The Canonization of Frank Randall: Do TPTB Have a Pathological Man-Crush on Tobias Menzies?

la-et-st-tobias-menzies-interview-20160516-snap First, let me say that I, and from what I read, most other Outlander fans are DONE with Frank Randall. I tried to be somewhat diplomatic about him in my last post (How Do You Solve a Problem Like Frank Randall?), but having watched the first five episodes of Season 3, the gloves are coming off about my feelings on the portrayal of “show” Frank. And a warning: my language may get a little “salty,” so if that offends you, stop reading now. Oh…and there are some spoilers for Episode 305, so if you haven’t seen it yet, and don’t want to know anything about it, go away until you’ve watched it.
I’ve tried to be patient; I knew, based on Season 1 and 2, that Frank would have a much greater role in the first half of Season 3 than he has in the books (and that he deserves, imho). I had prepared myself for it and accepted it. I had planned to say nothing more on the subject of Frank. But, then I watched episode 305, Freedom and Whisky, and it just pushed me over the edge.

What. The. Actual. F*ck., Ron Moore & Co?

That whole scene at Harvard to honor Frank with a fellowship was just ridiculous, a waste of time and completely unnecessary to the story (and I am sorry, but as much of a history nerd as I am, I don’t think there’s a ton of “groundbreaking work” done the field of European studies).   For non-book readers, this event did NOT happen in the story. Additionally, the part of the scene with “Sandy” and Claire also did not happen. The only purpose for including this scene was to bestow sainthood onto poor, long-suffering Frank, to make Claire look like a heartless bitch and to verty hamhandedly hit the viewer over the head with the message of not squandering an opporttunity to be witt the “love of your life.” But to do it this way?  What the hell?  Would our Claire honestly stand there and be berated about her choices, in public, by Frank’s MISTRESS?  The woman doesn’t exactly hold the high moral ground in this situation. And then to drag Bree into it? Oh, HELL no.  (And Candy…is that your name, honey? Clearly Frank did not share your feelings or he would have left Claire for you as soon as Bree was old enough to make her own choices about continuing to see him, but he didn’t, so…maybe you need to reevaluate the depth of his ‘love” for you).

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I honestly do not understand this obsession that TPTB have with Frank. This story is NOT ABOUT FRANK, people! It was NEVER about Frank. There was NO love triangle between Frank, Claire and Jamie. Let me say very plainly that, as a fan of the books and the show, I am sick and tired of having this notion shoved down my throat. Every time I hear one of the producers/directors/writers say during a podcast/interview/episode recap that we “have to see the relationship between Claire and Frank to truly understand the story,” (and by association, to understand Claire) I want to throw large projectiles at my television.  We do NOT, I repeat, do NOT need to know about Frank and his relationship to Claire in ordet to understand her, or her love for Jamie. We’re on to your message, and it reeks…

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I am fully aware, as are all fans, that this is an adaptation and that the show will not be exactly like the books. I have no problem with that. But as I have said in many of my previous blog posts (Yeah…It Kind of IS About the Sex , Looking for Mr. Fraser ) I very much take issue with changing the essential natures of the characters. The portrayal of Frank is the most glaring example.
I never really disliked Frank until Voyager. One can feel sympathy for him in Outlander (book 1 and the show). But the show runners have really gone off the rails where Frank is concerned, and are continuing to do so. In my opinion, they went way overboard (and wasted valuable screen time that would have been far better spent on the Jamie and Claire relationship) by focusing so much on Frank’s pain and his search for Claire. Why do I think this, you ask? Because THE STORY IS NOT ABOUT FRANK. While one could imagine these events occurring in the story, they did not, in fact, appear in the books. There was no mention of Frank’s search for Claire, or his anger, frustration and downright douchiness to the local Scottish police. Personally, I think it was omitted from the book for good reason: BECAUSE THE STORY IS NOT ABOUT FRANK.
And then there’s Voyager (the book). Frank knew he was incapable of siring children (he KNEW, and to my recollection, never mentioned it to Claire when she first came back). Consequently, he “claimed” Brianna as his own, and never failed to lord his self-righteous “benevolence” over Claire. There are so many examples of Frank’s being an utter dick to Claire in the book that I could fill pages and pages repeating them here (which I will not. I’m only going to include one passage a bit further down as an example. If you haven’t read the book, just take my word for it. It’s there). However, in the show, we see the exact opposite. Even in portraying Frank’s infidelity, he is made out to be the victim. Poor Frank, married to a woman who is still in love with Jamie and who ignores him because she is “married” more to her career than to him, so OF COURSE it’s completely reasonable that he would seek love outside the marriage (I’m rolling my eyes so hard right now that they may stay this way).

