Within the epic love story that is Outlander there is this exquisite marriage drama within – tragic, beautiful and awfully complex – as Claire and Jamie are trying to overcome trauma and survive the poisonous Paris.
”Fair’s fair” are Jamie’s first words to Claire when their real wedding night starts, after that first quick, awkward yet somewhat hot consummation of marriage that had to take place, is behind them. She asks him to take his remaining clothes off so she can look at him, circle around him and touch his body. ”Fair’s fair” he says when she is done, letting her know it’s his turn to gaze and feel her body before they give and take in that first real wedding-night bliss.
It tells the story about two persons going through crises without the marriage itself necessarily going through one, because through it all these are two persons who always try to find each other.
A (successful) marriage is about that, giving and taking, about trying to see things from the other person’s perspective, about looking into yourself and scrutinise your own actions. It’s about forgiveness and as Jaime so eloquently puts it in the end, it’s about carry your burdens together to make them bearable at all and how Jamie and Claire are trying their best, struggling through trauma and conspiracy in Paris, is so exquisitely and heartbreakingly told in the second season of Outlander.
The Wisdom of Diana Gabaldon and Ronald D. Moore
What greatly surprised me when I started watching Outlander was that it turned out to be a show about a married couple. I have always had a flare for marriage dramas, but I seldom get to enjoy any, because on TV married couples just don’t seem to be something writers know how to write about or even consider being possibly entertaining. How many crime, adventure, syfy or medical dramas features a married couple at the center?
Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie (Sam Heughan), the married couple, in the epic historical, adventure melodrama that is Outlander.
This side of the millennium Grey’s Anatomy comes to mind, although I’ll admit I stopped watching after season 5. There are other shows of course featuring married couples, yet few are exploring marriage as such. More recently The Americans inserted a brilliant marriage drama amidst the chilling spy business of the 1980’s cold war and surprisingly Santa Clarita Diet hid a genuinely thoughtful tale of marriage within its bloody zombie comedy. Another recent example is Joe Swanberg’s Easy that gave us interesting glimpses of one couple in his Chicago anthology.
The hypnotic marriage drama that is The Americans
So they do exist, the marriage dramas, and I’m sure there are more out there, but yet I was missing this bold, melodramatic, passionate marriage drama that is Outlander and I’m now overwhelmed how it dares to indulge in love and marriage whilst telling its historical tales sprinkled with fantasy and loads of adventure.
One might think the reason for my love for marriage dramas is because I’m a middle-aged married woman myself, but no, I got hooked on them already in my early teens when watching Dallas. Bobby and Pam captured my heart and got me on the trail of rooting for the married couple. Dallas is one of few series who told intriguing stories about married couples and did it well. Contrary to most melodramatic shows the Dallas writers didn’t seem to know what to do with their main couples when they weren’t married. This is unique I would say and why Bobby and Pam, J.R. and Sue Ellen and actually also Lucy and Mitch all remarried.
Dallas: The magnificent tale of two brothers — Happy 40!
Noticeably there has been much focus on divorce rather than marriage lately in TV, like the comedy Divorce. I guess it’s easier to find dramaturgic elements in such a premise, but done right – without building drama through contrived lies, mistakes or failures to communicate, but instead by complicated life events – the story of marriage can be fabulously fascinating to watch. This is something Outlander author Diana Gabaldon undeniably has understood and producer Ronald D. Moore was not the least afraid of.
The Marriage Drama Within
Jamie and Claire unexpectedly (for those like me who haven’t read the books) get married in episode seven of season one and from that on the pair of them is the center of the story in four seasons so far, during which Outlander captures the whole array of romance and marriage drama. I’s about a couple falling in lust, in love, overcoming trauma and loss, reconnecting and settling down.
Jamie and Claire being masters of self-restraint when running into Black Jack Randall at Versailles.
