Reviews: Outlander

The Show That Turns Rape into Filler

Outlander is an expensive looking historical romance about a 1940s nurse, Claire, who accidentally travels back in time to 18th Century Scotland during the Jacobite uprisings. As light as that sounds on paper, it takes itself super seriously, using the setting to paint the most unforgiving picture of historical Britain possible.

Claire does the natural romantic stuff of shacking up with a hunky highlander (he's the only other person in this era with good teeth), but she barely gets any chance to indulge in the wish-fulfilment stuff. Instead, most episodes revolve around her battling casual misogyny or fending off filthy rapists. I lost count of how many people actually try to rape her over the course of the series, but hell, sometimes it happens multiple times with different attackers per episode. I get that the 1700s wasn't exactly kind to women, but even she must start to feel exasperated by how out of hand it is. On top of this is the series antagonist, an English Captain with a repertoire of kinks. The show wants us to be disgusted by his behaviour, but on the other hand, it can't get over showing every last thing he does in the most gratuitous detail. I've not read the books, but if it is anything like the show, I'd say the author has a lot of latent urges she needs to come to terms with because I'm getting these very mixed signals.

On top of that, almost every episode plot follows a structure of "character A ends up captured, character B mounts a rescue attempt, character B kind of screws it up". After a point, you realise the writers perhaps don't have a huge amount of imagination when it comes to translating this material. People have criticised one episode, where Claire has to start singing contemporary music on stage for people, Back to the Future style, but I think it works as one of the better episodes. It might sound like filler, but it is actually the prison rapes/breaks that make up the bulk. This episode actually gives Claire something else to do for once, even if it ends wither her learning she's going to have to take part in another rescue.

I can't figure out the target audience for this. You might like historical dramas or romances, but the two completely fail to mesh in this overly gritty, laborious and miserable story.

Outlander, season 1, mostly about THAT episode

I came into this series having not read the books, only knowing it involved time travel + historical drama + romance elements, all of which sounded great. And it was! Really! the first 15 episodes of this I love! Yes, it overuses the rescued-from-rape trope (twice in episode 8), yes the episode where Claire becomes a singer is...bizarre, but mostly it had great acting, great production values, and engaging story, and I'd have recommended it strongly.

Then came the final episode, which made me thankful I didn't have Starz and had to watch it on DVD with a fast-forward button. It's not that a major character is tortured and raped, it's not that we see scenes of it. It's that those scenes go on. So. Long. Eventually I got to the point that I didn't feel as though I were witnessing their torment, but somehow participating in it by agreeing to keep watching. Hence the fast-forwarding. And it wasn't just my moral sensibilities being offended here either - it's that there was no storytelling justification for depicting things in this level of length and detail. Skipping the scenes after about a minute into them, I didn't lose any of the emotional or dramatic impact. Had they been briefer, there would have been much more time for the scenes at the monastery of the victim's recovery and everyone dealing with the shock of what happened.

Basically, it felt like they went for
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