Paul Newman once said that the secret to his 50-year marriage to Joanne Woodward was due to “the correct amounts of lust and respect.” Sound like anyone else we know? If you’re a fan of the Outlander series of books, you’d probably laugh and say “Of course! That sounds just like Jamie and Claire!” If you’ve only seen Season 2 of the television series, I’m not so sure that’s who would immediately come to mind. I can’t tell you how sad that makes me.
At its heart, Outlander is Jamie and Claire’s love story; it’s the glue that holds everything else together, no matter the events happening around them. That’s why we love it. Not the history, not the time-travel, not the medical information, not the other characters. It’s not that we don’t appreciate all of those things and how they inform the story. We do. But it’s Jamie and Claire that keep us coming back for more. I’ve read that Diana Gabaldon hates it when people refer to her books as “romance” novels, which I completely understand if they are lumping them in with cheesy Harlequin Romances with Fabio-like creatures on the cover. In that sense, no, they are not “romance novels.” But they are, in fact, a great love story. (Here’s a little-known coo factoid: I almost never read the Outlander books because I thought they were “bodice rippers” and considered the genre beneath me. I am forever grateful to my friend Lynne who told me that they weren’t that at all, then urged me to get off my high horse and READ THEM because, like so many of you, I have fallen in love with Jamie and Claire’s story). I was thrilled when I learned it was coming to television, and Season 1 did not disappoint. However, Season 2, like Claire and Jamie’s bed, has left me a wee bit cold. So my question to Ron Moore is this: What have you done with Jamie and Claire and why are you killing their love story?
I thought long and hard about whether or not to write this critique of Season 2. After all, the season is drawing to its close and it is what it is. Nothing I say can change it. What I can say is that at the end of Season one, I was left wanting more, dreading the long Droughtlander ahead. This year? I kind of just want it to be over. The lack of connection between Jamie and Claire this season makes me almost not care what happens to them. Almost (I haven’t entirely given up hope). And I’m not alone. There has been a lot of grumbling out there on social media this season, and we’re all pissed off about the same thing: The passionate, funny, wonderfully compelling couple that we love from the books (and Season 1) have all but disappeared.
So I considered not bothering. It’s just a TV show, right? Who cares? Well, dammit, I DO. And then I watched the penultimate episode last night, The Hail Mary. It should have been called The Hail Black Jack Randall. I have nothing against Tobias Menzies. He’s a fine actor. But we are ONE EPISODE away from the finale and they just used a good portion of the entire episode as a showcase for Menzies, when ONCE AGAIN, they missed the boat and failed to focus on the most important event of the story, the inevitable parting of Jamie and Claire (you thought I was going to say Culloden, didn’t you?). That decided it. I had to get it off my chest.
Let me start with a few statements:
- I am a huge fan of the books.
- The casting for the show is spot on. I couldn’t ask for a more perfect Jamie, Claire, Black Jack/Frank or any other character. This is not an indictment of any of the actors or their performances, which have all been amazing.
- I DO NOT believe that the show should be “exactly like the books.” I understand perfectly well that changes are necessary to adapt the story and move it forward within a visual format and a limited time frame. Two totally different mediums-I get it. Further, there have been many changes from the books that I loved (the enhancement of certain characters, for example: Angus, Rupert, and Murtagh (ESPECIALLY MURTAGH!), the depiction of Claire during her time as a nurse in WWII and the resulting PTSD, and the relationship between Claire and Murtagh, to name a few). But I can see no valid reason for changing the personalities of the central characters. Not one.
- I loved 95% of Season 1 (I’ll explain my issue with the other 5 % later, or you can see my recap of To Ransom a Man’s Soul from last year: “I Just Want This To Be A Pleasant Experience For Us Both” ).
- I don’t hate Season 2. I appreciate all of the hard work put in by the cast and crew. It’s beautifully done-the performances, the production value, the sets, the costumes. So…hate? No. Disappointment? YES. Why? Jamie and Claire are MIA.
Ron Moore had every opportunity to film all of the intrigue and action that was in Season 2 without watering down Jamie and Claire’s love story. For some unfathomable reason, that’s not what he chose to do. In making that decision, he did the fans a huge disservice, in my opinion. As I said, I understand the need to change plot lines and time frames, to add or delete certain characters. What I do not understand, and what was completely unnecessary, was changing the essential natures of Jamie and Claire and their relationship.
(Note: I am laying this decision at the feet of RDM as Show Runner. I have no idea if he is the one who made this choice or not. But the buck stops with you, Ron, so ultimately, it’s your responsibility).
