Outlander Season Final Recap: 1.16 "To Ransom a Man’s Soul"

Last time: Claire staged a rescue attempt at Wentworth, but discovered Jamie being tormented by none other than Black Jack Randall. To save Claire from a similarly disturbing fate, Jamie gives himself up for Randall’s sadistic pleasure. Once she’s freed, Claire regroups with the Castle Leoch crew, and Murtagh comes up with a new plan to bust Jamie out of jail. In between all of the physical and mental torture, I introduced you to the most charming dog on the Internet — Mister Baguette — and I drank some wine.

Warning: This week’s episode, like the previous one, contains both psychological and physical torture, including rape. I’ll be talking about that in the recap below, so if you find that upsetting or triggering to read about, you’ll want to skip this recap (and this episode). 

For some mysterious reason, the Redcoat army outside of Wentworth is drumming and raising the Union Jack flag high above the prison. Plot!

Inside Wentworth, Jamie is lying naked on his stomach, staring dead-eyed into space. Black Jack, also naked, lies beside him. As Black Jack dresses, Jamie reminds BJR that he owes Jamie “a debt.” Black Jack approaches Jamie with his dirk — prepared to give Jamie a more noble death than hanging, as he promised — when he hears a commotion. Black Jack exits the prison cell and follows the odd sound to its source: a herd of cattle storming their way into Wentworth! 

They bust through the door Claire left open and knock Black Jack unconscious, leaving him pinned beneath one of the fallen doors. Ummm…I hope he’s already fathered the line that leads to Frank being born. (Somewhere in 1945, Frank’s probably hoisting a glass of whisky and saying “I DON’T.” Oh, Frank.)

Murtagh, Rupert and Angus follow the cattle into Wentworth and find Jamie practically catatonic in his cell. They haul him out while the cattle outside distract the Redcoats — to the sweet strains of the Bagpipes of Asskickery! Go forth and defend your motherland, noble Scottish cows!

 

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Claire meets our fellows on the road and immediately jumps on the wagon to tend Jamie as Angus fills her in — the Redcoat drumming allowed the Castle Leoch bros to set the cattle lose in Wentworth without being heard. Plot!

Horrified by Jamie’s beaten physical and emotional state, Claire notes that he’s covered in oil of lavender, which suggests someone had been tending to Jamie’s wounds. As Claire leans over Jamie, promising to care for him, Jamie sees Black Jack Randall’s face — not Claire’s. He lashes out with rage, choking her. When Murtagh pulls him off Claire, Jamie shouts that he doesn’t want her to touch him. Meanwhile, Rupert gets the wagon going and we’re off!

They arrive at a monastery and Willie introduces Claire to Father Anselm, who’s agreed to host the Castle Leoch group until they figure out their next move. In an upstairs room, Jamie thrashes about and refuses food; a different monk counsels Claire that it isn’t just Jamie’s body that’s broken — his soul is in turmoil. Claire frets: if she can’t get Jamie to settle down enough to set his broken hand, he’ll never be able to use it again. 

After the monk leaves, Claire once again approaches Jamie, encouraging him to eat and attempting to put a cool cloth on his forehead. “Dinna touch me,” he whispers. Claire begs Jamie to tell her what Randall did to him. “Too much … and not enough,” he says, steadfastly avoiding her gaze.

We flash back to Jamie’s cell at Wentworth, right after Black Jack’s released Claire — which…why did he do that again? He tells Jamie that they’re both “men of [their] word,” but I’ve just never gotten the impression that Black Jack held an abstract notion of honor in any high regard? Intelligence, yes. Strategic savvy, most definitely. But honor? Not really. Do you guys hear that? That is the sound of Character Motivation packing its bags for departure.

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Anyway, Black Jack gives Jamie a pull from his flask and then offers to make him more comfortable – by gently pulling the nail out of Jamie’s hand. After Jamie retches in pain, Jack grabs him and cradles him in a Pietà-like pose because this whole scenario could definitely be more aptly retitled The Passion of the Jamie. Jack calls Jamie a “magnificent creature” and assures him the worst is over. 

Jack complains that Jamie’s not responding to his gross forced kissing. Jamie reminds BJR that he only said he’d not resist, not that he’d actively participate in his own sexual assault. Making the subtext text, Jack compares Jamie’s submission to “Christ on the cross.”

Jack decides he’s going to bend Jamie to his will psychologically, and get him to physically and emotionally respond to Jack’s sexual advances. I briefly wondered if this actually squared with Black Jack’s established kink — since I thought he specifically enjoyed UNWILLINGNESS and someone’s PAIN, not someone’s reluctant pleasure. But before I could ask, Character Motivation had already put on its coat and headed out the door. 