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I knew that we would have to endure scenes between Frank and Claire in Season 3. My question is, why spend so much valuably limited screen time on it? Jamie’s is the more compelling story during the twenty-year separation. Think about all that happens to him versus Claire; there are only three major events that happen to Claire during this period: the birth of Brianna, graduating from medical school and her discovery that Jamie was alive. That’s pretty much it. And the truly interesting part of her story during that time was the search for Jamie with Brianna and Roger after Frank’s death . Why not focus the first few episodes predominantly on the events in Jamie’s life? So much more was happening to him during that time: Culloden and its aftermath, his time in hiding as the Dunbonnet, Ardsmuir Prison and his developing relationship with Lord John Grey, his time at Helwater as MacKenzie the groom and all that occurs with Geneva and Willie, and finally his re-birth as Alexander Malcolm, printer and smuggler. Those passages in the book were so beautiful and fully fleshed-out in comparison to the chapters about Claire in the 1960’s. I’m glad they covered all of them in the show, but they were a bit rushed because we just “had” to watch Frank and Claire’s marriage disintegrate, too. Was that really necessary?
I am not saying that the show runners should have completely ignored what was happening with Claire in the 20th Century. Not at all. We needed that juxtaposition against Jamie’s life in the 18th century. But given the two parallel story lines, it would have been more faithful to the book to put more time and energy into portraying Jamie’s story in the past, and then focusing on Claire, Brianna and Roger’s search for Jamie in the present. What we did NOT need was the canonization of poor, pitiful, long-suffering Frank.  Want to know why we didn’t need that?  THE STORY ISN’T ABOUT FRANK.
Even in the scenes that should have been about Claire, the TPTB made them about Frank:  the scene with Millie was really about making Claire feel guilty about Frank, Claire’s graduation party was about…you guessed it…Frank (not about Claire’s amazing accomplishment of becoming a doctor in the 60’s, as it should have been), the fights between Claire and Frank made Claire out to be the “bad guy,” while Frank was the put-upon, martyred victim.  And speaking of “that fight” between Claire and Frank (where Frank finally tells Claire he wants a divorce and wants to move to England with Bree), I have a few comments:
In the book, this is how it went down, mostly in the chapter entitled “To Lay a Ghost”:
Frank announces that he wants to go on sabbatical in England and is taking Bree with him (the announcement, by the way, is made ONE SEMESTER BEFORE BREE’S GRADUATION FROM HIGH SCHOOL! This was incredibly selfish & Frank clearly did not giving one thought to Bree’s feelings.  It was all about him).
     “I’m going now. For good. Without you.”
     “Why now, all of a sudden? The latest one putting pressure on you, is she?”
     The look of alarm that flashed into his eyes was so pronounced as to be comical. I laughed, with a noticeable lack of humor.
     “You actually thought I didn’t know? God, Frank! You are the most…oblivious man!” (and then, instead of protesting or denying it (as one would do if one was innocent of the accusation), he says:
     “I thought I had been most discreet.”
     “You may have been at that,” I said sardonically. “I counted six over the last ten years—if there were really a dozen or so, then you were quite the model of discretion.”
Then we have a rather despicable passage that shines a light on Frank’s racism, in which he reveals his true motive for wanting to remove Bree from Boston: that he doesn’t want her around “those kinds of people,” i.e. African Americans, specifically Joe Abernathy and his son). What a great guy!
Claire finally explodes:
     “You have the absolute, unmitigated gall to tell me that you are leaving me to live with the latest of a succession of mistresses, and then imply that I have been having an affair with Joe Abernathy? That is what you mean, isn’t it?”
Frank then announces that he doesn’t need her permission to take Bree (there is also the strong implication that he is angrier about the possibility that Claire had an affair with a BLACK man, and not just that he thinks she had an affair in general). Claire counters that she CAN, indeed,  stop him (the following passage was very closely mirrored in the show, with a few notable omissions that made Frank look bad). She says:
     “You want to divorce me? Fine, use any grounds you like—with the exception of adultery, which you can’t prove, because it doesn’t exist. But if you try to take Bree away with you, I’ll have a thing or two to say about adultery. Do you want to know how many of your discarded mistresses have come to see me, to ask me to give you up?”
Frank responds a bit further on:
     “I shouldn’t have thought you minded. It’s not as if you ever made a move to stop me.”
     And then later, “You might have behaved as though it mattered to you,” he said quietly.
     “It mattered.” My voice sounded strangled.
     “Not enough.” OUCH.
You can see how this scene was subtly changed to make Frank seem like the victim and so much better than he was in the book. The directors/writers completely ignore his racism and his selfishness about pulling Bree out of school a few months before she would graduate high school. In fact, they turned this around, too. In the book, it was CLAIRE that pointed out that Bree wasn’t an irresponsible teenager; that she was a level-headed adult. In the show, they had Frank make that observation (because he was SUCH a better parent than Claire). In the book, it was Frank that was treating her like a child. Let’s face it, folks: book Frank is an asshole. Show Frank is practically a saint.
Finally, let’s talk about episode 305, Freedom and Whisky. Finally, we “non-Frank” people are thinking, “Great! We are done with Frank. He’s dead and gone. R.I.P. Hasta la vista, baby. Claire is free to follow her heart.” But Noooooooo. Frank is back from the grave, getting his posthumous adulation from the University, while Claire is accosted by his mistress, whining about how he was the “love of her life” and how she (Claire) is horrible person for not “letting him go” (as if she had kept him prisoner in a deep pit in their basement .