Within this epic love story that is Outlander there is also a smaller and so exquisite marriage drama confined to those seven episode taking place in Paris. Claire and Jamie flee there to escape his death sentence, the brutal rape as well as the physical and psychological torture that almost took his life. By now they have gotten to know each other and they have been through hell and survived. They are a strong, loving, closeknit couple who have this idea to change history while recuperating.
Four weeks of inhaling four seasons: My love letter to Outlander
These six and a half episodes are marriage drama perfection. It’s tragic, beautiful, sweet and complex as the two are trying to overcome trauma, are subjected to impossible choices and in the end suffer a tremendous loss. It tells the story about a man and woman going through crises without the marriage itself necessarily going through one, because it’s about two persons deeply in love, who always try to find the way back to each other.
Things are not black and white, also while waddling through crises life goes up and down. Outlander catches this with all the nuances and therefor feels very real. It also manages to be relevant both in the way Jamie is portrayed and in what it can mean to be a woman.
Chapter 1 – The Ghost in the Bed
The story is set off by the superb edit taking us form 20th century New York to the 18th century French harbor of Le Havre. Claire’s hesitant steps out of the airplane to Frank’s outreaching hand is juxtaposed – and accompanied with that melodramatic Outlander theme – with Claire eagerly taking Jamies hand as she smilingly steps off the boat. They look relaxed and happy with Jamie’s seasickness immediately being made fun of. Finally ashore he can’t take his eyes off his wife and he keeps kissing Claire between the jokes. The scene rings of promise that the trauma they fled is actually behind them.
”You certainly have a high opinion of what a crippled highlander and a pregnant English woman can accomplish.”
But the next scene immediately gives another view. Jaime is in physical pain, his hand hurts and the camera lingers as he sits then lies down on the bed, still reeling from the nausea, looking taken and troubled. When Claire looks at him, he makes a joke of course, because that is what he does when things are awkward. Claire notices and considerately asks what is wrong? This couple knows how to communicate, that is not their problem. Jamie trusts her to tell her that he still feel Randall’s touch as if he was there, after which Claire assures him she will never go away. As usual he brings his humor whenever things are too dark: ”You are a hard one to get rid of, that’s for sure”.
This scene has everything – from a general context to the context of the specific story. It stands out in the way it is not afraid to show the hero as weak, hurt, cautious, passive and someone who – wait for it – is avoiding sex. Claire is the one with the idea to change history by stopping the Scottish uprising and its final loss at Culloden Moor. Jamie is sceptic while she talks about infiltrating, money, weapons and plans. She wants this so much, maybe she see it as part of her purpose of coming here and at the same time a way for them to focus on something new and not get stuck in what was. Again, Jamie handles their different energy with humor: ”You certainly have a high opinion of what a crippled highlander and a pregnant english woman can accomplish”.
In the specific context the scene it embodies so much about Jamie, how he uses his humor, how he believes in honor, his devotion to Claire and his trust in her. ”It’s not a very honourable path you are laying out for us”. But in the end he would not not support her idea, he trusts her and he loves her. After promising he will write to his cousin for help, he cannot bring himself to kiss her and the scene ends somewhat like it started, with the ghost of Jack Randall in their bed.
Chapter 2 – The Constant Reminders
It’s difficult to get over trauma and the problems it causes if you are constantly reminded of them. Jaime is having the most horrible nightmares featuring Claire and Jack Randall all in one bloody mess. While it’s clear that it will take time to heal, Jamie and Claire are getting on with their lives in Paris. Claire tries to aid Jamie with what she has, a positive outlook and herbs for sleep, but the reminders of the just keeps popping up.
A lady friend, Annelise, from Jamie’s time at war in France, shows up – I guess she was one of those Jamie practiced his kissing technique with.
First it’s the Bonnie Prince, Charles Stuart, who wants to meet Jamie at Madame Elise of all places, a brothel. Most women would probably not appreciate their husbands hanging at brothels even if it’s only for meetings, but Claire has a jealous streak, even if she has no reason. That in combination with “what’s not going in their boudoir” – as Claire’s maid rather frankly puts it to Murtagh – makes it extra sensitive. On site Jamie get to hear ”the wives” on the brothel stage presenting dildos and singing about being lonely and unhappy, which is undeniably foreshadowing what is to come.
