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Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Outlander (Second Half)

(Second Half).

You know, I was surprisingly happy with the first half of Outlander. It positively reeked of Americans' fetishism problems, a holdover, no doubt, from the equally fetishistic books, but beyond that it wasn't unpleasant to watch, and there were areas where quite a lot of thought had been put into it. So while I hadn't been waiting for the second half of the series, I was moderately pleased to see that it had started airing again.

Outlander's second half sees now married couple Claire and Jamie go through a string of improbable and unpleasant events, as Claire and a friend are accused of witchcraft, Jamie is all but exiled from Castle Leoch, and they return to Jamie's family estate of Lallybroch only to find that much has changed during Jamie's long absence - and that Black Jack Randall, Claire and Jamie's nemesis, is still gunning for both of them.

We'll get to the absolute horror that was the last arc in due time, but I first want to talk about how much of a mistake I think it was to have Claire and Jamie leave Castle Leoch at all. The Leoch cast provided a good supporting stable of characters with a diverse range of personalities, and their presence made Claire and Jamie's relationship seem less horrifyingly insular and unhealthy: They had lives outside each other, and friendships, and so on, so forth. In fact, for all that the Wentworth Prison arc at the end was an absolute nightmare, it did do one thing right in that it brought back the Leoch residents.

Lallybroch's also a lot less interesting as a setting, being essentially just a house, whereas
Leoch was a fortress.

While there's an attempt to cover for that with the introduction of a Lallybroch cast, it fails on account of being much smaller (three people to Leoch's dozen) and the fact that they're all kind of - well, flat. They feel like NPCs, not actual characters. You get the impression that if you asked around Lallybroch you'd get a lot of people talking about the arrows they've taken to the knees. 

It leads to two-and-a-bit episodes that are absolutely, horribly dull. That doesn't sound like much, but there are only eight episodes in this half of a series, so that's over a quarter of it.

Other arcs are somewhat better - the witch trial arc, while it stretches believability (Salem-oid witch trials were never much a thing in the UK, let alone in the mid 1700s) did at least have a lot of dramatic weight to it, including the utterly unsurprising revelation that Geillis, like Claire, was from the future (specifically, the Sixties, so further into the future than Claire).

Geillis being from the future was obvious pretty much the moment she showed up.

Which leads us on to the final arc, the Wentworth Prison arc, wherein Jamie is captured (after foolishly joining some outlaws for a spell) and taken to the eponymous prison, where before long he becomes Randall's captive. It's an interesting set-up, turning the Jamie-rescues-Claire-from-Randall scenario at the end of the first half of the series on its head, and in the past, scenes with Randall have been some of the best in the show.

What the arc is instead is torture porn, consisting of about sixty percent graphic (very often needlessly graphic) scenes of torture and sexual violence, twenty-five percent people agonising over said scenes, and fifteen percent Claire yelling at Jamie until he's recovered from PTSD. I'm not kidding, that's pretty much how it goes: Someone makes a vague comment about 'following Jamie into the darkness' and then she screams at and assaults an injured, traumatised man - and in the next scene, he's pretty much all better, because that's apparently how trauma works.

It's uncomfortable, but not in the way I think the show was hoping for. There is nothing shocking, new or edgy about Randall being a depraved bisexual preying on the wholesome heterosexual man - if anything, that is a trope as tired as it is toxic, one that is constantly played out in fiction, even if it is usually done far less graphically. It ties in to really unpleasant ideas of LGBT people being predatory - ideas which, unfortunately, get far too much circulation already.

As a colour, red lends itself well to evil.

It's also unnecessary. Randall was already established as torture-happy, and the same storyline could have been achieved without the sexual element - I still would be decrying it as torture porn, because it would still be that, but it wouldn't have had the same undertones of biphobia. 

(It's worth noting, incidentally, that Randall is the only significant LGBT character on the show.)

The series ends on both Claire and Jamie going to Paris, thus promising an entire series of the Leoch cast not being around at all, so I'm not looking forward much to that. All in all, these eight episodes have been a weaker second half to what was a decently strong first half, and a series finale that was mindbogglingly awful in about six different ways. While Outlander will no doubt be returning later this year, it's up in the air as to whether I'll be watching.

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