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Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, people, LET IT GO! He’s dead! Get over it! Move on! (If I see a tramp stamp of Frank’s face above Claire’s ass when Jamie peels off her corset next week, my head will explode…truly).
Please don’t get me wrong. I am THRILLED that Droughtander is over and our favorite show is back. For the most part (except for the Frank stuff), I am loving this season.  The production value and the acting has been, as always, outstanding. Further, none of this critique has ANYTHING to do with Tobias Menzies. He is fine actor and probably a lovely person.

So, regarding Frank, is this it? No more Frank?  No Frank flashbacks, Frank hauntings, Zombie-white walker Franks?  Are we done with this, now? Yes? GOOD.

On a final note, I admit that I was squeeeeing like a teenager when Claire walked into that print shop at the end of Ep. 305. Judging by the sex scenes between Claire and Frank and Jamie and Geneva (which I had no problem with, as they are part of the story…although thank GOD they spared us the breast-feeding scene! That would have been way too “Game of Thrones/Lysa & Sweet Robin” for any of us to deal with! I think I would have had to bleach my eyeballs if I had been forced to witness THAT), I think TPTB got the message last year. We want to see the intimacy and physical love between Jamie and Claire that is integral to their characters and their relationship. Fortunately, it looks like we’re going to get it this season (and hopefully more than just next week). I am excited beyond belief to see our favorite power couple back in action, together, where they belong, going forward to live their crazy lives.

Oh, and did I mention that I’m glad that Frank is really most sincerely dead?  Let’s hope he stays that way.

 

 

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How Do You Solve a Problem Like Frank Randall?

