A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Outlander returns from its long mid-season hiatus with a solid episode that is told largely from Jamie’s perspective. That switch between Claire and Jamie is a bit off-putting since Claire is the more intriguing character of the two. It’s not that Sam Heughan isn’t doing a magnificent job or that Jamie is too thinly written, but it’s simply that the narrative when centered on Claire is the more revelatory character line. The arcs that the episode largely deals with are Jamie’s struggle with the patriarchy of his era and the politics of the oncoming Jacobite Rebellion backed by Bonnie Prince Charlie that is irrevocably doomed by history. The first one is revelatory in certain sequences but a good chunk of it is deeply frustrating because Jaime from the onset has never struck as someone who is deeply embedded into the patriarchy of his times, even though a good deal of the people around him have. The second one is somewhat intriguing, but it falls a bit flat on two accounts: the strife between Colum and Dougal MacKenzie has never been as developed as it ought to have been and so their fighting, which feels organic in some fashion, is nevertheless undercooked. It’s also dealt a blow by Jamie’s rather quick resolution of it, which then is irritating because the previous scenes tried to hard to make the proceedings seem entirely relevant to begin with.
The spectacular cinematography, natural visuals, and the stirring music from Bear McCreary are a good chunk of what made Outlander such a must-see and they are all certainly present in scrumptious manner this hour. But outside of those vital components, the key to Outlander’s success has been its unabashed feminism embodied in the fiercely independent Claire. The first half of the twentieth century was certainly not a feminist utopia by any standards, but the war provided the circumstances for women to seize the opportunities that had been denied to them for so long, despite their equivalent valor in World War I. There is no doubt that the war would have been lost without the women and those two key periods alone would galvanize women’s rights with a fastidious fire. Claire’s experience as a medic on the front lines only added to the ferocity of her independence. But that ferocity translates poorly into eighteenth-century Scotland. The constant clashes between the expected role of women in that era and Claire have been largely portrayed in a solid fashion and they endeared Claire to us all the more. Female perspectives are largely overshadowed in fictional narratives and that’s certainly not strictly because there aren’t enough female protagonists, antagonists, and authors. It’s that we as a society have been conditioned to see female points of view as the rarity.
It is within that context that I found Jamie’s perspective to be particularly jarring at first. Seeing a man who was previously embedded (pun intended) in a union that, despite being an arrangement, was so fastidious in treating his union like an equivalent partnership lambast Claire was infuriating. It is not her fault, as Jamie is quick to insinuate, that Claire was captured. It is certainly not her fault that Randall tried to have his way with her. The logic that she put the others at danger by straying is sound, the logic that she has to obey Jaime’s commands is not. The “spanking scene”, as it has become known, is exceedingly off-putting. The jovial music that plays in the background insinuates that this is somehow a playful act while it certainly is not – Claire fighting back so ferociously makes that abundantly clear. It is, more than anything else, the personification of a barbaric dehumanization on the basis of who has a penis and who has a vagina. That’s a crass way to put it perhaps, but it is certainly less so than a man spanking his wife with a belt because that is what is expected of him. It’s a pathetic individual who bends their knees to societal constructs meant to establish inhumane domination and authority. It’s a rare one who rises above it.
As such, seeing Jaime understand how petty his frustration with Claire not accepting the patriarchal order of the day was a wild relief. It turns out that the entire Jacobite funding subplot was important for this episode in the sense that it provided Jamie a sense of understanding when it came to individual actions against what is considered to be the norm. If Colum, as rigid of a man as they come, could bend, then why couldn’t he? Just because his father and his father before him treated their wives as second-class doesn’t mean that Jamie and Claire couldn’t buck that tradition. He kneels down on one knee and puts his sword into the floor. He swears an oath of fealty and loyalty to Claire, tacitly giving her permission to stab him through the heart if he ever strikes her again. Claire is notably moved by Jamie’s sincere apology that is ubiquitous with fear that she would leave him because of what he did. She takes charge and the following sex scene is as pretty close to steamy as it can get for Outlander (we were okay with that). It is no mistake that Claire is fully dominant in this sex scene, making it absolutely clear that she is as able to take charge as Jamie is. She holds a knife to his throat as she is literally on top of him, saying without any trace of irony: “If you ever raise a hand to me again, I’ll cut your heart out and eat it for breakfast.” Love you, Claire. Welcome back, Outlander. You’ve been missed.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“Everyday a man has a choice.”
+The rescue sequence was well-executed
+“No, I’m only a woman.”
+“You think I’m your property, don’t you?”
+“I’ll cut off your balls, I swear.”
+Colum making the point that marrying Claire could put his inheritance in jeopardy was an intriguing touch
+“I thought.”; “Think again.”
+“You are my homeland.”
+Jaime not knowing the meaning to “fucking” and “sadist”
+“Was I too rough on you?”
-Laoghaire’s jealous, scorned woman is such a stupid narrative beat that the episode immediately lost an entire grade there. Outlander, you’re better than this.
-No Geillis. That is a CRIME, I tell you.
Title: The Reckoning
Written By: Matthew B. Roberts
Directed By: Richard Clark
Image Courtesy: Starz