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Farewell & Adieu to you, Scottish Laddie: OUTLANDER s2 e2-4, Review & Recap

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Farewell and adieu to you, Spanish Ladies,
Farewell and adieu, you Ladies of Spain

Traditional British Naval Song

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With the publication of the notorious Entertainment Weekly cover featuring Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan, who play Starz’s Outlander‘s time-travelling Claire and her Scots husband Jamie, I foolishly imagined that the second season was going to be an in-depth exploration of their loving and sexually ignited relationship. You know, the thing all the book readers claim is at the core of the books, though it’s mostly absent from the show (except for a few episodes, like the Wedding one) and absent from Book One in the series. Alas, season 2 has proven a disappointment in that regard, leaving me once again to wonder where the show is going, and how many of the Starz Outlander writers have actually read the best-selling books by Diana Gabaldon that the fans so vociferously love.

Spoilers,
Outlandish and Graphic

Episode 2

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In a brothel with whores and dildos, Jamie (Sam Heughan) meets a clownish Bonnie Prince Charlie, who doesn’t seem able to drink wine without spilling it, let alone lead a Scottish rebellion. But what do I know about Scottish history? Maybe Charlie isn’t the one who actually leads the rebellion: perhaps the French Jacobites do, in their desire to destroy the British Empire.

In any event, while Jamie is playing Bond, James Bond in the brothel, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is making friends with Louise, who has a caged pet monkey, and who reveals the latest de rigeur French “beauty treatment”: a Brazilian Honey-Pot.

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Louise also takes Jamie and Claire to Versailles, where Claire wears a dress of her own making, or at least of her own design. A dress that leaves little to the imagination. And one that stands out oddly at the French court, where everyone else is wearing florals and lace.

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There, Jamie gets to stand in the all-male audience that watches King Louis 15th attempt to defecate into a royal throne-chamber-pot, while giving advice to eat “porridge.” Very exciting stuff for our Scottish Lord Jamie.

Meanwhile, Claire runs into the dastardly Duke of Sandringham and meets his secretary, Alex Randall, younger brother of the villainous Black Jack (Tobias Menzies). The Duke’s secretary reveals that BJR is not dead, and then Claire worries — needlessly, as it will be revealed later — about Jamie’s discovering that his nemesis and rapist is still alive.

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The bulk of the episode centered around Jamie’s inability to perform sexually with his wife, due to flashbacks of his rape at the hands of BJR. Whenever Jamie attempted to be with Claire sexually, her face grotesquely morphed into that of his rapist. Whom Jamie then repeatedly “stabbed”.

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 Poor Jamie. Bad enough that he got repeatedly raped in Wentworth Prison, and then had his wife go all General Patton on him while attempting to “save his soul.” Now he has to re-live his experiences whenever he wants to make love to his wife.

Starz’s Outlander may be different from the book in that the Starz writers had more accurate information available to them, information about male sexual assault and the male body’s involulntary ejaculation to pressure on the prostate. Alas, Starz has once again failed male rape victims who might be viewers — and their female partners — by presenting the assault as “love-making”, even if Jamie is mistakenly viewing it that way.

Episode 3

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Though she and her husband Jamie are in Paris attempting to abort the Scottish rebellion at Culloden which will result in the destruction of the Highland Clan way of life, Claire doesn’t seem to have “any meaning” in her life. She feels bored and useless as Jamie runs from brothel to chess games to…

Does the man ever go to work at the job — in his cousin’s wine business — which supposedly supports this lavish lifestyle?

In any event, despite Jamie’s protests about Claire’s never being home when he needs her, she goes to work in a poor hospital, helping a nun with a dog do some really gag-me-with-a-spoon-gross-me-out stuff. Claire’s tasting the urine of a patient to determine whether he had sugar disease (diabetes) wasn’t the most repulsive scene of the episode, but it was close.

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Later, after some cutesey jokes about what a “minor composer” Johann Sebastien Bach was going to be, the Mother Superior plays a piece of music in a letter which Jamie’s pickpocket has lifted.

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Then Jamie and cousin Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) and Claire figure out that the “key is the key” to the code in the message. It was a silly scene, dragged out beyond belief, perhaps in an attempt to add humor, since virtually every time Claire said something, Murtagh didn’t understand her.

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The only problem with the music-decoding scene is that most viewers couldn’t figure out what the key was either. Only that it had to do with music. And that Jamie and Claire miraculously figure it out.

Beats me how they did it.

Episode 4

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Alas, episode 4 continues the Bond, James Bond escapades of the married pair. This time, they plan an elaborate dinner for the Duke of Sandringham, whom they believe is the author of the musically-coded note.

At least, I think they think he’s the author.

I got a bit confused.

In any event, Jamie and Claire plan to trap Sandringham by also inviting Bonnie Prince Charlie to the dinner. Then, for some reason, Claire decides, on the day of the elaborate banquet, that she has to go to the hospital. She claims that her servant won’t allow her in her own kitchen.

But if it’s Claire’s kitchen…

Never mind…

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Claire takes English Mary with her to the hospital, though for the life of me, I could not figure out why. I guess she thought English Mary — who is supposedly an ancestor of Frank’s and who is in love with Alex Randall, brother of Black Jack — was also bored or something.

On the way home from the hospital, the carriage breaks down, and in her hurry to get home in time for the banquet, Claire and Mary walk.

Whaaa????

Sure, they’re followed by Murtagh, but anyone could have figured out that it was a bad move.

And sure enough, it turns to tragedy when Claire and Mary are set upon by well-dressed “brigands,” who rape Mary in a graphic and violent scene.

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Does this mean that Mary, who eventually marries Alex Randall, as far as I can determine, will already be pregnant and thus will have a child that will only nominally be the ancestor of Frank Randall?

Not only do I not know, I simply do not care.

Outlander & Sexual Violence

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What is it with Diana Gabaldon and graphic rapes?

What is it with Herself and sexual violence?

In book one, which I read after I had seen all of season 1 of Starz Outlander, none of the sex scenes are even hinted at: all of them are left entirely to the readers’ imagination.

Except for the two rapes.

One is between Jamie and Claire, who continues to have intercourse with her despite her verbal objections, her physical resistance, and her fighting him, simply because she is his wife. (Chapter 23)

The other, far more violent and graphic, takes place between Jamie and Black Jack Randall in Wentworth Prison. It is related to Claire by Jamie after he is rescued.

Now, in season 2 episode 4 of the show Outlander, which may differ from the books, English Mary, who was a virgin, is graphically raped.

It was impossible for me to watch in its entirety, so I admit I missed the part of the episode where the “brigands” attempted to rape a very pregnant Claire, then stopped, apparently exclaiming that she was La Dame Blanche (according to other reviews of the show).

Afterward, however, I didn’t care about the dinner party, especially since poor Mary was lying, in shock and pain, upstairs in Claire and Jamie’s house, with Alex Randall attending her.  Confessing his love to the unconscious Mary.

Who cares if Charlie’s mistress Louise was pregnant with his child but had convinced her husband to accept it as his, claiming he’d been too drunk to recall intercourse with her?

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Who cares if Claire was wearing a duller than dull gown and a rock-necklace to her own banquet,

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to which Sandringham invited the villainous Le Comte de St. Germain?

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Who cares if Jamie and Claire continued their Bond, James Bond machinations by intentionally trying to upset Bonnie Prince Charles by revealing Louise’s pregnancy?

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I disliked the two protagonists so much by that time that I decided it was pointless to watch any more episodes of Starz’s Outlander.

I mean, if you don’t like the show’s two protagonists, and the third one is a despicable rapist, what’s the point of the show?

I don’t see anything like the image presented in the cover of the Entertainment Weekly (above, at start of post).

I don’t see much love and affection between Jamie and Claire. Instead, they’ve reverted, mostly, to the bickering that characterized their relationship in the second part of season one.