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Frank, Frank, Frank… Love him, hate him or just don’t care about him, people have verra strong opinions about Frank Randall. Is he the tragic hero in this tale, or just a condescending philanderer? I suppose the answer depends on how one feels about Frank and his role in this series.
Personally, I’m kind of in the middle; I neither hate nor love him. The problem, for me, is that he’s just not a compelling character. Any interest I may have had in Frank ended when Claire went through the stones. If you’ve read the books, you know his story mostly ended there. Yes, there are some glimpses into Claire’s life with Frank when she left Jamie and came back to the 20th century. There are also occasional memories about him imparted to the reader from Claire and Bree in later books. And there is the letter Frank writes to Reverend Wakefield about Jamie, which I will address later. But those passages take up very little of the overall story. Consequently, I have two main questions for the Powers that Be who bring us the show: 1. Why is Frank being given a much larger role than he has in the books, and, more importantly, 2. Why are they altering his character to make him more likeable in the show?
In my reading of the books, there is a lot more going against Frank than for him, but in fairness, I will say that I think Frank got a raw deal: he marries Claire, WWII intervenes a few months later and they are separated for years by their respective roles in the war effort. They both survive the war, come back together, practically strangers, and decide to go to Scotland on a second honeymoon so they can get to know each other again (or arguably, for the first time). They are there for a few days, and WHAM, Claire disappears into thin air.
Imagine being in that situation: someone you love has just vanished without a trace. No clues, no evidence of foul play, no closure. Just gone. What a horrible thing to endure – always wondering what happened to that person. Did he/she leave you, without even the courtesy of telling you why? Or was it more sinister? Was the person kidnapped? Murdered?
So, we have this poor man, whose wife has been inexplicably gone for nearly 3 years, trying to get on with his life when, suddenly, she reappears, telling a crazy tale of time travel. Oh, and she’s pregnant with another man’s child. Does she allege that she’s been held captive and was raped? No. The pregnancy is quite clearly voluntary and wanted(that’s GOTTA hurt). He takes her back (out of duty or love, I’m not sure), even though he is not buying her story, and says the they will raise the child as their own. Claire, reluctantly, agrees.
Given these circumstances, I am not unsympathetic to Frank. He didn’t do anything to cause this situation, and he stands by Claire when most men would not have done so. As Claire tells Roger in Voyager:

“He was a very decent man.”

So, we know from Claire herself that Frank was a good guy, and despite his other faults (and he has quite a few), I think, deep-down, he was. Frank is not my favorite character, but not because he was unfaithful to Claire. I don’t care for him because he’s often a pompous, condescending ass, and “frankly” (see what I did, there?) kind of boring. Before I continue, let me state that YES, Frank was unfaithful to Claire, despite people’s protestations to the contrary (including, unfathomably, Diana Gabaldon’s, who stated not long ago, that Frank’s infidelity was “ambiguous.” No, it wasn’t. It was quite unambiguous. While it is true that Claire never finds Frank and one of his mistresses in flagrante delicto, nor does he ever say “Hey Claire, guess what? I’ve been shagging everything in a skirt for the past twenty years!” the implication is pretty clearly written. I won’t repeat all of the evidence here, but if you want a prime example, read chapter 19, To Lay a Ghost, in Voyager, when Claire is thinking back on the argument she and Frank had right before he was killed in the automobile accident. He never once denies her accusations; he admits them. In response to her telling him that she knows he has been unfaithful he says:

 
“I thought I had been most discreet.”

 
Sounds like an admission to me! In many ways, one could argue that he was justified in seeking affection outside the marriage when he wasn’t getting any inside of it (although, personally, I think divorce is a better option than infidelity). But as I said, his infidelity is not the problem. Frank and Claire have a difficult marriage that is held together by the love they share for Brianna. In some ways they love each other, too, but not in the way that Jamie and Claire do, not even close.
The problem is Frank’s role in the story. Why make it more important than it was in the books? Now that we are in season three, and Claire has returned to the present, I suppose the producers must give time to what is happening in Claire’s life to juxtapose what is happening in Jamie’s to keep the story balanced. But does it need to be equal time? There is a lot more happening to Jamie during their twenty-year separation than to Claire. Why not spend a bit more of the first part of the new season focused on Jamie, rather than wasting valuable screen time, say, beating us over the head with the misogyny of 20th century America (seriously, one scene of that would have been more than sufficient; we got the message the first time), or watching Claire try to light the pilot on the stove? Jamie’s story during that time is much more involved–and spelled out in detail in the book–so why not use the time to stick closer to the story instead of speculating about the details Claire & Frank’s awkward marriage?
I do like the way they are moving back and forth between Jamie and Claire’s lives during their separation. What I object to is spending more time than necessary on Frank and deliberately making him more likeable in the show than in the books. This is not his story. He is a secondary character. I’ve said in previous posts how irritated I was that the writers and directors were altering Jamie, Claire and Frank’s personalities, especially in Season 2. Diana wrote these characters in a specific way; they don’t need to be changed.

