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Both Sides Now: Review of the Mid-Season Finale of Starz’s OUTLANDER & Season 1 Part 2

I’ve looked at love from both sides now
From give and take and still somehow
It’s love’s illusions I recall
I really don’t know love at all

Joni Mitchell

Warning: Spoilers Galore

outlander promo s1p1I know you didn’t forget this promotional poster for Outlander Season 1 Part 1. A woman torn between her love for two men, reaching back and looking at the husband from 1945 even as she steps toward the Scottish Highlander husband from the past. Both men are reaching out for her, though neither touches her. I thought that poster was supposed to be romantic or something, though a woman torn between two men would be emotionally difficult, at the very least, while a woman torn between her love for two men in different centuries would be equally devastating for the men — neither would have a fighting chance, as it were.

To get ready for the 4 April 2015 premiere of part 2 of season 1, I re-watched the mid-season finale, “Both Sides Now.” I no longer see that poster as romantic, but, rather, as symbolic of Claire and her relationships. Claire is Sassenach in both Scottish Gaelic definitions of the word: she is “English” (literally, Saxon) and an “Outsider.”

Claire is between the two men, both of whom are reaching for her, but she is touching neither of them. In the promotional poster, just as in season 1 part 1 of Starz’s ambitious series based on the bestselling Diana Gabaldon Outlander books, Claire is not touched emotionally by either man. The mid-season finale, “Both Sides Now,” proves that Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is as malleable in the past with Jamie (Sam Heughan) as she is in 1945 with Frank (Tobias Menzies).

Claire & Men & Sex

outlander claire and jaimeIn the past in the Scottish Highlands, Claire marries Jamie — in a marriage of convenience to avoid being arrested by the British commander Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies in a dual role) — but she quickly seems to become sexually besotted with her new husband. She is, in fact, the more sexually experienced of the pair — even if, as far as series viewers know, she’s been with no one but Frank in the present. Jamie reveals before the ceremony that he’s a virgin, and the wedding night shows him acting a bit naïvely for a man his age, especially given the time period, when all people had shorter life-spans and so married at much younger ages.

So, Claire’s obsessed with Jamie and his sexual inexperience. It’s all right for an older woman to be sexually attached to and excited by a younger, less experienced man.

But wait, didn’t Claire claim to be completely and totally connected sexually with her husband Frank in episode 1? Didn’t she seduce him when they visited the castle — in its present day, abandoned state — by hopping up onto a table and then spreading her legs seductively? Didn’t he touch her and say, in a delightedly surprised tone, “Why, Mrs. Randall, you seem to have left your undergarments at home”?

Claire likes sex and she likes to be the instigator.

Or, another way of putting it might be, she “likes to be on top.”

outlander claire and frankIt makes me wonder, though, whether Claire loves either of the men in her life, and it makes me feel a bit sorry for the men, especially for Frank. Despite her constant protests that she must get “back to the stones” which transported her through time in the first place, she seems to have entirely forgotten Frank through most of the episodes in season 1 part 1.

Perhaps Claire just likes having sexual relations with Frank and Jamie.

Maybe she considers that to be love, albeit a different kind of “love” for each man.

Claire as a Strong, Independent Woman

outlander claire 1945 nurse In 1945, Claire is a strong woman. It is she who goes “off to war” — Frank stays in London working for the Intelligence Agency — and she is such a competent nurse that, in the opening scenes where she is tending to the wounded, I thought she was a medical doctor instead of just a “lowly nurse” and almost shouted for joy. (Alas, she was shoved aside by the male doctor so that he could see to the wounded soldier.)

In the past, Claire’s “healing skills” are recognized and respected. She treats serious injuries, stitching Jamie up, for example, and healing a boy who accidentally ate poison foliage, and treats people with herbs (sometimes offering them innocuous “love potions” but only upon direct request).outlander claire nurse in pastAfter her marriage to Jamie, however, she suddenly seems to become weak, defenseless, and altogether rather muddle-headed. In the mid-season finale when the group is attacked, Jamie tells her to run and hide behind some rocks (that are about ankle-high), where she promptly “loses” the big knife she’s been given. When she returns to the group, they tell her to go back and get the big knife she’s dropped, before they “teach” her how to wound a man — in order to defend herself — with an itsy-bitsy teenie-weenie knife.

outlander how to killWow. Really? Seriously? A trained nurse who’d been through World War II wouldn’t know how to use the BIG, BAD knife she’d been given in the first place, and, worse, wouldn’t know how to stab a potential assailant in order to “bring him down”? What happened to all her nursing and surgical training as well as her battle-field experience that she doesn’t already know what a mortal wound is and how to inflict it?

