Sorry for the delay in posting this, friends! I had a lot of emotions to work through first. (Warning: This post centers around an episode that dealt with rape and torture, so if those topics upset you, it’s probably best to stop reading now.)
This week in television included the first week of dates on The Bachelorette, the start of The CW’s excellent plan to re-air its most popular new shows this summer (I loved the pilot of The Flash!), and a typically tense and exciting episode of Orphan Black that featured the wonderful first meeting of Mrs. S. and Helena, as well as plenty of fun new twists and turns for Allison.
However, the best thing I saw on TV this week didn’t come from any of those shows. In fact, it came from an hour of television that left audiences very divided: the Outlander season finale.
While there is no denying that this finale (which featured incredibly graphic sequences of rape and physical/emotional torture) was the most disturbing hour of television I’ve ever watched, I find myself firmly in the camp of viewers who were impressed with the way this episode handled the trauma of rape and the emotional/psychological ramifications of it, beyond using it as a mere plot device. This wasn’t darkness for the sake of darkness or horror for the sake of shock value; it was a harrowing exploration of the effects of brutal sadism on a human being and the impact of rape and torture both on the survivor and those who care for them. This was an episode that cared about what the victim was going through on an emotional and psychological level, and, as such, it brought out the kind of intensely haunting and raw performance in Sam Heughan that I really hope earns him consideration when it’s time to announce Emmy nominations.
In an episode so dark and disturbing, it was important to have something to balance out the sense of despair that could have dominated the hour. And in order for that balance to be achieved against scenes as horrible as the flashbacks to Jamie being repeatedly raped and psychologically tormented, we needed to feel the depth of Claire’s love for Jamie more strongly than ever before. Thankfully, Caitriona Balfe was more than up to the task, turning in a stunningly vulnerable performance of her own.
While some might name the episode’s ending as its most beautiful scene because of its pure sense of hope and light after so much time spent in darkness, my favorite scene came before it, when Claire got through to Jamie by reminding him that—no matter what happened to him or how damaged or shamed he feels—he is her husband, and she has chosen to love him always. I’ve watched a lot of television shows with married couples in them, but I’ve never seen a moment that got to the heart of the vows to love each other “for better or worse, in sickness and in health” like this moment did. This moment was what a strong marriage is all about: two people who made a promise to choose to love each other—even when it’s not easy—and honor that promise always, because they believe what they have together is worth fighting for.
Sometimes it’s not easy to believe you’re worth fighting for, which is exactly what Jamie went through in that scene. He couldn’t believe Claire would still want him after what happened to him. But Claire doesn’t see Jamie as someone to be ashamed of or someone to pity; she never has. She sees him as someone to love. She sees a survivor rather than a victim, and that’s so important in a story about trauma. There are few fictional characters I know of who need healing more than Jamie Fraser, so I have always appreciated the beauty in the fact that he fell in love with and married a healer who is just as good at healing his physical wounds as she is at helping him begin to mend his emotional ones. Claire was right in this scene when she said everything worked out as it did in order for them to be together, and that’s the stuff of epic love stories that don’t come around every day.
Love can’t erase the scars of traumatic experiences. But it can be enough to help that same person learn to live with their own scars. Love can be a flicker of strength and hope where there once was only darkness, and the love between Jamie and Claire—and the way it was shown through the performances by Heughan and Balfe—provided moments of true beauty in an episode that could have been unwatchable in its bleakness.
What was the best thing you saw on TV this week?