Episode 108 – Both Sides Now

First things first: every time I see the title of the episode I start singing Joni Mitchell. The lyrics of the song do have some relevance to the show. It’s a song about changing perspectives, about seeing familiar things, important things, in different ways.

And that is what happens to Claire in the past. She starts to look at love and life in a different way, and that change is part of what drives her decision to stay with Jamie. And part of why she is never truly happy or content, back in her “own” time, during Brianna’s childhood. So it’s thematically appropriate, even though the title is a more literal reference to the audience being able to see both sides – Claire’s and Frank’s – of the story now.

I would also like to crow a little bit and say that I totally called the cliffhanger ending. And although I don’t think I said so in any of my previous blogs, I always imagined them ending the first half of the season with Jamie in the window, saying “I’ll thank ye to take yer hands off my wife.” It just made sense, given what we knew about the episode splits (since we knew episode seven would be the wedding, this one had to end with Randall).

One thing I want to bring up before I dig into the changes in the episode:

A friend of mine who is new to the series (hasn’t read any of the books and just marathoned all of the episodes to catch up right before the mid-season finale), made what I feel is an accurate criticism of the books/show: there’s an awful lot of rape, or at least attempted rape, in it. I wanted to say: “you don’t even know what is going to happen at the end of the season,” but I didn’t. I try not to spoil people, really I do. That’s why I named this blog Outlander Spoilers- so you would know what you were getting into if you stopped by!

She’s right, though. While rape was commonplace in the 18th century (and is still more commonplace today than most people want to admit), it isn’t something that would have happened quite as frequently to the same woman (unless she was a prostitute). The fact that nearly every man who meets Claire wants to rape her does stretch the bounds of verisimilitude.

I didn’t give my friend any spoilers, but what I did tell her is that, while I do feel that rape is slightly overused as a form of conflict in the series, Diana doesn’t treat it lightly. It’s never glossed over, used purely to push the plot forward, or forgotten by a character in the next scene. It stays with the characters forever. You know, just like in real life.

I also think it is important to point out that Claire killed the English deserter before he raped her. I’ve seen several reviews today saying that Claire was raped by the soldier. Depending on your definition of the word rape (and that’s a touchy subject), you could argue that any sexual assault with the intent to rape is tantamount to rape, at least in the psyche of the person being assaulted. But in most places, the legal definition of rape includes penetration, and that didn’t happen here. It sure looks like it did, because the camera goes all fuzzy and things start to lose narrative cohesion. But Claire wasn’t penetrated in the book, and per the interviews I’ve read with Ron Moore and Anna Foerster, she wasn’t in the show, either.

I don’t know that that makes a difference to the viewer, or even that much to Claire. But it is something BookClaire clings to, in the aftermath. It didn’t happen. And, in the book, Jamie and Claire have desperate sex afterward. It is absolutely not making love; they’re driven by the need to copulate, to remind themselves that they’re alive and together. They couldn’t really do that in the show. It wouldn’t make sense without an awkward voiceover, and they needed to move on more quickly to keep the forward momentum of the narrative. In the book, Claire has a little while to recover and try to start making sense of what happened. But the show needs to use her disconnection to reality and her shock and anger to fuel her flight to the stones.

Moving away from that touchy subject, I want to say that I adored Jamie and Claire in their quieter moments together. I’m still waiting for the honesty conversation (and I think my call that it will show up during their fightsex scene may turn out to be accurate), but I was very happy to get “Is this usual- what it is between us – when I touch you, when you lie with me?” As I said in one of my last blogs, I’m re-reading Voyager right now, and I just got to Claire and Jamie’s reunion, and Claire reminds him of that question. And they both acknowledge that whatever it is, is still there.

I also LOVED that they included the bit where Jamie says he feels like god himself when he’s inside Claire. Although I hope they echo the “does it ever stop, the wanting you?” later in the show, in a quieter moment. It was a little rushed, this time, since they put it into a sex scene that wouldn’t end well. But the laughter, and the fun between them, before the deserters show up, made me very happy. That’s one of my favorite parts of Jamie and Claire. They go through so many horrible things, and their relationship isn’t all sweetness and light, but they are able to laugh together and let go of pretense and solemnity.

One sad thing – the “I feel like God Himself when I’m in you” scene is the one where BookJamie goes down on BookClaire for the first time. It’s also where the hedgehog joke originally appeared. I’m fine with losing the joke, but I’d really like to see Jamie get into the business of pleasuring Claire. Obviously not in this context (in the book they’re still at the inn when that happens), but maybe we’ll get it later.

