Apr 102015

I’ve tossed this episode around in my thoughts all week, and I still don’t have my head around it. I wrote and scrapped hundreds of words, hoping that some clear conclusions would surface. In turn, I’ve been ecstatic, disgusted, inspired, aroused, and pissed off by The Reckoning.

I really didn’t want to dwell on the beating scene all that long. Clearly, the showrunner didn’t want to dwell on it too long, either. Ronald D. Moore does have a strong argument for curtailing the “spanking” as he calls it. It’s a different experience to see something; it’s far more intense than reading it. Still, I’m left thinking that writing, directorial, and editing choices took the easy way out on this one. Imagine if they hadn’t. Claire’s posterior might have accomplished what Kim Kardashian’s didn’t. The internet might have actually broken this time.

The fact that this week’s review has been so hard to write reminds me how damned exquisite this story is, both in novel and television format. If I wanted less challenge, I’d spend some time with a bodice-ripper. Better yet, I’d plop down with that turns-my-stomach-to-mention-the-name-of, god-awful tripe-turned-pseudo-sado-flick that lazy reviewers continue to insist upon comparing to Outlander. I’m verbose, but I’m not lazy. So, this review will be posted in two parts. The source material’s more than sufficient fodder.

When we last left our heroes
This long-awaited season return draws upon the tail end of chapter 21 and chapters 22 and 23, the last chapters before Part 4 of the novel. As this production is wont and entirely at liberty to do, they’ve also borrowed from a few other passages that precede and follow this section. Richard Clark manned the director’s chair, and Matthew B. Roberts took lead writing credit. We’ve seen Roberts’ previous work on 104 The Gathering, another Jamie-centric episode with heavy political overtones.

On the political front, the expediency of shifting the point of view to Jamie was a stroke of genius. In the novel, Diana Gabaldon communicates much of the political story line through exposition. She imparts the complexity of the Jacobite cause, both on the macro level and within the MacKenzie clan leadership, primarily through Jamie reporting and explaining things to Claire. This “telling versus showing” flips the conventional storywriting guideline “show don’t tell” on its head, but Herself manages it with aplomb. Understanding the undertones and interworkings of the Highland culture is very important, but relegating most of the knowledge base development to exposition puts it in the proper context.

Ultimately, this is Claire’s story. In this novel, as well as throughout the rest of the series of Big Books, only Claire speaks in the first person. Even when longer and longer passages follow other characters later on, the story remains Claire’s through it all. In adapting Outlander for the screen, however, it’s far more compelling to witness Team Colum vs. Team Dougal, with Jamie as Diplomat, rather than being told how events transpired after the fact.

For ever other aspect of this episode, however, it’s my opinion that a women should have been at the helm. Yes, it was important to understand where Jamie was coming from during the riverside argument. It was fascinating to see how he broke into the castle and got himself into Black Jack Randall’s window. I liked seeing Horrocks first-hand. I’ll concede that the scene with Laoghaire was a favorite of mine (putting me in the VAST minority). There is even something to be said about getting Jamie’s inner monologue as he learns that his tradition-steeped ways don’t apply to his life as he once believed they might.

In the end, however, we needed Claire’s voiceover, we needed the kinds of writing choices only women would have made, and we needed a woman directing, particularly in post-production.

Two sides to every story
Two distinct and rabid schools of thought emerged while the fangroup discussions wore on this week. On one side, there are the die-hard fans asserting that people who didn’t “get” the punishment scene A) didn’t read the books B) don’t appreciate history. Then, there are the pearl-clutching detractors who insist that what Jamie did to Claire is domestic violence, and that anyone who believes otherwise is a patriarchal apologist. These camps seem divided on similar lines when talking about whether the Laoghaire scene was consistent with the Jamie of their dreams novels, and whether the “eat your heart for breakfast” line delivery was gratuitous or awesome.

