Outlander, Season 1 (2014)

 

Reviewer: Charity Bishop

 

When this show first started airing, I had several people recommend I watch it. I was hesitant, because I'd heard about the books and knew what was coming.

 

World War II has ended. Having spent six years separated from her husband, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is looking forward to rekindling her romance with Frank (Tobias Menzies). To explore his family history, they take a vacation in the Scottish highlands. There, she becomes intrigued with a local set of druid stones. Venturing out there one afternoon, Claire touches a vibrating stone -- and is thrown back two hundred years, before Scotland's history fractured in their broken rebellion. Confused and woefully out of place, Claire runs afoul of Frank's degenerate ancestor "Black Jack" Randall -- and then falls in with Scottish lads, among which is the wounded Jamie (Sam Heughan). Taken and held against her will by the landowner, who appreciates her skills as a war nurse, Claire schemes ways to return to the stone circle and find her way home.

 

From local superstitions to the British wanting Jamie for murder, Claire finds it difficult to merge well with her environment. But when circumstances force her into a marriage she does not want, she finds herself immersing, slowly, in a world she may be reluctant to leave behind -- even if she receives the chance.

 

This series is brilliant in slowly engaging your emotions and making you fall in love with Claire and Jamie. It is also unusual in that it has such a broad scope -- rarely do episodes linger too long in the same place. By the end, Claire has been a prisoner in a castle, she has dyed wool with outlander families, she has been rescued and mounted rescue operations, and performed as a dancing troubadour. It's a rough, sexist time. The involved men show varying degrees of protectiveness and coarseness. The villain is a brutal sadist. The secondary characters are interesting -- if not shown for very long (Jamie's feisty sister has a too-short appearance). Brutality merges with compassion for humanity and the history of the period. The costume design is interesting, and one does get an exciting sense of being in another time and place. On purely technical and literary terms, it's a great series.

 

Unfortunately, the content is rough. Sometimes it is less than the book (they make Jamie more likable and remove a few of the more shocking "comfortable with rape" in the highlands references) -- sometimes, in the case of the finale, it is more. Some of it made me feel sick -- which was the intention. Worse, some of it made me feel nothing at all. I was so "used" to it thanks as rape being used as a plot devise that I was more disturbed by how much I was not disturbed. The filmmakers, writers, and actors insist that the nudity, sex, and violence is not gratuitous but "drives the story forward." Does it? I don't think so. The power of imagination is more powerful than desensitizing depictions.

     
Sexual Content:
Claire faces attempted rape in three separate episodes (in two, she is stripped topless); Jamie is twice raped/sodomized in the season finale (both men are fully naked for most of their flashback scenes, including full frontal); his sister is nearly raped in one episode (male frontal nudity, she laughs at him). Other episodes feature mentions of rape. Numerous wedded sex scenes (graphic, containing nudity, movement, noise, etc, at least 8 of them; four separate scenes contain oral sex). Frequent female nudity in all kinds of contexts (changing clothes, relieving milk from swollen breasts, a naked, pregnant woman is mobbed as a witch, torn shifts). The rapist forces both sexes to feel his genitals. The men make coarse gestures and references to bedding women -- and sheep.
 
Language:
Jesus' name is abused a dozen times. Four f-words. Uses of c**t. General profanities.
 
Violence:
Men are shot and stabbed. Claire binds gaping, bleeding wounds. She snaps bones into place. Games and fist cuffs turn ugly. Randall brutalizes prisoners -- he bangs Jamie's hand with a hammer until he breaks all the bones it, then drives a nail through it, then forces him to brand himself (the brand is graphically cut out of his side later). Jamie and Claire scuffle a few times; he beats her with his belt for endangering his men. Women are slapped around and manhandled by their abusers, sometimes knocked unconscious in the process. Jamie's beating is shown in excruciating detail -- he is flogged until his back is a mass of blood and hanging skin.

 
Other:
Women are accused of witchcraft. Both ministers in the area are portrayed as superstitious fools easily threatened and paid off. It's implied the crowd burns a pregnant woman alive, because she claims to be a witch carrying the devil's child to save her friend.