Claire and Frank
Let’s face it, book readers know that book Frank was kind of an ass to Claire in the years after she returned to him. He resented her medical career, he was a bigot to her closest friend, Joe Abernathy, he wanted to leave her and take Bree with him, he lied to her about Jamie’s fate, he was unfaithful to her…you get my point. He may have been a good father to Bree, but he sucked as a husband. Unlike his portrayal in the first episode of Season 2, book Frank wasn’t exactly loving or “grateful” upon her return:
“Yes,” I said. “I told him. All about the stones –about Jamie. Everything.”
“Did he believe you?” Roger asked quietly.
My lips felt sticky from the lemonade, and I licked them before answering.
“No,” I said. “Not at first. He thought I was mad; even had me vetted by a psychiatrist.” I laughed, shortly, but the memory made me clench my fists with remembered fury.
He was, in fact, quite angry, not weeping with joy at her return. Some would say rightfully so, given that she admitted to being in love with, and marrying, another man. Not to mention being pregnant with this other man’s child. And yet, he chose to stay with her. Personally, I don’t think it was out of love for Claire. It was more out of a sense of duty. As Claire explained to Roger,
“He said no one but a cad would dream of abandoning a pregnant woman with virtually no resources.”
So why the change? Why waste a lot of valuable screen time on Frank, instead of focusing on Jamie’s recovery, which was not dealt with at the end of Season 1? I recall Ron explaining that he wanted to show Claire’s “conflicted feelings” about Frank and Jamie. But that’s not the story. Once Claire fell in love with Jamie and decided to stay, there was no conflict. She never considered going back to Frank.
Outlander is a love story between Jamie and Claire, not a love triangle between Jamie, Claire and Frank. So why imply that in the show? It’s an overused theme in film and literature (and has NO place here).The only purpose it serves is to undermine the strength of Jamie and Claire’s relationship in the eyes of the viewers. Claire did not go back to Frank out of love for HIM; she went back out of love for Jamie and to save their child:
“Claire,” he said quietly. “Tomorrow I will die. This child…is all that will be left of me—ever. I ask ye, Claire—I beg you—see it safe.”
I stood still, vision blurring, and in that moment, I heard my heart break. It was a small, clean sound, like the snapping of a flower’s stem.
At last I bent my head to him, the wind grieving in my ears.
“Yes,” I whispered. “Yes, I’ll go.”
-Dragonfly in Amber
And then there was the scene in the show with the wedding ring. The only way Jamie’s ring would have come off book Claire’s hand would have been if Frank had cut it off of her cold, dead finger. She would NEVER have started to take it off, as she did in the show. It was completely out of character for Claire.
“No!” I exclaimed, panicked, as Frank tried to twist if off my finger (my emphasis). I jerked my hand away and cradled it, fisted, beneath my bosom, cupped in my left hand, which still wore Frank’s gold wedding band. “No, you can’t take it, I won’t let you! That’s my wedding ring!” (again, my emphasis).
So, once again, show Frank is portrayed as being oh so loving and sympathetic by “stopping” her from removing Jamie’s ring, and telling her to wait “until she was ready” (which of course, for book Claire, would have been NEVER). As the above quote shows, book Frank tried to take it from her and she basically told him to sod off. Yet another not so subtle RDM suggestion to the audience that Claire’s marriage to Frank was the stronger, more significant relationship, which, as we book readers know, it was not.
Claire and Jamie
Outlander fans love Claire and Jamie. She’s smart, witty, resilient. He’s intelligent, funny, brave. They are completely in love with each other (and oh, by the way, would never be unfaithful to each other-so what was the true purpose of the attempted seduction by Laoghaire in Season 1 and in bringing Jamie’s old flame Annalise into the story in Season 2? To imply that Jamie would cheat on Claire? That’s the impression given to the audience, even though book readers know that would never happen. Another unexplained diminution of Jamie’s character).
This is also a good place to remind people that Jamie and Claire are enormously sexually attracted to each other throughout the entire series (even in MOBY when they are in their sixties, they are still all over each other- AND HAPPY TO BE THERE). It’s as integral to them as breathing and a huge part of how they express their love and commitment to each other. It was covered beautifully in Season 1 – not overdone or gratuitous in the least. And it was a fair representation of Jamie and Claire. However, in Season 2, that Jamie and Claire are nowhere to be found. Even if we get “the big sex scene” in the finale before she goes back, it will be too little, too late. In fact, after this cold-bedded season, it’s going to seem rather incongruous with the state of their of their Season 2 marriage.