When did she become such a clichéd, helpless, dim-witted sissy-girl?

Claire’s “Loyalty” to Frank

No, I have not read the Outlander books — and I couldn’t possibly read the entire series of them before season 1 part 2’s premiere, as someone suggested — so I do not know what ultimately happens between Claire and Frank, or between Claire and Jamie, for that matter.

But since Starz has made Outlander a series, no one should have to read the books in order to understand the show: the show stands alone, as do all screen adaptations of books, because it is a different art form, and it is the Starz series that I am reviewing. Based on the show, then, I must admit that I am astonishingly and sadly disappointed in Claire’s apparent disloyalty to her husband Frank, whom she claims to love and to whom she was so vigorously sexually attached during their “second honeymoon” at the season’s beginning.

outlander 2 wanted postersFrank’s loyalty, love, and devotion — though few of the episodes have featured it much — has apparently never wavered. The mid-season finale opened with Frank’s going, once again, to the police station, where he is such a well-known figure that one of the officers simply says, “He’s back.” On the station’s bulletin board, there are posters offering money for information on the whereabouts of the “Highlander” — i.e., Jamie, whose spirit or ghost or soul was seen staring up at Claire in the window the night before her disappearance at the stones — and for information on Claire.

Frank doesn’t want to leave Inverness until he’s found Claire. He argues vehemently with the police who insist — ironically — that she’s probably willingly gone off with another man since there is no blood in the abandoned car and no signs of a struggle. Frank disagrees with the Reverend who suggests that Frank return “home” to Oxford without his missing wife. Frank even goes, against his “common sense,” to the circle of stones at Craigh-na-dun, after the Reverend’s housekeeper suggests another explanation for Claire’s disappearance: that the stones concentrate the earth’s energy, allowing some people to travel through time.

Frank’s been loyal and devoted to Claire though we haven’t seen much of it it till the mid-season finale since he’s barely been in the show.

I’m beginning to have my doubts about Claire’s loyalty to him.

Claire & Frank & Craigh-na-dun

outlander 2 wedding ringsAlthough the scene where Claire is hugging new husband Jamie, while wearing both wedding rings — from Frank (left hand) and from Jamie (right hand) — is poignant, and transitions immediately into a scene with Frank searching for her in 1945, I was stunned when both Claire — in the past — and Frank — in 1945 — show up at Craigh-na-dun.

After Claire was transported to the past, she very infrequently mentioned Frank and getting back to him by going back to the stones. When she did say something of the sort, it was usually only at the end of an episode. It became an obvious formula by which the show’s writers were trying to get the viewers coming back the next week: it didn’t seem like Claire really meant it.

Craigh-na-dunStill, they somehow both end up at the stones in the mid-season finale, although separated by two centuries. Frank is calling for Claire, who’s close enough to Craigh-na-dun in the past to hear him. She breaks her promise to husband Jamie to stay “hidden” and runs toward the stones, calling Frank’s name.

And he hears her.

Yes, you read that right: finally, Claire runs to the stones, calling to her husband Frank, who can hear her.

outlander claire running to rocksThough Frank keeps stepping nearer to the stones, shouting Claire’s name, he does not apparently have the ability to travel through time (though, according to the housekeeper, even if he could have traveled to another time, no one could predict what time period any traveler goes to). Two centuries earlier, Claire attempts to touch the stones to travel back to 1945, but at the last moment she is prevented from doing so by British Redcoats who drag her away.

All season long, “trapped” in the past, determined to get back to the circle of “magical” stones, Claire has been claiming that she must get back to her husband Frank. Then, when she finally gets the chance, when she hears him desperately calling for her, she runs to the stones shouting, “Frank, wait for me,” but she doesn’t valiantly and violently fight to escape her captors in order to stretch out her hand to touch the stones.

