Outlander returns with brand new episodes as we spend the hour in Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) head.
Let’s bitch it out…
When last we saw everyone, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) had made a run for it but she was apprehended by Black Jack (Tobias Menzies) and nearly raped. ‘The Reckoning’ jumps back in time slightly to reintroduce some of the political conflict in the series and remind us that that Black Jack murdered one of his own men (the preview for the remainder of the season foreshadows that that will be important). Then news of Claire’s abduction comes out and the rescue effort goes into full swing.
The scene that follows is the only one featuring Menzies, but it’s a great chance for the actor to remind us just how despicable a man Black Jack is. His threats to rape Claire in front of Jamie, his inquiry of her whether they should invite Jamie to join them and his eventual attempt to murder Jamie in cold blood prove that he’s the real sadistic bastard of this ensemble. Thankfully Jamie proves not only his resourcefulness, but also his smarts by not loading his gun, which allows him to disarm Black Jack, knock him unconscious and rescue Claire.
The rest of ‘The Reckoning’ is a much more subdued affair. The group returns to Castle Leogh and we’re treated to a fair amount of political scheming as Dougal (Graham McTavish) and Colum (Gary Lewis) nearly come to blows over the money raised for the Jacobite army. It’s not particularly interesting save for the fact that ‘The Reckoning’ swaps Claire’s point of view for Jamie’s, so we’re provided insight into how Jamie maintains the peace. It’s useful primarily because it allows us to see Jamie as more than the “beefcake/protector” role he’s usually in when we occupy Claire’s perspective. Unfortunately there’s not much more of interest in the MacKenzie scenes beyond that and, as a result, ‘The Reckoning’ feels like a slow episode. The AV Club is right that the two most dynamic scenes (aside from the one involving Black Jack) are the ones that explore Jamie and Claire’s marriage and heavily feature Caitriona Balfe.
I have very mixed feelings about the scene when Jamie punishes his new wife for disobeying him and putting the men in danger. In addition to the music cue (provided by Battlestar: Galactica composer Bear McCreary), Jamie’s alternatively bemused/turned on look and the boisterous reaction of the men listening below suggest that the lashing across the buttocks is a kind of foreplay, but Claire is genuinely afraid and then upset. It’s hard to infer if director Richard Clark wants to have it both ways with this sequence: is it intended to reflect the time period when this is perfectly acceptable behaviour and simultaneously acknowledge that modern audiences (including Claire) should consider this sexual assault? It’s maddeningly unclear. If anything I’m reminded of the problematic scene from last year’s Game of Thrones episode 4×04 ‘Oathkeeper’ when Jamie raped Cersei and the director refused to acknowledge it. I’m not sensing the same outraged response here, but it would be nice if there was clearer intentionality in these controversial sex scenes by the show’s creators (and just to be clear, that was not BDSM spanking – no matter what you think 50 Shades of Grey taught you).
Thankfully Outlander doesn’t sweep things under the table the same way that Game Of Thrones did. Claire keeps Jamie at arm’s length – emotionally, physically and sexually – for the rest of the episode until he apologizes to her, suggesting that he will treat her differently moving forward. Initially she remains quiet, then appears to relent and they begin having sex. The staging is key to understanding the power dynamic, however: Claire is on top and as they get into a rhythm, she first grabs Jamie’s jaw and then holds a dagger to his throat, threatening to castrate him if he ever hurts her again. Although I don’t condone sexual violence by anyone, in the context of this show, this is an important moment in their marriage. Claire is speaking to Jamie in a language he understands – power, violence, force; she’s asserting herself and her demands as an equal. Indeed, once they have climaxed, Jamie suggests that they are each other’s masters, which connotes subservience to each other both sexually and in other marital capacities.
This could be very important moving forward, especially now that Jamie has rejected Laoghaire MacKenzie (Nell Hudson). Her teary reaction when he returns to Castle Leogh married is expected, but I’ll admit that I was surprised by her invitation of sex on the shore of the river. Clearly this is a girl who isn’t afraid to pursue what she desires. If we believe Jamie and attribute the presence of the “ill-wish” voodoo doll under the bed to her, there’s a suggestion that she’s willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the newlyweds experience bad juju. We’ll have to see whether Laoghaire proves to be a formidable adversary for Claire and Jamie moving forward or if she’s just a young girl with a broken heart.
Your turn: what did you think of the mid-season premiere? Were you bored by the MacKenzie politics? Happy to see Black Jack being all terrible? Disturbed by the presentation of the sexual assault? Happy to see Claire regain the upper hand? Sound off below
Outlander airs Saturdays at 9pm EST on STARZ. Here’s a spoilery preview of the remainder of S1