Why is the use of rape as a plot device a thing that needs to happen on Outlander? We review this week’s episode “Wilmington.”
I (Funmbi) need to begin by saying that I’m not happy with this episode. Sassenachs, it is impossible for me to be rational and dispassionate about this, so I’m not even going to try. I’ve been dreading the events that we witnessed for years… hated Stephen Bonnet with the burning fire of a thousand suns because of it. But, here we are. Given the source material, there’s only so much the writers could have done. I get that. However, it is never, EVER okay to use rape as a plot device to help galvanize “character development.” It’s lazy, gratuitous, and manipulative. Actually, I might go as far as to say that doing so commits a massive violation (bordering on emotional abuse) against the reader/watcher. Yet Outlander is one of a few series that does just this. I didn’t like it in the books: it’s as if being raped is some sort of warped rite of passage that DG feels her characters must endure in order to reach a level of self-awareness. Ridiculous. And though I didn’t believe it was possible, the show’s adaptation has made Bree’s rape even more of plot device. With the ham-handed nature of Claire’s references to Bree and the inability of parents to protect their children; with the TIMING of Bree’s rape… the same night she loses her virginity to Roger, literally a few HOURS later, with the tears from the heartbreak of Roger’s betrayal and departure still wet on her face. (For what it’s worth, which isn’t much in my opinion, there’s about a 48-hour gap in the book.)
I’m angry. I’m heartbroken. And I don’t know what to do with any of it. This season has made it a habit to give us the highest of high points, while ending with violent, low points. Can we stop this, now?
Claire and Jamie have arrived in Wilmington to visit Fergus, Marsali, and the new baby. Baby Germain is adorable and in a separate conversation, Marsali tells Claire that her heart is bursting with love. She can’t imagine letting any harm come to her son. But Claire tells her that part of the difficulty of being a parent:
“That’s the hardest part of being a parent, I’m sure. Though you would die trying, you can’t protect them from everyone and everything”
Jamie and Claire have also been summoned by Governor Tryon to come to town and attend the theater that evening. Tryon and his wife introduce Jamie and Claire to Wilmington high society, including *the* Colonel (eventually General) George Washington and his wife Martha. Claire is all of us as she fangirls over Washington, the man who will become America’s first president. Claire even makes a slip and reveals that she knows Washington spent his childhood in Virginia chopping down cherry trees… as all young men do, right? Tryon also introduces them to Edmund Fanning, a friend, colleague, and ally against the Regulators. Claire notices that Fanning is in some pain. When asked, he tells of how he suffered an injury while trying to negotiate with Regulators. Claire offers to evaluate the injury, but Fanning says that his physician believes the injury will go away in time. (This is doubtful, as Claire believes it’s a hernia.)
As the group takes their seats, Tryon tells Jamie about a plan he’s set in motion. He has a spy embedded with the Regulators and has learned that they are planning to rob a coach that’s transporting tax money to New Bern, Robin Hood-style. Tryon even knows the name of the leader, Murtagh Fitzgibbons. UHOH. Tryon’s Red Coats are already positioned to arrest the men. Jamie is very worried because robbery is a hanging offense. He has to save his kinsman! Some time after the play starts (with some interesting audience-participation), Jamie decides to create a distraction. Fanning is sitting next to him, so Jamie hits the site of his hernia, driving him into severe pain. Jamie tells the crowd that Fanning needs surgery, and Claire is there to volunteer to perform it. While Claire is organizing the men to gather what she’ll need (and occupying their attention), Jamie slips away.
Jamie hitches a ride with the Washingtons, under the guise of returning to his rooms to get Claire’s instruments for the surgery. Instead, Jamie goes to Fergus for help. So when we flash to Murtagh and the Regulators, Fergus is able to cross paths with them first and warn of Tryon’s trap and the spy. It’s a really sweet reunion between old friends.
Elsewhere, Claire successfully performs the surgery and even gets some help and praise from Tryon. (Even when the “real” surgeon arrives and suggests that all Fanning needed was tobacco smoke up his ass. *snort*)
On the way home, Tryon learns that the Regulators found out about his plan. But the only people who knew were in his company all night… except for Washington, who left the play early. Jamie cosigns this and Tryon decides that he should never have trusted a Virginian.
All the while, Roger has arrived in Wilmington and has been searching for Bree. He has the drawing of the two of them that they did at the Highland Festival and he asks passersby if they’ve seen her. Roger crosses paths with John Gillette, owner and printer of the Wilmington Gazette (who will eventually write… and smudge… Jamie and Claire’s obituary) and Fergus. Both say they haven’t seen Bree. Roger becomes despondent and goes to have a drink at a local inn. He even accidentally spills ale on the drawing, which frustrates him more. As he’s about to leave, he overhears a familiar voice… Bree is there, staying at the inn, and she’s asking the proprietor if he knows how she can book passage to Cross Creek for the next day.