As I mentioned earlier, I said I loved 95% of Season 1. The 5% with which I took issue was about time management. In my opinion, The Watch and The Search should have been combined into one episode in order to leave adequate time to deal with the aftermath of Jamie’s assault. That could have solved a lot of the intimacy issues we’re seeing in Season 2. There were SIXTEEN episodes in Season one. Ron and Co. knew what was going to happen to Jamie at the end of the season. It didn’t take a genius to see that that they would need to deal with the aftereffects of it. That’s not something someone just “gets over.” To many of us, Jamie’s recovery felt rushed and insufficient because they didn’t plan adequately for it. We were denied a thorough enactment of the opium-induced “exorcism” (a scene that would have been amazing to see,by the way..Sam and Cait would have knocked it out of the park!). Even just including the very end would have been lovely and touching:
“Jamie, love,” I said, whispering through a bruised throat, “Come then, lay your head, man.” The mask trembled then and broke, and I held the big body hard against me, the two of us shaking with the force of his sobbing.
More important than the exorcism, though, were the beautiful, intimate scenes in which Jamie and Claire reconnect physically, which was pivotal to Jamie’s recovery:
I didn’t bother asking what he was doing there; that was becoming quite plain. Nor did I ask whether he was sure. I had my own doubts, but would not voice them for fear of making self-fulfilling prophecies.
The good hand gently explored my face, smoothing away the wetness on my cheeks.
“Were ye afraid for me?” he asked
“Yes,” I said. “I thought it was too soon.”
Shoulda, woulda, coulda. It bothered me a bit at the time, but I truly believed that Ron and the writers would add these intimate scenes in Season 2. We, as the audience, needed that catharsis as much as Jamie and Claire. Alas, I was wrong. They chose to go a completely different, and far less compelling, way to portray both Jamie’s recovery and it’s effect on Jamie and Claire’s relationship.
The sexual and emotional bond between Jamie and Claire is what heals him. Why would you deliberately choose to eliminate that from the story? It is a huge event that intensifies the bond between them forever; a turning point in a love that is supposed to transcend time. Instead, when they finally do make love, 4 episodes into Season 2, it’s Claire that initiates it. In the book, it was Jamie that found the strength to come to her. After what he suffered at the hands of BJR, that took an enormous amount of courage and trust on his part. But he was driven to act by his love and desire for her. It was as much his sustenance as food and water. But instead of showing us Jamie’s struggle to recover by seeking Claire out, they showed him pushing her away (undermining Jamie’s character…again. Is anyone else noticing a pattern here?).
Jamie and Claire’s relationship is built on the strength of their love, their physical and emotional passion for each other and the candid humor between them. It is those things that we love about them and their story. These have been lost on the viewers (and missed by the readers) this season through the very obvious lack of playfulness and sex between them. I understand that there are a lot of serious, heavy issues to deal with in DIA, but “book Jamie and Claire” struggle through them together with tears, laughter and intimacy. Season 1 had plenty of heavy drama as well and the love story didn’t suffer for it. We just aren’t seeing that connection this season. Maybe someone needs to remind Ron and Co., before they start the scripts for Season 3, that DG’s books have sold over 26 million copies and earned her legions of fans for good reason.
Another example of this lack of connection was the difference between how book Claire
and show Claire reacted to Jamie’s “La Dame Blanche” story. In the book, it was a very funny and sweet exchange:
“So you told them I was La Dame Blanche,” I said, trying to keep any hint of laughter out of my voice. “And if you tried any funny business with ladies of the evening, I’d shrivel your private parts.”
“My God, they believed it?” I could feel my own face flushing as hotly as Jamie’s with the effort to control myself.
“I was verra convincing about it,” he said, one corner of his mouth beginning to twitch. “Swore them all to secrecy on their mother’s lives.”
“And how much did you all have to drink before this?”
“Oh, a fair bit. I waited ‘til the fourth bottle.”
I gave up the struggle and burst out laughing.
“Oh, Jamie!” I said. “You darling!” I leaned over and kissed his furiously blushing cheek.
“Well,” he said awkwardly, slathering butter over a chunk of bread. “It was the best I could think of. And they did stop pushing trollops into my arms.”
-Dragonfly in Amber
In the show, she’s practically spitting venom at him for spreading that story. That is NOT Jamie and Claire. What are you thinking, Ron? There is such a wealth of great dialogue in the books. Why not use it? Diana Gabaldon is a consultant to the show. These are her characters; she knows them inside and out. Use the treasure trove that she’s given you.
