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NOTE: If you’re reading this, I assume (especially after this amount of time) that you’ve not only seen the episode, but have also read all of the books. If you haven’t done that and want to avoid spoilers, then reading this isn’t what you should be doing….
Oh, and keep in mind I use profanity in this, and actually I use some almost right away. You’ve been warned.
And I thought reviewing Wentworth Prison was hard…
This one was almost impossible to think about what to write about this episode, so much so I really didn’t want to try to figure it out. Man… Wentworth Prison was a fucking walk in the park compared to this one.
It seemed so daunting that I didn’t feel up to the task, actually.
But, it’s not like I didn’t have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the episode.
No, just the opposite, this episode is an almost perfect ending to an almost perfect season of TV, but what was I willing to say about what I felt is a different thing. This one hit very close to home and I knew it was going to be very difficult to talk about.
I didn’t have difficulties when I read the book, no matter how many times I’ve read it. Nor had it happened after viewing other rapes depicted on screen and TV, although I believe it is rare that rape is depicted in such a brutally honest manner, in any medium. (Though Jodie Foster’s rape in The Accused probably comes pretty close…)
No, I think it was seeing the raw emotional impact of what Jamie went through, and how devastated he was afterward that made it hard for me. It was Sam Heughan’s powerful performance which was the primary reason this episode shook me so much…
So, I put off writing this thing. But then when I finally got what I thought was a good draft, I tinkered with it and tinkered with it and then tinkered some more.
In the end, however, I thought I would try to complete this. This is especially so since Sam Heughan’s performance, more than anything else in the series so far, had come so close to perfect that I wanted to get my thoughts out there.
I don’t know what resources Sam Heughan had to rely on in preparing for this episode, but I will say there is a raw truthfulness in it that made it very hard, if not downright painful, to watch.
Yet, the catharsis I had seeing what Jamie endured, and how in the end he was going to find a way to survive and start to heal through his love for Claire, was good for me. The wounds that I have from my own sexual assault run too deep, and are way too old, to be repaired by watching this single hour of TV, but I am far better for having watched it.
I am profoundly thankful to everyone involved, but especially to Sam Heughan, for that.
The very grateful,
Cindy M. Houghton
“There is a certain immortality involved in theater, not created by monuments and books, but through the knowledge an actor keeps to his dying day that on a certain afternoon, in an empty and dusty theater, he cast a shadow of a being that was not himself, but the distillation of all he had ever observed; all the unsingable heartsong that the ordinary man may feel but never utter, he gave voice to. And by that he somehow joins the ages.”
I wasn’t sure what I was going to get with this episode, I knew it was going to be difficult to watch, but it turned out to be a close to perfect ending to the season.
Written by Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore and Co-Executive Producer Ira Steven Behr, and directed by Anna Forester, the episode was an extremely well-crafted adaptation of a very difficult section of the book.
It is probably worth noting what happens at the end of Wentworth Prison, when Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) comes up with the idea to use Highland cattle to rescue Jamie (Sam Heughan), occurs at about 80% into the book. So almost a fifth (depending on the edition) of a 600+ page book had to be included in just under one hour of TV.
So, everyone had their work cut out for them and I’m not sure it’s as successful in that regard as some of the other hours earlier in the season. It’s certainly not as focused as The Wedding, Both Sides Now, or even Wentworth Prison. I almost wish they’d cut more, actually, mostly because there were some things in the episode which were often handled a wee bit clumsily.
Although, I must say that the episode started extremely well. After the opening credits rolled, and the redcoat laddies had played what seems to be the 18th century British Army version of ‘morning reveille,’ I was a bit surprised the show opened with Jamie looking like he did: clearly severely traumatized and his hand not looking much better than hamburger meat.
Though as out of the blue as it first appeared, it makes perfect sense.
I don’t usually like flashback/flashforward story structures. That’s because the device is not well thought out in most instances. It’s used mostly as a crutch to create suspense, which usually fails miserably.
It can be a useful tool, but any writer using it needs to use the device in very smart ways. TV, for the most part, doesn’t handle the device very well. When it is used well, like the way they did it in The Wedding, it can be a very powerful tool. If you use flashbacks, or flashforwards, the right way, using as device to draw out discovery, to take time to reveal what is hidden, it gives added weight to the storyline that is being revealed.
In this episode, the gradual reveal of what Jamie had gone through was very well done. Throughout the episode the way the show slowly revealed what Jamie had gone through, extended out that part of the plot. It didn’t come as part of some contrived info-dump, which tends to happen with expository reveals, but it came across as a sort of seduction, which seemed to echo the structure of The Wedding.
That makes sense, not only because what happened at Wentworth was just as important a milestone in Jamie’s and Claire’s story as their wedding had been, but also because in a way Jamie was seduced by Black Jack.