When Bree turns around to see Roger, she is shocked, but very happy. The two embrace one another. Bree shares that she didn’t tell Roger about her plan because she didn’t know how things stood between them after their argument at the Highland Festival. Their conversation does look intense… and Lizzie Wemyss comes downstairs in time to see Roger pull Bree outside. They stand by the window continuing their conversation: Roger is upset about the letter Bree left at the in, Bree is frustrated that Roger is angry. Why can’t he understand that she didn’t know how to tell him that she loves him? This brings Roger up short.
“You love me?”
But all Lizzie sees is that Bree has a pinched look on her face, pushes Roger, and he drags her off.
Roger takes Bree to an empty shed around the corner. There, they share a kiss. Things are getting heavy, but Bree stops Roger from removing her clothes. The last time they were together, Roger didn’t want to have sex with Bree unless they were engaged. And when prompted, Roger says that would be his preference. So Bree responds that he can have all of her. Yes, she will be Roger’s wife.
“How could I say no to the man who pursued me for 200 years?”
For their purposes, Roger suggests on old Highland custom of handfasting. In the Highlands, where it could be difficult to get to a minister, two people wanting to get married could do so temporarily by joining their hands together and making a pledge. This would last a year and a day, enough time to get formally married.
That night, in that shed, Bree and Roger kneel before one another in front a fire. Roger joins their hands together with his neckcloth and they make their pledges. Then Bree and Roger slowly undress one another, admire one another, play, and make love for the first time.
Bree: “I’ve wanted this for so long.”
Roger: “If I told you now was for always?”
Bree: “Yes. Yes. Please.”
Roger: “Feel my heart. Tell me if it stops”
Afterwards, Bree asks if she did things right and Roger laughs because he is very satisfied. They also talk about how they will need gems to return to the 1970s. In the process, Bree mentions that she wishes she knew the exact date of her parents’ deaths in the fire. Roger agrees and laments the fact that the printer smudged the date in Jamie and Claire’s obituary. But… Bree is confused. She never told Roger that tidbit… how would he know, unless he’s seen the obituary himself? Roger admits to seeing it and keeping it from Bree, and she’s devastated. How could be keep her mother’s death away from her? Roger claims that, in the 1970s, Claire has already been dead for 200 years, so it wouldn’t make a difference. There’s nothing Bree could have done. Besides he didn’t want to break Bree’s heart. Plus, Fiona agreed! This drives Bree to be even more angry, that Roger would consult with someone else about her mother’s time traveling and death. And Bree could do *this*, she could come back in time and save her mom. But Roger is concerned because, with the ability to time travel, they can’t become the arbiters of who lives and dies. She’s his wife and should listen to him. Bree takes that to mean that he expects her to be submissive and let him make her decisions for her. And that’s not who Bree is. Unfortunately, the argument escalates to the point where Roger says that maybe he shouldn’t have come. He argues that Bree is using this to push him away, the same way that she drove a wedge between herself and her dad (Frank) before he died. Bree is livid. She was just a child and Roger shouldn’t use that circumstance against her. Roger tells Bree that she’s acting like a child now… Maybe he should go back. Bree says that no one is stopping him. And so Roger dresses and leaves. Bree stays behind in the shed, crying, and slowly gets dressed.
Bree makes her way back to the inn… where Stephen Bonnet and his people are playing cards. As Bree walks past, Bonnet grabs her and tells him to blow on a ring that he’s about to add to the pot. But Bree knows that ring. It’s the ring her mother got from Jamie. Bree demands to know how he got the ring and whether the owner is still alive. Bonnet assures Bree that the last time he met her mother, she was alive. Bree then asks to buy the ring and Bonnet leads her to a back room, supposedly so they don’t haggle in public.
Once there, Bree asks again how much Bonnet wants for the ring. He says he doesn’t want money, but there’s another way she can earn the ring. Bonnet grabs Bree, slaps her, rips off her boots and tosses them out through the doors. Bree is screaming for help, trying to crawl away, but Bonnet shuts the doors. Bonnet violently rapes Bree as life continues in the room outside… the men play their card game, someone walks past the room and gathers Bree’s boots to the side, all while she screams for help. When Bonnet finishes, Bree gets up, trembling, and limps away. Bonnet stops her to hand her the ring; he’s an “honest” man, for a pirate, and plans to keep his end of their “bargain.” Bree takes the ring from his palm. She makes her way out into the main room (now empty), picks up her boots, and walks upstairs.
Sassenachs, what are you thinking and feeling? Come talk to us. For more, make sure to watch our video review of “Wilmington” on YouTube and please share your thoughts either there, here in comments to this post or on our social media–Twitter, Facebook.