Outlander, Season Four (2018)


The fourth season of Outlander has less sex and more outright drama, but the main plot twist still hinges around rape. It happens so often, to every main character in this franchise, it makes me wonder what lies behind the author’s “fetish” for it.

Since being washed up in America after a horrific storm at sea, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie Frasier (Sam Heughan) have decided to make the most of it and settle in the New World. But two months after their arrival, they are forced to witness the public hanging of one of their friends. In burying the body, they discover a man concealed in their wagon, Stephen Bonnet, a criminal unjustly accused and sentenced to death. They show mercy on him and help him escape, but their compassion backfires, when Bonnet slits the throat of their guide and steals all their money and the jewels they hoped to use to establish a new life.

Left without financial assets, they make their way to River Run, the plantation owned by Jamie’s Aunt Jocasta (Maria Doyle Kennedy). Claire finds it difficult to stand her tolerance of slavery, and after a slave cuts the ear off an overseer in retaliation for being beaten, Claire and Jamie intervene to save his life—causing turmoil in the district, and their need to retreat into the mountains to build their own lives, freed from owning other human beings. Despite Claire warning him that if he accepts a large land grant from the government, he will be once again “on the wrong side of history” in the impending American Revolution, Jamie does it. But all is not well on their new piece of land, the local Indians object to their presence, and a bear seems to be terrorizing the landscape. Or is it something worse?

In the meantime, back in the 1960s in Scotland, Roger (Richard Rankin) has asked Brianna (Sophie Skelton) to marry him. Her uncertainty about acceptance causes a rift between them, unhealed when he discovers that she has gone through the stones back in time to warn her parents about their deaths—she doesn’t know how or when it will happen, but found an old obituary stating how they died in a fire. Desperate to catch up with her, Rodger follows her through the stones into Scotland. Brianna winds up taking shelter at the home of someone with a connection to her father, while Rodger winds up working on a ship captained by the ruthless Stephen Bonnet…

Let’s get the unpleasantness out of the way first. Bonnet winds up raping Briana, and that plot twist causes most of the action, angst, and grief that emotionally propels the entire season—it leads to various bad choices by the men involved, which escalates into drama. Since the books on which this series is based has used rape, or the threat of rape, many times, I can’t ignore it. So far, almost all the main characters have been assaulted—Jamie and his sister, Fergus as a little boy, his nephew in Jamaica by a woman, and now Brianna. And even though we don’t see it happen (we just hear her screaming while no one in the tavern does anything about it), I’m tired of rape being used as a catalyst for male development and to prove how ‘strong’ a person is. Even though it leads to a touching conversation between Briana and her father, as he talks about how to forgive your rapist and not pursue revenge (“it does nothing for ye”), it’s not only a repugnant repeated theme in this series, but highly unlikely that every single member of a family would be sexually assaulted at some point in their life.

Beyond that, there’s a lot to recommend this season. We meet old and new faces, as people from the past reappear to bring closure to some situations and open up others—one of the best is the appearance of Lord Grey, perhaps one of the nicest characters in the series, who offers to help Briana even after she attempts to blackmail him. Jamie’s second wife has a brief stint in which she spreads around her hateful vitriol, and an old Scottish face turns up in a blacksmith shop, later to provide a bit of hate-love romancing of Aunt Jocasta, who despite her meddling is one of the best characters. She knows how the world works and intends to use it to her advantage! Briana starts out as a strong, likable character, but becomes somewhat less so later on, in her series of impulsive decisions and emotional explosions.

There are the usual harrowing moments, and some supernatural twists along the way; the series covers a lot of ground and sometimes a lot of time passes between episodes, leaving us celebrating a birth in one episode and finding out someone died off-screen in the next. It has a lot less dull moments than the previous season, and the change of scenery is a lot of fun—we’ve now been to Scotland, France, Jamaica, and are in the Americas, where there’s a brief appearance from a young George Washington. I just wish I’d seen more of him!

Sexual Content:
There are four sex scenes, most of them with graphic nudity and movement; one of them is a clothed sex scene between two men (we hear the heavy breathing and then see them). A few references to homosexuality. The rape scene happens off-camera, but we hear screaming and her being beaten, while nobody does anything about it. There’s talk of forced sex, rape, pregnancy, etc. A man has a flashback to seeing a naked woman covered in blood. Some backside nudity. A priest confesses to having impregnated a woman, and now feeling guilt.
16 abuses of Christ’s name, a few uses of bloody, three f-words, and one “bollocks.”
A man is beaten almost to death; a woman has a bloody face and blood on the back of her skirt after being raped; another man punches the first in the face and gives him a beating; a man has a rupture in his intestine and must be operated on (no blood shown); a woman opens a piece of cloth to find the bloody scalp of her Indian friend inside; in retaliation, the Indians burn down a house, and shoot flaming arrows into the two people who stumble outside; elsewhere, they burn a man to death for refusing to baptize his infant -- another man throws gunpowder onto the pyre so he won’t suffer long, but the man’s lover throws herself onto the flames to die with him; two separate men are forced to run the gauntlet (they are punched, hit with tomahawks, and beaten with sticks); a slave is found ‘hanging’ by a hook in his stomach—Claire demands he be brought down and tries to save his life by operating on him, including pulling out the hook; to save him from being dismembered by an angry mob, she gives him tea to drink that kills him. A horse is shown bloodied after an encounter with a bear (it survives).

Claire finds a human skull in the woods and sees the ghost attached to it; the Mohawk tribe believes that man was a demon with the power to see the future, and asks her if she has seen his ghost. They find a man in the woods cast out from his tribe who has taken on the personification of a bear.

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