Outlander 1×09 – the infamous wife-beating episode

This has also been posted HERE.

 Outlander 1x09 The Reckoning Claire and Jamie Domestic Abuse Wife Beating 2 Sonya Heaney

This is THE episode. The one book readers have known would be difficult to do. It’s the one I decided would help me determine if I wanted to continue with the show or not, because – to be honest – I thought up to here Outlander was getting consistently less-good, rather than better.

 Outlander 1x09 The Reckoning Jamie Sonya Heaney

To begin with a negative: the voiceover. It needs to go. It’s no different to a bad author who tells everything instead of showing it, and it’s especially bad in a situation where you’re already seeing the story play out in front of you.

Handing voiceover duties to Jamie instead of Claire is a huge departure from the first book, and while Sam Heughan is ten times the actor Caitriona Balfe is, his voiceovers add nothing at all to the show. Why would they when they’re totally unnecessary?

However, I did like to see a bit more Jamie, because he’s practically been a background character for much of the show so far. Talent wasted until now.

 Outlander 1x09 The Reckoning Start Scottish Scenery Sonya Heaney

My next thought about this episode was that they finally made the most of the Scottish countryside. Everyone has been praising Outlander for this from the beginning, but until this episode I didn’t think they had done Scotland justice. 1×09 fixed that. It was gorgeous.

 Outlander 1x09 The Reckoning Scottish Scenery Sonya Heaney

I thought they did a good job with the whole fort rescue thing, but Ron Moore is so obsessed with having Balfe’s breasts on display (or another woman’s if Claire’s not in the scene!) that it’s starting to really annoy me.

However, the whole scene looked as expensive and exciting as you’d expect from a movie.

 Outlander 1x09 The Reckoning Rescue Redcoats Sonya Heaney

After this, we hit the part of the book where author Diana Gabaldon had a field day with her misogynistic beliefs (her comments about feminists and women under forty make my blood boil!) and her pseudo-historical accuracy arguments. I found this comment on The New York Times review of the episode to explain my thoughts better than I could articulate them:

 Outlander 1x09 Historical Accuracy Diana Gabaldon Wife Beating Rape Domestic Abuse

However, the vast majority of people also lived fairly limited lives. They stayed in one place. They were born, they lived, they died, and they did it within small, local communities. Women were at risk from the men in their own family, not from every stray male in Scotland and half the British army. They did not go traipsing all over Europe encountering sexual peril from strange men at every turn. I enjoy Outlander, for the most part, but let’s be honest about the role of history here. Galbadon preserves those aspects of the 18th century that facilitate violence and disregards the rest (ie, all the bits where Claire wouldn’t have ever been in any of these situations to start with, because she would have been at home, by the fire). History isn’t a shield against criticism when it’s selective history… 

The point is, Outlander is semi-historical fantasy and the author made choices – most of which maximize the potential for violence, particularly sexual violence. It wasn’t a necessity dictated by historical correctness, and it’s completely fair to question and critique those choices as a reader/viewer.

The show really changed the book’s scenes around a lot, which I’m sort of disappointed about. Because the whole Outlander franchise is continually lauded as a feminist’s dream, I’d have liked for more people to see this part of the story as Gabaldon insisted on telling it. There’s a lot about the story that has nothing feminist about it.

 Outlander 1x09 The Reckoning Claire and Jamie Sonya Heaney

For example, the show’s producers removed the part where Jamie shook Claire so hard she had bruises all over her arms. In the show, they have Claire slapping Jamie instead. I was horrified to see a lot of men commenting on this episode, saying what a ‘stupid bitch’ Claire was. The show is making Claire out to be annoying rather than an abuse victim.

In the book, there are some sex scenes with very dubious consent – which many say constitutes the rape of Claire. In the show, that’s all gone. Show Claire is practically a dominatrix!

What viewers should stop and remember is that the show badly screwed up the timeline so it is very condensed. In the space of twenty-four hours, Claire has been sexually assaulted by two different men, had to kill someone in self-defence, been abducted by Black Jack, physically assaulted, generally traumatised. And then her husband – and the other men – thinks she deserves to be physically punished for nearly getting raped twice.

 Outlander 1x09 The Reckoning Claire and Jamie Domestic Abuse 1 Sonya Heaney

All on the same freaking day!