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It’s time for me to say Farewell, Scottish Laddie, and Farewell, English Claire.

There are too many other interesting shows for me to watch to wade through multiple episodes of Outlander, trying to follow the serpentine and mostly absent storyline, only to be presented with yet another graphic rape, and with protagonists who are becoming increasingly unsympathetic.

I’m sorry for Cait and Sam, who probably believed these were their break-out roles.

I’m sorry for the book fans who don’t think the Starz show lives up to their expectations.

But mostly, I’m sorry for any writers, book or show, who think that constantly presenting sexual violence and graphic rape scenes, involving both sexes, is good writing or good fiction.

I’m more sorry for those books’ readers, though.

Related Posts

Through a Glass Dark and Dull:
Outlander season 2 Premiere

Outlander, the Show:
My Blogs from Season One

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Filed under Actors, Authors, Books, Outlander, Rape, Recap, Review, Sexual Abuse, Violence

From SALVATION to HANNIBAL to OUTLANDER: One Man’s View of Men in Film & Television

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Warning: Conclusion May Contain Triggers
(Some Film Spoilers in Post)

UnknownLast week, my life-partner Tom and I watched Salvation, the Danish tribute to Sergio Leone’s classic spaghetti Westerns, with Mads Mikkelsen as the iconic “loner” whose wife is raped then killed, along with their young son, in the early scenes, and who then searches for vengeance.

images-4Salvation is also a tribute to the iconic Western “lone, good man,” defending the rest of the town, as in High Noon and Firecreek, although no one else in the place stands up with the “hero” to fight evil until the hero reluctantly fights back against the vicious gang himself.

images-2Salvation is a pretty interesting take on the iconic Western: Mads’ character is an immigrant rather than a stranger, and has already settled and prospered enough to bring his wife and son over. Salvation is also a fair tribute to the “Man with No Name” series as well as to the “good man as reluctant defender” Western icon.

Mads’ character does have a name — John — and is a more realistic shot than the character Clint Eastwood made famous in Leone’s films (i.e., it always takes John several shots to kill someone). John is first rescued from the gang by his brother, and then eventually joined by “The Princess” (Eva Green), who appears to have been the captive “wife” of one of the rapists/murderers and who had her tongue cut out by Indians when she was kidnapped as a young girl. The Princess comes to John’s aid in fighting the gang members after they kill John’s brother, and only one other town member lends his aid: a boy whose grandmother was killed by the gang. At first, John refuses the boy’s help, telling him, “You’re just a kid.” He replies, “I’m almost 16.” John then accepts his offer. The young boy dies helping John. At the end, the Princess leaves the town with John (from which I inferred that no one in the town had ever protected her from the gang members).

This post is not a review of Salvation. Instead, it is about a discussion that ensued after my partner Tom made a surprising comment about Mads’ looks in the film, which led me to an epiphany about how one man — my man — judges male actors’ looks in films and television.

Unknown“Mads is actually quite good-looking, isn’t he?” said Tom in the middle of an important scene.

I was shocked. I’d never heard him say something like that before. Not about a male actor’s looks. At first, I thought it was because we were watching a Western, one of Tom’s favorite genres. Then I thought it might be because John was already seeking “justice” by killing the bad guys. But Tom said it when Mads’ character John wasn’t actually looking his best (above). Not classically handsome or anything. So I wondered what had suddenly made Tom comment on a male actor’s looks: something he’s never done in our 22 years together, but which he constantly does about female actors if he finds them attractive. (I don’t know what female actors he finds unattractive because he doesn’t make comments like that.)

images-1“You just noticed that Mads is good-looking?” I said.

“I guess.”

“You didn’t think he was attractive in Hannibal?”images-21“He was a serial killer and a cannibal,” said Tom, as if he had watched more than the final season of Hannibal, which, by the way, he was really watching for Gillian Anderson, whom he continually called “stunning” and “gorgeous.”images-10“You never commented on Mads’ looks before.”

“I guess I never noticed.”

“You didn’t comment on him in King Arthur.”

“Mads was in King Arthur?” said Tom. “He wasn’t that pretty boy, was he?”

“What ‘pretty boy’?”

“The one with two swords.”

“That was Lancelot (Ioan Gruffudd) with the two swords. Mads played Tristan.”

images-14“Which one was Tristan?”

“The one with the hawk.”

Unknown-2“Oh, that was Mads? He was cool. He fought Stellan [Skarsgård, who played Saxon invader Cerdic] at the end.”

images-13“Tristan got killed.”

“Stellan looked over at Clive [Owen, who was King Arthur] to make sure he was watching before he killed Tristan.”

I was stunned that Tom remembered that detail, despite the number of times we’ve watched the film, which is one of our favorites.

“The actor who played Galahad in King Arthur was in Hannibal, too.”

“Which one was Galahad?”

“Hugh Dancy.”

images-7“Oh, that boy,” said Tom after I found a picture. “Who was he in Hannibal?”

“He played the special FBI agent, Will Graham,” I said, showing him another photo. “He was trying to help catch Hannibal.”

images copy 2“I remember that boy now,” said Tom. “They were trying to make it seem like he and Hannibal loved each other, but without their being homosexual.”

By that time, I noticed that Tom was consistently making a distinction between “men” and “boys,” though all the actors we were discussing are grown men. Even if they were playing warrior knights, such as Lancelot and Galahad in King Arthur, Tom was referring to some of them as “boys.” Before I had a chance to ask about this distinction, he made an even more startling comment.

“That boy in Hannibal was about the same as that red-head boy.”

“What red-head boy?”

“That red-head husband in the past.”

By now, I was most sincerely confused, since we were watching Salvation and The Princess’ husband had been dark-haired, and he’d only been killed by Mads’ character a few days before.

“What red-head husband in the past?” I said.

“The red-head husband in the show with the woman who fell through the rocks.”

images-32“You mean Outlander?”

“If that’s the one where the woman has two husbands,” said Tom, “one in the past and one in the future.”

Did Tom really just make a comment about Outlander?

My Tom?

He’d only watched the show twice — the final two episodes — though he knew the premise, vaguely, and had caught a couple of glimpses of Caitriona Balfe (Claire) and Sam Heughan (Jamie) when they were nude (as he was passing through the room where I was watching Outlander, to return to the room where he was watching sports).

“You mean Jamie, the Scottish husband?”images-10“Is he the boy who got his hand nailed to the table by that ugly man in the prison?”

“He’s the man who got his hand spiked…”

“The boy who got raped by that ugly man.”

“His name’s Jamie,” I said. “And he’s the man who got raped by Black Jack Randall.”

“The ugly guy who threatened to rape the red-head boy’s wife?”

images-32“Black Jack Randall,” I said, certain now that we were, indeed, discussing Outlander.

“That’s the guy who raped the boy?” said Tom, persisting in using the word “boy” to describe Sam Heughan’s character.

“Black Jack Randall raped Jamie.”

“That ugly guy,” said Tom, “who raped that boy and then tried to make it look like some kind of love scene or something.”images-8“They were probably only doing what the writers and director told them to do. I think I read that they were trying to make one of the scenes between the two actors look like Michelangelo’s Pietà.

images“That statue of Jesus after they took him off the cross and his mother was holding him?”

“They might have been trying to make Jamie a symbolic Christ figure… I don’t know. It didn’t work for me.”

“None of it worked for me,” said Tom. “It was disgusting and horrible, what that vicious ugly man did to that poor boy.”

images-36He kept calling Tobias Menzies (Black Jack Randall) “ugly,” and he kept referring to Sam Heughan (Jamie) as a “boy.” I thought I was beginning to understand what Tom was unconsciously saying, but I wasn’t sure.

“You know that the actor who played Black Jack Randall also played Claire’s other husband, right?”

“What did he look like?” said Tom.

images-23“It was the same actor,” I said. “Only his name was Frank when he was her husband in 1945.”