Jack had slowly and tortuously worked Jamie up into being an active participant in his own rape and torture. So, Jack used Jamie’s fear and vulnerability, and his altered state of mind caused by pain and shock, to corrupt Jamie’s relationship with Claire, to subvert his loving relationship with her.
It was like a kind aversion therapy, only Jack wanted Jamie to associate something good with something bad, so he wanted Jamie to associate touching Claire with touching him, wanted Jamie to associate making love to his wife with Jack raping him.
It was a very cruel thing for Jack to do. If Jamie been killed as Jack had promised, his last moments on earth would have been the most psychologically traumatic and painful of his life. It’s one hell of a ‘gift,’ isn’t it?
While it happened a little differently in the book, Jack’s technique probably worked better in the show because you saw it happening. So, it makes sense that Jamie would have a tough time dealing with what Jack had done to him. So, they had start at the end of the Jamie’s ordeal, instead of picking up exactly where the show had last seen Jamie and Jack.
They had to show where Jamie started from, asking Black Jack to keep settle his ‘debt’ and kill him. It was very smart to give us a hint what the battle was that Claire (Caitriona Balfe) was going to have to fight in order to bring him back to himself, and to her.
Yet, looking at Jamie staring almost directly into the camera like he was already dead, it wasn’t yet clear exactly what he had been through. The book isn’t much help, since things had not gone quite the way in the book the way they did Wentworth Prison, so there was really no telling what had exactly had happened to Jamie after we last saw him and Black Jack in that episode.
What was clear was that his hand was ruined, which was (next to corrupting his affection for Claire) probably one of the worst things Jack could have done to Jamie.
Throughout the season, the love between Claire and Jamie had been demonstrated time and time again through touch. Perhaps it’s not surprising that, being young and in love, they would often touch each other. They would hold hands, put their arms around each other, caress each other’s faces as they kissed… comfort each other after a fight.
Or be tender with each other after making love…
In The Reckoning Jamie was devastated because all he had to save Claire was an empty pistol and his two bare hands.
When he takes her back to Craigh Na Dun in The Devil’s Mark, he walks with her holding her right hand in his left, which doesn’t seem to be an accident.
It’s the hand with her iron wedding ring on it and his left is the hand is the one that Jack will ruin. After they are married, over and over Jamie holds her right hand with his left.
They draw strength from one another in the books, at times it gets into the level of being mystical, and the physical bond they have is something Jamie refers to more than once in the show. And when they connect to one another it is often through touch.
In Wentworth Prison, in the scene where Black Jack nails Jamie’s hand to the table, Jamie seems stronger once Jack allows Claire go to him. He clearly drew strength from her and he seemed less afraid.
And it was through damaging his left hand Black Jack chose to torture Jamie in Wentworth Prison, first with a hammer and then (once Claire is there to see him do it) with a nail driven through the back of his hand. It was an obviously Christ-like sacrifice and as the abuse continued in this episode and, as clearly traumatic the rapes turned out to be, that combined with the co-mingling Jack and Claire in Jamie’s mind was probably far worse than the physical torture.
As beautifully acted as the episode is, and as clever as the structure was, some of the details really weren’t so hot. As capable the writers and director are, some of what the secondary characters said and did seem to come out of nowhere. If I hadn’t read the book, I’m not sure some of what happened at the Abbey would have made sense.
After getting to the Abbey, Father Anselm (Ian Hanmore) comes out of the blue to say the ‘lad told us of your needs,’ abruptly interrupting Claire. Why did he do that? Were 18th Century Scottish priests all jerks? Or was it expedience to get Claire to stop talking so they could move everything inside where they could shoot more of the scene on a far cheaper set instead of outside on location? It was an oddly awkward moment.
And in the next scene, how did Brother Paul know that Claire was a good healer? Did Willie tell him? It seemed such an awkward sequence. Or perhaps there’s only so much a bit player can do with lines like ‘there are other wounds not so easily dealt with.’
I’ll talk about the problems with the scene on the beach later, but even that scene aside, the flaws in the episode are more than compensated for by the almost perfect acting of the three leads.
As the episode unfolded and, through that smart use of flashbacks, they showed us how Jack worked on Jamie. How he corrupted Jamie’s mind and poisoned how he thought of Claire, and of himself. Jack had become Claire in a way, replacing the loving, joyful memories of her touch, with the painful and shame-filled memories of rape, torture, and unwanted desire.
Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies played those scenes beautifully.
I mean, look at how Jamie’s relationship with Black Jack, if you can call what they shared a ‘relationship,’ changed throughout the episode. The way that Sam believably played how that progressed, starting at being so tired he could barely keep his end of conversation up, to being wary of him, to being scared of him, to being so angry with him, and through a series of other emotions, before willingly branding himself at Jack’s insistence and making love to him, was remarkable.
