Warning: There be Spoilers here, and as a long-time reader of the Outlander book series I’m also going to engage in some cross-comparison between the book and this episode.
Outlander Season Finale. Finally, Everything Wentworth Prison.
I just finished watching the Starz Season Finale of Outlander, To Ransom a Man’s Soul, because my dearest husband in the entire world bought Starz for me, bless his heart. Not only is he watching the show with me, he’s been re-reading the book so he can engage in cogent appearing-to-pay-attention-and-give-a-shit conversations with me. I love that man!
I Hate Black Jack Randall, but I Loved Tobias Menzies’ Portrayal of Him
Wow! I’ll join everyone else in agreement that Tobias Menzies, Sam Heughan, and Caitriona Balfe acted their little hearts out in the last two episodes.
Menzies perfectly captures the disgusting essence of the truly twisted, sadistic psychopath, Black Jack Randall. I could almost feel the crazy oozing out through the TV screen. I smell Emmy nomination here.
But as good as Menzies gave, Sam Heughan gave it right back. Heughan does a pitch-perfect job portraying our hero’s breath-taking, heart-wrenching descent into hell. Heughan begins by giving us a Jamie who, while initially bravely determined to simply endure the situation, soon finds himself traveling through a hazy maze of begrudging acquiescence until finally arriving at his final destination where Black Jack forces him into embracing and even sexually enjoying the horror being inflicted upon him.
It was beyond agonizing to watch; to the point that even my manly husband, who can watch nearly anything without even a wince, finally got up and started doing the dinner dishes to get away from it. I myself coped by accidentally getting quite drunk from taking anxious sip after anxious sip of red wine until the entire bottle was empty. I smell Emmy nomination and the win for Heughan, and a nasty little hangover for me.
And through it all, Balfe conveyed Claire’s perfect mix of abject desperation and true grit in her unwavering determination to get her man out of Wentworth Prison and away from that fucking rat bastard, Black Jack Randall.
Brava! Job well done, folks!
But, and here’s my big but, this episode could have been, and should have been, better. Much better.
Where the Finale Fizzled For Me
I’ll never forget the first time I read Outlander. I had no idea what I was in for.
It had been an age since I’d read any fiction that wasn’t homeschool related, much less a bodice-riper romance containing graphic s.e.x. I didn’t even realize it was a romance until quite a few chapters in, but once I did I thought I was in for the predictable ending: Black Jack kidnaps Claire one last time, Jamie rescues her and vanquishes the vile rascal once and for all, and we all have a happily ever after. The End. How wrong I was.
I could not have been more shocked or disturbed the first (or second, or third, or fourth) time I discovered that it would be our strong, invincible hero who would end up in dire need of rescuing.
I had never read a story before that included a brutal torture and rape of the HERO(?)! Who writes that? Well, Gabaldon did, and by doing so she turned chick lit on it’s ear. Without a doubt, it is to Gabaldon’s immense credit for being one of the first authors in history who made her heroine truly every bit as strong and powerful as our hero.
So, it pains me to say this, as I feel a bit ungrateful since I never thought this story could ever adequately even be brought to the screen, much less done this well, but the finale lacked for me. Starting with…
The Season Finale Needed to be Two Hours Long!
Don’t get me wrong. Jamie’s time and flashbacks with Black Jack in the dungeon were plenty long enough. I think they hit every note of that part of the story exactly right. But the heart and soul of Outlander isn’t the torture and rape of Jamie Fraser; the heart and soul of this story is Claire’s unrelenting love for Jamie, no matter the cost, and Jamie’s miraculous recovery and return to humanity. That story got short shrift tonight, and that is a crying shame.
Jamie’s recovery went by far too quickly, and without nearly enough detail for the satisfying resolution Gabaldon gives her readers in the book.
And furthermore, as a woman, and an immense fan of Jamie and Claire, being left with the disturbing sexual imagery of Black Jack and Jamie in the dungeon instead of the warm, loving, and truly restorative scenes that should have been shot of Jamie and Claire bathing together in the abbey’s hot springs left me cold and wanting. Plus, for the first time in the series, I think if I hadn’t read the books I wouldn’t have had a clue what was really going on.
What Needed to Happen in the Finale
In the book, in order to pull Jamie back from the Dark Side, Claire conjures up a dangerous opium-induced, witchcraft–slash–hypnotism–slash–personalized PTSD treatment program pieced together from some magic tricks she learned from Geillis back at Castle Leoch (left out altogether in the series which is why they really couldn’t include them in this episode) and culled from her nursing experience caring for shell-shocked soldiers from World War II.
In a powerful scene, which is nearly as violent and disturbing as what happens in the dungeon, Claire goads Jamie into physically reliving the event with her, only this time he comes out on the other side as the victorious badass we all know he is.
Having Claire splash some lavender on Jamie and then make him recount what happened until he cries on her shoulder didn’t go nearly far enough. Any survivor of sexual trauma knows that simply one telling of the tale is not nearly enough. More was needed here, but more was not given. And as much money as Starz has made from this series, I find it miserly that viewers weren’t given the full two hours this story really needed to be adequately told.
This finale felt too rushed, too easy, too pat. And by rushing his recovery, Heughan and Balfe, and all of us fans, were robbed of some of the best, most beautiful dialogue Jamie and Claire share in the first book.
In the book, Jamie describes his broken self to Claire as a room without any walls or a roof after what Black Jack has done to him. But slowly, together, Jamie and Claire help him build what he calls a lean-to where he can once again house his shattered soul. Those lines make me weep to think of them. And I was so sorry to see no part of that dialogue covered.
I also missed the scene after Jamie gets his hand out of the make-shift cast and Claire sadly watches him attempting to flex it thinking he’s upset with her because she hadn’t set it perfectly. That dialogue between the two of them in that scene needed to be seen on the screen. Jamie and Claire love each other in a way that goes far beyond their sexual chemistry, and scenes such as this one and the one I’ve described above are ones that fans who’ve been reading these books for years know by heart. These scenes between them are what make them arguably the most epic romantic couple in literary history.
But Jamie and Claire are about the sex, aren’t they? Which is why I was left wondering…
Where’s the Sex?
Claire stays in the past because the sex with Jamie is all that and a bag of chips. What this episode needed most was some healing, hot sex between Jamie and Claire. Certainly you couldn’t have included that in a mere one hour episode taken up mostly with flashbacks of a most horrific male rape, which is why this show needed two hours! As a fan, I craved this healing sex to help me bind my broken heart, both from what happened to Jamie, and the fact that it’ll be at least a year until I get to see Jamie and Claire together again.
For this reason, I sorely missed the scene before they get on the ship to France when a beginning-to-heal Jamie takes Claire down to the hot springs underneath the abbey and gives her a hot bath. This is when they make love again for the first time; this is when they discuss their future plans to try to stop Bonnie Prince Charlie from ruining everybody’s lives.
In this all-important scene, Jamie comes to fully admit to Claire that she is every bit his equal, and while I was touched by the aerial view of Jamie and Claire standing stalwart and windswept on the deck of the Cristobal, it held no candle whatsoever to what this finale could have been, given enough time.
My Grade: A+ for the dungeon scene, B+ for Jamie’s recovery. Overall Grade: A-