“That’s not the same man,” said Tom after looking at the photo above.

“It’s the same actor,” I said, showing him another view. “Honest.”

images-29“That’s not the same guy.”

“It is the same guy.”

images-33“No, it’s not,” said Tom, looking at the picture (above) with Tobias and Cait. “That guy is not ugly.”

“Is he good-looking?” I said. “Like Mads?”

Tom stared at the photo of Cait and Tobias, as Claire and Frank on their second honeymoon in Scotland, before Claire was transported through the stones at Craigh na Dun to Scotland two hundred years in the past.

“No. He’s not good-looking. Just average. But he’s certainly not ugly like the guy who raped the boy.”

“I swear to you, it’s the same actor,” I said. “Tobias Menzies.”images-43After looking at the side-by-side photo (above) for a while, he said, “How’d they make him look so ugly then?”

“All they did, as far as I know, was put a wig or hair-extensions on him,” I said. “And he acted like he had a facial tick.”

“He is not a good-looking man,” said Tom, handing back the picture of Tobias. “He’s ugly. In fact, he’s extremely ugly.”

“Even as Frank? Her husband in the future.”

Unknown-13“Then he’s just average. Unremarkable.”

“Why not good-looking? When he’s Frank, I mean.”

“Because he didn’t save his wife when he heard her calling at the stones. He just cried like a baby.”

images-47Now I was really caught off-guard. When had Tom seen that? Before the final two episodes, which he watched to be morally supportive of me in case I got triggered since I’d heard there were torture and rape scenes in them, I wasn’t aware that Tom had seen anything substantial in Outlander. 

I knew he’d caught a glimpse of nude Sam in the water because Tom said, “You know men didn’t look like that back then, don’t you? Men don’t look like that now unless they work out at a gym all the time.”

images-36I knew he’d gotten a good long look at nude Cait in one of the sex-scenes with Sam because he was standing there staring until the scene ended, when he said, “Her breasts look better when she’s lying down” before walking away.

I guess he’d also seen Frank weeping at the rocks and heard Claire calling to him, though I’d never realized Tom knew what was going on in the show. I never discussed it with him because he doesn’t like fantasy and thought the premise was silly, and he rarely reads my blogs. (I don’t mind: he reads my books, which is a much bigger commitment, and he knows what I blog about.) I was still confused about Tom’s association between Will and Jamie, however.

“Why did you say that Will Graham in Hannibal was just like Jamie in Outlander?”

“Because one didn’t stop a serial killer and the other didn’t kill the ugly bastard that raped him.”

“You think Will should have killed Hannibal?”

“Of course, he should have.”

“He pushed Hannibal off a cliff,” I said.

“No, he hugged him off a cliff and they both fell together, like they were lovers about to have sex or something. And they probably survived for another season. So it was just stupid.”

I was starting to understand this film world-view. A male character’s being “stupid” can make the actor playing him a “boy.” A male character not killing another male character he knows to be a serial killer can make the former one a “boy.” A male character’s not killing his rapist can make him a “boy.” After all, the first time Tom ever remarked about Sam Heughan as Jamie, when he saw him nude in the water, he referred to him as a “man,” saying that “men” didn’t have bodies like that back then. After Jamie was raped by Black Jack Randall, he and the actor playing him became a “boy.”

I wondered what “boys” were —  attractive, unremarkable, or ugly — in the world according to Tom.

“Do you think Jamie’s good-looking?” I said.

“Which one’s Jamie?”

“The red-head husband in the past.”

“The one who gets tortured and raped.”

“Right.”

“He’s a boy.”

“But is he good-looking?”

“He’s a boy,” said Tom. “With a weight-machine body.”

“Is he ‘average,’ like her husband Frank. Or ‘ugly,’ like Black Jack Randall?”

“He’s just a kid,” said Tom.

So, no comments or judgment on a boy’s looks, even if the “boy” is an adult male actor.

“But you think Mads is attractive.”

“He’s a good-looking man,” said Tom.

“But you never thought he was good-looking in Hannibal,” I said. “I even asked you about it.”

“I said I didn’t notice.”

“What about Mads in this picture?” I said.

images-20“He looks good in glasses. He’s very manly.”

“It’s from The Hunt.”

“What’s that about?” said Tom.

“See the little girl? She’s one of his Kindergarten students who says that he molested and raped her. The whole town…”

“Is he guilty?”

“What?”

“Did he hurt the little girl?”

“No,” I said. “She doesn’t even realize what’s she’s saying about him.”

“How can she not realize that?”

I explained that her older brother and his friend had been watching porn on their tablets, and showed it to her in passing, as a joke, saying something like, “Look at that big ugly cock.” Later, the little girl, who was unconsciously jealous that she wasn’t getting enough of her belovèd teacher’s attention, told one of the administrators at the school that she didn’t want to see “Lucas’ (Mads) big ugly cock anymore.”

“So Mads didn’t ever do anything to the little girl?” said Tom.

“No. Never. But everyone assumed she was telling the truth because of what she said.”

“But he was really innocent.”

“Totally.”

“I’ll have to watch that some time,” said Tom. “And he does look very handsome in the glasses.”

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This is our 22nd year together; we love films and watch them all the time, yet I never realized that Tom judges a male actor’s looks by what his character does in a role. Tom’s only one man, so I’m not saying that he’s representative of all men, but he’s my man, and that makes this an important revelation to me. Whether Tom consciously realizes these distinctions he’s making about a male actor’s looks — and I’m guessing that he does not — this is what they seem to be.

If a male actor’s character sexually assaults or otherwise tortures or physically brutalizes children, women, or other men, he’s “ugly.” If the violence does not happen on-screen and the other parts of the story-line are compelling, then, at the very least, Tom doesn’t seem to notice any physical attractiveness or ugliness in the male actor, as with Mads in Hannibal. He played a serial killer but Tom rarely saw any on-screen violence because he only watched parts of the final season, i.e., the episodes containing Gillian Anderson.

If the male actors’ characters don’t save their women — even if it’s because they cannot go through the stones at Craigh na Dun themselves — they’re just average-looking, plain, or unremarkable.

But the most important — and saddest — part of the distinction Tom (unconsciously) seems to be making between male actors as “men” or “boys” is this: if the male actors’ characters are raped (as Tom was, repeatedly, when he was a six-year-old boy, by his father’s best friend), then the actors, no matter their age, are “boys.”

And boys need to be protected from “ugly men” (as my poor Tom was not protected by his own father, though Tom told him, and others, what was happening).

Women, too, need to be protected from “ugly men,” and the women don’t have to be “stunning” or “gorgeous” to need such protection.

They can be ordinary women like me.

That’s why Tom watched the final two episodes of Outlander with me: because when I was a child, I was repeatedly tortured, molested, and raped (by my father, step-father, and mother, the last of whom raped me with implements when I was 11, causing so much internal damage that I could never have children). Tom feared that the scenes of torture and rape in Outlander, though they were happening to a man, would “trigger” me. Just as the horrific rape scenes in Casualties of War or The Accused “trigger” me. (In fact, I’ve never actually seen more than a few seconds of either of the rape scenes in either film: I can’t even listen to them.)

Tom was there to protect me, even if it was from a film or a television show.

He protects me now, in any way he can, because no one protected me when I was younger.

Just as no one protected him when he was a boy.

When I finally realized what Tom was saying during our talk after his comment about Mads’ being “actually quite good-looking” in Salvation, I went into the other room and wept with grief.

For both of us.

Unknown-10Epilogue

As I mentioned in the original post of this topic (above), Tom has long since stopped reading my blogs, though he always asks what I’m writing on. Always. For every single post. When I showed him some of the remarks and responses I was getting to this original post, and told him that it had gotten over 60K unique reads in less than 24 hours, he seemed confused.

