7:00pm PT by Alicia Lutes
'Outlander' Finale: Ron Moore on Boundary-Pushing Rape Scenes, Season 2 Plans
[Warning: This story contains spoilers from Saturday's season one finale of Outlander, "To Ransom a Man's Soul."]
If fans of Starz's adaptation of Diana Gabaldon's novel series Outlander thought the depiction of the rape of Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) by Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) would be toned down after the harrowing physical torture that made up the majority of the penultimate episode, they were proved wrong in Saturday's season finale.
After an already intense evening — "a dark night of the soul," Menzies explained — of physical and mental torture, there was yet another layer to Black Jack's sadism that had yet to be explored. It feels safe to say that never before has so graphic an act of sexual violence taken place between two men on television.
Although Black Jack's sexual desire of Jamie was noted in previous episodes, it was harrowing to see it play out, even if it was told in flashback as Jamie attempted his recovery in an abbey in the countryside. Waiting for him to be well enough to board a ship to France, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) nursed her husband back to health with ample amounts of water, stitches, a bit of lavender oil and tough love.
It was no easy road, though: there were several moments when Jamie attempted suicide or begged for death from others as he was unable to cope with the mental and emotional ramifications of what he went through. After a bit of soul searching (with the help of a monk, of course), Claire managed to talk Jamie out of the predawn darkness. Although they have a long, emotional road ahead of them, it's on a completely new path: They're headed to France. And thankfully, the series did end its season on a high note: After believing herself to be barren, Claire found herself pregnant with her first child.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with series creator-showrunner Ron Moore to discuss his show's depiction of male rape on television, the future for Claire and Jamie as well as how to ride the line between being too dark and telling the truth.
You must have a lot of feelings about this finale. How did the differences between how this scene went down in the books versus the show come about?
It was really something. I'm very proud of it; it was a remarkable end to that story. As the book is a first-person narrative all the way to the end, we split the point-of-view starting in episode nine, so that gave us the ability to then, in episode 15, to cut to the story of [Jamie's] encounter with Black Jack Randall. In the book, everything that happened to him we got related through Claire much later in flashback. So what we were able to do by switching it was play it in real time as Claire's trying to rescue him. Then, in [the finale], we maintain the fact that it was looking back, his memory, but we're still in his head, he's not really telling Claire the story — you go back from his perspective. We also changed the fact that, in the book after they rescue Jamie from Wentworth Prison, they board the ship and sail away to France where there's a lengthy recovery period. I wanted to maintain the tension that they still had not escaped and left Scotland. So that once you told the tale of Jack and Jamie, you have that moment at the end where you cut outside to the beach, and there's the ship and you can really take that breath of fresh air, and feel like "Ahhhh, I'm outside again, it's OK." You can show a more romantic feeling as they sail away. It lets the show end on this more uplifting note.
It's a welcome change considering how dark these episodes got. That was a tough finale to watch and very visceral to experience.
I knew that, [but] I kept saying to myself and saying to the people on the show, "You have to remember, there's a big chunk of the audience that has no idea where this story's going and it's going to come as quite a shock." Because you just don't anticipate that's where you're going to take your male lead actor. That's not something that's done on TV, that's not something that's done in movies. It's not the road that's typically traveled. Which was one of the things that attracted me about doing the book in the first place. When I read that chapter, I was like, "Wow, this is not at all where I expected we were going to go, and if we translate this to a TV series, it's going to surprise and shock the audience." And that's a good thing. As a storyteller, you're drawn to that as a result. That said — when you're approaching it — it's then all about, "We're going to do this, but now we have to think about it and how we're going to do it." We wanted to make it difficult to watch; hard to watch, but not impossible. So when I'm sitting in editing looking at the pieces, [it's] always going with your gut instinct. Where you're saying, "What's the point where I'm not watching anymore, where I have to look away, where it's just too much?" And then you take it up to that line — because that's the truth of this story. We're trying to say that this is what happened to these men. Let's tell it as honestly as we can. And you have to be careful not to go too far in the other direction. If you cut away too quickly and you don't show enough then you're really shying away from it and you're not really telling the truth of this man's pain and understanding what he went through. So you're really trying to find that place and trust your gut on it.
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Did you have any concerns in portraying the rape scenes the way that you did?
We knew it was going to be controversial, we knew that some people were going to really object to it and others would not. You try not to think about that too much. You try to just make your call and make an artistic judgment on what you're trying to achieve and then you hope people like it. You try not to get too outside your head and start thinking about what you're saying on a sociopolitical context or how this will be interpreted by other people. If you go down that rabbit hole you just won't come out. We're telling the story of two men based on everything that occurred before in the season. All along this season we kept laying track to get us to this place and once we got there it was all about following the arc of character, following where the story was going to take us.
A huge amount of credit goes to those two actors. They were fearless in their performances; they were in it. And being on the set was difficult — and we have a very nice, happy set. But this one had a different mood. The [crew] guys gave them a lot of space. But still, they were in that dark, gloomy cell for days and they were willing to go to all these places that are emotionally draining. A lot of the show has a tremendous amount of credit to the two of them.
And it sets things up well for anything to happen in season two.
It's very different. We're still following the books for season two, with the second book (Dragonfly in Amber). In the very last scene, they talk about going to France to try and stop the Jacobite Rebellion and that's what they go do. They go to Paris. So we're prepping and shooting a completely different show. They're in one of the most populated cities in the world at this point. It's French aristocracy, it's the court of Louis XV, it's cobblestone streets filled with people — the costumes are completely different, [as are] the sets. It has a whole different mood and palette to it. It's more about conspiracies, lies and politics. Getting caught up in the corruption and poison that's happening in Paris at that time, with history, is pushing you toward this inevitable cataclysm — the destruction of the Highland culture. Plus Claire's pregnant and there are the aftereffects of everything that happened with Jack Randall — that's still with Jamie in the second season. It's a really different show but one of the strengths of doing this series is the evolution of it. One of the things I'm most proud of in season one is the diversity of storytelling and how each episode is different. They're all little mini movies. I defy anyone to tell me what the cliche Outlander episode is because what is that? They're all so unique and season two is more of that. And if we're lucky enough to go forward, the third book is different yet again. It's like there's a continual evolution and you're telling a long yarn.
Which must be so fun for you to study these different characters in so many varied scenarios.
It's amazing; it's certainly a challenge but it's unique. You feel so lucky to be able to do so much more in the moment.
Will there be more fallout and consequences from Jamie's rape as his character evolves?
It will definitely carry over and have reverberations in their relationship and his growth as a character.
How do you feel overall about season one? Do you have a different understanding?
To an extent. Season one was a really big undertaking. Much more so than any of us anticipated on the outset. It's an enormous production to wrap your arms around. That evolution of always moving forward, too — not having that home base to go to; constantly adding on and letting go of characters that feel like part of the family — that's a huge, huge challenge. The one thing we've learned is it's always going to be bigger and more difficult than we think it's going to be.
Outlander will return for a second season on Starz. A premiere date has not yet been announced.