As synonymous as “Outlander” is to sex-positivity and the female gaze, it sure does feature a lot of rape.
“La Dame Blanche,” the fourth episode of the show’s sophomore season, hinges on two equally important scenes.
The first centers around Claire and Jamie as they have the fight they’ve been avoiding all season and say all the things they’ve been holding back. After Claire informs Jamie early in the episode that Jack Randall is alive, her husband seems to rediscover his joie de vivre. In fact, immediately after learning the news, he genuinely thanks his heavily pregnant wife for giving him something to look forward to. Awkward.
But if a baby wasn’t enough to give Jamie something to live for, apparently being able to kill Randall himself is and the hope allows him to feel passion for his wife for the first time in ages.
As the couple makes their way to the truth, the crux of their argument reveals itself. Claire has felt abandoned, not just sexually but emotionally, throughout her pregnancy. Jamie had his inner fortress destroyed by the abuse and torture he experienced at the hands of Randall as the close of season one and has been struggling to keep it together.
The fight ends with the pair retiring to different bedrooms but, in the night, Claire comes to her husband and disrobes and the couple makes love.
It’s an important scene not only because it takes a step toward reestablishing the Frasers’ intimacy, but because it’s simultaneously recognizing the continuing pain and recovery that victims of sexual assault feel and also because it features the sexuality of a woman as she’s pregnant, something that generally only makes appearances on television as the punchline on a sitcom.
Claire’s continued sexuality through season two has been a high point, particularly when taken in light of Master Raymond addressing her as “Madonna.” There is room enough within Claire to contain elements of the Holy Mother, just as there is room enough for her to contain elements of a hussy and a thousand other elements besides.
That said, the other scene demanding discussion is the rape of Mary Hawkins.
On this walk, the party are attacked in a dark alley. Murtagh is knocked out. Claire is manhandled until the men see her face and run, screaming “La Dame Blanche” and Mary Hawkins is violated.
When the three finally make it home, they decide to secret Mary upstairs, because if anyone were to learn of her deflowering she would be forever alone.
“Outlander” isn’t wrong to place so much importance on the virtue of young women. It’s a period-appropriate choice, as well as an accurate adaptation of Gabaldon’s novels.
The problem isn’t that the series doesn’t understand the true cost of rape. Its creators have proven they have no problem illustrating its destructiveness with the story of Jamie’s gradual recovery. The issue is that the show occasionally uses sexual assault as a crutch to drive the plot forward in a lazy fashion.
In truth, “La Dame Blanche” has more misunderstandings than your average episode of “Three’s Company,” and that’s without touching on why those brigands ran screaming from Claire.
It’s worth mentioning, again, that these are the difficulties baked into any adaptation project. While these are all elements of Gabaldon’s story, it’s Ron Moore’s choice whether he keeps them wholesale or smooths them over into something more tasteful.
There is good in the episode. Jamie and Claire finding each other again, after so long being emotionally distant, as well as their late-night plotting against Charles Stuart and pondering whether they are good people, are both beautiful moments for the pair. Master Raymond informing Claire that he cannot speak to Frank’s fate, but assuring her that she will see him again and her latent horror at the thought carried with it the delicate balance of Claire’s split loyalty and love always present when the show is at its finest.
But at this juncture it’s difficult to just have faith that Mary’s rape will be treated with as much solemnity and weight as Jamie’s. And if it’s not, then what does that say about a series that does so many other things right?
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