Outlander Finale “To Ransom a Man’s Soul” Review (Season 1, Episode 16)

Outlander 2014

“Human history is full of evil deeds, and maybe we ought to think of them with tears, not fascination.”

Keep this quote from The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova in mind because I’m going to come back around to it.

I’m torn folks. Not about Outlander as a whole, but about the events that transpired in “To Ransom a Man’s Soul.” First off, I am relieved this episode did not air back to back with “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” aka Episode 6 of this current season of Game of Thrones. I mentally could not have handled the sexual assault of two characters I have come to love watching onscreen (one that I have seen for 5 seasons and the other being Jamie). And it all comes down to this: I am emotionally exhausted from seeing rape on my television shows. And I am even more tired of the people who rebut with “you’re okay with murder, torture, castration, beheading, flaying, etc but not rape?” No, I’m not okay with any of those acts. But here’s the thing, I don’t know anyone personally who has been beheaded, castrated, and/or flayed. I do know people who have been sexually assaulted. And I don’t fear being murdered the way I fear being raped. That may not be the barometer for every person, but I can bet it is for is many.

So it ultimately comes down to this: as the writer, what do you reveal onscreen or on the page? In the case of Outlander this week, I have qualms. There were sections of it that felt unnecessary. You know what the most powerful shot of Jamie was? The opening one of him lying on the bed as the damn British army raised the flag. I got everything I needed to know about his ordeal in that moment. That look on Jamie’s face revealed a shell of a man, haunted by the events of the night prior. If I could give Sam Heughan an Emmy just for that short frame I would. And then the cattle came through and he was rescued, and I thought, wait that can’t be it? Are they going to show more? Do I want any more to be shown? I knew the answer to the first question had to be yes. And no, I didn’t want to see any more. Perhaps had the events of Game of Thrones played out differently, I wouldn’t be as gun-shy, but they didn’t. Two weeks later I am still reeling over that GoT scene in my head. Was it tastefully shot? Yes. Was it necessary to the story? No.

Instead, I had to prepare myself for the fact that Jamie was most likely going to tell Claire what occurred in flashback or hallucinate about his ordeal. We got both. And many of the scenes just didn’t feel necessary. Not because I really didn’t need to see Randall spit on his hand to lube himself up, but also because I think the amount of time spent on the details of Jamie’s ordeal made it harder for me to believe him snapping out of it so quickly. Now let me clarify, Jamie did have to confront these wounds for a span of the episode, which I am so thankful for. Too often than not, the ramifications of rape are not shown or just glossed over. My issue is that Jamie suffered so horribly that his recovery by the end of the episode felt more as a dictation of the plot than something organic- even though I do buy him ultimately snapping out of it because Claire said she would die if he did- Jamie went through everything he did to begin with to save her physical pain. I guess I wish there would have been a scene in between his reconciling with Claire and then getting the brand cut out. And that scene could have been added had certain parts of the Randall torture been taken out. The man went so far as to pervert Jamie’s love for Claire. That is truly messed up, and I wish just a little more time would have been spent with Jamie and Claire discussing this. This story is about the two of them. That last shot of the episode hammered it home in a beautiful way. That being said, I also think Claire deserved more time here to process everything that happened (yes, she had that scene with the monk, but it mostly fell flat for me- I have a feeling it was more powerful in the book). We’ve been with her from the beginning, and I’m curious as to what her thoughts would have entailed (especially considering the multiple rape attempts she endured). Is that spelled out better in the book?

This brings me back to the quote from The Historian. From what I’ve gathered, the events are pretty close to what transpired in the novel by Diana Gabaldon. In terms of Game of Thrones, similar events happened to a different character albeit they were much worse and demented. So the qualms I have with these aspects of the shows can be traced to the source material. And in both cases, it makes we wish these events transpired in a different way not just on the page but also onscreen. In terms of the latter, any action is always more visceral being watched versus read. On the page, it comes from what the writer feels is necessary to get a point across. And here’s where I think a fascination with the evils of history comes in. Outlander (and aspects of Game of Thrones) are historical fiction. Because of this there can be a rebut again of “well rape, murder, torture, etc are a part of history.” Yes, they are. And yet, part of me wonders that if more authors and writers looked at history with tears instead of fascination, would we be subjected to so much of what is in pop culture today? Elizabeth Kostova explores this dynamic with such tact in her novel. Her characters look at history with overt fascination, and in doing so, are subjected to tears. The majority of what I see on television definitely comes from the fascination aspect. For the most part, I would say Outlander and Game of Thrones (and thus the source material) skirt this line. But even with the brilliant aspects, there are moments where they succumb, and as the viewer, I can only hope it’s treated with dignity and respect.

Final Thoughts of the Season

– I don’t want to sound like I’m dumping on Outlander (or GoT for that matter), but the reason that I feel I can be harsh on these shows at times is because they are usually so well executed. Ronald D Moore changed how I looked at television with Battlestar Galactica. Even though the last two seasons went off the rails, I still consider the miniseries and Seasons 1/2 to be some of the finest work ever put on the air. I feel the same way about Season 1 of GoT. The acting, the score, the production design, the costumes, and usually the writing, are top notch. And that is why I won’t give up on either show (though I know many who have). There may be things I don’t agree with or want to change, but right now I’m not at the point where I think no payoff will come about. That being said, I think a lot of good would come out if more authors and writers took the Bryan Fuller approach involving the depiction of sexual assault.

– In terms of the season as a whole, I’d wager the front half was stronger than the back. There was more Dougal, more Geillis, less Randall, the wedding, and that intense boar hunt. The back half benefited from having wonderful Jenny Fraser around.

– What would be my top episodes? From 2015, “The Devil’s Mark.” And from 2014… “The Garrison Commander.” You’re probably thinking, not “The Wedding?!” Listen, that episode was extraordinary, especially in terms of how it handled nudity and the female gaze. That being the case, I felt Episode 6 was a master class in watching Tobias Menzies and Caitriona Balfe verbally spar. And “The Garrison Commander” gave just enough of a peek to see the sadism of Randall without wallowing in it- here I may get people who argue with “you don’t have a problem with Jamie’s whipping?” I do folks. That scene was gross, but it doesn’t hit me in the way seeing sexual assault depicted does. To add, you also don’t have to be a victim of sexual assault to have issues with how it’s portrayed.

– Looking forward to Season 2: I don’t think Randall is dead however hilarious it would be that his death was caused by a cattle stampede. I can only hope that we have a break before he reappears. I want to see Jamie and Claire with Murtagh in France pushing through the after effects of what occurred at Wentworth along with planning for their upcoming small arrival (which I guessed right).

**To Close- everything I adore about Outlander could be expressed in that last shot of Jamie and Claire embracing on the Cristabel. I’m sure they will encounter more trials, but a final moment like that means I will not jump ship.