Summer is finally upon us, giving us a lighter episode …
Bryan Fuller, the creator and showrunner of NBC’s Hannibal, gave an interview with Entertainment Weekly on May 28 about the use of rape on television. “”There are frequent examples of exploiting rape as low-hanging fruit to have a canvas of upset for the audience,” he told the magazine. “’A character gets raped’ is a very easy story to pitch for a drama. And it comes with a stable of tropes that are infrequently elevated dramatically, or emotionally.” Fuller is very correct about this, and his solution (which he admits is inevitably imperfect: “If I was really putting my money where my mouth is, I would have explored rape so thoroughly that it would have taken over the show.”) has been to avoid the use of rape on his series.
Outlander has had its fair share of horrifying moments, many of them having to do with sexual violence. “Wentworth Prison” is an hour of sustained sadistic terror at the hands of Jack Randall, and it is incredibly defeating and deflating. Jack is grotesquely obsessed with Jamie, with breaking him and with manipulating him and those close to him, and he finally is able to do whatever he wishes. As a villain, he is remarkably effective, and this episode works overtime to make him as horrifying as possible. It can feel exhausting and grueling, confined to these small spaces of abuse, but thankfully it is told compellingly and with purpose.
“Love forces a person to choose,” Jenny tells Claire after she tortures a redcoat for information on Jamie. “You do things you never imagined you could do before.” This feels like an inarguable truism, and a kind of thematic basepoint for the episode (and, really, the series). It’s so effective because it is so cheesy on its surface, but is always treated with narrative respect and significance. Claire’s passion is absolutely believable, and she carries the weight of that love on her own this week. She certainly has some experience with love forcing some drastic decisions, not least of which was the choice to stay in this time when she could’ve returned to Frank. She made that choice, and she has been dealing with the consequences since.
The threat is never gone. Jamie thought that he and Claire would be safe once they returned to his home, to Lallybroch, but he should have known that as a wanted man, he can’t hide. McCory and his men of The Watch, who provided us with last week’s cliffhanger, turn out to be scoundrels who offer protection to Lallybroch for a price. As such, we are treated to an episode that is compelling in the moment, but leaves one feeling relatively unfulfilled.
After Claire’s bombshell revelation to Jamie last week, Outlander is not much different than it has been. The pair arrive at Lallybroch, and Jamie spends the hour exposing old wounds, and struggling to take care of new ones. His relationship with his sister, Jenny, is complicated, and he doesn’t make it any better when he accuses her of having Jack Randall’s bastard child. Perhaps as a result, she doesn’t take very kindly to Claire, either, and the episode is devoted to repairing this relationship as Claire settles in to her new home.
“The Devil’s Mark” is easily one of the strongest episodes of television to air so far in 2015. It is a bit of a wild ride, split between the first half in which the series turns into The Crucible with the witch trial of Claire and Geillis and the second half as Claire reveals the truth to Jamie and must choose whether she will go home to her time or stay with him. Things that have been simmering for some time finally come to a head, everything all out there all at once, and it is predictably thrilling and exceptionally executed.
Playing with perspective is a common trope in TV. Lost, and countless imitators, used this as its primary storytelling device, telling its story from a different character’s point of view in every episode. This can be an incredibly rewarding way of unravelling episodic stories, allowing individual stories to briefly take precedence, giving them greater significance and nuance, and letting the overarching plot move forward incrementally. This approach is not suitable for all shows, however, which Outlander learned all too well last week when it returned from a six-month hiatus.