Furthermore, and even worse, Claire left Jaime without his knowing — without anyone’s knowing — and ran to the stones intending to touch them in order to go back to 1945, to her life with Frank. That means poor Jamie, who’s clearly falling in love with Claire if he’s not already in love with her, would lose her without ever knowing what had happened to her. He would worry, mourn, and grieve for the rest of his life. And, unlike the incident when the stones first transported her away from Frank, which Claire didn’t realize would happen, this time she was leaving her husband Jamie behind knowing — or at least intending — to leave him behind forever without ever telling him what she was doing. Without even saying goodbye.

I’m afraid I lost any empathy I had for Claire at that moment. Surely she has to have realized, at some point, that this is what Frank must be going through in 1945, yet she has never mentioned how he must be suffering all these weeks or months that she’s been missing.

And she was just about to do the same thing to Jamie, this time intentionally. outlander frank and claire at rocksHas Claire been untruthful this entire season every single time she said she had to get back to the stones so she could return home to her beloved Frank? Why didn’t she fight harder or use her weapon against the captors, none of whom had his weapons drawn? (As we see in a subsequent scene with Black Jack, she still has that knife on her, teenie-tiny though it is.)

Why didn’t she fight as the Scots had “taught” her, so that, hearing Frank’s desperate cries for her while crying out in return, she could escape the Highland past and return to her husband? Why didn’t she stab at least one of the Redcoats, as she stabbed and killed her rapist in the meadow, so she could break free just for a moment and touch the stones? Where’s all the “anger and bitterness” she feels “towards [herself] for not having gotten back to the stones” before she was raped by the two deserting Redcoats that she and Jamie killed?

What are her true feelings for Jamie?

She’s still in the past, but does she actually not care anything about him except when he’s saving her from some physical danger? I can’t tell after what she did to him after she saw the stones and ran toward them to go back to Frank.

But then she didn’t even struggle to get free from her captors to touch the stones.

Her anger, bitterness, competence, skill, and strength just seemed to evaporate.

I felt a sudden tremendous sympathy for the grieving Frank.

I felt pity for Jamie.

Outlander’s Violence

outlander post rapeIn “Both Sides Now,” Claire was raped by one of the British Redcoat deserters who came upon her and Jamie in the meadow. Her “I’m going into shock” interior monologue after the rape and the killing of the deserters, however, was pedestrian and unrealistic in the extreme. Instead of making me feel sympathy for her character, her ramblings about her anger, in which she insisted she didn’t know at whom she was angry, or that she wasn’t angry at Jamie for not protecting her in the first place, increased my emotional distance.

After she saw the stones of Craigh-na-dun, she had an epiphany that her anger and bitterness were “at [herself] for not getting back to the stones sooner” — the implication being that had she attempted more purposefully to return to the stones, she would never have been raped or forced to kill her rapist.

Outlander has been relatively violent all through part 1 of season 1, but it’s been increasing.

The mid-season finale was virtually non-stop violence.

Hints about Season 1, Part 2

outlander s1p2 2 postersTwo promotional posters have been issued for season 1 part 2 of Outlander, and the emphasis is clearly moving away from the romantic involvement of the three main characters that was implied by the promotional poster of season 1 part 1. Instead, Outlander the Series is obviously heading toward, basically, nothing but increasing violence.

I don’t need the books to tell me that, nor the actors to “warn” me that the series is going to some “dark places.” I can see it in the Starz promotional posters. I’ve read the reviews of the books on Amazon, and some of those reviews are very specific about their objections to the graphic violence in the books. Additionally, Outlander the Series has been getting more violent, culminating in a man with his tongue cut out and his legs burned with boiling oil, rape, murders, threatened disfigurement with a knife, and attempted rape.

And that was just in the mid-season finale.

Black Jack Randall

outlander BJRBlack Jack, who is the only character that actor Tobias Menzies will apparently be playing in part 2 of season 1 — according to interviews with the cast — is a dreadfully violent but completely cardboard villain. His having a taste for good food and fine wine or having an educated vocabulary do not, I fear, make him a rounded character. I don’t even find him interesting, he’s so flat and unrealistic.