I was a little confused, as a book reader, about what was happening during the scene where Claire makes her break for Craigh na Dun. In the book, she’s like a day’s walk away, but in the show she can actually see the stones. I had a wild moment where I actually calculated dates- Jamie says they’ll be back at Leoch by Yuletide, and I was thinking “OK, so how close are we to the solstice, then? Will she actually be able to travel?” But then I realized that was silly. They only changed things so that Claire and Frank could have this moment, talking across time and at cross purposes. Because Claire has come in a desperate attempt to get back, and Frank has come in a desperate attempt to let go.

The slightly extended scene with Randall, where Claire pretends to know things about Sandringham, made me want to throw up. I say this about all scenes in which characters pretend to have knowledge that they don’t. Something about that particular type of conflict makes me queasy, because I know it is going to turn out badly. And it does. At least in the book, Claire had the sense to shut up and not fabricate too much. TVClaire tries to get all super spy, and Randall sees right through her.

After he ties her up, they deviate from the books a bit in a way that I’m not sure I agree with. It’s in this scene that BookClaire learns that Randall is only aroused by someone else’s fear and pain. When she stops acting afraid, he literally can’t get it up. It’s only when Jamie arrives, and Randall is able to feed off Jamie’s fear, that he becomes aroused. That’s important, and is reinforced later- Jenny’s revelations about what happened when she “went with Randall” indicate that he can’t get an erection because she laughs at him.

I feel that’s an important aspect of BJR that isn’t coming across yet in the show. We understand that he’s aroused by other people’s pain. We saw that in the way he recounted the flogging. But we don’t yet know that he has gotten to the point where he can’t feel pleasure unless there’s also fear and pain.

And that’s an important distinction, I think. There’s the bit with Jenny still to come, though, so we may still see this.

EDIT #1 One of the recap/reviews from this week (I can’t remember which one- it may have been “Talking Outlander”) talked about this problem, and they got at the heart of what I was fumbling around and trying to say here. It isn’t so much that we need to know this about BJR (although we do), but that Claire had agency in this scene in the novel. She had power here. BJR had the power to kill her, but he couldn’t rape her unless she cooperated by being afraid. And that is taken away in the show. I’m not sure how they would have done it, logistically, but I wish they would have tried. /edit

Now I suppose I need to talk about Frank.

Despite none of the Frank stuff happening on the page in Outlander, every moment of this felt like something that could have happened. And the bit with Mrs. Graham…I wonder if Ron talked to Diana about that scene? She keeps saying she’s going to write a book called “What Frank Knew.” We see in the letter that Brianna finds (she finds a draft in Echo and the actual letter in MOBY) that by the time she was a teenager, he’d done the research and had come to cautiously accept the possibility that Claire was telling the truth about the stones. He’d found Jamie Fraser (had possibly found proof that Claire would eventually travel again…I’ve often wondered about that) and was at least afraid that it was true- afraid enough to warn Brianna about it.

If something like this did happen “off screen” in the books, then it suggests that Frank already knew or suspected something about the stones.

Edit #2 I just re watched the episode, thinking about what Frank knew, and I was struck by the way he looked at Wee Roger Mac. Because he knows who Roger is. “A Leaf on the Wind of All Hallows” tells us that Frank has met Roger before- when he brought the news of Jerry MacKenzie’s death/disappearance. And Reggie (the reverend) is Frank’s best friend. They would have talked about Reg’s adopted son. So, I think when Frank sees Roger there, he has to be thinking: is this the same? Weren’t there standing stones in Northumbria? Could this be true?

He denies it, of course. But it’s nagging at him, enough so that he drives up to the stones, trying to come to grips with what is real. I don’t think he should be able to hear her through the stones, btw. Her hearing him makes sense. There’s a precedent for that in the books. But even so, he convinced himself that he’s a fool, and that he has to let her go, or go mad. /edit

And then when Claire does come back, nearly three years later, pregnant and talking about time travel, some part of him will believe her. Being the practical and rational man that he is, he will ruthlessly suppress that inclination. But it will always be there, niggling. And so, eventually, he will start to look for James Fraser. Will ask Reverend Wakefield for help. Will start asking discreet questions of his old colleagues at MI6 about time travel. And will discover a Fraser lineage with his daughter at the bottom.

It all makes sense. And those are the best kinds of extrapolations in this series- the ones that fit as though they were always meant to go there.

The scene with the intended extortion, where Frank goes a little mad and shows that the ruthless anger of BJR is somewhere inside of him, makes me wonder. Why does he have a cosh in his pocket? One possible answer is that, even drunk, desperate, and despairing, he is smart enough not to trust a random woman in a bar. I’m leaning toward this explanation. He was, after all, a spy. Another possible answer, though, is that he always has it with him. Just in case. And that says something maybe a little darker about Frank. Or about the world he lives in- a world Claire knows little or nothing about.

Edit #3 I was double-checking my use of the term “cosh” for Frank’s weapon (some of the podcasts were wondering what it was called), and the Internet tells me that it is also called a blackjack. Hello prop symbolism. /edit

Either way, the answer to that question is intriguing. Also – hooray to getting to finally see Wee Roger! He was so bleeding cute! Now I shall wait until we get casting announcements for adult Roger and Brianna.