It is not quite the same as in the book with how Jamie had described to Claire what he had suffered. Yet, it pretty much had the same effect. Through his abuse, multiple brutal rapes, and one gentle one, Jack corrupted Jamie’s image of Claire in his mind.
This was probably the hardest part to watch. The breaking down of Jamie was so difficult to take in, but somehow it was also mesmerizing because it was so capably portrayed by Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies. The brutal honesty of it…
It will take a long time for Jamie to get past the shame and guilt over what happened. No, Jack didn’t kill Jamie, but it makes perfect sense that Jamie wanted him to in that first scene.
The late Layne Staley from Alice in Chains probably would have understood since his lyrics for Nutshell almost perfectly describe Jamie’s state of mind in the first scene of this episode:
My gift of self is raped
My privacy is raked
And yet I find
And yet I find
Repeating in my head
If I can’t be my own
I’d feel better dead
Nutshell – Alice in Chains
As graphic as showing the very graphically brutal rape, perhaps the most remarkable part of this episode was showing what happened after Jamie got rescued. Showing the aftermath of a traumatic assault is not something that TV is really good at showing, especially male-on-male sexual assaults. Rapes are usually used as a sort of a short-cut way of victimizing a character solely for the sake of them being victimized, and any trauma is quickly and unrealistically worked through and resolved in an episode or two, if not within the same episode.
No, characters rarely exhibit what seem to be true-to-life symptoms of surviving a violent sexual assault. All too often a character never shows anything close to the level of devastation that Jamie does in this episode.
What Jamie suffered at the hands of Jack Randall is something that he could not really recover from on his own. And it is a key turning point in the book, and in Jamie’s and Claire’s lives.
Jamie had saved Claire’s life a couple of times during the season, so the stakes have not been higher for Claire. She had to save not only his life, but also she had to give him a reason to live.
Not that Claire realized the seriousness of Jamie’s state of mind at first, or that she would need to actually fight Jamie to force him to see that she was worth living for. In the book, like here, it took a little bit for Claire to realize the gravity of the situation.
Well, maybe it wasn’t quite like the book.
The show had Claire be far less meditative about the battle she would need to fight to save Jamie than she had been in the book. Her extensive inner monologues were the primary reason the last section of the book was as long as it was. The spirituality in the book was meaningful, and important to the story since it was the basis of Claire’s decision to handle the situation the way she had. It was through her introspection in the Chapel of Perpetual Adoration that Claire got the epiphany that helped her finally understand just how she could get through to Jamie.
The scarcity of spirituality was something the show didn’t compensate for entirely successfully, the lack was regrettable because it really was needed, but I understand why they did it. There simply isn’t the time to show Claire being reflective, and most of that was inside her head anyway. Her talking in voiceover through more of the episode would have robbed the episode of some of its emotional power.
So instead they threw in one very abbreviated chapel scene as a way to bridge the gap, but in my opinion they didn’t get the shot coverage they should have. I wanted to see Claire’s face when Father Anselm asked if she had indeed been alone in the chapel, but she was in a very shadowy very long shot… There was little indication at first what her state of mind was, and for that I am very sorry, though I suppose when she confessed to Father Anselm that was made more clear.
So, for me it was overall an unsatisfactory scene as a result, and probably one of the series’ weakest adaptations of a scene from the book. I suppose it might not have been important to the narrative arc of the story at this point, at least the show’s producers and writers didn’t feel it was important enough to explore it more.
It’s an arguable point I suppose, but the scenes in the chapel they had in the book were key to Claire finally reaching Jamie. To externalize that thought process in the show,instead it was Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) who provided the key, suggesting to Claire and Brother Paul that someone needed to join Jamie in the dark in order to lead him back out into the light. That particular line was sorta corny, as dialogue goes, but sufficiently descriptive of what Claire needed to do.
As for how Claire achieved that goal, it was different in the book. The show couldn’t do the trippy opiate-infused hallucinations that prompted Jamie and Claire to physically fight in the book. It would probably be very difficult to film that in a way it would have been easy to understand what was happening inside Jamie’s and Claire’s heads, anyway. So, a crucial lengthy confrontation was compressed into a few minutes of screen time and, even as anemic as it was, it worked better than I thought it would.
They had Claire be Jack for a moment, like how Jack had become Claire in Jamie’s flashbacks, as she leaned over Jamie just the same way Jack had, which was also similar to the way Claire looked like Jack when Jamie was first rescued. It was nice those different scenes tied in each other visually like that, actually. Claire looked enough like Jack that Jamie, who was frightened, confused, and in pain, lashed out physically at her. Which prompts the physical confrontation which leads him to finally talk to her.
As much as I liked the scene, in general, it seemed that there was stuff missing. So much so that I’m not sure it would have completely made sense the way it played out if I hadn’t read the book.