One need only look at two other popular book series-to-film franchises: Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. I am a huge fan of both of these series and the thing I like so much about the film versions is that the essence of the main characters has not been changed from books to screen. Good, evil or some combination of the two, they are the same characters I loved in the books. I can only imagine how daunting a task it is to adapt a large book series to the small (or large) screen. Scenes must be cut, minor characters removed, or merged with other characters (which I hope they did with Murtagh. THAT’S a change I could get behind!), storylines altered or removed, etc., to bring the story to life on screen. The same is true of Outlander, and I completely respect that. What should not happen is for the personalities of the major characters to change, because that alters the essential essence of the story itself.
Here is an example from the first episode of this season, “The Battle Joined”. Mostly, I thought it was excellent, except for the very end. Even though we know next to nothing of Bree’s birth from the books, the way that it was interpreted in the show was not consistent with the character’s “book personalities.” It made no sense to have Frank carry in newborn Bree, give her to Claire, who takes one look at her (completely ignoring her beautiful red hair, and therefore her connection to Jamie), and tells Frank how sorry she is for being so horrid to him and that now they can begin a happy life anew. What???
They chose to hearken back to Claire’s distress at losing Faith during the beginning of that scene, when she wakes and asks if her baby is dead. What would have been truer to the story, in my opinion, would have been to focus on her loss of Jamie, given baby Bree’s resemblance to him (don’t tell me that the first thing she would have seen would have been that gorgeous hair!).

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There is no reason they couldn’t have done this: open the scene with Claire holding Bree, stroking her red hair, and feeling the absence of Jamie. Show her expressing her deep love for her child and her deep sorrow at knowing Jamie will never hold her. Maybe even have her imagining that Jamie is there with her, looking at Bree over her shoulder. That’s what I think book Claire would have done. Frank might be standing near the door watching her. He comes in, a brief, unspoken tension between them, and then he asks her to hold Bree.  When Claire sees Frank holding this baby, Jamie’s baby, and falling in love with her anyway, THAT would have broken down the wall between them. That would have achieved the same purpose of the scene, i.e. to bring Claire & Frank closer together, while staying true to the personalities of these characters and the larger story.

 
Frank’s Letter to Rev. Wakefield “Prepping” of Brianna for the Past
In Episode 2, “Surrender”, we saw Frank beginning to write a letter to Reverend Wakefield to see if he could find information about Jamie Fraser. Book readers will know, somewhat, what this is about. (SPOILER ALERT from the book) Frank eventually finds out that Jamie Fraser was an actual person and that he did not die at Culloden, which he doesn’t tell Claire or Bree (another thing which does not endear him to me). Instead he has a “marriage stone” (a headstone without birth and death dates) for Jamie (that says “James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, Beloved husband of Claire”) put in the kirkyard of St. Kilda’s church in Scotland near Jack Randall’s grave. He does this because he is fairly certain that one day Claire will take Bree to Scotland. He believes that Bree will look for Frank’s ancestors, Jack’s headstone, and then she and Claire will see Jamie’s. This is how Claire ends up telling Bree about Jamie in the book. He later writes a letter explain his actions to Reverend Wakefield. Roger finds this letter and tells Jamie about it (oh, and by the way, he kind of admits to his adultery in this letter as well). We don’t know exactly how much Frank knew, or when, but somehow he comes to believe Claire’s story, because as Bree is growing up, he “preps” her for life in the eighteenth century (teaching her to shoot, hunt, make fire, ride a horse, etc).
This part of the story is a wee bit murky. Having a headstone put in a graveyard in Scotland near Jack Randall’s grave on the off-chance that Bree would research her genealogy and that she and Claire would find them is quite a long shot. We do know that the reason he does all of this is so that they both will know about Jamie, and Claire will find out he didn’t die at Culloden, without him (Frank) having to tell her. I always found this to be a pretty selfish, cowardly thing to do to Claire. I understand that he was afraid she would leave him, but he was reasonably sure she wouldn’t leave Bree (or try to take her away). But he wanted to leave her and was well-aware of the love she had for Jamie, so why not tell her? He took the choice away from her.
The other part of this, that we don’t know, is why he believed Brianna would go back to the past at some point. 1. Why would he think she would believe the story? 2. Even if she did, why would he think that she could travel back, just because her mother could? 3. I assume that Frank didn’t think he would die at the age he did, and he never told them what he knew while he was alive because he didn’t want to lose Bree (he even threatened, right before he died, to take Bree away from Claire and move back to England (in the semester before she graduated from high school, by the way, another selfish act). So, if he believed he would live to a ripe-old age, and he had no intention of sharing the grave information while he was alive, what was the point of all these machinations? Even if he knew, somehow, that Bree could travel to the past, does anyone really believe he would have told her sooner, and risk losing her, maybe forever? I suppose Diana may explain all of this in her last book, but for me, even if she turns Frank into the secret hero of this entire story (like Snape in Harry Potter), I will still think it was pretty awful of him not to tell them.
So there you have it, my thoughts on Frank Randall. Thankfully, he won’t be around much longer. Winter is coming and those cold Boston streets are covered in black ice.

