This Outlander review contains spoilers.
Outlander Season 4, Episode 8
The theme of tonight’s episode of Outlander–or at least the Brianna portion of the hour–is that men are different degrees of garbage. Obviously, it’s more nuanced than that. This show has a lot of positive representations of men and masculinity, but it’s also a show that understands how power imbalances, especially when it comes to gender, can manifest in a myriad of abuses.
Outlander has always been a show that is interested in exploring abuse of power as a theme. We see it in its critiques of English rule and colonisalism, and we see it in its stories of sexual violence. “Wilmington” was one such story. Rape isn’t about sex; it’s about power. When Stephen Bonnet rapes Brianna, it isn’t because he likes her or because he is attracted to her, but because he is a violent man. This is another horrifying expression of that violence.
While they are inherently different, Bonnet’s act of sexual violence against Brianna is no doubt intentionally meant to be juxtaposed to the sex as love scene that comes earlier in the episode when Bree and Roger consummate their marriage…
Can we all agree that Roger is the worst? In this episode and elsewhere. He may have traveled across time “for” Brianna, but that doesn’t mean she owes him anything… not her love, her body, or her obedience. She gives Roger the first two freely, but, after a brief moment of happiness, Roger soon decides that is not enough. He’s gonna need her obedience, too.
I should have seen this coming. Not only does Roger has a history of trying to control Brianna, but, after a brief, lovely reunion, Roger doesn’t seem to have much interest in talking things through and making sure he and Bree are on the same page.
When they first start going at it, it is Bree who stops their rendezvous to check in: Does this mean Roger has changed his mind? Will he have sex with Bree, even if she has not agreed to marry him?
Bree cares about Roger, and she doesn’t want him to do anything he will regret. She also cares about and respects herself, and doesn’t want to get into this sexual engagement only to have it awkwardly and painfully stopped halfway through when Roger decides he doesn’t like the terms of their relationship… You know, like what happened last time, when Bree tried to explain to Roger why she didn’t want to agree to marry him and Roger proceeded to fly off of the handle, unable to process his emotions when he didn’t get exactly what he wanted.
Despite Roger being the worse, Bree has done some thinking and now feels certain in her love for Roger. She agrees to marry him. They perform a handfasting ceremony, becoming husband and wife, and have tender, loving sex.
In another act of emotional maturity (I’m pointing out these acts of maturity because it will come up later), Bree checks in with Roger about how he is feeling. Sex can be a very vulnerable experience, and she wants to make sure he enjoyed himself. Communication is an important part of any healthy relationship. (This will come up later, too.)
See, while Bree was being a mature adult, Roger was actively keeping information from Bree that might change how she feels about agreeing to marry him–namely, that he, too, found the obituary for Claire and Jamie’s deaths, and decided to keep it from Brianna.
Frankly, I feel like Roger could have just slipped this detail into his larger story, which is conveyed to Brianna off-screen, and it would have been fine. Sure, he was a controlling jerk and didn’t tell Bree about her parents right away, but he eventually made the right decision and was calling to let her know when he found out she had skipped the century.
Instead, he tries to hide it from her. When Bree finds out, she is understandably upset. Even now, he’s trying to control her reactions. “Don’t be angry,” he tells her, when Bree finds him out he lied. (Nope, Roger did not tell her. He’s just terrible at keeping secrets.)
“That was my decision to make … How dare you take that away from me?” Brianna tells Roger.
Rather than acknowledging that he could have handled the entire situation a lot better and apologizing to Bree, Roger doubles down on his controlling behavior. He admits that he didn’t tell her about her parents because he wanted her to be in the mood to marry him. That’s pretty damn emotionally-manipulative.
Roger may get points for honesty–after all, we all make decision we’re not proud of from time to time–but, even in hindsight, when he can visibly see how upset Bree is, he doesn’t seem to see any problem with his actions. As if the gift of his love is reason enough for not giving Bree the chance to save her mother.
Roger confidently admits that, as Bree’s new husband, he feels entitled to her obedience. He calls her immature for “pushing him away,” when she’s just trying to process what probably feels like a pretty major betrayal. It’s Roger who escalates things, asking Bree if he should just return to the future. Um, no, dude. You should sit down, listen to your wife when she tells you things (in the process, recognizing that her feelings are valid), and talk things through.
All in all, this honeymoon period is very short. Because these two don’t properly deal with their issues, their wedding night quickly turns into one big clusterfuck that ends with Roger storming out and Brianna in tears.
Bree’s night goes from terrible to horrific when she returns to the inn she’s staying at. Bonnet is there and, when she realizes he has her mother’s ring, he lures her into a room under the guise of selling it to her. Bonnet’s “price” is him forcing himself on her, an experience that leaves Bree in a state of traumatized shock.
The show chooses to avoid shooting the rape in graphic detail, as they have done in the past. Instead, the scene focuses on the complicity of the crowded tavern who can hear Bree’s cries of horror, begging Bonnet to stop, as they continue to drink, play cards, and have jovial conversations. It’s horrifying to watch, and an all-too-real reflection of our real life present in which rape culture is so normalized and accepted, especially by men.
Outlander has sometimes does a good job depicting sexual violence in a responsible manner, and other times has not. For me, this worked well on a scene basis, even if I am less optimistic how and why Outlander will choose to contexualize Bonnet’s rape of Brianna moving forward.
While Bree was having one of the worst days of her young life, Claire and Jamie had one of their classic time travel shenanigans to worry about. Stuck at a play with the governor, the loyalist confides in Jamie that his men are set to arrest a group of rebels when they try to rob one of their carriages tonight. The governor has it on good authority that one of the rebellion’s leaders, Murtagh, will be there.
Jamie is desperate to warn his friend, but soon the play starts. But when has something as insignificant as the theater ever stopped Jamie Mackenzie from saving the day? He elbows a hernia-ridden fellow theater-goer right in the hernia, causing a disruption in the performance. While Claire saves this man’s life with some impromptu surgery (this must have been where the term “operating theater” came from, amirite?), Jamie gets Fergus to warn Murtagh just in time.
The only problem? Jamie accepts a ride from the Washingtons on the way. Their departure from the play makes the governor suspicious of George Washington, mistakenly assuming that it was George who warned the rebels against attacking the carriage. Oy vey! Did Jamie just endanger the American Revolution?
Outlander Season 4 airs on Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz. Stay up-to-date on all things Outlander Season 4 here!