And so, here we are, with six months of drought looming ahead of us.

I plan to fill that drought with more blogs. I plan to put something up at least once a week, and will look at individual characters, story arcs, the plot structure of the series as a whole so far, and whatever else strikes my fancy. I’ll also be posting some of my pet theories about Dougal and Colum, a treatise on time travel, and some other fun stuff.

So keep checking in during the hiatus. I’ll also share any Outlander-related news we get during the down time, and I’m looking forward to hearing from all of you!

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3 thoughts on “Episode 108 – Both Sides Now

  1. While I agree with you that Gabaldon never treats rape lightly, i do think there is far too much reliance upon it as a driver of conflict. I’ve read many a fan argue that yes, the 18th Century was a violent time, but I can’t help wonder if the focus on rape, and in particular on sexualized violence (since what happens to Jamie really isn’t rape, but a form of sexualized brutality) is more a product of our 20th century sensibilities, than of highlighting 18th century violent tendencies..(??). It’s almost as if Gabaldon believes that the only kind of violent conflict that is going to move her 21 century readers is that which is sexualized, because she does it so often. I find this odd given that Claire has just emerged from the most horrendous example of human brutality known to history — the Holocaust. And given BJR’s sexual proclivities: he is a sadist and one with homosexual rather than heterosexual tendencies to boot, the threat of rape is actually a threat that isn’t a threat for Claire, just as it wasn’t for Jenny. Of course, because the major protagonist is a woman, there’s the assumption that the only kind of violent conflict that will resonate is one that is sexualized. I don’t believe this is true at all, and by the later books I have come to really despise this aspect of the story, since there is either a rape or a serious threat of rape/sexual assault in every book Gabaldon has written (possible exception = Fiery Cross, but someone get’s hanged in that one, so…more fetishizing of violence in a way to shock 21st century readers). I was so angered by ABOSAA that I will never re-read that book. The thing about that anger, however, wasn’t because of some kind of feminist sensibilities, or even an anti-rape sensibility (which I do have, I can assure you, I am not a ‘fan” of rape scenarios in any way, and do, happily, claim the identity of ‘feminist”, unlike the author), but because of my sensibilities as a reader –I found it so tediously formulaic and implausible. It’s a very dissatisfying way to continue this story, I find.

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    • I should probably edit this post to take out the qualifier “slightly” next to “overused” because I absolutely agree with you. I mean, really. Of the eight PoV characters in MOBY (Jamie, Claire, Brianna, Roger, William, Lord John, Ian, and Jemmy), five of them have been raped.

      Yes, rape and sexual assault are more common than anyone wants to admit. But when the ratio of characters starts to swing over to more that have been than haven’t, the use of rape as a point of conflict has gotten out of hand.

      I was also very, very angry about what happened in Breath of Snow and Ashes. Not because it happened, but because it felt like it only happened so that Jamie and Claire could have “my rape experience was worse than yours” fights about it. And that’s a little squicky. It would have been just as powerful a section of the book if she hadn’t been raped. But I do get the feeling that Diana buys into the “all men are animals” BS that underpins so many of our dialogues about rape. I’m a wife and the mother of a son, and neither of the men in my life are brutes.

      Bottom line: you’re absolutely right. Just because she follows through on the consequences of violence doesn’t excuse the shoddy storytelling and shortcuts of fetishizing and sexualizing that violence.

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  2. I’m totally with you guys on this one. I have to admit that it has made me wonder about the author, especially after hearing some of the public comments that she has made. I understand that she has a fascination with breaking down a character to their most basic primitive being in order to see how they react to the experience, but I do wonder about the preponderance of sex and violence – and the thin line that runs between them (a lot of the major characters seem to enjoy rough sex in their personal relationships). She explains that basic primitive being through Jamie when he describes that naked creature inside of him looking for shelter at the Abbey. It is an interesting exercise to be sure, but how many times do we have to go there? I suppose that having both Jamie and Claire experience it would be useful as a means to comparing their experiences, but they don’t really talk about it (or anything else) much so the experiment kind of fizzles mid-stream for me. Claire is not a talker or sharer of personal feelings/emotions. I’ve always found her to be somewhat emotionally constipated and Bree is very like her mother. I see the plot point to Brianna’s rape as being the impetus for Roger’s battle over Gem’s paternity, but again, we don’t really see Brianna caring and sharing about her experience, just some of the scaring left over (ie. the scene where Jamie demonstrates her powerlessness in the face of brute male strength so that she stops blaming herself for not stopping it and her difficulty having an O with Roger without rough sex). Nobody TALKS about anything in this series, and that has been a huge ongoing frustration to me.

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