Black Jack attempts to physically stimulate Jamie, but since we don’t need to revel in the specific acts to understand the traumatic impact they will have (hi, Diana Gabaldon! hi, Outlander writing team!), I don’t have to recap them. Instead, enjoy this brief list of things I did this weekend:

Bought a bouquet of spring flowers for my apartment

Drank a banana flaxseed smoothie

Killed a mosquito that landed on my boob

Watched a group of drunk and/or stoned twenty-somethings laugh at literally nothing in Prospect Park

Switched out the hangers in my closet

Better living through subversive recapping!

Back to the show: Angered by Jamie’s lack of physical response and complete resistance to enjoying sex with him, Black Jack reacts by finally raping Jamie. 

There’s nothing these actors – Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies – can do about the material they’re handed, so they both play their roles with pitch-perfect defiance and menace, respectively. But the extended rape scenes, as written, are played not just for trauma-porn, but also are absolutely meant for a cheap, salacious thrill and, sorry, fellow Outlander fans, no one can convince me otherwise. Remember the scene with Claire and the Redcoat in the woods? How we inhabited Claire’s perspective rather than that of a titillated outsider? This feels like a completely different show.

Back in the present, Jamie’s drinking whiskey and Claire finally insists that she’s going to set his hand. Jamie tells her that Randall made him crawl and beg, and that he wanted to die. But Claire’s not about to let him go. She voice-overs about the emotional difficulty of working on her husband’s wounds, but when it’s all done, she’s hopeful that she’s saved his hand.

The monk attending Jamie, Brother Paul, urges Claire to leave and get some rest. Out in the hallway, she leans over and vomits. Claire takes a moment to herself in the monastery’s small dark chapel. But she isn’t alone for long — Father Anselm enters and begins lighting the candles. He offers to hear her confession. Claire’s hesitant, not sure that the truth of her situation will make any sense to Father Anselm. Anselm assures her that God will understand.  Heartened — and apparently incredibly trusting of the church — Claire unburdens her soul and tells Father Anselm everything. He grasps her hands as she begins sobbing and, after a moment of quiet reflection, he calls her time traveling back 200 years “a miracle,” and tells her that God sees the truth in all things, “so he knows your truth as well.”

God’s like:

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So Anselm tells Claire to have faith that her sins will be forgiven and he absolves her of quasi-adultery/bigamy, which is pretty progressive. Let’s enjoy this nice moment.

Returning to Jamie and Brother Paul, Claire discovers that Jamie has a fever and is still refusing food, though his hand is mending well. But Jamie reiterates that he doesn’t want to be saved, his face setting in a hard line.

Near the front of the monastery, the Castle Leoch fellows are drinking whiskey. Well, except for Murtagh, who’s troubled by Jamie’s refusal of food. Willie, not exactly helpfully, recounts a story of his uncle, who was set so low by a debilitating injury that he gave up on life and starved himself to death. Excellent work, Willie. Murtagh walks off. Angus and Rupert smack Willie on the arm and chastise him in Gaelic for his lack of sensitivity.

Murtagh stirs an uneaten bowl of broth as he and Jamie converse in Gaelic, both men looking pained. Murtagh’s voice rises and his anger comes to an apparent boil (we hear the word “Claire” in there) but Jamie seems as resolute in his torment as he was with Claire.

We flash back to Wentworth where Jamie struggles on the ground, bleeding. Black Jack looms over Jamie. But it seems like, as a coping mechanism, Jamie’s begun to imagine Claire in Black Jack’s place. He reaches above him, calling out her name. Black Jack wants to know Claire’s power, her secret. Jamie, snapped back to reality, weeps. Jack wants nothing more than the “power” (i.e., love) Claire possesses over Jamie, so in Jamie’s hazy, weakened state, Jack heats up his seal (initialed “JR”) and asks Jamie to show Jack that Jamie is his. 

Jamie is so broken that he acquiesces, branding himself with Jack’s seal just below his chest, very similar to one of the five wounds of Christ, because this episode gives zero fucks about subtlety. We cut to a brief moment in the present, where Jamie self-consciously rubs his side over the sheet covering him. 

Willie rides up to the monastery, sharing that Redcoat armies are headed in two different directions, but Murtagh knows it’s only a matter of time before they’re discovered. They have to move on. There’s a Fraser in France who can house Jamie and Claire and, since Claire’s not about to look up the Beauchamps of long ago, that’s where she and Jamie will have to settle. Rupert and Angus both softly assure her that the MacKenzies will always stand with her and Jamie. Claire thanks them and Murtagh leaves to secure a ship.

