For most of this episode, I was torn between knowing I would need some serious self-care, and wanting desperately to comfort Jamie, and explain to him that he’s not alone. So much of what he experiences is what all male survivors of sexual abuse experience.
I know that saying you’re just like everyone else is usually not a helpful thing to say to someone in pain. But, in my experience, survivors of sexual violence struggle with the underlying feeling that they are insane or delusional: that they are decidedly not normal, making it all up, and crazy for doing so, that they are crazy for reacting the way they are, and that they are so incredibly alone in it all. In these instances, survivors of sexual assault find great comfort in their normalcy, in hearing that they are having very normal reactions to an unimaginable thing. And there is nothing quite like the recognition of finding someone else whose struggle is a mirror image of your own.
Throughout the episode we see Jamie feel guilt for his “part” in Black Jack’s sexual abuse, wanting to end his life to escape his anguish, and struggling to comprehend how Claire could ever love or forgive him.
This isn’t a recap so I won’t get into the details of the rescue and his physical healing. It seems clear to everyone early on, though, that something more than standard torture has happened, and that Jamie is in deep turmoil. Murtagh puts ending Jamie’s life on the table, “if it comes to that.” While my survivor advocate side is freaking out and going “What?! No! Never, we never put people down like injured horses!” from a character perspective, it feels totally natural coming from Murtagh, and I get it. I disagree, but I get it. Luckily, Willie and Claire agree with me.
Ah, Claire. Like so many loved ones of survivors (and survivors themselves: remember, she is one, too) she is most comfortable when she has something concrete to focus on, like healing Jamie’s hand. Helping him emotionally, on the other hand, is much more difficult. It is made worse by the after-effect of the assault leaving him hallucinating Jack when he sees Claire, in the reverse of what happened in Wentworth Prison. Sometimes I forget how dysfunctional and physically violent Claire and Jamie can be as a couple. This episode certainly reminded me.
As soon as I saw Claire pick the lavender, I was hoping I was wrong. The idea of intentionally triggering someone is absolutely horrible, and it’s exactly what she did. The show has decided it was worth it since it forced Jamie to have a breakthrough, but I vehemently disagree. While I know and trust that we will see long term emotional effects in the rest of the show, I think Jamie was entitled to more than a few days before someone set upon him to force an emotional breakdown via panic attack. I can’t even dive into their physical fight–there was a lot to process there, with both of them disrespecting the other’s boundaries and escalating conflict, sometimes warranted and sometimes not.
That being said, Claire did a lot of other things right. When Jamie told Claire the part that was really hurting him, and how she could never forgive him, I loved Claire for responding, “there is nothing to forgive.”
One of the more insidious aspects of abuse is that the abuser manipulates their victim into feeling guilty because they somehow “chose” this and brought it upon themselves. This is definitely a focal point for Jack Randall. He doesn’t just want to force himself on Jamie, he wants Jamie to “enjoy” it. He doesn’t just want Jamie branded, he wants Jamie to brand himself. He wants Jamie to feel not only defeated but complicit in his own torture.
But Jamie didn’t choose this, any of this. No survivor ever does. As Claire tells him, he was doing what he had to do to survive.
I know Jamie (and likely Randall) feel he has been broken, but I disagree. For one thing, I don’t subscribe to the belief that people can be broken, or that sexual violence breaks people. Moreover, Jamie somehow finds small ways to assert himself, in spite of the horrific crimes being committed on his body. Under physical torture and the threat of torture and sexual violence against his wife, he used what little autonomy he had to rescue her. When Randall wants him to brand his chest over his heart, Jamie does it (because he has to), but at the last second brands a spot lower on his side. Randall wants Jamie to submit to him, but must later adjust his demands since it becomes clear that Jamie’s mind is trying to give him some relief by bringing up Claire’s likeness. Somehow, in the face of abject horror, Jamie finds his own ways to fight back, and I think that demonstrates the inner strength we can expect to see from him in the future.
Speaking of seeing Claire: the brain does unimaginable things when faced with trauma, in an attempt to soften the blow and help us survive. Some people black out entirely, while others are missing patches of their memory, or dissociate and feel like they have left their physical being behind. When faced with the unthinkable, the brain does what it can to protect us. In this instance, Jamie’s brain chose to call up images of Claire, perhaps to make his ordeal less scary and painful for the moment.
The downside is that in moments of trauma, our brain can’t think ahead, it can only react and try to save us in that very instant. The brain can’t think about how damaging these temporary measures will be in the long run. Jack Randall seizes on this and decides to pretend to be Claire in order to coerce Jamie into submission. Don’t think for a second that the use of lavender, a traditional herb of healing, was an accidental choice. Between that and letting down his hair, and coaching Jamie in much the same way a perpetrator would do with someone under the influence of Rohypnol or GHB, Randall was hoping to confuse the injured, starving, tortured Jamie into feeling more guilt. Immediately after, he intentionally breaks the illusion and questions Jamie about how Claire will ever be able to forgive him. This furthers his manipulation in an effort to make Jamie feel some measure of responsibility for the crime committed against him.
Luckily, Outlander shows us that there is always hope. Survivors like Jamie and Claire are worthy of love. I’m looking forward to seeing how the show handles the lasting impact of Jamie’s rape and torture, and I’m hoping that seeing a very traditionally masculine hero like Jamie learn to heal from sexual assault will help other survivors who identify as men in their own journeys.
I really don’t think we would have seen a woman’s rape portrayed at such length and in such detail. I don’t know what to make of that.
Claire is also a survivor, and I wonder if they’re ever going to address their trauma in concert, instead of in isolation.
I like the Murtagh actually used the r-word, especially since it has rarely been used on this show.
I hope coverage doesn’t spend time acting like this is more shocking for being man-on-man. Remember: this is a crime, not a sex scene. That wasn’t sex, it was torture that happened to take the form of sexual acts.
The cattle stampede seemed oddly played for laughs? It totally had their “here be shenanigans” musical cue.
Speaking of played for laughs: we have Angus sexually assaulting Claire, which is played for laughs, at the tail end of a very intense episode about sexual assault. Thanks for reminding us that rape culture is alive and well, Outlander.
If you or someone you know is struggling with sexual violence, please consult the resources below. There is help out there, and to borrow a phrase, it gets better.