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Outlander: My thoughts on the finale

outlander2This will be my last post about Outlander for a while, since we won’t have Season 2 until 2016. Did you watch? What did you think of the finale? I know I’m a week late on this, but it takes me a while to process things.

Last week I said I didn’t know if I could watch the finale. I found the second to last episode horrifically violent, and I have to say that my reaction to this episode was very different. Still horrific — more so — but in a very different way. I ended up watching it twice.

I’ll say this first: Ron Moore did as good a job with the Outlander finale as anyone could have. And so did Sam Heughan, who completely exceeded my expectations. It was in fact a really sensitive, thought-provoking episode about rape, torture, and psychological manipulation.

I heard an interesting interview with Moore, and he described his job of editing the footage as a balance between showing too little, and therefore minimizing what Jamie goes through, or showing too much. A difficult balance and one he managed very well.

Moore did minimize the physical violence in this episode, choosing to focus on the psychological, which I think was right. In the book Jamie isn’t just raped, he’s whipped, cut, and burned. I thought it was interesting that they left him somewhat uninjured physically, except for his hand.

This episode made me think a lot about why my reaction to the previous episode was so different. Is physical brutality worse than rape? No, of course not. We already know Jamie can take physical torture. This episode showed us what he couldn’t take. But if I’m being honest, seeing someone’s hand broken to bits and then slowly nailed to a table was harder for me to watch (though it was really the very last scene in that episode that killed me). Physical violence is just brutality, and it can easily be gratuitous. Psychological violence is different. This episode was so powerful because you really wanted to understand.

Moore said something very interesting in a recent interview about book versus screen violence. He said that when you’re reading, your mind has a way of filling in the things it wants to, and dealing with or avoiding the things it can’t handle. But when you’re watching, someone else is making those decisions for you.

I found the book incredibly disturbing, but it also has moments of beauty and sadness that have stayed in my head for years.

A couple of changes from the book were particularly interesting. One is where Randall says “you think I can’t control the darkness I inhabit?” and in that moment he is infinitely scarier, because he knows what he is. Another interesting moment is the branding, in that Jamie does it himself but he rebels just a little by missing his heart. In that moment you see the power Randall has and how much Jamie is fighting.

I loved the scene where Jamie and Murtagh are speaking in Gaelic. I can guess what they’re saying and it’s so powerful just to watch their expressions and changes in tone. I was also struck by the opening scene where Jamie asks (no, begs) Randall to fulfill his promise.

But a lot got left out. I realize Moore had to cut things. Still, a lot of people have asked why this last episode couldn’t have been at least 90 minutes. The book spends a lot more time on Jamie’s healing process, compared to what we hear about his time in the prison. Claire’s confession was particularly rushed, and I wanted to see more of her anguish when Jamie turns her away. And her confrontation with Jamie was so much faster. I can understand why they chose to skip the opium part, but having Claire just yell at Jamie and hit him didn’t completely make sense. Although when he says “how can you love me like this?” it was just heartbreaking.

Claire’s role is minimized a bit in these last two episodes, but I think that’s okay.  Watching her set his hand was enough for me.  I also like that she doesn’t know the right things to say to him.  Being bossy doesn’t work, and neither does sympathy.

The first time I watched, I was a little bothered by the ending. Seeing Jamie that comfortable on a ship, for one thing, and seeing him look relatively happy. I understand they need to show he’s healing and they are moving on as a couple. It just felt too quick for me. The second time I saw a lot more in Jamie’s words and expressions, and felt better about it. He needs to be able to exert some control, needs to go back to being a decision-maker rather than a victim. Showing him racked by seasickness at this point would have just been piling it on.

A lot of people are upset that the hot spring scene wasn’t included, but I’m not. In the book, it’s a pretty intense sex scene between Claire and Jamie, and it feels right in the book but would have felt ugly (way too soon) on screen.

I’ve been thinking about how it must feel very different to guys who are watching this show.  But then I’ve seen women raped on screen for years.  Any guys out there, what did YOU think?

As usual, my few thoughts on the show turned into a bit more than that. I could go on, but I won’t. I can’t remember when a show has made me feel sad for days, but this one did. That doesn’t sound like a good thing, but I guess it was.

8 thoughts on “Outlander: My thoughts on the finale

  1. One of your paragraphs is haunting me: “But then, I’ve seen women raped on screen for years. Any guys out there, what did YOU think?” Male rape is still so unusual for cinema or television; it’s something that male audiences will not be accustomed to seeing, not in the same way that we’re accustomed to seeing women violated. Let me add my voice to that query: any guys out there, what do you think?

    • I was worried that might sound flip, which was not my intention. All rape is horrible. I do hope to hear from some guys who have seen it. I’ve seen some great interviews with Sam Heughan on the subject, but that’s different.

      • No no, I definitely didn’t think it was flippant; I thought it was a good point. Sexual violation of men is just not a widespread on-screen phenomenon; that absence of its portrayal contributes, I think, to the still prevalent notion that men can’t/don’t get raped or assaulted, which is obviously not true but remains insidiously in peoples’ heads. The portrayal of sexual violence onscreen is a complex moral issue, but the one thing about the Outlander scene is that it at least acknowledges that the “reality of war” (as G.R.R. Martin might put it) actually threatens men and renders them vulnerable, too.

  2. Beautiful post. I agree with you about this episode. It was dark and it was terrible to watch, but it was also amazing. I think the show did the best it could overall in pleasing me as a fan of the books. They changed a few things but nothing that bothered me. I like the changes they made to the end of the book for the show. It was just as striking and disturbing as in the book but I don’t think that we needed to have a longer version of the confrontation scene. It might have been too much.

    I also felt the same way about the boat at the end. My first thought was “Shouldn’t Jamie be heaving over the side right about now” but you can’t show that and have a happy ending. Jamie needs to seem healed and ready to move on.

    Cayt @ Vicarious Caytastrophe

  3. I am so impatient, I do not want to wait until 2016 for series two! I’ll probably try and read a couple more of the books before then though.

    I think it was a good balance between too much and too little, as you said. I couldn’t watch the hand setting scene, it made me flinch so much… so close up!

    And I was a little disappointed that we didn’t get the hot spring scene, but actually you’re right. It would have been too soon after all that; by the time Jamie is on the boat he is just coming to terms with things.

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