“Why does everyone in your Facebook Outlander groups and on Twitter keep saying I’m sweet?” said Tom. “Why do they say the blog is ‘heartbreaking’? I thought you said it was on my view of men in some films and a couple television shows.”

“It is, based on the fact that you commented, for the first time ever, on a male actor’s being ‘actually being quite attractive’. Mads. In Salvation.”

“Mads is good-looking,” said Tom.

You never said Mads was attractive when he was in Hannibal. I mentioned that in the blog. Then I put in the things you said about Jamie… the red-head husband in Outlander… about his being a boy.”

“He is a boy,” said Tom. “He couldn’t protect or defend himself from being raped, just like I couldn’t defend myself when I was raped as a little boy. And no one helped the red-head husband. Like nobody helped me. So he is a boy.”

“Some of the very thoughtful readers who responded wanted you to know that the character, Jamie, heals and becomes more of a man in the later Outlander books,” I said. “They don’t know what will happen in the show, of course…”

“He’s a man already. Or he was before the rape,” said Tom. “Now he’s a boy. And no matter how much healing he does, or how much of a man he becomes, that wounded, damaged little boy will always be inside him.”

“So you intentionally called him a ‘boy’?”

“Did I call him a ‘boy’?” said Tom.

“You did. Consistently. I thought you might be doing it unconsciously.”

“I guess I was, since I don’t remember it. But he is a boy if he gets his hand nailed to a table and gets raped over and over by another man,” said Tom. “He can’t protect himself. He can’t fight.”

“Then you really didn’t expect Jamie to just jump up afterward and kill Black Jack Randall?”

“He was in a prison. In the dungeon. How was he going to get out? He couldn’t have killed that guy,” said Tom.

“Why’d you say that he should have killed the rapist then?”

Tom was silent for a while.

“I guess I said that because I wanted to kill my dad’s friend every single day of my life,” said Tom. “Right up until the day he died. And you know how I feel about my dad never protecting me. Same as you feel about all the people you told, the ones who never saved or protected you.”

Because he’d mentioned me, but I’d never heard him call any female actors “girls,” I asked about Claire’s character in Outlander.

“What about Claire… the red-head’s wife… what if Black Jack Randall had raped her?”

“Look,” said Tom, “there would have been nothing she could have done about it. If she didn’t manage to run away before he caught her, then she couldn’t have stopped it. Rapists are despicable. You can’t fight them. You don’t know if they’re just vicious, disgusting people, or if they’re pedophiles, or if they’re serial rapists, or if they’re serial rapists about to flip over into serial killers. If you fight too hard, you might die.”

“What I wanted to know is this: would she have become a ‘girl’ if she’d been raped, instead of a woman?”

“She’d be a woman, just like you,” said Tom, “with that permanently damaged little girl inside her. That wounded little girl will always be in you, no matter how fierce or independent or sweet or loving or protective you are. That raped little boy will always be in her red-head husband. Same as he’s in me. Even if nobody else knows about it. You can’t go back and make it never happen.”

“So, you were unconsciously calling the red-head husband a ‘boy’. Just like you called the Special FBI Agent in Hannibal a boy, and he didn’t get raped.”images-15“He couldn’t kill Hannibal, even though Hannibal was obsessed with him,” said Tom. “Maybe if he’d snuck up behind him as soon as he’d figured out Hannibal was a serial killer and cold-cocked him, he might have had a chance to cut his throat before Hannibal gutted him like a fish. But you don’t have any chance with serial killers. Hannibal would have killed and eaten that boy eventually.”

“I guess the part that annoyed you, then, was how the shows tried to make the rapes like love scenes, or a serial killer relationship like a love story.”

images-16“Hannibal might have wanted something from that boy, but he didn’t love him,” said Tom. “He had sex with Gillian. But he didn’t love her. Even she said she knew he’d end up killing and eating her. You can’t change serial killers. You can’t change serial rapists or pedophiles. The only thing they love is themselves and hurting other people. You know that. Your own mother was one.”

I sat for a moment, thinking about everything he’d said, and how he’d called the victims “boys” unconsciously, because, in the 22 years we’ve been together, Tom has never come right out and admitted that his father’s friend repeatedly raped him when he was a little boy. He always said he was “only molested” and “performed fellatio” — forced fellatio — on his rapist.

images-31“By the way, be sure to tell them I’m sorry,” said Tom. “The people in those Outlander groups.”

“About what?”

“I know they really like that red-head husband. I’m sorry if they got upset because I said he was a ‘boy’. The actor’s a guy. Even if he kinda looks like a kid.”

“Someone wrote in comments that she thought they might have purposely cast that actor because of his boyish looks.”

“Then they knew he was going to become a boy, too. Because of the torture and rape.”

“Maybe,” I said. “They might have just thought he was pretty.”

“Pretty doesn’t make you a ‘boy’.”

“The actor who played the Special Agent in Hannibal is boy-ish.”

“When a serial killer’s got you in his sights,” said Tom, “or the writers of Hannibal make him act like he loves you, you’re a boy because he’s gonna get you eventually. There’s nothing you can do except run away as fast as you can. If you can’t do that… well, you know… It’s the same as when you were a kid. If nobody listens to you, and no one protects you, you’re gonna get hurt. Bad. And that kind of damage never goes away. Not completely.”

I kissed him on the cheek.

“The person who said you were ‘a good, good man’ meant that you were sweet for watching Outlander’s last two episodes with me, knowing they contained rape and torture, in case they triggered me.”

maxresdefault“You’d do the same for me,” he said, putting his arm around my shoulders. “You’re my Eva and my Claire.”

Unknown

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CowLander: The OUTLANDER Finale

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Warning: Spoilers
& Graphic Images

images-9I must say that with all the hub-bub surrounding the “Wentworth Prison” episode — which turned into two episodes, the second of which was mostly flashbacks and the Finale — from Starz’s Outlander, based on the bestselling novels by Diana Gabaldon, I was expecting more from both the “Wentworth Prison” episode and from the Finale. A whole lot more. I have to say, I was incredibly disappointed. With all of it.

The Starz Warning

images-11For the first time since the series began, Starz put a Warning before the show began, stating that it contained scenes of “graphic violence, prolonged torture, rape” etc. I was shocked. Just last week, BJR broke Jamie’s hand with an iron mallet, hitting it repeatedly, and there was no such warning. Then he nailed Jamie’s hand to the table: no warning.

images-14Last season, there was an extended flogging episode where Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) was literally slipping in Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) blood, and there was no “graphic violence” or “extended torture” warning.

images-3Claire was raped by a deserting Redcoat, whom she killed mid-coitus, and there was no “rape” warning. From the comments made repeatedly by writers, actors, and executive producer of the show, Ron Moore — that they were going into some really dark places — I thought the “Wentworth Prison” and “To Ransom A Man’s Soul” episodes were going to be horrific, especially since they were on cable, which has more freedom than network television and even movies (who often take out violence to get an R rather than an X rating).

The episodes weren’t horrific.

And I’m not even sure what the “prolonged torture” warning was about.

Claire’s Obtuseness

images-15In last week’s episode, “Wentworth Prison,” BJR grabbed Jamie’s wife Claire (Caitriona Balfe) with the clear intention of raping her, right in front of her husband. Jamie then valiantly offered up himself, which is what BJR has wanted all along, in place of her freedom. Despite its being patently obvious that BJR was going to release Claire unharmed (unbelievable in itself) in return for “buggering” Jamie — which Claire had to have known since Jamie told her earlier this season that BJR had given Jamie a choice between being buggered and being flogged — Claire constantly asked, in last night’s episode, after they’d rescued Jamie, “What did he do to you, Jamie?”

images-1She asked it so many times that I began to wonder if she’d been knocked on the head by one of the stampeding cattle and forgotten everything Jamie had ever told her as well as what had happened among the three of them when they had all been together in the cell.

“What did he do to you, Jamie? What did he do?”