Then Claire is trying, in her own way, to replace Jack Randall in Jamies head, first with that shaved honeypot, then with the very revealing red dress. Jamie is probably the one she wants to titillate even if it doesn’t hurt if it worked on any of the Frenchmen at court they need to get acquainted with. Jamie seems mostly bothered, like the prudish guy he sometimes is, but also because it reminds him of his failure to perform.
It doesn’t stop there. A lady friend, Annelise, from Jamie’s time at war in France, shows up – I guess she was one of those Jamie practiced his kissing technique with – and cannot restrain from calling Jamie passionate and Claire a lucky woman. Jamie is a sensitive man. He knows when things upset Claire and is uncomfortable with the attention he gets and tries to make peace: ”It was just one little duel. An insignificant duel”. But once again, the two of them are reminded of the passionate sex they are not having.
As if all the reminders were not enough, in the end the devil himself makes himself heard. The root of all evil, Jack Randall, is not dead after all Claire learns.
Chapter 3 – The Man of The House
Jamie in the third episode reminds me of Jamie returning to Lallybroch in season one. He wanted to show that he was the laird after all and became arrogant and pompous doing so. Part of it was trying to impress Claire for sure, but part was probably to take control of his life by taking control of Lallybroch after years on the run from the price on his head. In Paris, with Claire, he once again is trying to regain control of his life – not letting Jack Randall get a hold of it – by throwing himself into his new life, running the wine business and securing the success of their mission.
”A purpose? I thought our purpose for living in this godforsaken city was to stop the rebellion?”
Jamie’s schedule is full not only by keeping up with Charles at the brothel and meeting the minister of finance at Versailles but also with the wine business. ”A tedious business” Jamie claims once as he leaves Claire at home, but he actually seems cheerful. Although he was not so interested in this not so honourable path, he is now embracing the action and the drama. Or so he makes us believe. When Claire asks him if he wants her to run the wine business in his place, he says no. It’s like he has to prove he is a real man, one that takes care of everything, so his wife can be at home taking it easy and just lend her ears whenever needed. He does no longer want to be the weak man that was raped, surrendered and had to be saved.
In parallell with Jamie becoming the man of the house, Claire becomes the conventional wife instead of the ”unusual wife she used to be” as she tells her friend the pharmacist. She is unhappy, lonely and bored, alone in her bed with nothing better to do than rest and then drink tea with her shallow friends. Whenever Jamie is home she has to run after him through the house to even have a chance of talking to him and when she is not around when he comes home – because she found some purposeful work at the charity hospital – he is mad that she was not there for him to discuss the day’s events. Suddenly they are living separate lives and are just awkwardly civil to each other when their paths do cross.
It’s such a classic marriage conflict, but it’s beautifully told in how smaller conflicts are fought over and if not resolved at least addressed, only to later be replaced by darker and more complex ones. Claire and Jamie still talk to each other, although upset, and when Claire tells him she wants purposeful things to do he suddenly bursts: ”A purpose? I thought our purpose for living in this godforsaken city was to stop the rebellion?” continued by ”When do I get to feel good? When do I get to find meaning in my day?” He is disappointed that their cause seems to fail, but it’s also an admission of this as something he does to keep himself occupied and that he still is far from healed from his trauma. Suddenly he stops pretending to be happy about spending long nights with the Bonnie Prince.
But after rain comes shine when Jamie somewhat sheepishly comes to the hospital to get musical help from mother Hildegaard at the hospital. Finally they are working together, nodding in agreement, solving a puzzle and Jamie is the man of reason and devotion again, who regrets his words and makes a peace offering – ”to my wife, who is always there when I need her” – and his first Sassenach in a long time.
