I’ve been meaning to write regularily about Outlander as the second season is airing, but I’m terrible at sticking to a schedule and have already fallen way behind! X_x One problem for me is that I’m not terribly good about recap-style reviews. I think my reactions are too … diffuse and random. I’d rather just ramble on about some aspect that stood out to me, not attempt to make a thorough assessment of every scene and character. Evaluating single episodes of a serialized drama isn’t the most useful approach anyway, because every episode is just a chapter of an ongoing story.
That having said, most Outlander episodes strike a good balance between serialized storytelling and episode-specific plots. The first two episodes of Season 2 are incredibly different in tone, style, structure and setting, so it’d actually be possible to discuss them at length on their own terms, but I’m not the person to do that. :) I just ramble about this and that.
The season premiere starts in the 1940’s and is actually set after the events of Season 2. It’s an interesting way to start the season, also because the episode makes it clear that the plan to stop the Jacobite uprising will fail, the battle of Culloden will take place and everything will go wrong. In other words, the first season ended on a note of hope, but the S2 premiere immediately takes that hope away. We’re back to wondering if/how Jamie is going to survive and that’s about it. The first season did something similar. At one point there was some genuine hope that things would turn out alright, but then everything went extremely wrong. In the end, the only real victory was Jamie’s bare survival. (And I mean bare.)
OK, it’s not just Jamie. I also hope that others make it out of Season 2 alive. Especially Murtagh. Seriously, Claire, Jamie and Murtagh have grown into an inseparable unit, and I love that. Well, I just really adore unconditionally loyal characters who are 100% dedicated to the protection of another character, so I love Murtagh.
Anyway, it was interesting to see Frank again. Correct me if I am wrong, but he wasn’t much in the second half of the first season. I can only remember one time (in the 10th episode) when Claire quickly flashbacked to something Frank mentioned in episode 1, which she could use to help Jamie. But that was already different from Claire’s once-frequent Frank-related memories from the first half of the season. That was her holding on to her old life, but she really stopped doing that … hmm, when exactly? And why? Because she became attached to her new life and started falling in love with Jamie? Because Frank became less important or the memory of him was overshadowed by Black Jack Randall? No matter, when Season 2 starts with her back in the 1940’s, and Frank – happy but confused – is willing to pick up where they left off … she gets her old life back, but really, totally doesn’t want it anymore.
I wanna say. Frank seems surprisingly patient and forgiving and respectful, but he also makes Claire promise to stop looking through historical records for a trace of Jamie’s survival. Which is sensible advice (not to obsess over the past, accept what happened, grieve but do move on), but also, maybe, a bit selfish because surely he knows that as soon as she found evidence that Jamie did not die at Culloden, she’d be off, bye-bye, ciao, Frank who? Also, the decision to pretend that the child is Frank’s and not Jamie’s. You just know that there will be a red-haired child who is going to have some really hard questions for their dark-haired parents! XD In other words, this is all a bit of an awkward arrangement.
Changing the topic …
I really appreciate that Jamie is still affected by his rape. It’s sadly rare to see a TV show acknowledge that majorly traumatic events like this have long-term consequences. Even on serialized TV shows, which is the format best-suited to explore how characters are affected and shaped by their experiences! All too often, TV uses life-changing events (like death, rape, torture, abductions etc.) as cheap, one-time drama buttons, without bothering to think what it would actually mean for the characters to go through that …
Then again, television shows cannot be completely realistic about these things. A normal person has maybe one run-in with a serial killer or one or two brushes with death over the course of their entire life. A TV character gets in danger every week. After all, they are still characters in stories designed to be entertaining. Stuff needs to happen. Stories only get to be realistic in ways that don’t get in the way of that. Suspension of disbelief is necessary to watch any TV show, and that extends to the mental state of the characters, at least to some extent. TV characters are more robust than real people, and this is true for Outlander as well, and specifically Jamie, who suffers a lot of injuries and pain, but keeps going. Still, the events of the season finale were terrible even by his standards, and it feels right that he can’t simply move on from them. It’s great for a show to acknowledge that there are things that are just beyond what a person can deal with, no matter how strong and resilient they are.
It’s also great (not great great, but you know what I mean) to do this with Jamie. By showing that even heroic male characters can suffer traumas, and still be sympathetic, strong and loveable, Outlander goes against this thing called “toxic masculinity”. That is, the idea that men can’t be weak or vulnerable and must be manly in certain ways.
It also goes against genre expectations, because Outlander is still a historical romance, and many people still somehow expect there to be hot superficial sex scenes every episode. As the romantic male lead, Jamie is expected to be hot and ready at all times, a steady provider of sex or at least titillating semi-nudity. Someone you can objectify without guilt. With that in mind, it is a bold move to tell the story of this character’s rape, PTSD and slow recovery. The season starts with Jamie still deeply traumatized – regarding sex. 2×02 begins with what looks like Claire and Jamie having sex, but it turns out to be a nightmare. And later, an attempt to have happy, cute sex ends with Jamie getting a flashback of his rape, and freezing up …
There are people who are angry that Jamie’s trauma negatively affects his sex life! ~Oh no, anything but the sex!~ Sure, everyone says that it’s important not to gloss over Jamie’s trauma, but some people still think that the trauma shouldn’t get in the way of the sex. =_= I don’t get it. It’s sexual trauma … of course it affects how he feels about sex.
Not to mention, Outlander‘s sex scenes are good because they are meaningful, not gratuitous, and because they are in-character. So whenever Claire and Jamie will manage to sleep together again, I expect it to be good and rewarding exactly because Jamie is currently uncomfortable with it. Seriously.
(I said “sex” a lot in the last few paragraphs.)
Finally, some random thoughts:
- Not that I think it’s revolutionary, but it was nice to see a black extra in a crowd scene in 2×01, and a black actress (Marième Diouf) in a supporting role in 2×02. The story has moved from the villages of the Scottish Highlands to places that would be more diverse, and I like that this is acknowledged.
- (I’d watch the shit out of a historical drama about the life of a black woman who is an apothecary’s assistant in 18th century Paris!)
- The second episode is surprisingly light-hearted and fun, especially after the super-sad season premiere. I liked it a lot. What can I say, I like fun. See also: my blog name.
- The Versailles portion starts with Charpentier’s Te Deum, which is your cue to pretend that the whole extravaganza with the bizarre costumes and weird eccentricities is … the Eurovision Song Contest. (Douze points pour l’Écosse?)
- I liked the sword training scene. I like sword training scenes in general. I like sword-fighting. More please.