Hello, all! Well, it’s been a wild and contentious time here in Outlander-world, with all this discussion of the strapping, and while I have tried to back off the topic a little bit this past week because, honestly, it hijacks every other discussion in its immediate surroundings, a few people have asked about my comment in last week’s podcast, that it’s not “how I would have done it,” so I’m going to write up this post for those who are interested, and then I’m moving on. I’m not saying another word about it. I won’t argue about it in the comments or the forum; I’m dropping the mic.
Before I talk about what I would have done, we have some things we need to clear up here first.
Following are the discussions about the strapping that have absolutely no influence at all upon my feelings about the strapping:
It has nothing to do with history. This is Diana Gabaldon’s world, and if she says men beat their wives in the society she built for Outlander, then they did. But that’s not a valid defense or condemnation of the strapping, so I’m taking it out of the discussion right here. Irrelevant.
It has nothing to do with 20th century ideals. Again, irrelevant. Anyone who knows me at all knows that I hate “message” stories, when a political message hijacks your tale. Yuck. I do not expect, nor do I want, anyone to tailor their storytelling to my personal morality. I’m not a fan of rape, murder, evil, bank heists, or crystal meth in my reality, but if you’re telling a good tale, I’ll take it in my fiction with second-helpings for later.
It has nothing to do with BSDM, discomfort with sex play, or old-fashioned prudery. I’m sex-positive, people. My only concern is consent; past that, have at it, with my blessing which you don’t need if you’re adults with consent (and maybe a safe-word).
Okay, so let’s get past all of that, because this is where we tend to trip over each other in this discussion. It becomes a discussion about history, or prudery, or spousal abuse, and that’s not what any of this is about. Not for me.
It’s about character.
Look, I don’t need Jamie, or any of the heroes I love, to be perfect. I like that he’s hotheaded and ruled by his passions. I like that sometimes he’s just wrong. I have no problem with that. I also have no problem believing that he would enjoy taking a strap to Claire if she wanted him to.
I don’t believe for a moment that he would ever enjoy hurting Claire against her will. That’s just not Jamie. This beating, and the playful tone that’s taken with it, seems horribly out of character for him, the same man who took a beating to save a young girl from public humiliation, a girl he claimed he didn’t even know. Jamie employs violence only when it’s absolutely necessary. He’s a man of measured thought, and thoughtful process. He’s moral, and he tries to do right by everyone, and sexual enjoyment without consent is wrong, in any age, and he would have known that. I can see him engaging in and enjoying BDSM activities with Claire; we get hints of this throughout their relationship. But without her consent? No. After something as serious and heartbreaking as almost seeing this woman he loves so dearly that he would risk life and limb for her without a thought almost raped by the monster who had permanently scarred his body and his soul (which is true even before the events to come at the end of this book)… no.
And look, I’m all for the strapping. I’m all for Jamie having to beat Claire to restore her position with the men and I’m all for him seeing it as his duty to do so. I have no problem with her fighting, and him doing it anyway, because he knows he must.
I have a problem with him enjoying it, and then expecting her to be grateful that he didn’t immediately force himself on her afterward.* That’s not Jamie; imperfect as he is, he wouldn’t enjoy causing Claire pain. It would be a duty, and he would do it, but the enjoyment is, for me, a character break so huge as to almost make me want to abandon the story.I can see him respecting the fight in her, but not deriving sexual ya-yas from her fear and pain. It’s the first of such breaks for me during the course of these stories, but it’s not the last.
And that’s okay. As I said in the podcast, it’s not the job of any of these people — Gabaldon, or the producers of the show — to tailor this story to my personal tastes. I was hoping they would fix the break in Jamie’s character. I hoped they wouldn’t treat the beating lightly, as though it’s a joke and sexual play. Instead, they were faithful to the book as Gabaldon wrote it, and I can’t fault them for that. They made it fun and playful.
I wouldn’t have.
What I would have done:
1. Willie gets beaten, too. Jamie’s line about how a man would have been flogged or had his ears cropped should be backed up with evidence. Willie’s job was to guard Claire; he failed to do so, as ordered.
2. Jamie doesn’t enjoy it. You pass up a huge opportunity for a crisis here with Jamie by making it fun and playful for him, and hinting at his sexual gratification. Take that out, and here is a man caught between love and duty; what a tremendous dramatic opportunity flushed away.
3. Make the episode about Jamie and Claire. This is about structure and focus for the episode, and I see where they were going for here and think it’s interesting, but it felt too disjointed. While I don’t mind all the politics, this is a huge moment in the romance between these two; Claire needs to be present. Jamie needs to making overtures to Claire. This is where the book gets it right; when they talk about all the times Jamie was beaten as a lad, they connect, and he shows that he understands what he did and why he did it, and what it did to her, while at the same time, believing it to be right. And then, when he makes his oath, he chooses love over duty. He promises never to lay a hand on her again, even if the situation calls for it. Making the episode about these two choices–first choosing duty over love, then love over duty–would have been very strong, dramatically.
4. Cut Laoghaire at the riverside. The less we see of Laoghaire, the more dangerous she is. The slutty vixen by the waterside is not Laoghaire, and it isn’t what makes her scary. We know she wants Jamie, that’s enough. The ill-wish is more frightening after Jamie blows her off; if the last thing we see is him promising to talk to her later, and then see her in the background as he whizzes past her on more pressing business, then that ill-wish becomes even more dangerous. Laoghaire’s failed seduction by the waterside makes her ridiculous, not scary. Plus, it felt very gratuitous, which is one of the things I love Outlander for not engaging with. Speaking of gratuitous…
5. No gratuitous sex. The sex scene at the end was boring to me, because it just reinforced the idea that this was all fun and games, with Claire getting into the sado-masochism as though that’s at all what this should have been about. Look, I don’t have a problem with sex, or people having fun sex. Great; have at it. The only sex I want to see is the stuff that has narrative import, and this felt like it was in there, much in the way the strapping felt, for sexual play. That’s not what I’m here for; I’m here for narrative. But, like I said, it’s not their job to write for me. But I would have had the sex bring them together after he chooses love over duty, for Claire. That would have meant something. Otherwise, it’s just people getting busy, and that’s not why I’m watching Outlander.
And that’s it, really. I would keep the strapping, but I would change the tone. I think it’s a huge missed opportunity in the book, and I would have liked for the show to fix it, and they didn’t but… whatever. I’m ready to move on to next week and see what comes next. See you then!
*I misspoke about this moment in the podcast; I said that he did force himself upon her right afterward. I misremembered that part.