Outlander: The Very Definition of Discomfort

* SPOILER ALERT. Also, viewer discretion is advised. The following content is regarding the show Outlander. It mostly revolves around what happens at the end of season 1. However, I suggest that, if you hate spoilers, you not read this until you’ve finished with Season 5. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. The topic in today’s piece is the heinous act and indescribable experience of rape, with special focus on male victims. It will touch on one reviewer’s experience in watching the Tv show’s unique depiction, the critical reaction to these episodes, the healing process for a rape victim as portrayed in the show, the psychology behind sadist Black Jack Randall, and what the show’s purpose is for showing its “rapey” scenes to a horrified audience. *

My Experience

I remember too well the first time I watched Jamie’s rape scene. It was the last time. My gut clenched hard, my heart pounded, my eyes widened in horrified fascination and my face twisted in disgust as I watched the entire scene unfold and get progressively worse in nature. I was pregnant with Daniel at the time. My husband, who I had been watching the hit show Outlander with, was out working the night shift. And, since he had originally started watching the show long before me, I needed to catch up to where he had left off. So that left me alone to edure the episode I hadn’t seen coming.

In the April 27, 2020 edition of Hollywood Story, a magazine I had found at a local bookstore, I learned that “Black Jack’s violation of Jamie is one of the most extended rape scenes ever shown on TV.” That actually makes sense because at the time I watched it, it felt really, really long. For most of the hour-long segment, the co-main character, Jamie is tortured for hours in every inhumane way imaginable until he is almost dead. The one behind the deed is a British soldier nicknamed Black Jack. It starts off with Black Jack nailing Jamie’s hand to a wooden table while his wife, Claire is forced to watch helplessly. Then Jamie makes a deal with Black Jack in exchange for Claire’s life and to let her go: For that to happen, Jamie has to give himself up completely to his disturbed attacker. Once that exchange happens, the real horror begins. With no one to stop him, Black Jack rips the nail from Jamie’s hand, bends him over, and begins actually raping him from behind. Literally as he thrusts, he commands Jamie to scream. Which Jamie does. This specific moment in the episode is what I remember the most. As this sickening roller coaster ride continues, it takes us with Jamie as he endures everything from having lavender oil rubbed on his nipple to being made to brand himself with the letter ‘R’. Just when it seems things can’t get any more tragic for the young man, they do. We next see Jamie as he lay on a cot, staring off into nothing, his hand mangled; he’s a hollowed-out version of himself. And that’s how Black Jack Randall finally leaves him.

“Literally as he thrusts, he commands Jamie to scream. Which Jamie does…”

At some point, I began wondering from one moment to the next when the horror was going to end. I pondered the mindset of the director. Truthfully, it affected me more than anything I have ever seen on television. Even scenes where women are sexually assaulted — and so far, there have been plenty in this show.

There is an attempt by Black Jack to rape Claire in the opening episode of Outlander. That immediately sets off the more serious and intense mood of the show. One becomes angry when Jamie and Claire’s daughter, Brianna is raped by an evil pirate in a later season. (Although, it happened off-screen.) There are several other examples of assault and rape on women in the show’s five seasons to choose from. But if we’re being honest, as we look forward to Season 6 this year, none have been as gut-retching as Jamie’s rape and torture. The only event in the show that comes close is little Fergus (when he was a child) being raped, again by Black Jack. At least in that case, Jamie comes to the lad’s rescue before the rape can continue. And it doesn’t show the actual rape happening, just the faces of both Black Jack and Fergus as it starts. No, there’s just something about what happens to Jamie that makes me feel worse, whether it’s the brutal details of it all, or the mere fact that my TV was actually showing a grown man being raped. I personally believe it was both. It is the stuff out of a gay porno from the deep, dark web.

Public Indignation

Aside from the horrified reviews and reactions to Outlander’s first season finale on Youtube, online articles provide a mixed bag of opinions. It’s always the negative reviews that speak the loudest. When searching “outlander jamies rape review” on Google, the first page of results shows a few negative headlines calling out the show’s so-called “rape problem.”