Outlander 1x09 The Reckoning Claire and Jamie Domestic Abuse Wife Beating 2 Sonya Heaney - Copy

However, even with attempting to add a feminist bend to a misogynistic theme, they DID keep the wife-beating in. And it pissed me off that it was presented as the episode’s comedic relief, complete with clichéd Scottish music blasting through the entire scene. Even with them leaving in Jamie’s line about enjoying beating her with a leather sword belt, it was clearly supposed to be funny.

This is the best reaction to this sexist scene I have read:

The theater went fucking wild when they realized what this scene was—apparently it’s a fan favorite from the books. I of course had no idea what was coming. I listened to the disturbingly upbeat musical score underlying the scene and assumed Jamie was intentionally riling up Claire to protest loudly, so as to make the men downstairs think he had beaten her when he actually hadn’t.

Jamie eventually corners his new bride, rails on her ass with his leather belt, and grins his head off as she screams and writhes in pain. “I said I was going to punish you, I didn’t say I wasn’t going to enjoy it,” he says.

…It was a fascinating moment of cognitive dissonance: we both knew the show had crossed a line, but no one else seemed to. Violence against women in the media is disappointing but never surprising. A theater full of women delighted by violence against women is the height of disturbing.

The way this was dealt with in the show, it made the beating seem even less necessary than it did in the book.

Outlander 1x09 The Reckoning Snow Sonya Heaney

Following this they really departed from the book and things got turned around. The episode segues into a lot of scenes involving Scottish politics, which I’m just not in it for. I know some people are happy for a break from the Claire and Jamie soap opera, but I’m seriously not at all interested in the secondary characters!

Outlander 1x09 The Reckoning Laoghaire and Jamie 1 Sonya Heaney

They’ve (probably wisely, because this is a bit of a loose end in the book) done a bit more with the Jamie/Laoghaire relationship, but I’m not sure I like what it does to his connection with his wife!

Outlander 1x09 The Reckoning Laoghaire and Jamie 2 Sonya Heaney

Now, we have a mega sex scene at the end. Done well, but I NEVER need to see the lead actor sucking on the breasts of the lead actress. This is not porn!! Or at least it shouldn’t be.

Outlander 1x09 The Reckoning Claire and Jamie Sex Sonya Heaney

The tamest screenshot you’ll find!

Will I keep watching? I’ll finish the season. Some things were better than I expected, but I just don’t know if I plan to invest in this any further. It’s a gorgeous-looking show, but I never much cared for the books beyond the first one, either. The level of sexual sadism Gabaldon revels in is unnecessary and upsets me.

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4 thoughts on “Outlander 1×09 – the infamous wife-beating episode

  1. ellacydawson says:

    Oh thank goodness, someone who also recognizes how fucked up that scene was. I met an avalanche of hate from Outlander superfans when my blog post went up—it got so bad I had to turn off the comments. Thank you for explaining why this scene was such a misstep from the perspective of someone who read the books. I’m even more uncomfortable now than I was before, and that’s saying something.

    • Sonya Heaney says:

      Outlander is one of those book series that encourages so-called rabid fans, so getting attacked for any criticisms is a given.
      It’s especially bad with this series because it has been 2.5 decades since the book came out, and the author and her followers have been defending the domestic abuse for all that time! You can see a lot of fans quoting the author’s excuses word-for-word.

  2. laquepuede says:

    Wow, I love your reviews. I had so many doubts myself about this show. I really enjoyed it, but also unsatisfied with several things. I have never read the books and as I wrote somewhere else, I lost COMPLETE interest after Jamie’s rape (if we can call it so, because he did consent). The scene where Claire gets spanked was funny, or the show made you think it was funny, but it was incomfortable to laugh at violence against women.
    I had thought on the porn part of today’s televsion as well, and was neither against it nor in favor. The scenes in the show didn’t particularly bothered me, at least until the last two episodes. After watching the season finale, I think I agree showing sex in detail should be avoided on screen, since they are becoming pornographic.
    I also love your post where you quote a journalist from the New York Times talking about the “historical accuracy” of the show. As I commented elsewhere also, the series is fiction. It has fantasy elements as well. Why the author chooses to keep certain realistic elements, as the violence and explicit sex, is a mystery to me. None of that seems necessary to tell a good story. It looks more like morbidness rather than something which you can learn from.
    Being realistic in art is not portraying life in extensive detail; that would indeed be history or documentary TV, not fiction. As far as I understand, this series and the book are both ficiton.
    I just finished the first season so I am heated about it still, haha. I’m not sure I will continue to watch the second one.
    I’d love to add one more thing: I also think the cast is extraordinary, and I agree Heugham is a better actor than I would have expected, better than his female counterpart 🙂

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