Willie pays a visit to Jamie, informing him of the upcoming journey to France and entreating him to eat. When Willie asks what he can do to help, Jamie requests that Willie hand over his knife, so Jamie can commit suicide. Shaken, Willie refuses and all but runs out of the room. 

In the hall, Murtagh tells Claire that he’s secured them passage on the Cristabel. But Claire is vibrating with anger — Willie told her what went down with Jamie, and how determined Jamie seems to die. Murtagh admits that — from their earlier conversation — he knew how Jamie felt, but Jamie made him promise not to tell Claire. 

Claire can’t understand why Jamie wants to die so badly, and Murtagh reasons that having been tortured and raped is reason enough. Claire doesn’t agree. Murtagh wonders if there’s even more depths to what happened to Jamie at Wentworth. He apologizes to Claire and says he’d never do anything to hurt Jamie … “unless …”  “Unless?” Claire asks. Murtagh says he won’t watch Jamie starve himself to death and if it comes to that, he’ll put Jamie out of his misery. With tears in her eyes, Claire passes out into Murtagh’s arms. 

When Claire comes to, Brother Paul shares again how Jamie’s soul is “possessed by darkness” and that he must be led into the light – Murtagh says Jamie won’t be led anywhere he doesn’t want to go, so “someone must step into the darkness with him.” I can’t even tell you how much I don’t like the sound of that.

Picking and mashing up lavender, Claire creates her own lavender oil and takes it to Jamie, waving a vial of it under his nose, apparently hoping to invoke memories of Wentworth and of Black Jack. It works, as Jamie sees Black Jack’s face instead of Claire’s hovering above him. She says she’s been too gentle but she’ll have to use more strength to find out what happened between Jamie and Black Jack as she roughly rubs the lavender oil on Jamie’s neck. “Why can’t you look at me?” she demands. “LOOK AT ME!” she shouts and Jamie hears both Claire’s and Jack’s voices — and sees both faces — as he knocks Claire off the bed in protest. She kicks him off and slaps him across the face. 

Just a PSA? This is not how you treat a rape survivor. Forcing a rape survivor to relive his or her trauma is actually? For the record? A terrible idea. You can’t bank on finding just the right amount of haranguing and actual physical abuse to “unlock” or “release” the pain that person’s experiencing. But, yeah, I get that this is more dramatically interesting than a long road of psychological recovery but, also, I don’t know, maybe then…don’t put your character through this? Yet another option!

Holding Claire down on the floor, Jamie shouts that he doesn’t want to hurt her — but he already has, according to Claire. He wants to die and that’s wounded her beyond all imagining. “Do you want me to hate you?” she screams, tearing at his shirt — and revealing the JR brand, which…he’s somehow successfully kept hidden this entire time, even when he was mostly unconscious. At any rate, Jamie is forced to reveal the full extent of what happened between him and Black Jack. Black Jack didn’t brand him; Jamie branded himself in that moment of anguished weakness we all saw. But there’s more.

Revealed through flashback, we see that Black Jack didn’t just rape Jamie. He used Jamie’s own defense mechanism of imagining Claire against him. Jack uses the oil of lavender to tend Jamie’s wounds and tells him “these are Claire’s hands,” coercing Jamie into seeing and feeling Claire. Once he gets Jamie to fully supplant him with the image of Claire, he’s able to arouse Jamie and they have sex, and Jamie orgasms. 

This fills Jamie with shame, because he feels complicit in his own violation, which I will admit, is one of the few more complicated aspects of rape that this show managed to get right. Arousal or even orgasm during rape doesn’t lessen the fact that it is indeed rape, or mitigate the heinousness of the act, nor does it absolve the rapist of full responsibility. But Jamie’s feelings here make sense. I think fondly of our old friend, Character Motivation.

Claire assures Jamie that this doesn’t matter to her at all and that there’s nothing for her to forgive. But Jamie’s still too sickened by how thoroughly Black Jack broke him. When Claire touches him, he wants “to vomit with shame.” UGH, Sam Heughan is breaking my cold black heart. 

But even if Black Jack took Jamie’s body, Claire won’t let him take Jamie’s soul. She draws on what Father Anselm told her in the chapel, weeping as she reveals that she and Jamie must have been meant to be together — that he’s the reason she fell through time. And if he dies, she’ll have no reason to live. (Somewhere in 1945, Frank’s probably finishing that whiskey.)

