'Outlander' Producer Defends Graphic Rape Scene: "We Wanted to Do It Justice"

"This scene is crucial to the story, so I stand by what we showed," Toni Graphia, the writer behind Saturday's episode, tells THR.
Ed Miller/Starz

[Warning: this story contains spoilers from Saturday's episode of Outlander, "Faith."]

It's time for Outlander to return to its roots. 

After an emotionally taxing and dangerous few months in France, Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) decided to go home to Scotland after burying their dead baby. The trauma of witnessing Jamie and Black Jack Randall's (Tobias Menzies) duel caused Claire to deliver her child too early, and after losing her baby, she almost died in the hospital. She was saved by her friend Master Raymond (Dominique Pinon), who healed her, and she returned the favor almost immediately. 

When Claire decided to petition the King of France (Lionel Lingelser) for Jamie's release from the Bastille, he asked for her "La Dame Blanche" abilities in return to help him uncover users of the dark arts. Claire then had to decide whether to doom Master Raymond or Le Comte St. Germain (Stanley Weber) to death. She tried to give them both an herb that would only make them sick and not kill them, but after Master Raymond's life was spared, he used sleight of hand to add real poison to the concoction, killing Claire's rival (after he admitted to trying to poison her earlier). King Louis XV, satisfied with his show, banished Master Raymond from France. But he wasn't done with Claire.

The King then raped Claire in his room in exchange for Jamie's freedom. Claire suffered through it, knowing that Jamie only went to duel Black Jack because Jamie caught him raping young Fergus (Romann Berrux). She had noticed that Fergus was having nightmares, and he finally confessed to her what had happened in the brothel that led to Jamie breaking his vow to Claire. Fergus tried to steal perfume for Claire, but unfortunately it was from Black Jack's room, and he caught the young boy and began raping him. Jamie heard the screams and ran in to stop it, and that's when he challenged Black Jack to a duel. After Claire's actions with the King, Jamie was released from the Bastille, and the couple hashed out their issues and apologized for all that happened between them. They decided to try again to have another child, and to leave Paris and return to Scotland. 

The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Outlander producer and the writer behind Saturday's episode, Toni Graphia, about why it was "crucial" to show Fergus' rape and the "hopeful" new chapter for Jamie and Claire's relationship going forward. 

When you first found out that this was going to be your episode, what did you want to accomplish with writing the script?

I didn't just hear it was going to be my episode, I was like, I will wrestle to the ground anyone who tries to take this episode. (Laughs) When I read Dragonfly in Amber, this was the portion of the book that really drew me in. I titled the episode already in my mind -- I knew I had to write this episode. I loved the star chamber, I love the baby and the emotions of the baby story. And [showrunner] Ron [D. Moore] is very generous. Most showrunners assign scripts in a hierarchy in who goes first and who gets what episode, but Ron trusts his writers and lets us tell him what spoke to us. I had said early on that this year, this is the one. It was a real honor to be trusted with this material, and I wanted to do it justice. I know it's a fan favorite in the book, and it's so intense, so it was really hard to write, but I wasn't going to get out of this season without having my name on it.

The episode actually opened in Boston in 1954, which was quite the departure from the book. Why did you choose to open with a flash forward in this particular episode, and with that memory?

That actually wasn't in the first draft. That chapter of the book opens five days after Claire has lost the baby, and she's in the hospital and already knows the baby is gone. I thought that we couldn't skip over that. I wanted to see that. I wanted to an 18th-century version of ER and show Claire in the hospital with the King's executioner as her doctor. I wanted to see the moment Mother Hildegarde told her she lost the baby. How could we not play that? My first draft opened with Claire on the table, and Ron always wanted to touch base back with Claire in her own time in a couple more places this season in addition to the premiere. He came up with the idea that this would be the perfect place to do it, to show her with her kid. When you see her with her red-haired kid, your heart breaks because you realize what she's losing in the past in this episode. It makes it all the more poignant. And I chose the heron as a motif for the episode, for Claire to focus on something other than her own loss and grief, because she just can't even process it.

Claire finally learned the truth about why Jamie broke his promise to her and dueled Black Jack before the year was up. How is she going to help Fergus deal with this trauma moving forward? Is it going to be the same journey Jamie had to take, or will it be different?

