believed you. The book is sick and disturbing. So much that my gut’s been wrenching all season long at the thought of young Jamie having to undergo what he does.  But after watching the “Wentworth Prison” episode… it really was worse. Days later, I still feel sick. The combination of the hand crushing, then the hand nailing, then the kissing and the back licking, and worst of all, having to look at the expression on Jamie’s face as it’s happening.

Two thirds into the episode, my husband suggested fast-forwarding, and I should have taken him up on it, since at that point I was a screaming blob on the couch with my hands over my eyes. Still, even knowing how it goes, I said no, I had to keep watching. As if I was being brave for poor Jamie’s sake.

Was the episode true to the book? Yes, very. But remember, the show toned down the wife-beating episode quite a bit, so I wouldn’t have minded if this got toned down a bit too. At least they could have kept the worst of it off-camera. The problem with on-screen violence is that images and sounds are harder to get out of your head than words.

The final episode airs this weekend, and I’m thinking about skipping it. I’ve seen a few reviews that say this is rape and torture done responsibly.  It’s true to the book, and it doesn’t make rape easy or minimize the consequences.  Jamie will be deeply scarred, psychologically, and it will affect how he relates to Claire.

Knowing the rest of the books, this is the worst of it — once we’re past this episode, there’s a great second season ahead. That is, unless Moore does a Game of Thrones and decides the more violent the better. I don’t think he will, but is that really the way producers (or fans) are pushing things?

But that’s a topic for another time.

If you’re watching, what did you think of the “Wentworth Prison” episode? Will you be watching this weekend?

  6 comments for “Violence and the end of Outlander, Season One

  1. May 29, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    This is such an apt topic! I find it easier in many ways to read violence as opposed to watching it; only occasionally will an author find a phrase or word that disturbs me as profoundly as the sight of rape/torture/etc. So, e.g., I read The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and scenes in that did haunt me for a week or so, but I know that I simply could not cope at all with watching them. Game of Thrones I stopped watching precisely because it was becoming an extended exercise in being-a-shrieking-blob-on-the-couch-and-asking-my-boyfriend-to-tell-me-when-it-was-all-over. I wonder if it’s to do with the way different people process information? Some are visual learners, some kinetic, etc., and maybe that affects the way we process violence? Fascinating conversation to be had here, methinks!

    • June 2, 2015 at 7:13 pm

      Dragon Tattoo is a book I put down because of the rape scene, but I just didn’t feel the need to push on through. I stopped watching GoT as well, I think early in the third season. I just didn’t enjoy it enough to justify all the horror.

      I definitely react differently to visual rather than book violence, but it also depends how vividly the book is written. I think it’s just easier to move on with a book, you don’t keep seeing it in your head. Outlander raises the question too about the difference between brute physical violence versus sexual/emotional violence. Tough stuff.

      • June 3, 2015 at 5:08 am

        Yes, absolutely–that idea of it being easier to move on with a book. There’s a film called North Country where the violence that you see isn’t completely presented, but you infer what’s going on, and it’s horrifying. It’s been probably a decade since I saw it and I can still conjure up that image. Only one or two books in my experience have done that.

  2. June 2, 2015 at 5:56 pm

    I found the finale MUCH harder to watch than the penultimate episode, I spent the majority of it crying… I think both episodes were done well (if you can use that word about that sort of thing, at least in that they stayed faithful to the book), and they are supposed to be uncomfortable watching. I finished the book last month so I knew what was coming, and I am so glad I did. I’m really worried about what Jamie is going to be like in the next books though 😦

    I think Game of Thrones has sort of desensitised me to TV violence a bit. Before GoT, and actually for the first season or so, I was super squeamish. Now I’m still not good, but I can watch more of it without having to turn away. However, the emotional violence that Jamie experiences in these last two episodes was really, really painful.

    • June 2, 2015 at 7:09 pm

      I reread the book before the last episode, and being prepared helped. The finale was horrible to watch but it was also really sensitive – I appreciated that it focused so much on the emotional abuse (and aftermath) rather than the physical (no cutting or flogging thankfully). Days later I’m still feeling sad for Jamie — even though I first read this book 20 years ago!

      I gave up on GoT after season 2, and the books after 3. I just didn’t like the story enough to justify the violence. And I really don’t WANT to be desensitized. The other show I find really hard to watch is The Americans – but I’ve stayed with it.

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