Thursday, June 20, 2024

Outlander Review: Episode 2×4 “La Dame Blanche”

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[trigger warnings for discussion of rape, trauma, and sexual violence. seriously.]

This episode was sort of all over the place: there was some romantic stuff. Some funny stuff. Some super seriously sad and awful stuff. It had it all, really, including seriously gorgeous costumes.

We start at Versailles, another chess match between Jamie and the finance minister. Claire is there, and they have a brief discussion of baby names. The Comte is there, too, and he’s making death eyes at Jamie and Claire even as he smiles and bows. Claire excuses herself and grabs a glass of wine from a passing waiter. After she downs it she’s suddenly in agonizing pain, and Jamie has to swoop in and carry her out.

Back at Jared’s house she assures Jamie she’s okay. She says she thinks she was slipped something in the wine, and that possibly Comte St. Germaine did it. Jamie is furious, but Claire calms him down. They don’t have any proof, so what’s the point in losing their minds about it until they do?

Jamie agrees, reluctantly, and at Claire’s request fills her in on new info they’ve gained about Charles and his rebellion. He has the idea to invite both Charles and the Duke of Sandringham to a dinner party. The Duke has never met the Prince, and Jamie’s sure once he does he’ll lose all faith in him and invest his money elsewhere.

Claire is certain if Jamie meets Alex Randall, the Duke’s secretary and Jack Randall’s brother, he’ll find out that Jack’s still alive. Obviously worried about Jamie’s reaction, she reluctantly tells him the truth.

To her immense surprise, he’s overjoyed by the news. Like, thrilled out of his damn gourd. He gets to kill Jack himself! Watch him die! He’s been haunted, he says, by the idea that Jack died and he didn’t get to see it. Now he can! O happy day!

Bloodthirsty nerd.

Anyway, the next night (or maybe later that night I dunno) Jamie comes to Claire in bed. They haven’t had sex since Randall, but it’s clear Jamie’s into it tonight. He straddles Claire, and when she pulls his shirt up she sees bite marks on his thighs.

Claire is all, in the words of Queen Nikki,

She pushes Jamie off of her and they get into a HUGE fight. He tells her nothing really happened at the brothel, but she isn’t reassured. He says for the first time since Randall he actually wanted sex, but again. Claire is unimpressed. Since he was with another woman, after all, and he’s barely been able to touch her in the past several months.

She tries to explain what she’s been going through, that she feels like she’s dealing with the pregnancy completely by herself. She says she’s been patient with him and tried to help him, but he won’t talk to her about any of it.

So Jamie talks. He tells her that Randall exposed a part of Jamie that we all have inside, but that we keep hidden. He says that since it happened he’s felt like that part of him has been out there for everyone to see, like a raw nerve. It’s partially through knowing that he can have a chance to kill Randall himself that he’s able to close some of the wound a little.

Claire is still upset, and now Jamie is too, so he goes off the to guest room for the night.

Later Claire slips in there with him and they “reconnect,” as it were. It’s interesting, because in the pilot Claire says that she and Frank use sex to bring themselves back together. She says as long as they can have good, loving sex, she knows their relationship is okay. It must have been incredibly hard for her the past few months with Jamie barely touching her, even for kisses. Obviously she knew why, but that combined with a bit of tension between them must have been making her extremely nervous.

Jamie hears someone on the roof, and when he opens the window to investigate, a very drunk Charles Stuart falls into the room. He’s just come from his mistress, he says. She’s leaving him for her husband (the horror!), out of the blue, and since he was rip-roaring drunk and he knew Jamie lived close, he hopped on over. He has an injury, and he says he was bitten by his mistress’ monkey.

Things click for Claire: earlier in the day her friend Louise de Rohan told Claire she was pregnant by her lover. Claire talked her into convincing her husband the baby was his, because the alternatives were dire. Also, Louise has an evil little monkey that bites people.

After Charles leaves, Jamie and Claire decide to invite Louise and her husband to the dinner party. Having her there (with her husband!) will just give Charles more opportunity to make a fool of himself.

The next morning Claire sets off for Master Raymond’s apothecary shop. She believes he’s the one who sold the poison, and she confronts him about it. He tells her he sold some to a servant, but he has no idea who the servant works for. He invites her into the back to do some minor fortunetelling for her. She’s concerned about Frank, because if Jack Randall doesn’t marry Mary Hawkins, Frank won’t be born.

Master Raymond throws the bones and says that while he can’t see Frank’s future, he is certain she’ll see him again. Claire is understandably taken aback by this news, but Raymond assures her the bones are unequivocal. We, of course, know they’re right, but at this point in the book (which didn’t start with a flashback…flashfoward…time jump…) this was huge news.

It’s the day of the party, and Claire is called away to the hospital. She takes Murtagh with her, and Mary Hawkins is there as well. They end up staying much later than Claire intended, and when they try to leave it turns out the carriage has broken a wheel. Claire knows they need to get home, so she suggests they walk.

Meanwhile Jamie is greeting their guests all by his onesies. The Duke arrives, followed shortly by Charles. Then GUESS who shows up? The Comte and his wife! Invited by none other than the Duke of Sandringham, that shrewd bastard.

Claire, Murtagh, and Mary are walking together down a darkened street, narrow and cobbled as was typical of Paris in those days. Mary is excitedly telling Claire that she’s fallen in love with Alex Randall. Suddenly dark figures drop down from above and attack Murtagh. There are three or four of them, and even he doesn’t stand a chance with those odds.

