Sunday night's Outlander episode, "Of Lost Things," featured a pretty intense sex scene between Lady Geneva Dunsany and Jamie Fraser. This isn't exactly news for a show known for its groundbreaking sex geared to the female gaze. We've definitely seen Jamie's butt before, although it was awfully nice to get reacquainted. But what makes this particular scene noteworthy isn't what's in it, but rather, what's missing.
Let's recap the events quickly: Lady Geneva, having found out Jamie's real identity, threatens to out him as a former Jacobite rebel to the rest of the family, thereby ensuring that he'd be sent away to a less pleasant form of captivity. The price for her silence is that he come to her room, so she can try out sex with someone other than her soon-to-be husband, a man old enough to be her grandfather. Jamie, fearing the consequences her words might have on Jenny and the children back at Lallybroch, reluctantly agrees. That same night, he sneaks upstairs, and despite the circumstances, the two share a pretty sweet moment together.
In Voyager, the third book in Diana Gabaldon's series, and the one on which this season is based, the same scene goes down rather differently. Here's the passage in question:
"Her struggles were accomplishing by force what he had tried to do with gentleness. Half-dazed, he fought to keep her under him, while groping madly for something to say to calm her.
'But —,' he said
'Take it out!' she screamed.
He clapped on hand over her mouth and said the only coherent thing he could think of.
'No,' he said definitely, and shoved."
The book tries to frame this as the routine fear of a young virgin. The passages that immediately follow this one show Geneva expressing love for Jamie, and satisfaction about what just took place, rather than a woman who has just been assaulted. But there's no denying that this raises some uncomfortable questions about consent. Thus far, we've only known Jamie as a handsome hero, someone Claire can count on and respects. He has been painted as an exceptionally progressive man for his time, who listens to his wife's advice and proudly boasts of her accomplishments to the world.
It's true, he has experienced his own trials and trauma since then. He's been holed up in a cave for seven years, held captive in prison, beaten, shackled, and almost killed. He's been led into a life of indentured servitude. And yes, he is himself, a rape survivor. This is undoubtedly a way for Gabaldon to show that the Jamie we once knew isn't quite there anymore. But none of that excuses the fact that he essentially just raped a young woman.
"We had the spanking episode in season 1, and it caused a lot of controversy [as to] whether it was beating or domestic violence," the show's producer Matt B. Roberts said during a visit to the Outlander set last October. "That's not for us to say. We're just showing you something that happened in their life. [Then, it's] for fans and press and people to discuss. We're always going to strive for a good story."
Tobias Menzies, speaking during the same set visit, was conscious that some modern audiences might have trouble with that. "It's actually a huge part of Diana [Gabaldon]'s books," he explained. "You kind of have to engage with it. We've tried as much as possible to try so it comes out of drama. So, it doesn't feel too titillating. You have to include sexual violence in that spectrum. There's lots of different types of sex on the show, and some of it is violent."
But in the end, this scene was altered to remove the element of assault, even going so far as to reinforce consent — Jamie asks Geneva several times if she's sure she wants to go through with it, in sharp contrast to the original scene. And it's understandable. After all, it would be exceedingly difficult to have the book-version of this scene air on TV in 2017 and expect audiences to be able to forgive Jamie. Could we really continue rooting for his impending reunion with Claire, knowing he had just sexually assaulted another woman?
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