 

Looking for Mr. Fraser

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What is it that we love so much about the Outlander books?  Is it Claire and her bad-ass self? The history? The adventure? The steamy sex? The love story?  For me, it’s all of those things.  But above all else, it’s one James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.

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 Outlander:  1636 vs 199

Dragonfly in Amber: 1832 vs 133

Voyager: 2508 vs 121

What are those numbers, you ask?  Mentions.

One of the best features of e-books is that they let readers (ok, maybe just me) indulge my obsession to find information about my favorite books quickly and easily (i.e., gather data, take notes, and highlight and/or bookmark favorite passages).  After the finale of Season 2, and to support my hypothesis that the show runners were getting off track where Jamie Fraser is concerned, I did a little search of Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber and Voyager, the three books in the series where both Jamie and Frank appear.  The figures above show the number of times Jamie is mentioned versus the number of times Frank is mentioned.  The difference is pretty striking.  It’s also quite obvious who is the more important character.  Can’t dispute hard data, Ron.

Some fans (and apparently the showrunners) think that Outlander is strictly Claire’s story, and by extension, the story of her relationships with Frank and Jamie.  I don’t entirely agree with that.  In the wake of Season 2, I found myself in numerous discussions about this very topic with other “book people.”  I wasn’t surprised to discover how many of us see it quite differently; we see the Outlander series as more Jamie’s story than Claire’s. And even when we didn’t agree on that, two things about which we all did agree was that it is NOT Claire and Frank’s story, nor is it a “love triangle” between Jamie, Claire and Frank. The central character in the series is really Jamie.  The story may be told from Claire’s perspective, but her narrative is all about him: how he smells, the way he looks, his intelligence, his bravery, his sense of humor, the way he makes her feel…The few times she mentions Frank, it is usually to tell us that he was a good father to Bree and to let us know that in comparison to Jamie, as a man and a husband, he is woefully lacking (whether or not she had a hand in those failures is a topic for another post):

Jamie. Jamie was real, all right, more real than anything had ever been to me, even Frank and my life in 1945.  Jamie, tender lover and perfidious black-guard.

Perhaps that was part of the problem.  Jamie filled my senses so completely that his surroundings seemed almost irrelevant.  But I could no longer afford to ignore them.  My recklessness had almost killed him this afternoon, and my stomach turned over at the thought of losing him.

-Outlander

*Note: this passage is from right after she tried to get back to Frank, but was picked up by the Redcoats and taken to Fort William. Makes me wonder if her heart was really in it, or did she just feel guilty and obligated to try and return to Frank? Just something to consider.