You mean, besides breaking his hand and fingers with an iron mallet?

You mean, besides nailing his hand to a table in an equally gruesome scene, at which Claire was present?

imagesOh, you mean, besides releasing you, Claire, unharmed, in return for Jamie’s complete “surrender, body and soul” when he’s already been wanting to bugger Jamie since he met him?

Gee, Claire, what do you think he did to Jamie?images-1I don’t know if that kind of obtuseness is in the books or not, but it was dreadfully poor storytelling in the show.

All the men who helped Claire rescue her husband seemed to know exactly what had happened to Jamie without his telling them. All the viewers knew simply from the opening scene of Jamie’s flashback with him in the cell, on the cot, naked, with BJR lying naked beside him. The expression on Jamie’s face told us he’d been raped, most viciously, probably repeatedly.

images-4 But we had also already known it was going to happen even if we’d never read the books, if only because of the repulsive flogging-scars tongue-kissing scene from last week’s “Wentworth Prison.”

images-8Claire seemed to be the only one still in the dark.

It didn’t work dramatically.

It simply made her seem like an idjit.

Claire’s “Confession”

images-4For some inexplicably bizarre reason, Claire spent an inordinate amount in the Finale “confessing” to a monk (can they even hear confession?) about her coming through the stones, leaving Frank behind, being tried as a witch, blah blah blah.

Really?

Seriously?

What on earth was the dramatic purpose of that?

The viewers knew all that already, and the monk — as far as I know — will never be in the story again. Unlike her husband Jamie, who needed to know that information.

Unknown-1Beyond the fact that this scene simply wasted time and took up space, what on earth was it that she had to confess?

She’d just rescued her husband from BJR and Wentworth prison. She set his hand so he wouldn’t be crippled for life. She was trying to help him heal: emotionally, physically, and psychologically.

The Finale was called “To Ransom a Man’s Soul,” not “To Cleanse a Woman’s Soul.” She hadn’t done anything to confess, and her “confession” neither ransomed nor saved Jamie’s soul.

It was a total waste of show time.

Even if it was one of the scenes in the book, it should have been cut from the show.

The Gaelicimages-5

Yeah, I know this show is happening in 1740’s Scotland. I know the clan members speak Scots Gaelic. (And I know the photo above is not when they were speaking Gaelic in the Finale, but some photos are just not available.) But what was with all the untranslated and un-subtitled Gaelic between Jamie and his godfather Murtagh? I had no idea what was going on, though both men seemed upset.

Which of the two writers of the Finale thought that scene was going to work?

It didn’t.

General Claire Patton

Outlander 2014Now, picture this: Claire, some of Jamie’s clan members, and a whole herd of stampeding cattle have just rescued Jamie from the horrors of Wentworth Prison and BJR, and because he doesn’t want to eat and expresses a wish to die, Claire goes all General Patton on him.

Slapping, screaming, kicking, hitting Jamie.

That’s about the time I wanted to put Claire in Wentworth Prison.

What happened to the nurse who’d been in war herself? Where was the competent, caring nurse who helped boys dying from wounds as bad as or far worse than anything Jamie had suffered at the hands of BJR — wounds that caused amputation, blindness, and death from the more advanced weapons of WWII?

Where was that woman?

She had turned into General George Patton.

And I don’t mean the guy who beat the Nazis in some significant battles and helped the Allies win the War.

I mean the self-absorbed, immature, egotistical man who cruelly slapped, humiliated, and viciously berated soldiers suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder — then called Shell-Shock — because they didn’t “look injured” but were still in the hospital tent instead of back on the battlefield.

That General Patton.

Yes, that’s what Claire did to Jamie in the Finale after she rescued him because he wouldn’t tell her, in minute detail, what BJR had done to him.

I wanted to knock her upside the head.

If there was any “prolonged torture” in the Finale, it was Claire’s insensitive treatment of Jamie.

The Farewell

images-7Many of the clansmen, especially those who went with Claire to help rescue Jamie from BJR, have grown to respect Claire as a healer, and some may have even grown fond of her personally. Their good-byes on the beach, before Jamie and Claire set sail for France, perhaps never to meet them again, should have been touching and poignant. Instead, somebody threw in a scene where Angus (Stephen Walters), whom Claire had given permission to kiss her farewell, grabbed her breasts with both hands.

If the actor playing Angus did it improv, then what a disappointment that the director didn’t berate him for its inappropriate nature in the Finale, and a further disappointment that the scene wasn’t deleted in the editing room.

And if it wasn’t improv on the actor’s part, then it was yet another instance of the show’s writers needing to learn when humor is effective and when it is most definitely not.

The Boat Scene

OUT_116-20140827-ND_0372.jpgAfter all the horrible things that have happened to Jamie, after the brutality he’s suffered at the hands of BJR and the insensitive cruelty of his wife afterward, the two flee to France at the end of the Finale. Incredibly, Jamie seems all healed, especially emotionally and psychologically.

Claire reveals that she’s pregnant, though she’d told him in a previous episode that she thought she couldn’t ever have children, and asks him if he’s happy. He is. The wind is blowing their long tresses, they’re holding each other, and they look just like the cover of some cheap, mass-market paperback romance.

images-5Dreadfully disappointing.

Completely unrealistic.

Out of tone with the entire series, but especially with the last two episodes.

Jamie’s Shame

imagesHere’s what the writers of the Finale got absolutely right: Jamie’s shame after the rape, and Black Jack Randall’s complete and utter obsession with Jamie.

BJR is and always has been obsessed with Jamie, and not just because he’s a Scottish rebel, or because he’s wanted for murder. BJR is obsessed with Jamie sexually, emotionally, and psychologically. BJR wants to possess Jamie physically, and he wants Jamie’s love.

Unfortunately, BJR knows he’ll never get what he wants, so he tortured, raped, humiliated, and shamed Jamie instead.

Despite author Gabaldon’s repeated insistence about the heterosexual orientation of BJR, despite her contacting reviewers telling them they’d misinterpreted BJR and that their statements about his being a homosexual were incorrect, and perhaps suggesting that said reviewers re-write their reviews of episode 12, which at least one of them actually did, stating therein that Gabaldon had contacted him to “correct” his review; and despite Gabaldon’s rather dismissive responses to readers’ questions and statements on her Facebook Profile when they say that they had always thought BJR did, indeed, love Jamie and wanted him physically as a lover from the moment they read the books, Black Jack Randall seems to know an inordinate amount about homosexual intimacies and male-on-male sexual behavior.

He wants Jamie to tell him he loves him. He attempts to French-kiss Jamie. He tries to perform fellatio on Jamie. He uses his hands in an effort to excite Jamie. Black Jack even unties his long, curly hair and lets it drape across Jamie’s body, just like a woman might do, attempting to arouse him. When all that fails, he brutally rapes him, ordering Jamie, over and over, to “scream.”

But the scene where BJR “breaks” Jamie — according to Jamie — is when BJR “makes love” to him. Instructing an already tortured, broken, raped, and disoriented Jamie to think of his wife Claire, whom he loves, BJR touches him sexually on the nipples and genitals. Black Jack then undresses, gets behind Jamie, and rapes him again, though not as brutally this time, while still stroking Jamie’s genitals.

Jamie has an involuntary orgasm.

That makes him think that BJR has broken him, body and soul.

That is what completely and utterly shames Jamie.

Of course, Jamie could have had no knowledge of the prostate gland, nor could he have known that stroking it — with fingers, inserted objects, or male genitalia — sometimes causes involuntary ejaculation.

Ejaculation.

Not pleasure. Not climax. Not love.

But Jamie doesn’t know any of that.

BJR does, which demonstrates that he has plenty of experience in homosexual encounters with other males, be they voluntary or forced on the other man’s part. In any event, BJR knows exactly what to do to other men’s bodies to cause sexual arousal and ejaculation.

