Tuesday, 2 June 2015

OUTLANDER, 1.16 – 'To Ransom a Man's Soul'

Tuesday, 2 June 2015


The finale of Outlander was far removed from what I'd have predicted earlier in this first season. The show took a brave and harrowing direction, which flew in the face of the pulp-romance feel the premiere had. "To Ransom a Man's Soul" was one of the most unpleasant, uncomfortable viewing experiences I've had for a long time, and certainly raised the bar when it comes to dramatised torture sequences. (Yes, Game of Thrones has lost that ignoble rosette.) I've recommended Outlander to family and friends I'd never want to be in the same room as when they watch this hour, let's put it that way.

Essentially, this last episode concerned the repercussions of Jamie's (Sam Heughan) torture at the hand of evil Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies); which was physical, emotional, sexual, and psychological. Jamie was viciously sodomised and wilfully self-branded himself the "property" of Jack, who got a twisted delight out of blurring the distinction between himself and Jamie's loving wife Claire (Caitriona Balfe), to eventually break Jamie by making him acquiesce to his sexual demands during a break from the pain. These upsetting sequences were, thankfully, spread throughout the hour in piecemeal fashion, but their weight and power was barely diminished.

Heughan and Menzies have had one of the toughest acting jobs imaginable in recent weeks, and came out of this hour incredibly well. I can't even imagine the difficulty and level of trust you'd have to go through to film scenes of male torture and rape, so director Anna Foerster should be commended for what I'm sure was a very tough shoot.

Similarly to "Wentworth Prison" (also directed by Foerster), most of the finale was built around the sheer horror of what Jamie submitted himself to, and watching Claire's anguish at seeing her husband save her by (almost) losing his soul in the process. For while Jamie was rescued by Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) and his men the next morning, with a little help from rampaging cattle let loose within the prison halls, the proud Scotsman taken to recuperate inside a church wasn't the same person Claire married—he was a broken, beaten, near-suicidal shadow.

A part of me did question Outlander going down such a very dark path this season, because the show has quite possible become unpalatable for those expecting something frothier. You expect this kind of content from certain show, but it's probably came as a shock to fellow non-book readers. It's become more understandable to me why a UK broadcaster didn't buy the show (allowing Amazon Prime to swoop in to nab a critical favourite), because aspects of Outlander are a perfect fit some channels, but its darker streak is... well, problematic.

Season 1 ended with a mix of unexpected and predictable notes. Claire's deep love for Jamie is eventually enough to draw him back from the brink of despair (as her bedside manner toughens to penetrate this nihilism), and they symbolically removed Jack's brand together. It didn't hurt the drama of how they came through this trauma together, but of course it would've been unlikely for Jamie and Claire to split up. Less expected was their decision to leave Scotland for France and later resolve to change the future by preventing the Battle of Culloden, which should gives Outlander's story a clearer purpose. Claire's "impossible" pregnancy was the finale's one sop to syrupy convention, but it worked well as a heartwarming development that plausibly gave Jamie something to smile about after his darkest hours.

Overall, Outlander was a historical-fantasy drama that surprised me and became a better show than I'd have guessed possible after its opening salvo of episodes. But I do hope season 2's less sadistic and grim, because the show's in danger of overplaying a tone it realised it was highly skilled at. Jack Randall's fate was left ambiguous here, but somehow I doubt a villain this ghastly will have been killed in a stampede beneath a wooden door—so the chance for some deserved vengeance from rape victim Jamie is something I'm itching to see. Although it's hard to imagine someone like Jamie coming up with a fitting way to equal the torment he went through, but a quick death just won't do for that sicko. Is that sick, too?

written Ira Steven Behr & Ronald D. Moore • directed by Anna Foerster • 30 May 2015 • Starz