I don’t have my head around this episode, but I do know one thing: Both camps have it wrong on a number of counts. Here’s a quick wrap-up of the most heinous arguments I’ve seen:

  • To paraphrase Cell Block Tango, “She had it comin’… She had it comin’…”: Claire didn’t deserve what she got, neither in the book nor on the screen, but storytelling isn’t about fairness, is it?
  • My Jamie wouldn’t…: For the most part, here, I’m talking about the scene by the river and she of the corset-straining bosom. Um, yeah he would. Sorry, ladies. It’s so easy to project Jamie of the Entire Book Series onto young Jamie, who is 23, in the doghouse (moreso in the show than in the book), and thoroughly if temporarily out of courage at the point Laoghaire corners him. P.S. What he did doesn’t constitute infidelity; it constitutes resisted temptation in a moment of weakness.  PPS Stop hating on Nell Hudson. If you can delight in Tobias Menzies’ portrayal of malevolence, you can enjoy her showcase of dark and twisty, too.
  • Semantics: “It wasn’t a beating.” “Tawsing is done with a whip, not a belt.” “It’s spanking, which is very different from…” People. Enough. You put one accurate, albeit somewhat sanitized scene of corporal punishment on a paid cable TV show, and everyone becomes Johnnie Cochran. Not cool, Internets.

The NITB-NITS Run-down:

You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?
A plus for casting a former live-action Batman as Jamie? You get a guy who looks totally at home scaling walls and swashbuckling. The revised dialogue in this scene omitted the “Scottish wildcat” line and the recalling of Black Jack’s similar attack on Jamie’s sister, Jenny, but the sum total made my skin crawl deliciously. In the show, Ned sends the rescue team into the castle with unloaded weapons, but they’re still armed to the teeth with all manner of dagger and sword. I suppose there’s a good reason that the show deviated from the book version in this regard. In the book, Jamie killed a guard in self-defense, confiscated the weapon fired upon him to use in the invasion, and lost his dirk in the process. I’m not sure this screen adaptation was the way to go, but it seems of little consequence. The throwaway line about not thinking to kill BJR, though? Even Ronald D. Moore regrets keeping it in the voiceover. How much better might it have been for him to consider it and have Claire stop him because Frank’s lineage depends upon it? Ach, well. Bygones.

I really love the lover’s leap from Scottish Azkaban, however. Metaphor much?

Angry people are not always wise
I love this story from the set of It’s a Wonderful Life. For the first kiss scene, George and Mary were supposed to be on separate phone lines, originally. Capra wisely restaged the scene to put them in on the same phone in a tight shot. The results were electric. The way that conflicted George’s eyes glide over Mary, and the way the heat between them escalates is just too much. He drops the phone and delivers the lines meant to reject her but instead reveal his love. The best part is that a few more pages of dialogue were written but abandoned with the kissing that concludes the scene. The writers were upset about the lost pages, but the results speak for themselves.

I don’t think I blinked during the riverside fight scene. Claire didn’t accuse Jamie of sulking, Jamie doesn’t threaten to shake Claire or slap her until her ears ring, and he didn’t get to say a favorite line of mine, “and I’m verra tired of people trying to make me watch while they rape you. I dinna enjoy it a bit!” So what? What was delivered was just spectacular. The tight frame and the full commitment of the actors supersedes any words on a script. We’ve seen Jamie say, “You’re tearin’ my guts out, Claire,” about a thousand times in the last few months, and it feels utterly real and new every single time.

If I could have gotten just one more thing out of that scene, it would have been the element of injured pride and Claire realizing she’s irrationally angry that Jamie didn’t defend her at the glade. The line, “My pride is about all I’ve got left to me,” tears me up every time I read it. As the scene was shot, it seems that Jamie’s upset that Claire doesn’t properly appreciate his efforts to save her, but it’s so much more than that. She doesn’t understand just how far the world’s torn him down.

The first of several reckonings
I’ve always felt as if, twisted thought it may be, it was the very fact that Claire had gained a measure of status among the Highlanders that made them all the more resentful of having to rescue her. It would have been one thing if she’d been a hapless Sassenach, but she’d proven herself to be more than that. It made the insult of her infraction all the more serious. I’m not sure they’d expect a clueless Claire to be punished, but they expect the Claire they now know to be held to the standards to which she’s sought to be regarded. And all that entails.

What’s more, no one ever presses her to discover her motive for leaving the copse. I really wonder how Claire would have responded if they’d asked her why she decided to traipse off. The crime of disobedience would be eclipsed by her real motive, to escape not only geographically but maritally and cosmically altogether.

This leads me to the trouble with the beating scene (Not the spanking scene, as many insist on downgrading it, or the tawsing, or whatever. I’m not being inflammatory or waving any flag of righteous indignation. I’m being true to the book. Of all the ways the act is described, the word “spank” is never used. It’s “beating.” Look it up.)