And let’s please be clear that I am not in any way associating sexual orientation with sadism. Black Jack is a vicious sadist. He’s also a rapist. And, no matter what author Diana Gabaldon claims she intended him to be, Black Jack Randall is a homosexual. It’s not the rape of Jamie that verifies that BJR is a homosexual: it’s BJR’s kissing of Jamie’s wounds, BJR’s wanting to be told that Jamie loves him, it’s BJR’s wanting to perform fellatio on Jamie (if BJR had forced Jamie to perform fellatio on BJR, that would not necessarily be homosexuality, but it would be humiliation), it’s BJR’s sleeping naked with Jamie afterward — as if they were consensual lovers. All those things indicate that BJR is, indeed, a homosexual. One that also happens to be a sadist.

Black Jack might have pretensions or aspirations toward bi-sexuality, but we were never shown his actually raping a woman: Claire got rescued every time she was in his clutches, and Jamie’s sister Jenny claimed that BJR couldn’t attain an erection even with his own manual stimulation when he wanted to rape her.

In short, Black Jack Randall is a homosexual who also happens to be a vicious sadist. Black Jack is also obsessed with Jamie, if not actually in love with him, and Jamie’s continual “rejection” of BJR results in his desire to punish and humiliate Jamie through sadistic acts.

It’s the physical act of ejaculation during one of the subsequent rapes that causes Jamie’s shame. That’s why he wants to die. He thinks that because his body ejaculated due to the pressure of BJR’s member against Jamie’s prostate, it meant he enjoyed being with BJR. Jamie might have thought it meant he didn’t hate Black Jack. He might have even thought the ejaculation meant he loved BJR, which would have horrified Jamie.

Of course, the involuntary ejaculation didn’t mean those things at all. Jamie was still being raped. It was still non-consensual. But it made Jamie feel broken, it shamed him, it made him want to die.

I guess poor Jamie didn’t realize that being hanged also causes the body to involuntarily ejaculate — which is one of the reasons hangings were so popular, and why it’s considered more “shameful” for military prisoners to be hanged than to be executed by a firing squad, for example. If Jamie had known that hanged men’s bodies also involuntarily ejaculate, he might have realized that it wasn’t pleasure he was feeling when it happened to him as Black Jack was raping him.

But poor Jamie didn’t know that.

In fact, during the hangings in the episode before “Wentworth Prison,” the condemned men — Jamie among them — discussed the fact that hanged men soil themselves, but they meant only the involuntary evacuation of the bowels; the writers were careful not to include the fact that men’s bodies also involuntarily ejaculate during hangings. At the time, I wondered why the prisoners didn’t talk about the ejaculation since even women and children knew about it in those days. Now, however, I think the writers intentionally left that information out in the hanging scene discussion because it was going to be the involuntary ejaculation during the rape that was going to “break” Jamie’s spirit.

It’s the one thing that the writers of the Finale did get right: Jamie’s psychic pain and unbearable shame over his body’s involuntary ejaculation during the rape. Jamie’s misinterpretation of that ejaculation as good feelings toward BJR, or as sexual excitement, or even as love for Black Jack, when Jamie knows perfectly well that he does not love BJR, is what causes Jamie’s unbearable shame.

That’s what Jamie meant when he told Claire that BJR had broken him.

Because he felt completely and utterly broken.

That’s how rape victims feel.

Poor Jamie.

The Cows

images-12I gotta tellya, those cows were great. The way they just stampeded into the prison, without any weapons or protection of any kind. The way they knocked down those doors and those Redcoats to rescue Jamie without ever once slowing down to think of their own safety. The way none of those cows deserted or ran away in panic. Those cows were great. So brave. So self-sacrificing. So honorable. So… Cow-y. They were wonderful. I applauded them.

I looked for their names in the credits so I could list them in this post; alas, they were apparently just stunt cows, without any lines, and without any screen credits.

The show needed more cows.

It’s gotta have more Cowbell.

images-13

p.s. Hugs and kisses and thanks to regular commenter, Jo, for the much improved title, and for permission to use it.

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The broken heart it kens, nae second spring again: Starz’s OUTLANDER

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But the broken heart it kens, nae second spring again
Tho’ the waeful may cease frae their weeping.

(But the broken heart cannot know second spring again
Though the woeful may cease from their weeping.)

Loch Lomond
Traditional Scottish Folksong

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Considering its 8.7/10-star rating on IMDb, I may be one of the very few viewers who’s not deleriously happy with Starz’s new series Outlander, based on the best-selling books by Diana Gabaldon, but I’m throwing my metaphorical hat into the reviewing ring anyway. I’ve never read the books, but the premise of the show is fascinating: a World War II nurse, Claire, goes on a post-War “second honeymoon” to the Scottish Highlands with her husband, Frank, where she touches the tallest rock in a Henge, and is inexplicably transported to the same place 200+ years in the past, in the midst of the wars between the Scottish clans and the British Empire. I’ve watched all 5 episodes of the series so far, waiting for something else to happen beyond the initial premise, and I find that the show has as many weaknesses as it does strengths.

Warning: Spoilers throughout

Weaknesses

  • Instead of the intriguing philosophical Voice-Over that began the series (and which may not have been in the book since the “prologue” where it appears is only in the Starz tie-in version) — “People disappear all the time” — the voice-over has begun narrating what we’re seeing on the screen — “15 paces to the sentry tower” (as Claire is walking there) — or justifying Claire’s behavior — “I was jealous” (which the viewer already knew) — or explaining what the viewer could figure out for himself — “the hunting game was more than a game” (as Claire is continually looking up at the sentry on the watchtower while she’s playing with the children). That makes the Voice-Over a repetition of what we’re seeing onscreen, a redundancy, or simply an insult to the viewer’s intelligence. Whatever it’s meant to be, the Voice-Over isn’t working any longer and is getting tedious.
  • I’ve watched the entire five episodes which open the series — several times — and after Claire (Caitriona Balfe) inexplicably disappears, not once do we get a glimpse of what her poor husband Frank (Tobias Menzies) must be going through in 1945 without his wife, who’s been gone for months. (In an earlier show, while at the castle in the 1740s, Claire mentions that she’s been here for weeks; in last night’s episode, when she accompanies the clan members on a rent-collecting trip, she mentions that the group has been on the road “for weeks.” That now equals months, yet no indication of what Frank is doing or experiencing, and I, for one, am worried about him, although Claire does not seem to be: she’s only been sad, for a few seconds, and specifically mentioned Frank once, though she often, at the end of a show, says she has to get “back to the stones.” )
  • Lots of atmosphere in the setting but no Urgency or forward plot momentum. In short, nothing of note has happened since she ended up in the past.
  • The 1940s music over the 1740s setting is more than a bit disconcerting.
  • The long, untranslated, un-subtitled dialogue and monologues in Scots Gaelic, which I assume are authentic since Starz boasts its Scots Gaelic dialogue coach/expert, are dull in the extreme since I don’t know what’s going on. In episode 5, Claire complains that the group is intentionally speaking in Gaelic to “exclude her” and make her feel like an outsider. Claire, honey, you’re not the only one. At least you didn’t mention being bored during the long Gaelic passages, as I am.
  • The supposed clan conflict with Claire’s supposed love-interest in the past — Jamie — makes no sense to me, though I watched episode 4, where it was convolutedly explained and temporarily solved, three times. Nope. I still don’t get the problem with Jamie and the clan. Maybe you have to read the books to understand it. But that makes it a weakness for the series.
  • I don’t see any chemistry between the actors who play Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan). I keep looking for it, but beyond the fact that he has a nice body, which, in itself, does not guarantee sexual chemistry except between shallow individuals, I don’t see or feel any sparks. I don’t know if it’s the acting, the actors, or the script.
  • No one ever asks Claire who or what “Roosevelt” is in her most frequent curse: “Jesus H Roosevelt Christ.” Now, you may think that’s petty, but in a world where women were severely discriminated against and accused of witchcraft for disobeying their husbands or being different or for looking at someone sideways, I find it odd that no one asks what that means, or, worse, thinks she’s casting a spell on them (especially since one of the characters came and asked Claire for a love potion, so her “supernatural abilities seem to be assumed).