As I mentioned, I realize that some people still see Claire as the main character-that the story is about Claire and what happens to her, and that Frank is just as important a part of her life as Jamie. I ask those people to please read the books again.  Once Jamie comes into her life, almost everything Claire does and says is relayed to the reader through the prism of Jamie: how events affect him as an individual, them as a couple, and the world they inhabit.  He is like the sun; a powerful, magnetic force to which everyone is drawn and around which everything revolves.  The difference in Outlander, though, is that the depth of feeling isn’t one-sided. For Jamie, Claire has the same overwhelming pull for him as he does for her

“I had thought I was well beyond that stage, had lost all trace of softness and was well set on my way to a middle age of stainless steel.  But now I thought that Frank’s death had cracked me in some way,  And the cracks were widening, so that I could no longer patch them with denial. I had brought my daughter back to Scotland, she with those bones strong as the ribs of Highland mountains, in the hope that her shell was strong enough to hold her together, while the center of her “I am” might still be reachable.

But my own core no longer held in the isolation of “I am,” and I had no protection to shield me from the softness from within.  I no longer knew what I was or what she would be; only what I must  do. (my emphasis)

For I had come back, and I dreamed once more, in the cool air of the Highlands.  And the voice of my dream still echoed through ears and heart, repeated with the sound of Brianna’s sleeping breath.

“You are mine,” it had said. “Mine! And I will not let you go.”

-Dragonfly In Amber

*Note:  these are Claire’s thoughts after 20 years apart from Jamie.  Her first instinct after Frank’s death is to run back to Scotland, in search of a ghost. Her grief is palpable-but it’s not for Frank.

……………………….

“It’s a lot too late to ask that,” I said, and reached to touch his cheek, where the rough beard was starting to show. It was soft under my fingers, like a stiff plush.  “Because I’ve already risked everything I had.  But whoever you are now, Jamie Fraser-yes.  Yes, I do want you.”

-Voyager

I don’t mean to say that Claire isn’t also a wonderful character, and Caitriona plays her brilliantly.  She embodies the characteristics that many of us, as women, possess ourselves (or wish we did!): strength, intelligence, resilience, compassion, resourcefulness, sensuality, and yes, a certain degree of recklessness and a “damn the consequences” attitude.  But for all of her great, and not-so-great, qualities, I would go so far as to suggest that Claire is at her most interesting when she is with Jamie (and before I get a lot of comments suggesting I’m being sexist, NO, I do not think a woman needs a man (not even Jamie Fraser) to be interesting, fulfilled or complete!).  I just happen to think there is a good case to be made for Jamie being the more fascinating character. (Side note: I’m not saying that he is perfect. If he were, he wouldn’t feel so “real” to the reader. However, I really wish the whole “King of Men” moniker could just be erased.  It’s silly and turns the very interesting character of Jamie Fraser into more of a caricature. Nobody wants to see that. Ron practically rolls his eyes whenever he says it, and Sam looks uncomfortable whenever someone mentions it.  Jamie Fraser is supposed to be a human being (granted, an exceptional one), not a comic book super hero).

Consider this:  would you be more interested in reading a story about Claire without Jamie, or one about Jamie without Claire? I know, I know, most of us would prefer them together as a couple, but indulge me.  I know which I would choose.  Even Diana Gabaldon finds Jamie the more interesting character:  beyond the core Outlander series, Virgins is about Jamie, The Exile is about Jamie, The Scottish Prisoner is about Jamie (even though it’s in the Lord John series).  Are there any additional books or novellas about Claire? No.  If I’m not mistaken, I believe Diana has even said that she relates more to Jamie than to Claire.  And why not?  Jamie is a much more compelling and nuanced character than Claire.  We know what Claire will do in almost every situation (usually something that ends up putting Jamie and/or herself in mortal danger…lol), but Jamie often surprises us.  In addition, it is Jamie that develops the most over the course of the series.  We see him as a young, slightly reckless warrior, a survivor of sexual assault, an outlaw, a prisoner, a merchant, a conspirator, a soldier, a laird, a printer, a smuggler, a pioneer… Most importantly, we see him grow and mature as man, a father, a grandfather and a husband to Claire.

So all of this begs the question: why are TPTB (the powers that be) changing the story and minimizing Jamie’s character in the show?  In Jamie they have a beautifully rich character in his own right, they have enough great prose and dialogue in the books for 50 episodes per season and they have the perfect actor to play him. It makes no sense to shift so much focus away from the most beloved character in the books. Here are some examples of what I mean.

