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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Outlander: Rent

Outlander is one of those shows that I appreciate instead of enjoy (much less adore). I appreciate that that lead character is a woman and that the story is told exclusively from her point-of-view. I appreciate the gorgeous scenery and the attention to historical detail. But I’m not gripped by what’s going on here.

As we saw at the end of last week, Claire is travelling with the clan to collect taxes, discovering that Dougal is gathering a bit on the side. She assumes this is for himself after witnessing him tearing off Jamie’s shirt to reveal his scars to the assembled villagers, using it to convince those gathered to denote more money on top of the taxes. It’s only when she hears the word Stuart does she recognise that all this is not for personal but political gain. These guys are Jacobites, and Claire is suitably humbled.

But hang on, this demonstrates that Dougal is not as bad a guy as we originally thought. Yet didn’t he attempt to rape Claire just a couple of episodes ago? Jeez, what is up with the bizarre mental disconnect between the depiction of rape and the expectations of television writers? It’s like how we were all meant to keep shipping Jamie/Brienne on Game of Thrones an episode after he raped his sister beside the body of their dead son. (Ever thought there’d be cause to write that sentence?) Such things don’t make a show “edgy”, they just end up alienating most of the audience.

I’ve learnt since then that this particular rape attempt didn’t even happen in Diana Galbaldon’s book, and I’m left wondering why on earth the writers would want me to invest in a character who recently assaulted our heroine. So when the episode ends on something of a cliff-hanger in which Dougal’s safety hangs on Claire’s testimony after they’re approached by English soldiers asking whether or not she’s being held against her will, I’m honestly not sure how I’m supposed to feel.

I get the feeling we’re meant to hope she protects the man who recently assaulted her, but as moral conundrums go, I can’t say I’m too riveted.

What a headache, especially since most of the stuff with the Scotsmen was nicely played. Jamie is quietly supportive, Claire makes friends with Ned Gowan the lawyer (they bond over poetry which is sweet), and the moment she makes Angus (?) laugh with a dirty joke feels genuinely earned. I’m even willing to take the Scots’ brawl in defence of Claire’s honour in the spirit with which it was meant. (I generally can’t stand the “how dare you insult the woman in our possession!” trope).

But the best part would have to be Claire meeting several of the Highland women and embracing her “when in Rome” attitude, first with helping them with their “waulking” (yes, they really did use urine to cleanse wool of any impurities) and even hitching up her skirts to contribute to the piss bucket.

So far all the women in this show have been friendly and supportive of each other, and Claire even puts herself in serious conflict with the boys to return a goat to the community for a needy baby. Of course, it just lands her in further trouble, and catches the attention of Jeremy Foster, an English officer (and presumable spy) who ends up following the group with reinforcements.

I gotta say, Claire is a lot braver than I am. I have to admit that if I was in her circumstances I’d be keeping my mouth shut and my head down.

Then of course, there’s the time-travelling element. Up until this point, it’s simply been used as an easy way to set the scene and the protagonist’s personal storyline, with only a few little moments here and there demonstrating Claire’s foreknowledge. But on learning that the people around her are preparing for a conflict that will end at Cullonden (which as Frank says, more or less ends the rebellion and their way of life) Claire feels compelled to do a little meddling.

So will the usual rules of time-travel apply? Can she change the past? Set right what went wrong? Now that the question has been opened as to whether or not Claire can change things, the story can perhaps begin to explore what has otherwise been an extremely light treatment of its sci-fi element.  

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