Strengths

images-4

  • The hints that the show’s other “healer,” Gellis Duncan (Lotte Verbeek), may be a time-traveler as well are very intriguing, especially as she seems to have accepted her fate, and makes many pointed comments to Claire that you can make a good life for yourself even if it’s not one you ever imagined.

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  • Good chemistry between Claire and Gellis (actor Lotte Verbeek). Most of that may come from Verbeek, but whatever the reason, she’s a delightful character, and the scenes she’s in with Claire are some of the show’s most interesting, especially when she asks if Claire, who’s hoarding food for her escape, is pregnant and “eating for more than one.”

images

  • Beautiful clothes. Look at the fur Claire’s wearing as she accompanies the group on its rent-collecting chores.
  • Since Claire had “naught but her shift” and shoes when the clan members found her, someone in the castle is very generous, lending Claire dresses, furs, and very nice jewelry whenever needed.

Outlander_Gallery5_wm

  • Absolutely beautiful countryside (the show was filmed in Scotland).

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  • Claire quotes John Donne’s poetry (albeit only once so far), so she’s well-read.
  • Claire’s managed to heal quite a few people, including a boy everyone assumed was possessed by the devil and who would have died had she not administered the antidote (belladonna, itself a poison) to the poisonous plant (Lily of the Valley) she assumed he’d eaten (he was unconscious).
  • When she can’t heal them, she is able to at least make them feel better, as when she massages the base of clan Laird Colum MacKenzie’s spine rather than his deformed legs (as his former healer used to do).
  • When she can’t save them, she’s honest about it, and helps them die as peacefully as she can (the boy mortally wounded in the boar hunt, which earns her the clan’s respect).
  • Claire’s mostly cool-headed, even if she occasionally does things a 20th century woman would do, like when she teases Jamie — at dinner, in front of others — about his sexual interaction with another woman, and continues to do so despite his warning kick under the table.

Outlander_Gallery1_wm

  • Her guards, whom she also refers to as her “shadows,” are amusing. Whether that’s the actors themselves improv-ing or it’s in the script, it works. In episode 5, for example, they and the other members of the rent-collecting group beat up men in another group for calling Claire a “whore” in Gaelic. Afterward, while she’s tending to their minor scrapes and bruises, calling them “big babies” and asking what it was all about, the funniest “shadow,” Angus, tells her, quite matter-of-factly: “They called you a ‘whore’. You’re a guest of The MacKenzie. We can insult you, but God help any other man that does.” That was the first time I laughed aloud at anything in the show.

images-3

  • Dougal’s cool. (On left in photo above. Played by actor Graham McTavish, Dougal’s an uncle to Jaime and brother to clan leader Colum (Gary Lewis), on right in photo.) Dougal’s got just enough bad qualities mixed with good ones to make him a totally awesome character. I like him. Especially in the scene where the young man gored by the boar asks him, “Did ye bed my sister?” and Dougal admits, “Aye. She was a bonnie lass,” leading the dying boy to conclude that Dougal “always could charm the lasses.”

images-1

  • Whatever conflict Jamie has with the MacKenzie clan, who are his kin, it’s intriguing. I admit that I don’t quite understand it, but it’s intriguing nevertheless. That makes Jamie’s nature interesting.

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  • At last, Claire showed a sense of humor. When one of her “shadows” was telling a tall tale about his sexually having two women at the same time, each jealously fighting over him, she responded that she believed his “left hand was jealous of his right,” causing all the men to laugh, and him to say, in astonishment, “I never heard a woman make a joke before.”
  • And finally, in a show where one of the major conflicts is Claire’s arrival in a time when the Scottish Highlanders were about to stage a major rebellion (the last attempt to put a Stuart on the throne of Scotland, which marked the end of the clans) with the British, at the end of episode 5, the British arrived!
Caitriona Balfe as Claire & Tobias Menzies as husband Frank (L), Sam Heughan as Jaime and Balfe as transported Claire (R)

Caitriona Balfe as Claire & Tobias Menzies as husband Frank (L), Sam Heughan as Jamie and Balfe as transported Claire (R)

Do Outlander’s strengths outweigh its weaknesses? I can’t decide yet. But I’m hoping the slow pace of episodes 2-5 will pick up considerably now that the British have arrived and asked Claire, in front of Dougal, whether, as an Englishwoman, she was “voluntarily” with the Scottish clan.

So I’ll keep watching, hoping there’s a good reason for author Gabaldon’s Outlander series to have become a bestseller (besides lots of women just liking to read 800+-page novels), and an even better reason for Starz to have made it into a series, and to have renewed it for a second season before the episode 2 even aired (besides just trying to capitalize on its bestseller status, because I seriously doubt the show’s going to be up for any kind of awards).

Besides, I love the opening theme.

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By yon bonnie banks, and by yon bonnie braes: Starz’s daring OUTLANDER

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First of all, I must admit that I have never read any of the books in the Diana Gabaldon Outlander series, so any reviews I write will be based strictly on the Starz adaptation, and no comparison with the books will be attempted. There are always fans of the books who don’t like the series and vice versa, as HBO’s TrueBlood, adapted from Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse Southern Vampire novels demonstrate. I watched that series without ever reading the books, and given that the first novel in the Outlander series weighs in at a hefty 800+ pages, I don’t think I’ll be able to finish it before the series continues. From the first episode, however, I have to say that Starz is taking an incredibly bold and daring step for a premium channel: making a series that seems devoted primarily, if not entirely, to female viewers.

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I have to say that I find the entire concept of Outlander interesting, especially since I wasn’t aware until recently that so many Romance novels included time-travel (would that be fantasy or science fiction?) in their themes. Since I’m familiar with the tremendously well written and interesting Lesson series by Jennifer Connors, I was happy to give Outlander a hearty go.

In the Connors’ series, the romance-mocking heroine time-travels at the end of each novel — once she and the hero of the book in question have fallen in love and married or otherwise joined their lives together — only to find herself in a completely different time period facing yet another hero which requires her wit and adaptability, and tests her courage, independence, and modern 21st century feminism. From the photos released by Starz, it looks like Outlander will only be set in two periods: post-war 1945 and 1740s, but both locales seem to be the same, the Scottish Highlands.

Still, given that Claire is a nurse during the war with recognized skills, and given her droll sense of humor whenever she seemingly playfully mocks her husband Frank’s interest in his own geneology, Claire seemed the right kind of heroine to make a time-travel romance fascinating, especially since the novel is sometimes listed as an historical drama, and I like history.

The premise is simple enough, and the voice-over of the opening of the first episode was compelling:

People disappear all the time. Ask any policeman. Better yet, ask a journalist. Disappearances are bread-and-butter to journalists. Young girls run away from home. Young children stray from their parents and are never seen again. Housewives reach the end of their tether and take the grocery money and a taxi to the station. International financiers change their names and vanish into the smoke of imported cigars. Many of the lost will be found eventually, dead or alive. Disappearances, after all, have explanations. Usually.

(This is from the Starz Tie-in version of the novel, and may have been added since the original book doesn’t appear to have this “prologue”.)

Claire and her husband Frank, separated for at least five years because of the War, have gone on a “second honeymoon” to the Scottish Highlands to “reconnect” (and so Frank can research his direct ancestor John “Black Jack” Randall, a politically protected British military leader who attempted to quell Scottish uprisings: Tobias Menzies plays both Frank, in 1945, and Black Jack, in the 1740s).