One of them grabs Mary and rapes her while Claire watches in horror. She’s screaming for them to leave Mary alone, but of course they don’t listen. They push her hood back, intent on raping her as well, but when they see her face they stop.

“La Dame Blanche!” one of them says, crossing himself. “La Dame Blanche!” they whisper. The ones hold Claire run away, and Claire tears the other one off of Mary. He runs away in fear, too, and Claire holds a sobbing Mary in her arms before she sees to Murtagh.

“La Dame Blanche” means, of course, “the white woman.” In the books Claire is known for having milk-pale skin and a beautiful complexion (as Caitriona Balfe does), and that combined with her healing skills and friendship with Master Raymond has apparently earned her a reputation as a witch.

Claire and Murtagh get Mary home. She’s passed out from fear and trauma, and Murtagh carries her up to the guest room. Claire says they have to alert the authorities, but Jamie tells her they can’t. Mary’s reputation will be ruined and she’ll be a spinster the rest of her life.

Claire agrees, unhappily, and leaves Alex Randall with Mary while she gets dressed for the dinner party. It has to go on, she says. This is a chance to undermine Charles that they may not have again.

Okay, uh. Here’s the thing. We have to remember that Claire is from the 40s, and while she was a nurse, she was a combat nurse—not a rape crisis counselor. Obviously leaving a woman who was recently raped alone with a man (any man, even one she thinks she’s in love with) is not the thing to do. Or, at the very least, Claire should have told him “don’t touch her, don’t lean over her, don’t get in her personal space.” Maybe Claire doesn’t know those things. I’m going to give her the benefit of the doubt here, because honestly who would have taught her that stuff? And unless you’re taught, would it occur to you?

Anyway. Claire goes to dinner. She’s seated next to the Comte (who has an amazing jawline btw) and they have a catty discussion about poison. The Prince is drinking a lot and making not-so-subtle comments about Louise, especially once Jamie announces to the table that Louise is pregnant.

Dinner is interrupted by screaming. Mary awoke to find Alex Randall hovering over her. He tried to reassure her, but she was blind with panic and fear. Now she’s running through the house, Alex chasing her as she screams bloody murder. He tackles her in the drawing room, and he’s on top of her when everyone comes tumbling in.

It looks like he’s attacking her, though really he’s just trying to calm her. Poorly. Jamie yanks him away and tries to take care of Mary, but just then her uncle and fiancé (party guests) arrive and attack him.

An honest-to-God brawl breaks out in the drawing room. Punches are being thrown left and right. Claire pulls Mary aside and tries to protect her. The other guests watch in a combination of awe and amusement. It was kind of hilarious, to be honest, because of course Jamie and Claire throw a party that turns into a free-for-all fist fight.

“I was looking forward to dessert,” the Duke says. He slips out, and the Comte suggests that the Prince leave as well. He seems reluctant, but the Comte convinces him. Fergus, meanwhile, takes advantage of the empty dining room and chows down on the abandoned dinner.

So that didn’t go quite according to plan. Now Charles is leaving with Jamie and Claire’s enemy, and everyone knows Mary was raped.

Yeah, the show went there. I think this is the first time a woman has been raped so far, though it’s been threatened many many times. This is an event that happens in the book, and it sets Mary up for her future: as Jamie pointed out, no man at that time would want a “soiled woman,” and so that’s how she ends up with Jack Randall. Poor girl.

This scene was a depiction of sexual violence, but not an endorsement of it. There was nothing here for the male gaze. Nothing that was intended to titillate or intrigue. It was an act of deplorable violence visited upon a sweet, innocent girl who never hurt a fly, and the show wanted to make sure you the viewer knew that.

IF the attack was orchestrated by the Comte, as was heavily implied (or at least suspected by Claire), it was a truly despicable thing to do. Mary was completely innocent, and Claire is pregnant! What a fuckin’ creep.

I can’t help but compare how Outlander deals with sexual violence versus how Game of Thrones does. I can only imagine what that scene would’ve been like with D&D adapting it. Probably bodice-ripping. Ugh.

It’s a hard concept to explain, but while scenes of sexual violence on Outlander are upsetting (DUH!!!), they don’t give you that icky, slimy, voyeur feeling like Game of Thrones does. It’s like GoT makes rape about sex (which it’s not), and Outlander makes it about power (which it is). With the former, it’s almost like the narrative is giving you some sly wink-and-nudge permission to be turned on by at least some aspect of the scene. With the latter, even when there’s nudity (there wasn’t in this particular instance) there’s none of that. It’s an act of brutal, disgusting violence that both the narrative and the viewer (are expected to) condemn.

The episode with Jamie and Jack Randall was broadcast the week after Sansa’s rape on GoT, and, even not counting the special trigger warning Outlander led with, it was handled so much better on Outlander. Watching the episodes side-by-side (don’t do it) illustrates just how glaring the differences between the two shows are. Both deal with violent subject matter, including sexual violence, but Outlander handles it with the weight and gravitas it deserves. Game of Thrones just makes it part of the “fun.”

episode grade: B. This one overall wasn’t quite as good as the first three of the season, but I did still enjoy it. Even with the upsetting subject matter.

Images courtesy of Starz

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