Warning: This article contains MAJOR spoilers for the OUTLANDER Season 5 finale but does not contain any book spoilers beyond Season 5.
Outlander Season 5, Episode 12
Outlander brings Season 5 to a close with Claire’s abduction and the Mackenzies’ discovery of the finer points of time travel. While the very end of the episode gives the viewer hope that things for their favorite characters are on the way up, the journey there is filled with triggers and turmoil.
Fans who have not read the books have every right to question why the show would choose to air an episode where Claire, the matriarch of the story, is gang-raped on Mother’s Day. The decision to skip a week between Episodes 7 and 8 clearly caused this easily-avoidable extreme juxtaposition. It is also clear that the show’s writers’ room is willing to change so much about the book timeline but it refuses to change the over-reliance on rape trauma to move plotlines ahead. This trope also actively undermines the plots that attempt to extend the characterization of all of the women beyond wives and mothers in ways that aren’t even in line with the actual history of the era. “But it was in the books” or “stop reading/watching if you don’t like it” is a weak excuse and a diversion tactic for those fans who are not interested in critically engaging with the scripts and text.
Outlander used to be at the forefront of women-focused sexuality on TV and this episode has cemented a reputation for regressiveness. The mixed messaging the show is sending is especially baffling as one of Starz’ aims is to target women interested in premium drama. Rape is one of these issues in which separating your real life from entertainment is quite difficult, as so many people are directly and indirectly impacted by rape and sexual assault. It is safe to say this episode will likely be the one more than any other that causes new fans to quit.
Throughout this episode, Caitriona Baifeproves how adept she is and has been in portraying the very worst and the very best of Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser’s journey these past five seasons. Even if viewers have to hide their eyes and fast forward as the men attack Claire, the actress still commands attention. The audience shares her pain and her rage as the 18th century patriarchy stomps on her efforts to give women of the 1770’s reproductive agency and heal the sick.
Adding insult to Claire’s beatings and repeated assaults is the lack of willingness of the men most friendly to her to offer any assistance. Wendigo Donner, part of Otter Tooth’s group of 1960s-era Native American time travelers intent on reversing colonization promised her help, but clearly prioritized fear or his own agenda. Tebbe, a West Indian laborer, wants Claire to remember him as someone who wanted to help her, but he also fails. All Claire can recall is how Tebbe seems to be the only one who is superstitious enough to believe her to be a conjurewoman/La Dame Blanche.
In the midst of all of the bloody trauma, the one element this episode effortlessly translates from the books to screen is Claire’s headspace during these horrific events. Claire has an unshakable faith that Jamie will come to rescue her. The song “Never My Love” as the audio throughline in this episode sums up her abiding love for Jamie in modern terms. The motif of Claire imagining the almost perfect Thanksgiving in 1971 is a fantastic visual rendition of her internal monologue. These scenes will likely draw the ire of the same viewers, who complained about Roger’s PTSD interpreted as a silent film in “Famous Last Words,” but this device is pivotal to keeping the tone of the episode focused on Claire’s mental fortitude.
Claire’s Thanksgiving is not only visually-appealing but also reveals so much about her views on her life through her imaging of her 18th century family in her modern-ish world. Trisha Biggar’s costuming becomes just as important as the dialogue in conveying character. Once again, Claire is wearing a dress in her power color red, but this time the styling is more Betty Draper than Georgian chic. Ian becomes a Vietnam draftee on holiday leave. Murtagh and Jocasta are reimagined as the carefree grandparents. Bree, Roger, and Jemmy are on their way home. Marsali and Fergus switch between adult conversation and wrangling their kids. Everyone has fully embraced 1970’s fashion, except for Jamie. His linen shirt and father’s old leather jacket would fit right in with the early 1770’s. The one constant in this world of bright orange wallpaper is the love of her family, especially Jamie’s instinct to comfort her..
Claire’s heightened maternal instincts form the transition to Bree, Roger, and Jemmy’s journey through the stones. Unfortunately, the forces of time aren’t in their favor and they end up right back next to Ian. Their welcome back to the Ridge is seeing Jamie’s fiery cross signaling a battle against the abductors. Although they didn’t make it to 1970’s Boston or Scotland, Roger realizes that he’s a good man who must go to war and fulfill his oath.
Revenge for the attack is truly a family affair. Fergus gathers guns and ammunition. Jamie knows Claire takes the Hippocratic Oath very seriously and refuses to kill her rapists, so he gives the orders for the men of the Ridge to kill them all. Ian dramatically puts on war paint to get him in the right mindset to throw an ax in a villain’s face. Fergus and Roger take charge of the firing squad. Marsali didn’t hear the initial command for revenge but she decides to inject hemlock in the last survivor after she sees his injuries still haven’t resulted in any repentance to his violent misogynistic behavior. Despite how problematic the entire scenario is, this was the best development for Marsali this entire season. Lauren Lyle has clearly made the role her own.
Claire’s healing journey once again brings to question the framing of the episode. Her struggle to treat the last survivor in the surgery is sound. The thunderstorm calling back to “Monsters and Heroes” highlights the perils of nature and the eventual Revolutionary War. Although the show has established in the past that Jamie and Claire have an extremely physical relationship, ending the episode with the reverse of the “Monsters and Heroes” naked cuddling sends just as divisive a message about sex as healing as the post-Wylie attack in “Better to Marry Than To Burn.” Ending the episode with Raya Yarborough’s touching acapella rendition of The Skye Song is a nod to Claire’s future recovery.
For all of the problematic content “Never My Love” contains, the plot successfully brings to a close almost all of the major plots this season. The Regulators and Committee for Safety are officially disbanded. Stephen Bonnet and Forbes are dead and can no longer threaten River Run and Fraser’s Ridge. Roger and Bree’s future remains linked to the 18th century… for now.
- The lower-star rating on this episode refers solely to the script choosing to double and triple down on rape tropes.