Apparently, he becomes even more violent — no doubt, graphically so — doing more than flaying Jamie’s skin from his back as he did in the grotesquely violent and extended whipping scene, raping the sister of a suspected “traitor” (in an implied scene), holding Claire’s head underwater to get information from her (in a horrifying scene), attempting to rape Claire, as he did when she was first transported to the past and mistook him for Frank and as he was shown doing in the mid-season Finale, while holding her own knife menacingly against the nipple of her bared breast as if he were going to cut her nipple off, and then — after husband Jamie broke open the door — holding the knife at her throat. (Menzies claims that had he read more than episode 1 for the audition, he most likely would not have tried out for the part.)

These comments and hints by the actors in the show, along with the reviews about the egregiously graphic violence in the books themselves  — mostly regarding rape and sodomy, of female and male characters — make me wonder if I’ll even make it through season 1 part 2, let alone through any subsequent seasons of Outlander. 

First of all, as a victim of incest-rape for over 15 years from my father, stepfather, and mother (with implements), I get triggered emotionally over rape scenes, whether they be in books or in films. (Though I think Casualties of War is one of the most important and striking movies about the Vietnam War, for example, I have never been able to watch the gang-rape scene of the Vietnamese prisoner by the American platoon members: I can’t even listen to it.) I doubt I’ll be able to sit through any more graphic rape or sodomy scenes, of either male or female characters, in Outlander.

Second, if there are more such egregiously violent scenes, as everyone seems to be hinting there are, they won’t make me think Black Jack Randall is a more fully developed character either.

Apparently, Starz already knows this, as this poster demonstrates.

imagoutlander bjr s1p2esHmm, I guess — given what I’ve seen of Jack already, and given the relatively flippant tone of the Jack poster — I may not be seeing too very much of Jack in the upcoming part 2 of season 1.

I’ll give it a try, but I won’t watch (or read) anything that triggers me.

Sorry, Starz.

Outlander’s “Love” Story

When the network, writers, director, or actors aren’t telling us how “dark” part 2 of season 1 is going to get, or hinting at the upcoming graphic violence, they seem to be happily concentrating on the “love” story between Claire and Jamie. The actors even played The Newlywed Game in one interview, to demonstrate how much — or how little — the actors knew about each other, or about the characters: it wasn’t clear.

Sometimes, the concentration on this “love” between Jamie and Claire seems playful, as in this poster.

outlander jaimeAt times, it attempts to be poignant, as in this poster.

outlander s1p2But none of the posters, promotional or otherwise, feature Frank, so I’m guessing that the “love story” between Frank and Claire is being thrown over (following the books’ example, I suppose, since everyone claims Starz’s Outlander is staying as close to the books as possible, given that it’s a different art form).

So, it looks like we’re going to get this: outlander the loveand this:

outlander returnsand, unfortunately, even more of this:

outlander s1p2 posterBut I gotta tellya, none of it feels like a love story or a romance or anything like that. If they’d just advertised Outlander as historical drama, it would make more sense. But a love story? It feels to me like the writers — all of them, including Gabaldon — have dropped the only real love story that was present in Outlander.

The one between Claire and loyal, faithful, grieving Frank.

Outlander Season 1: Part 2

I’m not sure how I feel about the upcoming part 2 of season 1, which premieres 4 April 2015, and airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on Starz. It sounds as if its violence is going to make me pretty uncomfortable. So uncomfortable — as a survivor of repeated sexual abuse and other types of violent childhood abuse — that I may not find Outlander to be entertainment any longer.

It would be sad not to watch Outlander any longer because it became too graphically violent.

Sometimes, Claire and Jamie were kind of cute together, though I readily admit I don’t understand why some readers and viewers classify Outlander as a “romance” rather than just as an historical drama, albeit one that concentrates more on clothes, hairstyles, shoes, patriarchal society, women’s roles, sex, sexual jokes or innuendo, and sexual violence than on historical events of the period like the Jacobite rebellion.

Furthermore, I really do like Frank, but since Frank isn’t going to be in the remainder of season 1 anyway, I guess I’m already disappointed in part 2.

outlander claire and frank in loveRelated Posts
Outlander: Season One, Part One

By yon bonnie banks, and by yon bonnie braes: Starz’s Daring Outlander

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

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