It's a bit different. You'll have to see where the story is going in the second half of the season. There is more that happens with Fergus. But it was definitely meant to be a mirror to what happened last season, since Fergus is a little Jamie. He's having nightmares the way Jamie did. A lot of questions have been raised as to why we showed this particular scene, and so graphically. We want people to know we're sensitive to this subject, and we weren't at all being gratuitous or titillating with it. We just thought it was crucial to show the reason that Jamie broke his vow to Claire. He would have never done this to their marriage, to his wife, or risked his own child. He's a man of his word, but this was something that he just couldn't let go. He loves Fergus like his own son, and this is the one thing to trigger him breaking his word and getting retribution on Black Jack. The intent of showing it was to convey the emotion: the fear, the terror, the anger, the rage.

The show definitely went much further in showing that rape scene than the book did. What went into making that choice?

Yes, when Claire hears the story, it was necessary for her to understand why he did what he did. Claire was so angry and couldn't fathom why he broke his word, so we couldn't just hear the story too. We had to see it so we would understand. I'm proud our show doesn't shy away from showing things that are hard or ugly or brutal, but not in a way that's inorganic to the story. This scene is crucial to the story, so I stand by what we showed. We were also careful to be sensitive as well, but we wanted to do it justice.

When Claire told Jamie that she slept with the king to secure his freedom, he took the news surprisingly well. Will there be ramifications for their relationship later down the line over this infidelity, or has Jamie truly forgiven her?

Like any man, of course he had a gut-punch moment where his wife slept with someone else. There's no way around that. But I think by far the greater tragedy was losing their child, and in the face of that, anything else becomes collateral damage. And it wasn't true infidelity: it wasn't an emotional relationship, she did not enjoy this, it was something she did to save his life. Jamie is the king of men, he had to process this very quickly, but he loves her so much and he sees it was the same situation that he did to save her life with Black Jack Randall. They've sold a piece of their souls for each other. It's something they can weather together. And someone actually spoiled this exact moment for me before I read the books.

Really?

Oh yes, someone once told me, "Can you believe the part where Claire sleeps with the King of France?" And I was shocked. I thought they were kidding me. But [author] Diana [Gabaldon] is a gifted enough writer where there was a way and a reason as to why that plot line worked. I don't know what other show could portray their heroine sleeping with someone else, much less the King of France, and it doesn't hurt her relationship. But she did it for her husband. Even after weathering this huge loss, she pulled herself together, put on a dress, put on her crystal and marched in there and ask a favor of the king. Nothing can break this couple, and that's why we love them so much.

When Jamie and Claire visit Faith's grave was so emotional, especially since they just decided to have another baby and go back to Scotland. Is this a new chapter for their relationship filled with hope, or will their issues from France follow them back to Scotland?

I very much view that as a scene of hope. It was to do justice to the story of losing a child. You don't move on from that quickly. The heartbreak of losing the baby and being in a different country, they can't just go home and be happy. They had to do something to grieve together. And the key to that scene is the apostle spoons. Back in episode five, we had to choose a christening gift Jamie would give to Claire for the baby, and it had to be a traditional Gaelic christening gift. I knew these spoons were perfect because I always had it in my mind that whatever the gift was, they were going to leave it on the grave. If it was a rattle or a bonnet or a christening gown, and they left it, it would be like saying it's over. That was our gift, that was our baby, and we left both in France. With the spoons, it was a magic moment, because there are 12 of them. I can have my scene at the grave where Jamie leaves one spoon, but there's still the hope of 11 other spoons. It was serendipitous too that one of the saints on the spoon was the Patron Saint of Scotland. So they leave a little bit of Scotland in Paris with the daughter they lost. It's a very hopeful scene, despite being so sad. When they take each other's hands, it's a lovely moment. They're going to get through this together.

Did you always envision the episode ending like that?

Actually, that wasn't the last scene in the earlier versions of the script. There were like three more scenes after that. But I can't tell you what they are, because they've been moved to next week's episode. In the script, it used to be more of a journey toward the end, but the grave scene is truly the end of this story and the end of Paris, so we had to end with that instead. It's sad but definitely hopeful. We had to drink a lot of whiskey to get through editing that scene.

Outlander airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. on Starz.

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