This year what we have is a couple completely at odds with each other. In the first half of the season, Jamie was hostile and reclusive, internally dealing with his trauma; Claire was shrewish and angry, acting more like his mother than his wife. Someone decided to write it that way. They did not have to. They could have dealt with Jamie’s recovery as it was in the books, which would have conveyed not only his anguish, but also the depth of the love between he and Claire, instead of portraying them as some dysfunctional married couple that barely touch each other. It doesn’t get much better in the second half. Although Jamie’s strength as a leader is more apparent (finally), the relationship between he and Claire is almost platonic. A kiss here, an embrace there. Where are the Jamie and Claire we know and love? Certainly not here.
I’ve seen many blog posts and Twitter chatter making excuses for the lack of intimacy this season, going so far as to accuse the people who wanted to see more of it as wanting only sex but no plot. THAT’S NOT WHAT WE’RE SAYING. I’ve also seen the response “use your imaginations; you don’t have to see everything.” Seriously? That’s what I do when I read the books. Last time I checked, film was a VISUAL medium. So I take issue with that. Are these people reading the same books I am? Jamie and Claire have A LOT of sex. They revel in it. They can barely keep their hands off each other. They’re like magnets. It’s who they are…and we love them for it. By way of demonstration, I give you this passage from DIA that, I think, sums up their physical and emotional relationship perfectly:
“Claire. To feel the bones of your neck beneath my hands, and that fine, thin skin on your breasts and your arms…Lord you are my wife, whom I cherish, and I love wi’ all my life, and still I want to kiss ye hard enough to bruise your tender lips, and see the marks of my fingers on your skin.”
He dropped the towel. He raised his hands and held them trembling in the air before his face, then very slowly brought them down to rest on my head as though in benediction.
“I want to hold you like a kitten in my shirt, mo duinne, and still I want to spread your thighs and plow ye like a rutting bull.” His fingers tightened in my hair. “I dinna understand myself!”
I pulled my head back, freeing myself, and took a half step backward. The blood seemed all to be on the surface of my skin, and a chill ran down my body at the brief separation.
“Do you think it’s different for me?” I demanded. “That I don’t sometimes want to bite you hard enough to taste blood, or to claw you ‘til you cry out?”
I reached out slowly to touch him. The skin of his breast was damp and warm. Only the nail of my forefinger touched him, just below the nipple. Lightly, barely touching, I drew the nail upward, downward, circling round, watching the tiny nub rise hard amid the curling ruddy hairs.
The nail pressed slightly harder, sliding down, leaving a faint red streak on the fair skin of his chest. I was trembling all over by this time, but did not turn away.
“Sometimes I want to ride you like a wild horse, and bring you to the taming-did you know that? I can do it, you know I can. Drag you over the edge and drain you to a gasping husk. I can drive you to the edge of collapse and sometimes I delight in it, Jamie. I do! And yet so often I want”-my voice broke suddenly and I had to swallow hard before continuing- “I want…to hold your head against my breast and cradle you like a child and comfort you to sleep.”
My eyes were so full of tears that I couldn’t see his face clearly; couldn’t see if he wept as well. His arms went tight around me and the damp heat of him engulfed me like the breath of a monsoon.
“Claire, ye do kill me, knife or no.” he whispered, face buried in my hair. He bent and picked me up, carrying me to the bed. He sank to his knees, laying me amid the crumpled quilts.
“You’ll lie wi’ me now,” he said quietly. “And I shall use ye as I must. And if you’ll have your revenge for it, then take it and welcome, for my soul is yours, in all the black corners of it.”
The skin of his shoulders was warm with the heat of the bath, but he shivered as with cold as my hands traveled up to his neck, and I pulled him down to me. And when I had at length, taken my last revenge of him, I did cradle him, stroking back the roughened, half-dry locks.
“And sometimes,” I whispered to him,” I wish it could be you inside me. That I could take you into me and keep you safe always.”
His hand, large and warm, lifted slowly from the bed, and cupped the small round swell of my belly, sheltering and caressing.
“You do, my own,” he said. “You do.”
– Dragonfly in Amber
That’s the Jamie and Claire we want to see, Ron. Please, I’m begging you…bring them back.
P.S. A word of advice for Season 3… If you don’t want to completely lose your audience, you’ll take the print shop scene pretty much word for word from the book. I don’t think the fans would ever forgive you if you screw that one up. I’m still trying to forgive you for nearly killing Jamie and Claire’s love story this season. I hope I succeed.