First thing’s first — this is a recap, which means there are plenty of spoilers for the final episode of Outlander this season, “To Ransom a Man’s Soul.” Additionally, it should be stated that this episode also contained a heavy dose of sexual and physical violence that we will discuss at length. Which can oftentimes be uncomfortable. If this isn’t your cuppa, then we’d highly suggest not reading on.
Well, it’s the moment most Outlander book readers were waiting for and those of us TV-only fans were dreading as the worst case scenario: the rape of Jamie Fraser at the hand of Black Jack Randall. In a harrowingly hard-to-watch hour of television we were shown the full extent of terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad things that someone as manipulative and messed-up as Black Jack Randall could inflict upon another person. And that answer was: a lot. Like a lot a lot.
Before we do anything, though, we want to say this: for as hard to watch as these last two episodes were, we commend the cast, crew, and creators of this show for portraying something so rarely seen on television. It’s a hard and oftentimes controversial line to tow, but it’s also a necessary one in order to normalize the conversation on how and why humans utilize sexual violence in order to humiliate and destroy their intended targets. This happens, people do this. It’s terrible and gross and unfathomable to a lot of us, but that doesn’t make it less real and/or necessary to shed light on. Control is a huge part of why people rape, and that’s clearly a huge part of Black Jack Randall himself. And despite the smaller numbers, male rape happens. Up until this moment, we’ve only ever seen it on HBO’s Oz (at least as far as we can recall) — and it is important to show that it is just as painful, confusing, and hard to navigate for them as women. In fact in many ways, because of how little it is discussed in society, that may make for a harder hurdle both for the victim and those of us watching it on television to handle. And that goes doubly in a time like the 1740s, when heteronormative gender roles are not only enforced, but the law of the land.
And everyone involved — from Sam Heughan to Tobias Menzies and the writers Ira Steven Behr and Ron Moore — really committed to respecting the pain and turmoil at the heart of this story. While it was no easy feat for anyone involved, be it viewer or creator, the episode largely resisted the visual exploitation that could’ve so easily made this torture porn rather than the story of a man in harrowing circumstances. Given how it was handled and how unflinching they were in their approach, we commend them for their work.
It’s never easy to discuss sexual violence — particularly in the case of a hero. Woman or man, to see someone whose pride and character is entrenched in being kind, noble, and honorable, is painful and emotionally evocative. Things will never be the same for Jamie and Claire: the shame Jamie feels will haunt him for years to come, and the triggers will pop up without warning or logic.
Told in flashback — because if the audience had to wait the whole episode to find out if Jamie was OK/survived we’d all probably be dead from anxiety fits right now — the episode started out with a bit of levity as a bunch of Scottish cows ran through the jail, banging around and generally causing a ruckus big enough to knock Black Jack to the ground and insure an escape for Jamie. It was all hands on deck to retrieve his broken and badly beaten body from the depths of Wentworth Prison, and the subsequent post-traumatic stress disorder that followed vividly painted the real price sexual violence victims pay beyond the physical.
Recovering in the bowels of an old church, Jamie struggled throughout the entirety of the episode with what happened to him. And here’s where we’re going to go in-depth (just preparing you!): Black Jack didn’t just rape Jamie, he manipulated him psychologically to mess with him beyond the act itself. Throughout the episode, Jamie frequently hallucinated Black Jack was there in place of Claire and vice versa, scaring both she and he, and sending Jamie into a complicated emotional tailspin made all the worse by the shame Jamie felt for, at his lowest point, succumbing to the pleasure. “It felt so good to not be in pain,” he yelped at one point, so entrenched in guilt, shame, confusion, and a whole host of other confusing, complicated emotional responses. The whole episode was an internal battle between Jamie’s pride and will to live. He begged for death, begged for the release of Black Jack’s mental hold — something that hurt far deeper than his shattered hand.
Throughout the entirety of the encounter, Black Jack plead — in his way — for Jamie to succumb to him not just physically but mentally and emotionally, urging him to take pleasure from the sodomy and reminding him of the so-called dignified death Black Jack promised him for his “compliance.” But of course when the time came to it he fell back on his word — ultimately cementing the mental anguish, betrayal, and hurt he very likely disassociated from while it was all going down.
It was a battle Claire was not fully prepared to win: convincing someone their life is worth living after going through something so harrowing is no small feat — particularly in the stunted amount of time in which she had to do it.
The pain of rape — regardless of whether you’re a man or woman — is a deep, confusing internal battle beyond the physical aspects. Yes, there is that, but the jumble of thoughts, feelings, and emotional responses going on within is always harder to pinpoint, heal, and move on from. It lies latent and pops up when you least expect it, years later. It could be as simple as a smell — like in Jamie’s case, the lavender oil — or something far more insidious and literal like Claire’s hair. Add to that the mental machinations Black Jack brought into play (“Think of Claire; think of your wife”) and, well, you can see how this act will damage Jamie long into the future, effectively changing he and Claire’s relationship regardless.
But Claire, in all her strength, did what any strong woman would: she forced him to face it, using the lavender oil as a way to feel his feelings, accept what happened, and begin to hopefully process it enough to heal little by little. The battle of the two men may be over, but the war has been far from won.
Thankfully, the two set off for France with a lot of hope in their hearts and wind in their sails both literally and metaphorically. It was revealed at the end that — against all odds and what Claire has ever known — she’s pregnant with Jamie’s baby: a miracle if ever there was one. And with a rejuvenated sense of purpose — to change history — Claire and Jamie’s world is not going to get any less complicated, but at least the dawn has broken and they can finally see the sun.
What did you think of the episode? Let us hear it in the comments.
Alicia Lutes is the Associate Editor of Nerdist. You can find her on the Tweet Machine @alicialutes.