Saturday, May 30, 2015

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Claire and Jamie Deal with the Emotional Ramifications of His Recent Trauma in 'To Ransom a Man's Soul'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 1.16 "To Ransom a Man's Soul"

A desperate plan manages to free Jamie, but his wounds are more than just physical. At a nearby monastery, Claire attempts to save both Jamie's heart and soul, as his mind lingers on the torture.

It's a daunting and perilous journey Outlander takes on in "To Ransom a Man's Soul" in going from the aftermath of the emotional and physical turmoil Black Jack did on Jamie to making grand proclamations about the future in the span of one hour. That's simply not something that just happens easily. And yet, Outlander makes it all work in its first season finale. This concluding episode of the season is powerful and poignant because it doesn't shy away from the deep and personal emotional realities of its characters. Every single action and emotion is fueled by this one event - Black Jack having his way with Jamie's body and soul. It pulls all of the characters together in an intimate way in ways both big (the Highlanders using the cattle to rescue Jamie) and small (everyone standing around wondering what they can realistically do to help Jamie heal). It's a triumphant expression of trauma and how it effects a community of people.

Of course, Jamie's wounds effect him the most. He is the one holding onto all of these psychological issues that Black Jack inflicted on him. Black Jack manipulated him into feeling not only helpless but not worthy of Claire's love and forgiveness. He knows her opinion on Black Jack. And yet, that's not relevant in the heat of the moment. Jamie desperately wants to hold onto the image of Claire. He is surrendering himself and embracing all of this pain and torture in order to ensure her continued safety. That is incredibly valiant. He loves her so much that he would do absolutely anything to protect her. That's what makes Jamie a great husband. But his love for Claire is exactly what causes so much emotional pain later on. He doesn't plan on enjoying the love making that Black Jack has planned. He only agreed to no longer resist him and his sexual advances. Despite all the wreckage Black Jack has done on his body already, Jamie is able to keep his strength up. He submits but will not return the affection. Over the course of the hour, that mindset starts to shift as Black Jack's manipulations soon blur the lines of reality.

Jamie is submitting to all of this to protect Claire. That makes it a powerful and meaningful image when he sees her in place of Black Jack and vice versa. The two of them are slowly starting to merge into one as Jamie's mind weakens. He knows that death is coming for him. He trusts that Black Jack is a man of his word and that that means Claire is safe and all his pain will soon be over with a quick death. And yet, the pain of this experience cuts so much deeper emotionally than he could ever have anticipated. He's ready for death after he realizes that he has just enjoyed Black Jack making love to him. It's that small act that is so destructive to his psyche. How can he ever be the man worthy of Claire if he allowed for that to happen? He sees death as the punishment appropriate for him.

Claire is desperate to rescue Jamie. She wants her husband back. She may not have been successful in rescuing him the first time but the rest of the Highlanders have a solid plan that breaks him out of the prison early in the hour. The truly daunting task for her is trying to heal his wounds - both physically and mentally. The damage to his body is easy to stomach. She knows how to fix his hand. It requires a ton of strength on her end. But she is able to pull through. What's much more difficult is trying to help him emotionally deal with the trauma he has just gone through. She knows that Jamie is much stronger than he is acting now. He willingly wants to die and will plead with everyone to make it happen. Something truly terrible must have happened between him and Black Jack to get him to that level of desperation and darkness.

It's such a complex emotional situation that the show handles wonderfully and with nuance. This story of sexual trauma and how it effects both Jamie and his marriage to Claire would only work if the show took the time to actually explore the ramifications of those disturbed actions. These characters are built by their strength in these kinds of extreme circumstances. The best way to deal with it is together. Their marriage allows Jamie and Claire to rely on each other in these kinds of horrible times. But it's still so personally disruptive when all that power is taken away and replaced with darkness. That's the psychological experience of Jamie throughout this episode. He has been broken severely. Claire's touch is now just as appalling as Black Jack's. How can the two of them reunite if they can't feel and communicate with each other? At times, Claire doesn't know if she has the strength to help Jamie. When the time calls for her to step into the darkness and embrace the truth about what has just happened to him, it is a painful experience. And yet, Claire is the only person who can save Jamie. If she cannot, she may as well be dead too. Then this whole grand and noble gesture would be for nothing. For without Jamie, Claire is lost in this world. She has no idea why she was sent back in time two hundred years. She found a purpose again with Jamie. The two of them have built a life together. They both have fought valiantly to protect their special bond. If Jamie were to give up now, what will the point of her story be? If he's ready to die, she is willing to stand right beside him. That thought is what ultimately pulls Jamie out of his damaged and depressed state. She is the light of his life. She can bring him immense happiness. She doesn't deserve this kind of suffering. The damage that Black Jack did will never truly go away, but the two of them can work together to forge ahead and try to create a better live for themselves.

But that life is going to have to take them away from Scotland. After his escape, Black Jack and the entire British army will be searching for Jamie with much more immediacy and urgency. Neither one of them wishes to inflict any more pain on their family and loved ones still alive in the country. Seeking refuge in France is a scary proposition. It's a journey into the unknown. Their relationship is starting to heal. They'll be able to conquer anything as long as they are together. But forging ahead is a lot more difficult than it initially sounds. This trauma won't escape the two of them for a considerable amount of time. So even though they are planning their course of action for the future and allowing themselves a brief moment of happiness with the news that Claire is pregnant, this darkness will still shroud over them. It's a big proclamation to make that Jamie is once again happy at episode's end considering everything that has just happened to him. It's also a moment that the hour as a whole earned. The healing process is far from over. But if Jamie and Claire are going to be starting a family and a future in France, the show needed to end on this triumphant and personal moment between the two of them. It shows that there is still light in this world even when the darkness seems all encompassing. It's a great parallel to end the season on - and only makes things much more exciting heading into the second season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "To Ransom a Man's Soul" was written by Ira Steven Behr & Ronald D. Moore and directed by Anna Foerster.
  • Rape really has become an overdone trope on TV dramas lately. And yet, I really respect Outlander's take on the difficult subject. The show really wasn't afraid to tackle the lingering emotional issues it would have on the characters. Most of the time shows want to forge ahead in the story as quickly as possible. Outlander instead chose to be about the emotional realities of the experience, which really helped make this finale a success.
  • So did none of the cattle stomp on top of the door after it collapsed down onto Black Jack? And did none of the heroes think to kill him while he was lying there unconscious? Or were they too focused on their mission to save Jamie while they still had the element of surprise?
  • Claire confesses her story of time travel to one of the monks who are kind enough to welcome her and the Highlanders into their home. He says it's a miracle. And even though it may not make sense to her, God has a strong understanding of what her truth is. That doesn't really help her a whole lot but she did get to tell her story to someone else without judgment.
  • Angus was inappropriate even in his final interaction (for now) with Claire. Instead of just kissing her goodbye, he plants one right on her lips. A nice moment of levity in a very overall dark episode.
  • Hopefully, one of the Highlanders tells Jenny and Ian about what's happening with both Jamie and Claire because they didn't receive the closure that they wanted when Jamie was first captured.
  • Claire's narration was such an important framing device at the start of the season. It was a big deal when the focus shifted to Jamie for one episode. And yet, it's interesting how it's been used less and less throughout the season. 
  • Bear McCreary's score has been terrific throughout the season. But that closing sequence was so triumphant not only because of the grand declarations Claire was making but also because of the swelling score that helped bring the season to a perfect close.