Outlander 2×03

It is sort of funny – and by that I mean “disappointing” – to read “analyses” of this episode’s fight between Claire and Jamie that pretend Jamie’s anger is born out of chauvinism and nothing else. Sure, it makes for a very neat jumping-off point to talk about old-fashioned, restrictive gender roles and about female empowerment. Those are important topics, too. But it’s not an actual analysis of that scene, because there are a lot more factors influencing their behaviour. (And this really is an episode where everyone takes out their frustrations on other people – Jamie on Claire, Claire on Murtagh.)

I think I see this sort of thing a lot … that people analyze pop culture stuff in a way that kind of dumbs it down and reduces it to a single problem or social issue. Not always maliciously! Even Jessica Jones, which did inspire some deeper thoughts in people, was a lot more complicated and ambivalent than it was usually given credit for.

I want to blame TVTropes – or the sentiment that made TVTropes so successful for a while: it’s all about spotting broad archetypes, specific key phrases, plot twists and patterns. It is about breaking stories down into parts, discarding the nuances and complexities and how things work in context, putting the rest into neat, separate, labelled boxes. It’s easy, but it’s pointless.

On the surface, the argument that ensues between Jamie and Claire falls into the wider category of “husband disapproves of his wife wanting a career”, and this becomes all that matters. The complicated circumstances, or Jamie’s fragile emotional state? Not important here! Oh, sure, we all felt really sorry for Jamie last week, but this week he’s the bad guy, this week he’s a whiny jerk who should suck it up and stop being so needy.

How can you first agree that it’s important that Jamie is still psychologically affected by his rape, and a week later, ignore the whole thing and present him as just a generic ~sexist husband~ who doesn’t understand that his ~feminist wife~ wants to do more with her life than ~look pretty~? Or even bring up his PTSD, only to dismiss it as irrelevant here?

What’s the point of an analysis that chops off all the interesting bits? And surely we can advocate for a woman’s right for self-realization without downplaying the trauma of a rape victim?

And come to think of it, for Jamie, “behaving like a sexist ass” and “trauma” are closely related anyway, always have been! Think back to Season 1:

  • After he rescued Claire from Fort William in 1×09, he wants her to apologize for wandering off and getting herself kidnapped.
  • And in 1×12, he lashes out against Jenny because he thinks she got pregnant by Randall and named the child “Jamie” as a way to punish him for failing to protect her …

In both scenes, I think, Jamie is very much an insensitive ass, but he’s also clearly focused on his own traumas and fears. When he rescues Claire, he has to return to the place where he was imprisoned and tortured, and face the person responsible (who threatened him sexually, too). And his reunion with Jenny appears to confirm his worst fears about what happened to her.

None of this excuses the things he says, but it’s still important to remember that Jamie isn’t actually coming from a position of oblivious male privilege when he lashes out at Claire for nearly getting raped or at Jenny for allegedly having been “ruined” by rape. He’s coming at it from a place of stress and unresolved trauma. The situation in 2×03 is obviously similar.

It’s actually an interesting character flaw. We tend to believe that victimhood makes a person saintly, but that’s just not true.

Further thoughts on Outlander 2×03:

  • Claire continues to hold Randall’s survival a secret from Jamie. I do understand her reasons, buuuuuuut when has this ever worked out? Keeping a secret from someone in order to protect them? Ironically, this makes the person vulnerable, not protected. It often ends up making things worse for them. But Claire seems to know that, hence why it’s a dilemma.
  • I am happy that she told Murtagh, though. That just felt right. I’d tell Murtagh everything, while we braid each other’s hair.
  • Goldberg Variations. Well, of course! I did enjoy the spy stuff, also because I like montages where a team carries out a plan while a voice-over narration explains what they’re doing … Oh god, I like this because it reminds me of Olsen-banden, doesn’t it? I really have the weirdest associations sometimes.
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