Both readers and reviewers have commented on the “hot sex” in Outlander. Not having read the books, I cannot speak to their content, but I’m afraid I saw no “hot sex” in the opening episode, though Claire constantly claims that “Sex was our bridge back to one another… As long as we had that, I had faith that everything would work out.” Though there was the obligatory complete nudity for Caitriona Balfe but not for any of the males, I didn’t find the bedroom scenes between Frank and Claire even mildly erotic. And Claire’s voice-over made them seem forced. One shouldn’t have to tell viewers they’re watching an erotic scene: they should know that.

In fact, the scene when the couple visits the ancient, abandoned castle and Claire sits on a table, spreading her legs slightly with a “come hither” look to her husband Frank was more erotic than any of the full-nudity-for-her/shirt-off-for-him scenes. When Tobias Menzies, who has a very sexy voice, by the way, as Frank, put his hand up his wife’s dress, between her legs, and matter-of-factly commented, “Why, Mrs. Randall, you seem to have left your undergarments at home,” before kneeling before her… that was erotic.

But it disturbs me that Claire doesn’t seem to take Frank’s interests seriously, especially as he investigates his own family history in the Highlands or tells her some of the history of the places they’re visiting. She almost seems to mock him at times — I thought I even caught some eye-rolling on her part — so I began to wonder why exactly they had to “reconnect” after the War. I wondered if the reason they needed to “reconnect” had to do with something other than their only seeing each other 10 days in the past five years.

In any event, I pushed those faint disturbances aside as I continued watching the episode. The scene where Frank and Claire spy on the women re-enacting an ancient Druid rite at a Henge of stones was exotic and lyrical. The choreography and music were haunting and effective. In this scene, as in the opening, Claire’s voice-over also worked well: “I had a feeling I didn’t belong there.”

Unfortunately, it was also at that moment, I knew my boyfriend would never be watching Outlander with me. The Henge dance was basically a lovely and haunting Celtic ballet, and as much as I liked it and found it moving, I knew that had he been there to see it, that’s the time he would’ve picked up a book and started reading. (Like the Emperor Franz Josef in Milos Forman’s Amadeus, who “doesn’t like ballet in his opera,” my boyfriend doesn’t like “ballet” in anything, but especially not in historical dramas, which he loves.)

Yes, Starz is being very daring, attempting to make a series for a predominantly female audience. But I’m female, and I find that kind of gender-specific genre drama rather dull. Still, I have my fingers crossed. The series is based on a set of best-selling novels, and how could more than “25 million readers” be wrong?

When Claire returns to the Henge, ostensibly to gather a flower, and touches the center stone, she is inexplicably transported back in time to the same place, circa 1740s. When she regains consciousness, she is in the past, confronting both Black Jack, whom she first mistakes for her husband Frank (Tobias Menzies in a dual role), and a small group of Scottish Highlanders, among them Jamie (Sam Heughan). As the prettiest person in the series, the only male in the past with relatively short hair and virtually no beard, I quickly gathered that he will become Claire’s love interest and/or conflict in the past.

In fact, virtually all the images available for Outlander involve Claire and Jamie, or Claire and the 1740s Scots, not even the British Black Jack, so I assume that will be the focus of the show. I’ve heard that it’s historically accurate and well-researched, and I hope that’s true because I love a good historical drama, like Starz’s Spartacus where, though we know little about the major real-life players, a brilliant drama was constructed around the basic facts of their lives.

Caitriona Balfe as Claire & Tobias Menzies as husband Frank (L), Sam Heughan as Jaime and Balfe as transported Claire (R)

Caitriona Balfe as Claire & Tobias Menzies as husband Frank (L), Sam Heughan as Jamie and Balfe as transported Claire (R)

There were many things I liked about the first episode of Outlander. Frank is an interesting, intelligent, smart, complex man. Claire was a nurse, and a competent enough one that, in the War scene, I thought she was a doctor and almost whooped for joy. Still, she knows enough to help the wounded Jamie after she’s time-transported to the past, and she has a nice cursing vocabulary on her: one that astonishes the Scots, who claim they’ve never heard a woman talk like her before. I like that in a woman.

Claire seems also more sensitive to the energy of the Henge — the earth, the Universe, whatever — than her husband Frank. After the dance, he, too, touches the center stone, but then starts jotting notes in his little tablet. (She touches it later, when she returns alone, and is jolted out of her present life into the past.) She’s not afraid to speak her mind, even when surrounded by male strangers who look quite the ruffians. She uses her medical knowledge to gain their trust. When she uses the historical knowledge about British ambushes that she gained from Frank, she earns a bit of trust from the Scots but also makes them wary. They suspect she may be a spy. She quickly learns when to be “seen and not heard.”

The foreshadowing in the series is subtle but effective. Frank tells her he kept drawing the lines of her palm during the War — he doesn’t know why — then the Reverend’s wife or housekeeper reads Claire’s palm and comments that the lines are unusual, connecting the two scenes. I hope the lines of her palm, which are repeatedly described as unusual or memorable, will have something to do with her survival in the past as well as with her return to the present. Or at least with the Henge stones and why she was transported when she touched them, but Frank wasn’t when he did. I’ll just have to wait and see, as will anyone who’s not read the novels.

Claire’s not the typical romance novel heroine in terms of her looks, and I admire that. These days, it seems almost obligatory that the heroine have raven hair, green eyes, and a buxom figure, no matter where or when the novel’s set, and it’s refreshing to have a dark-haired, dark-eyed actress, with a sometimes pout but an otherwise ordinary face, and quite a thin body (too thin, in my humble opinion) playing the lead role. Caitriona’s Claire is tall, feisty, and pouty. I like those qualities so far. She’s smart and takes command whenever there’s a situation that requires her knowledge or skills to save someone or to prevent slaughter. I like that, too. Most of the men, including her husband Frank, seem taciturn so far, while she’s the articulate one. I really like that, and just hope it doesn’t become a cliché — with all the men being sort of brutish, brainless hulks with only nice bodies and good fighting skills.

The Scots are protective of her — they prevent her being raped by Black Jack, and the clan leader won’t condone “rape” when the men suggest “testing” to see if she’s a whore; then the man who saved her from Black Jack ventures his opinion that she’s “no whore.” Even though, curiously, the Scots don’t question her anachronistic hairstyle, dress, shoes, jewelry, or (slight) makeup; and even though they fear she may be a British spy, they still defend her honor and her body. And they instantly obey her whenever she goes into her “Nurse” role, so they accept, without question, that she has more knowledge of some things than they, simply from the tone of her voice. That makes me like the male characters so far.

Alas, however, I won’t be able to share Outlander with my boyfriend. Despite the fact that rifles and pistols, swords and knives, running and chasing, shooting and potential violence abounds, he’s declined to watch any of the repeat showings. He said he “read what it was about” in the description. That is not a good sign. I attempted to tell him some of the things that happened in the premiere episode. He looked blank and more than mildly bored. It doesn’t look like he’ll even give Outlander a chance. He wouldn’t even watch the Outlander trailer.

That’s quite a risk for Starz, doing a show that seems aimed primarily at a female audience, because many females, like me and all my educated, career-women friends, don’t necessarily like gender-specific fiction. I like all kinds of fiction, as do they. I like history. And I wouldn’t like to see Outlander degenerate into a formulaic romance where a woman who, for some unspecified reason, has fallen out of love with her husband, whom I found to be the most intellectually and physically attractive man in the show, to fall in love with a man from the past just because he’s pretty and brawny and rides a horse and has a Scottish accent and speaks Gaelic.

If you missed the first episode last Saturday, and haven’t caught any of the reruns, Starz has it available on its website free of charge: you don’t have to be a Starz subscriber to watch the premiere episode of Outlander. It airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET.

Meanwhile, I’m keeping my fingers crossed, and hoping Outlander, despite some of my misgivings from the first episode, becomes more of a Starz Spartacus historical drama than a Lifetime femme-in-jep movie of the week.

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