Chapter 4 – That Heartbreaking Confession
Paris is a poisonous place for our couple, literally, as someone is trying to hurt Claire. Jamie worries about her and the unborn bairn and it’s nice how the they are not hostile and unconnected all the time. The information about Jack Randall being alive actually put Jamie in a good mood. Now he can be the one who kills him. One thing that makes this marriage drama so captivating is how they show how life goes up and down, even in the bad phase they are in now. There are moments when they in good mood discuss their cause, seemingly happy and devoted to each other. Then there is a slip of the tongue – ”now I have something to look forward to.”
“Struggling!?! Do you know what I’v been struggling with? Trying to be patient with you and understanding. And all the while I’ve been dealing with carrying our child.”
Every time we might think that Jamie is on the mends he slips a new clue that he is really not. That healing process is so realistically captured. Having a child on the way is not magically gonna change that process. And Outlander does not forget to show how frustrating it is for the spouse, to helplessly watch your beloved suffer without being able to either help or share your own worries and concerns. “Struggling!?! Do you know what I’v been struggling with? Trying to be patient with you and understanding. And all the while I’ve been dealing with carrying our child.”
Claire has been all alone in this, and as she remarks, they have not even discussed names until someone asked. On the surface Jamie has been happy about it of course, wanting Claire to rest and take it easy, but he has not really been able to embrace it and actually look forward to it. Finally Claire, after Jamies failed attempt to explain his bite-in with a prostitute, demands answers and Jamie obliges, giving us a heartbreaking visualisation of what being raped and tortured really feels: ”That is where I have been ever since, Claire. Naked. Alone. Trying to hide under a blade of grass.”
On Claire’s determined initiative, they find their way back to each other in the boudoir and later on she even gets to show her sarcastic side. ”Seems like a bite” she tells the Bonnie Prince who has literally dropped by, ”an epidemic around here”. For now everything is good between them again, despite the poison of doing those bad things for good reasons.
Chapter 5 – The Abyss Between Them
In the chaotic aftermath of their lavish dinner party, with Jamie back from prison, they finally start talking about the baby. Jamie is caressing her stomach before bringing the apostle spoons he has sent for. Claire shares her fear of becoming a mother, of being good enough and Jamie promises they will learn together. He is a modern man. Their love – and yes, they exchange rare ”I love you”s – in the midst of all trauma have grown into so much more than passion and desire by now.
- ”Must I bare everyone’s weakness. May I not have my own.”
During the scene it’s impossible not the get an ominous feeling, because even if you haven’t read the books, you know this pregnancy cannot possibly be the same as the one when Claire returns to the 20th century in the season opener. That can only mean this one does not end well. Yet, the scene is comforting as they take turn listening. Claire gets to talk about her fears and Jamie is the reassuring one. They are in the end always supportive of each other and you just know they will survive anything.
The worst is yet to come though. They may have gotten rid of Jack Randall from their marital bed, but now he turns up in flesh instead and Jamie cannot but politely challenge him to a duel. Suddenly Claire realises that Jack Randall needs to live yet another year for 20th century Frank to be born, but begging Jamie not to kill the mad bastard yet sets off another burst of anger and bitterness over the overwhelming demand to be strong for other people, when you hardly know how to stay strong for yourself: ”Must I bare everyone’s weakness. May I not have my own.”
Diana Gabaldon sure knows how to throw a conflict that seem unsolvable: ”You’d stop me taking vengeance of the man who had me play his whore? A man who lived in my nightmares, in our bed and almost drove me to take my life.” But Jamie is the honourable man, always, and just the mention from Claire about a possible debt of life makes him surrender. She gets his word, but his body no longer. ”Do not touch me!” is his final words as the deepest abyss opens between them.
Chapter 6 – A Man of Reason
In the beginning Outlander sets out to be a story about a woman travelling back in time, but it does not take long to realise it’s also very much about a man, a sensitive and sensible 18th century man that aided by a woman is formed to the modern man he can be. The Paris episodes has Jamie delve deeply into himself. He gets terribly upset about what Claire asks of him, but he doesn’t stay mad and when we meet them in this episode they are at peace again as Jamie massages Claire’s feet as she is half lying at the couch.