For one thing, Book Jamie warned her this very thing would happen. It’s another instance of whitewashing that this bit was omitted from Episode 108, Both Sides Now. But here we are. Two other dropped lines include, “We’ll call the account square with a dozen strokes,” and if she doesn’t cooperate, “I shall put a knee in your back and beat you ’til my arm tires.” Both of these give further insight to his intentions to exact both justice and revenge. TV Jamie only seeks the former.

Presenting the scene from Jamie’s point of view does something really interesting, if somewhat too expeditious given the gravity of the situation. No narrator is entirely reliable, and Jamie is no exception. By his portrayal, he was the very embodiment of entitled justice, carrying out his duty and exacting his might in much the same manner it’d been carried out on his own backside countless times throughout his life. And, as anyone who’s been in on the administering side of justice can attest, being in the right feels good. This accounts for the too-lighthearted tone of the proceedings on screen. Jamie gets to be the man, like his father and his father before him. Never mind that he’s violating the very promise he’s made time and again, “Ye not need be scairt of me, nor anyone here so long as I’m with ye,” and, “You have… the protection of my body, as well.”

Here’s my twist on why making this scene, essentially, a romp, is problematic. It’s not that this ought to have been more severe and dark in tone; it’s that we’re robbed of Claire coming to terms with why this had to happen. However ugly, it was necessary, true, and served a purpose despite it all. Tough as it is to read or watch, the absence of a spot-on historically accurate scene would have been far more egregious than its inclusion.

Book Claire did fight off Jamie, but she reluctantly acquiesced, eventually. This is me projecting, but I think part of her yielding had to do with the penitence of having attempted a greater transgression than that of which she was accused. I also think that she began to accept that, while wildly barbaric, this might be just another eighteenth century repugnance to be borne.

Claire’s acquiescence in the book lasted as long as the first lash, however. The thrashing, throwing, howling, and carrying on that followed was what the clan had to hear to know justice had been served. I’ve seen a lot of “couldn’t they have just faked it?” pondering online. Come on. Tell me how a script could have been devised that would make that logical progression even remotely believable.

Both TV and Book Jamie enjoyed the tawsing, but Book Jamie enjoyed-enjoyed it. Again, whitewashing. I wish they’d let Jamie be Jamie, flaws and all. It’s the resolution of these flaws that make JAMMF him so interesting, not the flawlessness. Plenty of interviews have alluded to letting us see Jamie’s peccadillos in coming episodes (peccadillos means minor foibles or sins, although it sounds a little filthier, thus the usage). Don’t shy away from this, please. Bring it on.

I could go on for days about this scene, but there’s still another half an episode to address. One more point: the ROI on having Jamie expound on the numerous occasions of his own backside being warmed helped ease the sting of Claire’s defeat in the book. Ironically, the injury was resolved far more quickly this way. It made for a better plot arc to have the conflict last all hour long on TV, so I understand the resequencing here.

In the next installment of this review, I’ll share one more thought about eighteenth century beatings, and then never speak of it again. A preview: Imagine if Laoghaire had been made to suffer her punishment at the hall. I wonder if Miss I-Forgot-My-Shift would have been so cavalier at the riverside if Jamie hadn’t spared her, huh? This won’t be the first time that Jamie, thinking he’s doing the right thing by showing a sinner mercy, lives to regret it. Anyone who’s read the the future episode synopses, let alone the books, knows that.


  4 Responses to “Outlander: All is Forgiven—A Review of The Reckoning, Episode 109 (Part 1)”

  1. Yep, that episode was a lot to process – having read the books or not. Good point that only Claire knew what she was REALLY up to, wandering away like that. I forgot that Jamie did indeed warn Claire exactly what would happen if she disobeyed him.
    Sometimes I’m a bit disturbed by how obsessed I am with Outlander – having devoured all the books – even the related novellas – and now seeing how it plays out on TV. But then I go to the internet and realize I am by no means alone. It’s interresting to see how the show must condense events and paint characters in much more broad strokes. I am enjoying your comparison of book to TV show. So thank you for these reviews. I’m looking forward to reading more.

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  3. […] No Party Like a Leoch Party Having all but exhausted my thoughts on this episode’s first half, let’s get our arses back to Leoch, where the most awkward surprise […]

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