I mean, Jamie jumped to showing the brand too quickly in a way that came out of the blue. So, I wonder what was cut there… I am sorry the first season scripts aren’t online like the second season ones are…
That aside, the scene very neatly and quickly did pretty much the same thing as the longer sequence in the book did: have Jamie confront his shame and fear and reconnect with Claire.
The scene gave both Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan some stellar moments to play. They really do play off each other so well… Jamie’s sober reflection on why he allowed Jack to make love to him, to seduce him, was very nicely handled. It was almost matter-of-fact… Then he moved into being ashamed so smoothly, and remembering that just strengthened his resolve to resist Claire’s attempts to save him. It was so well done.
It was heartbreaking, watching Jamie tell Claire he couldn’t be her husband anymore. Caitriona Balfe was nearly perfect in how she portrayed Claire’s despair. I must admit that she has been a bit uneven at times in the first season, but that scene was heart wrenching. Caitriona did a fantastic job.
Initially, after Claire and Jamie hugged, with her sobbing in his arms, I thought it seemed a bit abrupt, if that was it. Was that the ‘healing’ he goes through at the end of the book? It seemed completely lame, but then Sam got in a little bit hint that it wasn’t all there was. With the still shell-shocked look over Claire’s shoulder, it’s clear that Jamie isn’t healed yet, not by a long shot.
I adored how the show rejiggered getting the brand cut from Jamie in the next scene. In the book Jamie struggled to cut the brand out himself in the first hours after he escaped Wentworth. It was a virtual stranger, MacRannoch (played in Wentworth Prison by Brian McCardie), who helped Jamie and cut the brand away, as Claire, unknown to Jamie, watched from the doorway without participating.
Instead, with the support of Claire, her hands holding onto his shoulders, it was Murtagh who cut the brand from Jamie’s chest.
It was fitting.
Jamie was helped by the two people he probably trusts most in the entire world. It was clear that he isn’t healed yet, not by a long shot, but the strength of Claire and Murtagh’s love will help him get there.
Despite not being too happy with one or two of the changes they’d made in the episode up until that point, I adore that change and it made me feel really good about the episode.
However, that goodwill was nearly completely squandered in the very next scene through a sophomoric attempt at humor. It was an uncharacteristically sexist moment for the show, with Angus (Stephen Walters) kissing Claire and pawing her breasts.
Worse than not being at all funny, the moment was in extremely poor taste in an episode where sexual assault figured so prominently. It felt like something from a completely different show. Worse, it came off as completely stone deaf.
So, I guess it was a good thing that moment didn’t last long.
At the end of the book, Jamie wanted to give Claire a gift so he took her to a hot spring inside a cave deep underneath the Abbey. It was a wonderful scene and a highlight of the book. Their bathing together, it was metaphorical cleansing as well as a literal one, and was a sign things were going to be okay. While I’m sorry that the expense kept the show from having the grotto scene, the scene on the boat went some way to being a worthy replacement.
The episode ended strong, with a hopeful feeling for Jamie and Claire’s future, Jamie ready to keep Claire safe no matter what. Heading to France to stop the Rising, with a baby on the way, things are looking up for the Frasers, even though (again) Sam Heughan gave some hint that Jamie still has some healing to do.
As terrific as the actors were, the crew more than pulled their weight to make this episode one of the best of the season.
The episode was capably directed by Anna Foerster (she previously directed episodes Wentworth Prison, The Wedding, & Both Sides Now), and was shot by Cinematographer Martin Fuhrer (he also shot Wentworth Prison, Lallybroch, & The Devil’s Mark). This episode was a strong outing by them both, and they clearly worked closely on the look and flow of the episode.
Foerster, a former Cinematographer herself, seems to have a sure hand when it came to how she wanted the episode to look.
Throughout the episode the looks were so striking… I loved how beautifully the episode was shot. There were moments that were like paintings or sculpture by old masters, rather than a TV episode.
The use of light and dark, the high contrast ratio (the deep blacks and bright whites), reminded me of something out of a Vermeer or a Rembrandt painting.
It was early in the episode, however, when Jack had Jamie on the floor, leaning against him as he knelt, where the framing reminded me of the Michelangelo sculpture, the Pietà.
This moment extends the Christ imagery from Wentworth Prison (the hammering of Jamie’s hand as he sacrificed himself for someone he loved) into this episode. The Pietà at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican depicts the Virgin Mary holding Christ after he’s taken down from the cross, which was a common topic in painting and sculpture back in the day. Michelangelo’s sculpture is probably one of the best examples of the subject however, so I really liked that the moment mirrors that particular art work.
Despite some questionable story choices (Angus’s antics on the beach) with some uneven acting by the supporting players, it was truly a terrific hour, even if it portrayed some terrible things.
It was an excellent outing for the writers and crew and, all in all, but it was really the three leading actors who hit this one out of the park, especially Sam Heughan.