Spoiler Review: I Love Outlander, But It Has A Rape Problem

Comic Years: May 12, 2020

Outlander’s obsession with sexual violence has become exhausting

The A.V. Club: May 10, 2020

‘Outlander’ May Finally Have to Deal With Its Rape Problem

The Mary Sue: March 28, 2018

The one headline that annoyed me the most was Glamour’s article: “What Outlander Finally Gets Right About Rape This Season.” Written by Wendy Naugle on January 7, 2019, the title alone implies that all other seasons of the Historical fiction/Drama TV series got it wrong, including the first season. After rolling my eyes at the short disclaimer stating the piece “may be triggering,” I get into the very first paragraph of the article, which immediately gives away the rape this writer is talking about — Which would be Brianna’s rape. My first thought was, Okay, so what does Brianna’s rape in Outlander “get right” that others including Jamie’s rape get wrong? As I read on, not only would I never get a clear answer for my question, I would find out that the author of this article has biased political beliefs that she actually let seep into her article. In my opinion, she ruined her own article. On a fictional character’s rape event, Naugle writes: “The scene reminded me of Christine Blasey Ford’s devastating testimony on Capitol Hill.” Um, what?

Whatever critics are saying about Outlander’s rape episodes, they seem to all but miss the show’s entire point and purpose for showing it so much.

After the feministic tangent, Naugle actually does address the males getting raped on the show, and it’s actually to validiate men’s experiences as well. It left me confused on what, if any, argument was being made. At the same time, nevertheless, this section of the writing surprised me by providing at least one small, helpful gem. She quotes and paraphrases someone named Jean Kilbourne several times throughout her work. “Kilbourne says Jamie’s reaction — how he doesn’t just shrug off the trauma and isn’t healed immediately — is the most accurate portrayal of real life.”

Recovery

Outlander’s rape narratives are also about recovery, which other stories often neglect. At left, you see Claire attempting to comfort Jamie after his torturous experience with Johnathan “Black Jack” Randall.

“How do you deal with this? Do you feel helpless? Is your life ruined? Or do you just recover with no apparent ill effects?”

Diana Gabaldon – author of Outlander novels

Most of Season 2, if not all of it, is about Jamie’s healing process. Not only are his gruesome physical wounds in need of repair, his psychological wounds are far deeper, harder to mend, and almost too complicated for his wife to understand. Claire figures it out, though, after trying several tactics to get her Jamie back. As a result, Jamie is finally pulled out of his reoccuring nighmares of Jack Randall, which controlled his mind even when the physical “man” was not there anymore. Although, before that can happen, Jamie has to face what’s happening to him. “He pretends it’s not there,” actor Sam Heughan says. “Pushing it aside, it begins to bubble under the surface and become poisonous. He suffers nightmares. You get the sense that he’s not himself.” What Jamie endured also has a profound effect on his relationship with Claire. “The lack of sex in Season 2 is telling. We wanted to show that they weren’t being intimate, that he was having great difficulty.”

Surviving gives Jamie the ability to help others in later seasons. For example, Young Ian, his nephew, was raped by the evil woman character Geillis. Young Ian ends up confiding in his uncle about the ordeal, saying he felt ashamed at how his body responded in spite of his unwillingness to have sex. Jamie has a heart-to-heart with Ian, explaining to the youngster that what his body did was not actually his fault. In other words, getting “wet” or “hard” is a biological response that, though sexual in nature, has nothing to do with one’s mind or heart, desire or pleasure. It doesn’t mean they weren’t raped, or that they enjoyed being raped. After Brianna is raped, the beautiful young redhead speaks with Jamie about it as they are walking through the woods together. She admits to her father that she feels guilty for having not fought back against Stephen Bonnet. “I could have fought,” she insists. “I could have tried harder.” In response, Jamie makes the suggestion that “maybe you took a liking to the lad, and made the story up after… Maybe you enjoyed it.” It’s a comment that had me and probably a lot of other audience members mad, until a moment later when we realized he had said this just to elicit a response from his young daughter. When Brianna tries to strike Jamie, he grabs her by the neck, immediately showing how his strength — as well as the strength of any man — would be too much for a woman, such as herself, to withstand.

“Do you think yourself a coward because you couldn’t fight off a wolf with your bare hands?” Jamie asks. “It took courage not to fight. If you did he would have killed you.”

“Did you fight back against Jack Randall?” Brianna asks.

“I gave my word not to fight, for your mother’s life. I would do the same again.”

