The television series Outlander has had a difficult road to travel. It came with a pre-installed fan base who’d had images simmering in their minds for over two decades, with preconceived ideas of how the story would be told. The source material had a number of controversial scenes that would surely garner criticism and debate. Perhaps most difficult, what began as a touching, adventurous love story then veered into raw, gut-wrenching darkness. All these things—plus some poor pacing choices by the producers—led up to a highly volatile season finale that exploded in an uproar of emotions, attitudes, and widely disparate reviews.
“To Ransom a Man’s Soul” was not an easy episode to watch. I wondered if those who hadn’t read the books, who had been enchanted with delightful characters and gorgeous Scotland, would be turned off by the events of Wentworth Prison. The answer? Many have been. In fact, had I come into the episode without having read the book (which I started only after the mid-season finale), I might have been among them.
“Put the book down.”
That’s the advice author Diana Gabaldon gave to her legion of fans going into the final. “To Ranson a Man’s Soul” had a lot of important ground to cover in only 60 minutes. To do so, it had to make several changes from the book. It had to condense a lengthy recovery, keep our heroes in peril, and omit scenes we might have longed for.
Moving the recovery scenes to a monastery in Scotland was a great choice. It tidied up Jamie’s physical recovery, partly needed to fit everything into an hour. But it also kept our heroes in danger of discovery by the Redcoat patrols, which kept the tensions high and gave more urgency to Jamie’s situation.
The downside was that, by not escaping to France immediately, we didn’t have the time to delve too deeply into Jamie’s damaged psyche, or Claire’s extreme measures at attempting to heal him. Yes, they were addressed, but mental anguish is such a difficult subject to tackle, it’s hard to get it right given so little time.
Many people have given any number of suggestions as to how these events could have been given more time, but it’s so much easier for us to criticize than it was for Ronald D. Moore and company to create.
Were the flashbacks necessary?
We opened on Jamie the morning after his bargain with Jack Randall, lying face down on a prison cot, battered and bloody, and the life gone out of his eyes. (Sam Heughan didn’t blink during the entire camera span, giving us a sense of lifelessness.) But Jamie was alive, and begging Randall to end his life.
Some have said that scene was all we needed to understand the horror of what happened to Jamie, that we didn’t need to flash back to the events of the previous night. But I’m not sure we would have fully understood exactly what Randall did to Jamie to break him so completely, to make him reject Claire and want to die.
The flashbacks were horrific. They shouldn’t have been anything less. But without them, Claire could not have known how to bring Jamie back to her.
Into the Darkness
In the books, Claire “steps into the darkness” with an opium-induced, lavender oil-scented impersonation of Jack Randall to get Jamie to fight back and reclaim his soul. (Yes, it’s as weird as it sounds.) Here, Claire’s attempts to rekindle Randall’s personage aren’t as severe, but they’re rough enough to get Jamie to fight, and uncompromising enough to get him to tell her what happened.
Randall had used the memory of Claire to arouse Jamie. Once Jamie realized what had happened, Randall then completely broke Jamie by telling him Claire would never love him again.
Claire’s response that she would love Jamie no matter how “damaged” he was may not have been as dramatic as a night of opium-filled reenactment, but it was real. And when compared with the earlier scene of Claire and Father Anselm, it was downright powerful.
It was a scene Diana Gabaldon insisted remain in the story. Had I not realized this, I might have missed its meaning.
Father Anselm came upon Claire in the chapel and asked if she’d like him to hear her confession. With a preface that he’d think she’s mad—and his reassurance that God would understand—Claire told her story. Although visibly surprised at first, Father Anselm’s response was “It’s a miracle.”
It didn’t mean much to me at the time and might have been a throwaway scene. But when Claire cries out that Jamie is the only thing thing that has made sense to her since she landed in the 18th century, everything became clear. She has to believe there’s a reason she traveled through the standing stones, and that reason is she is meant to be with him.
If she believes God sent her back 200 years to be with this man, of course she can change the course of history and prevent the slaughter at Culloden. Right?
Goodbye, Scotland 😦
We sail to France and season 2. See you later this summer for various Outlander musings.