Jamie reaches out to Claire. “How can you have me like this?” With tears running down her cheeks, she replies, “I will have you any way I can. Always.” It’s wrenching and beautiful and can we just give all of the Emmys to this cast? Caitriona Balfe has had to carry an entire show on her back more than almost any other working actress who is not named Tatiana Maslany. (And I’d argue that Outlander is more emotionally demanding in some respects than Orphan Black, but whatever, Emmy tie for Caitriona and Tatiana. I love both of these women so much.) 

They embrace and Jamie is finally able to touch Claire.

Sitting by the fire, Jamie refuses laudanum as Murtagh slices Black Jack’s brand out of Jamie’s side. Claire’s arms are around him the entire time. After a clean cut, Murtagh holds the offending skin in his hand…and casts it into the fire. Bagpipes of Triumph play as we linger on a shot of the branded skin burning. Every rape survivor is different, so I can’t immediately discount the psychologically healing effect of Jamie ridding himself of the physical symbol of his assault. But…I have to be honest and say that this scene had such an uncomfortably definitive feel of “RAPE TRAUMA SORTED!” to it. For many survivors of sexual assault, it just isn’t that simple.

The next morning, Claire and Jamie are setting off for the Cristabel. Willie kindly says that they’ll never find another healer like Claire. He holds out his hand for Claire to shake, but she hugs him instead, thanking him for his friendship. Angus gives a hurt little look like, “Hey, I want a hug, too!” 

After Rupert playfully notes that Jamie and Claire are tough to look after, Angus doffs his cap and respectfully asks if he might kiss Claire farewell. She says no — he may kiss her “au revoir” since farewell is too final. 

And here’s the moment that almost made me melt down with rage. Angus steps forward, CUPS CLAIRE’S BREASTS and kisses her aggressively. Yes, yep, in episode ENTIRELY DEDICATED TO THE TRAUMA OF A RAPE SURVIVOR, the Outlander writers decided to cap it with … an unwanted sexual advance? Angus apologizes and Murtagh laughs, because this is somehow hilarious?

One might wonder how any writer’s room — or producers or network or whatever — could have somehow blundered their way into such a massive oversight. Here’s the problem: Too many people think all rapists look like Black Jack Randall. That rape is the province of shadowy, sadistic abusers. It isn’t. Penetrative rape exists on a spectrum of unwanted sexual advances — ranging from street harassment by strangers to an unwanted kiss or grope by an acquaintance or a friend. (Or in some cases, a partner.) Most rapists don’t look like Black Jack. They look disconcertingly like Angus. Like trusted friends. And believe it or not, Outlander writers, when you play one unwanted sexual advance for laughs, you are validating the entire fucked-up system that says sex — especially with women — is either a negotiation or a hostile takeover. 

You successfully undermined what this entire episode was about — and I wanted to believe that this was about the shame that rape victims experience, not a pre-emptive dirge for the potential loss of Jamie’s masculinity. So why do this? How is this at all consistent with who Angus is? This is the same man who merely shrugged when the lady he “won” the right to woo chose his buddy Rupert instead. Earlier in this very episode, he smacked Willie on the arm for his insensitivity and also graciously told Claire that the MacKenzies would always help her and Jamie. Even when he was drunk (as he often is), he’s shown zero romantic interest in Claire. Do you see that, guys? Off in the distance? That’s Character Motivation, waving goodbye to us from the deck of the S.S. Plot Bullshit. 

Dear writers of the world, if you want a moment of levity in your rape-heavy episode, don’t use an unwanted sexual advance. Write better jokes. That’s my advice.

 

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But I have to tamp down my fury, because there’s still a few moments of the episode left. Rupert gallantly kisses Claire on the hand and gives Angus some light lecture but whatever. 

Murtagh sees Jamie and Claire safely onto the Cristabel. Jamie teases Claire about her seasickness, as she’s apparently been puking up over the side of the ship. Claire wonders if they’ll be all right, and Jamie says he’ll see to it. They’re headed into an unknown future, but Jamie says that they’ll return to Scotland. Claire mournfully considers the sad future of Scotland and the end of the Highland ways. Jamie asks: “What can we do but play our part?” After a moment, Claire’s voice spikes in intensity as she suggests that they change the future. “I believe we can do anything we want. Just as long as we’re together.” 

But that’s not all Claire has to tell Jamie: she’s pregnant. Jamie is thrilled, as you might expect. The two hold each other on the deck of the Cristabel as Claire’s cape blows in the breeze, a fittingly romantic image for the last episode of the season.

And that’s it! Well, it’s been … an interesting first season, hasn’t it? In summation: I have loved this show and also have been very angry with it. Emmys for Cait, Sam and Tobias. A stern talking-to in the writers’ room. More GIFs and wine and Internet puppies for the rest of us. As we wait for season two, you can find all of our Outlander coverage here.

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