Actress Sophie Skelton plays the character Brianna. In her own words, “I’m just glad that the show hasn’t taken the PTSD lightly, It was important to get that full arc for Bree so that people can travel the journey with her, and hopefully get to some catharsis.” The dedication and talent of these young actors has helped Outlander be a vehicle of education for its audience by way of realistic story-telling. It reaches out to real survivors of sexual assault. And they reach out in return by sharing their stories. “I get a lot of mail from people who have been sexually assaulted,” Diana Gabaldon has said. “Some of these people respond to what happened in Young Ian’s story. They say, ‘This happened to me, to.'” After Jamie’s rape episode aired, an anonymous survivor posted the following to their social media:

“I have never felt closer to a fictional character than I did in that moment. I’m truly grateful to this show for depicting rape the way it did. It’s ugly and it’s wrong and it should never be easy to watch but it should also never be pushed aside because of it. People complain how [the scene] made them feel. Now imagine how we felt when it happened to us. Because what you saw in that episode comes as close to reality as possible.”

Monster

Of course, naturally, if you’re a faithful follower of shows like these, your hatred for the villains grows like your love for the good guys. You watch every episode hoping more and more that their death comes sooner rather than later. I have never wanted a fictional character to die more than I wanted Jack Randall to. When his death finally did come… It was disappointing. That’s saying the least. When Jamie first stabbed him deeply in his chest and left him in pain and dying on the ground for what he did to Fergus, it made me feel a little bit better. But then when Randall survived that and he and Jamie fought on the battlefield of Culloden, where Jamie finally killed him… It was a pewny death, in my view. In fact, it may have brought more trauma onto Jamie, being that he ended up with his rapist’s dead body on top of him for hours in the freezing weather. But I digress. There were other villains whose deaths were awesome and just, like when Claire cut Geillis’s head off. To conclude Season 5, Stephen Bonnet was sentenced to death by being tied to a post on an ocean shore. As he waited for the tide that would come in and drown him, he screamed like a bitch. Then Brianna came out of the brush and shot him in the head. (Is this a mercy killing? An example of Brianna’s humanity?) However much we can’t stand them, understanding a hated villian might be worthwhile.

Jonathan Wolverton Randall

In an interview of Sam Heughan, Gold Derby editor Tom O’Neil asks Sam, “Why does Jack hate Jamie so much?” O’Neil mentions that he had asked Tobias Menzies the same question. The actor had this to say in regards to his character: “Jamie, in his mind, represents something that he cannot be.” I found Heughan’s answer to the question more interesting…

“He doesn’t hate Jamie at all,” Heughan begins. “He’s maybe obsessed with Jamie… He’s a man that’s been through a period, and a war, and countless sort of terrifying things that have happened to him, I imagine, that he’s lost his sense of maybe self or humanity. I think in Jamie, he sees someone that has a resilience and a strength… So for the sadist that Black Jack Randall is, I think that that’s his exploration in humanity and in who this character is: Who is this person before him that won’t break, that won’t give up?

What’s The Point?

There is a reason why Season 1 Episode 16 “To Ransom A Man’s Soul” bothered me as much as it did. In fact, there are two reasons: One, the rape of a man, especially by another man, and most especially in such a brutal way, with physical torture added in, is almost never shown on television or in movies. When one considers the bigger picture, and realizes that rape of women alone is actually a pretty rare occurence in our society today, one can conclude on why that is. Two, it’s never easy to watch such atrocities happen to another living being. And it never should be easy, mind you. In no way am I advocating for this to become a common occurence in the content we watch for entertainment. I can imagine a de-sensitized population as a result. I don’t want that.

With that said, I’m going to go ahead and take a stab at what I think the Outlander series’s reasoning is for their “rape culture,” as some may call it. Not only that, but why did Jamie get raped? Why were the scenes so long? Why did it need to be so brutal and sadistic? I don’t feel that this Historical fiction is attempting to draw similarity lines between the then-and-now time periods. (Hopefully, everyone can agree that we are better off now than our ancestors were hundreds of years ago.) It’s about more than just rape. It’s about harming others for pleasure, and why someone might do that. It’s about the victims. It’s about people that went through these unimaginable acts against them. It creats the general public shock wave which results in conversations, discussions, and follow-up. The rarity of it is the very point. That small percentage of people suffering in the aftermath of being attacked so viciously need to be remembered, need to be understood. With all criticism of these first 5 seasons set aside, we are left with only one more question about Outlander: How much is too much?

This is the Hollywood Story magazine that I bought. It is a very interesting and telling read. It’s very helpful for someone like me, who watches the show but has never read the book.
Just gonna leave this here… Sam Heughan is hot!

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