“I didn’t give you Randall’s life in payment of a debt. I owe Frank nothing. You had a free choice between us and you chose me.”
Jamie is a grownup who doesn’t let his anger and bitterness linger. It’s not like he magically lets go, he is a man that feels strongly, but he doesn’t always let his heart decide, but also his head. He reasons, he tries to make sense of things and reaches into himself to understand his feelings. He can also put those feelings behind and think about his wife and child and what would be best for them. This makes him a rather unusual character and this of course one thing that make his and Claire’s relationship mature and deep while the drama gets intriguing and captivating.
Jaime is a man of honor, but he is also rational. He has saved Claires life as often as she has saved his, so they are actually even, he reasons. Fair’s fair as he has stated before. ”I didn’t give you Randall’s life in payment of a debt. I owe Frank nothing. You had a free choice between us and you chose me.” Jamie is generous and wants only the best for the woman he loves, but he is not weak. He gave Claire Jack’s life, not because of a debt, but because Claire should have a place to go if they fail to stop the uprising and all the death at Culloden.
He is compliant in a way – he will forgive Claire anything she does – yet not in all. He damands things in return – fair’s fair. This time it is a promise from Claire, that she will go back through the stones if the time should come. He wants her to be with someone who loves her, because that is who he is. They are sweet and caring. All that wanting from season one has turned into deep loving.
“We always find a way back to each other”, Jamie reassures her when Claire worries about that last scheme Jamie is up to to stop Charles. And that of course applies as much for them in regards to their conflicts. Through the arguments and the sadness they always find a way back to each other, because they work on it. Always. That is why they are not afraid to fight, they know this. Also the lust is back now. And let it be clear, their sex scenes – much more sparse obviously in this season since sex scenes always aid the story – can be short, show no flesh and be in the midst of baby-talk, yet be hot as hell because of that heavy breathing and worked up noises they both can’t help but to make.
Chapter 7 – A Day of Faith
As a woman you are always alone with your pregnancy, your worries and – when things go horribly wrong – your grief. As much as the father wants to be a part of it he cannot fully, he is not carrying the child, feeling it, worrying about in the same way. In this case of course Jamie is literally not there. Claire’s baby is gone. Just as he was busy conspiring day and night earlier, now he is nowhere to be found. Unintentionally, seeking vengeance for the living child (Fergus, who more and more become part of the family) became more pressing than protecting the unborn.
It’s not only that Claire lost their baby. It’s the fact that he was not around when it happened. He wasn’t there when she needed him. He wasn’t there in her grief.
For Claire it feels like she lost a husband as well as a child. ”My sins are all I have left” she tells the priest ready to perform her list rites. She miraculously survives and again has to get her husband out of jail. Sleeping with the king to do it hardly registers with her at all: ”If it comes to sacrifice my virtue, mother, I’ll add it to the list of things I’ve already lost in Paris.”
At the dreaded return, we don’t see Jamie’s face at first, just his very heavy steps up the stairs. Claire’s face is cold. It’s not only that she lost their baby – perhaps caused by all the commotion of the duel – it’s also the fact that he wasn’t around when it happened. He wasn’t there when she needed him, he wasn’t there in her grief. She wants to blame him, but in the end she can’t, because just like Jamie she scrutinises her own actions and tries seeing things from his perspective, realising her request was too much to ask.
So they are even. No matter how much she tried, Jamie was alone with his trauma, and now Claire is alone with hers, although he is back at her side. But no, a successful marriage is of course not about being even, but about giving and taking, about all the things Jamie and Claire are trying their best to do. It’s about forgiveness, having faith in each other and as Jaime so eloquently puts it in the end, it’s about carry your burdens together to make them bearable at all.
Read more here: Outlander
Outlander is a Starz original.