10:01 pm EDT, April 4, 2015

‘Outlander’s’ controversial scene: A brave choice

1. Historical accuracy

Corporal punishment was a way of life in the 18th century. It would be remiss not to show it, and the show has already done so. Remember the lad with his ear nailed to the post? The spanking was less brutal than that — perhaps more humiliating, but less brutal. If the show had faded to black, audience imaginations could have conjured up a worse or better scenario. It was important to show exactly what it was.

When asked to comment, Ginger of Outlander Podcast said, “I’m not going lie: I was surprised they showed all that they did. In the books, it’s related to us as a past event, not described as it happens. Showing her bare buttocks being hit with his leather belt, I was just surprised. I honestly can’t say what I’d expected. That having been said, I thought it was done expertly. Just the right balance of humor and levity that it was carried off rather well.”

Carol from My Outlander Purgatory adds, “I can’t understand people wanting to forego showing an 18th century man punishing his wife. Is it awful? Absolutely. Is it uncomfortable to watch? Most definitely. But it is a refreshingly realistic view of what life was like for women in years past. I think not showing it on screen would be awful.”

2. Anyone would have to pay

Jamie doesn’t just spank Claire because she is a woman and his wife. The “duty” fell to him because she was his wife, but regardless, that punishment was going to be meted out by someone. Jamie points out that anyone who had endangered the clan in the manner Claire did would have to face retribution. The only reason she got off “easy” was that she is a sassenach who is not yet used to their ways. Jamie points out that a man would have been beaten, had his ears cropped (for failure to listen to orders), or even been killed.

Summer from Outlander Podcast added, “I feel like the series didn’t go nearly as far as the books. I think they definitely captured the feel of the books, though. I love that they kept the competitive nature of their relationship while still trying to lessen the impact of the spanking. In the books we were allowed to envision the spanking to the nth degree. Honestly, it seemed mild compared to the books. Out of context, it seems cruel and aggressive, but when you try to see the actions through Jamie’s eyes, it makes a lot more sense.”

3. Enjoyment

Jamie says, “I said I would punish you, I dinna say I wasn’t going to enjoy it.” Now, the statement is not meant in a sadistic way that he routinely takes pleasure from other’s pain. He certainly is getting some satisfaction over what has been a very frustrating experience. On the other hand, it’s a moment where the audience equally cringes and smirks, and perhaps feels guilty for both emotions. Many TV shows would never have gone down that road.

Ginger adds, “Sam’s grin was priceless. You could see Jamie enjoying it. That sentiment is straight from the books. And anytime we see things that are well-adapted, it makes us giddy. Most importantly, though, you could see it push their relationship. It is a vehicle for it. In the end, they come to an understanding that remains throughout the entire series, and they are stronger for it.”

4. Trust in the audience

One thing the novel and the TV series both have, is an inherent trust in the intelligence of their audience. Neither medium is promoting the idea that violence towards women is legitimate, that women need to be slapped around to keep them in line, or any other misogynistic points of view. They trust that viewers can see their show is not an endorsement of violence and domination, but a portrayal or circumstance and choice. In short, they trust their audience can see context and reach their own conclusions. They want to let the audience have a reaction, whatever that reaction is.

Sue, the human behind the Donas Twitter account, explains her perspective: “When I originally read Outlander, this scene was almost a deal breaker for me. I almost put it down and walked away. But I didn’t, specifically because it was an 18th Century man doing exactly what 18th Century men do in that time period. I hated the scene, but I understand why Diana Gabaldon put it in, and it’s a genius move on her part. She knows this is going to create controversy, puts it in anyway, but has the characters reason it out afterward. The clash of centuries is such a dichotomy to the reader (especially if domestic violence has touched you personally) and could create a “point of no return” for this relationship.”

5. Forgiveness

Jamie comes to see his actions in a different light and asks for forgiveness. Claire in turn echoes what many audience members might feel. She knows that part of her is telling her that anyone who ever raises a hand to her should be left behind, yet that is not what her heart wants. In the end, it comes down to a “fool me once” kind of scenario. Jamie gets his one-time get out of jail free card.

Sue felt, “The saving grace was Jamie doing the swearing with the knife. If not for that, I might not be writing this right now! We see Jamie as the ultimate man. When he does something outside our 20th Century morals, we are disappointed, sickened and question why he’s so attractive for us. I know that if I was Claire, I would’ve done exactly what she did — fight, scream, claw — but damned if I wouldn’t love him anyway.”

6. Emotional and sexual healing

The particularly brave choice of this moment of forgiveness was the way it was filmed. The sexual scene that follows feels like a moment of looking into someone’s bedroom. You almost have to look away because of the raw emotion of every action being an “I love you,” “I am so sorry,” “I forgive you.” You nearly feel voyeristic watching.

The scene is filmed very much through Claire’s point of view, and Claire makes her point while in a position of sexual dominance. He is forgiven, but if he ever does it again, she will kill him. The reality is that Jamie, despite having a knife to his jugular, could have easily thrown Claire across the room and into the wall. He acquiesces. It’s both a forgiveness without forgetting and strengthening a bond with words, love, and sex.

I watched the scene in the Ziefeld Theatre at the New York City premiere surrounded by 1,000 die-hard fans. The overwhelming reaction was one of satisfaction. They could have easily giggled as Claire, astride Jamie, states, “I will cut your heart out.” They audience cheered, loudly. The only giggle was when Jamie stated he understood and agreed through gritted teeth as it was a little difficult to talk at that moment.

To sum it up, the ball is now squarely in the court of the viewer. It says a lot that both novelist Diana Gabaldon and showrunner Ron Moore have put their faith in the viewers. The viewers can feel any way that they want; Starz just hopes they’ll be back.

How did you feel about tonight’s ‘Outlander’ scene?

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