For the most part, I loved Season 1, and after re-reading (again) Outlander, I realized why. THEY STUCK (MOSTLY) TO THE BOOK AND USED A LOT OF DIANA’S DIALOGUE.  Perhaps that’s less interesting for the screenwriters, but their job is to adapt an existing piece of work to film, not to re-write the characters. Wisely, that’s what they did in Season 1.  I will take exception to two, rather major, changes to the first season.  The first was in The Wedding. In the show, the focus was on Claire.  In fact, in the recap after the episode, both Ron and Terry said that it was “all about the dress, Claire’s entrance, the way Jamie reacts to her,”etc., etc. But if you re-read that passage in the book, you will see that they were wrong.  Diana wrote it from the completely opposite perspective. Diverging from societal norms, this wedding wasn’t all about the bride; it was about the groom:

It was a “warm” Scottish day, meaning that the mist wasn’t quite heavy enough to qualify as a drizzle, but not far off, either.  Suddenly the inn door opened, and the sun came out, in the person of James.  If I was a radiant bride, the groom was positively resplendent.  My mouth fell open and stayed that way.

A Highlander in full regalia is an impressive sight–any Highlander, no matter how old, ill-favored, or crabbed in appearance.  A tall, straight-bodied, and by no means ill-favored young Highlander at close range is breathtaking.

Well over six feet tall, broad in proportion and striking of feature, he was a far cry from the grubby horse-handler I was accustomed to–and he knew it. Making a leg in courtly fashion, he swept me a bow of impeccable grace murmuring “Your servant, Ma’am,” eyes glinting with mischief.

“Oh,” I said faintly.                                                                                                         

-Outlander

Don’t get me wrong. I loved that episode, and still think it was one the best hours of film that I have ever seen.  I loved the way they started after the ceremony and worked backward. I loved the sex scenes, going from awkward first encounter, to the passionate, lust-filled round 2, to the beginnings of falling in love at the end. I loved the scene between Jamie and Murtagh talking about Jamie’s mother and how Claire’s “smile was as sweet” as Ellen’s.  I loved the “bible smack-down” between Willie and the priest.  It was romantic, funny, emotional and sexy as hell!  In short, it was perfection, so I didn’t mind the change.

At the time, I also didn’t really think anything of shifting the focus from Jamie to Claire when, for example, the writers had Jamie thinking that it was the vision of Claire that was “like the sun coming out,” instead of the other way around. I appreciated that the reversal was made as Ron’s homage to his wife, Terry.  In fact, I thought it was quite a sweet gesture and didn’t think it took anything away from Jamie’s character to do it. However, in retrospect, having seen all of the other changes where the focus was moved from Jamie to Claire in Season 2, I’m beginning to think that maybe it was more deliberate, and less romantic, than I originally thought. Maybe I’m just cynical.

The other significant change to Season 1, which I mentioned in my previous post, was the failure to allow time for Jamie to heal and for he and Claire to reconnect after his assault at the hands of BJR. Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe were brilliant with what they were given.  But why was that entire section skipped when it was so hugely significant to the development of Jamie and Claire’s relationship? Those of you who have read the books know what I’m talking about (the length and intensity of the “exorcism,” the tentative first intimate encounter, the passion and re-connection in the hot spring, and yes, even the dark humor). There really was no excuse for it, given that they had three additional episodes in which to address it.  Both Maril and Terry are huge fans of the books; I find it difficult to believe that this subject never came up in private discussions,  in the writer’s room or when they were blocking out the episodes before filming. I mention it again here because it was a rare, but crucial, misstep by TPTB.  Not only did it fail to give both the characters and the audience a much-needed catharsis after the events in Wentworth Prison and to Ransom a Man’s Soul, it resulted in the writers having to alter the natures of the core characters and much of the flow of Season 2.  I suppose we’ll never know why they chose to eliminate those scenes from Season 1, but someday I’d really like an honest answer to that question.  I would much rather know it was a miscalculation rather than an intentional decision to prop up Frank’s character and undermine Jamie’s.

As for Season 2, I’ve already made my thoughts known on the altering of Claire & Frank’s characters, the diminishing of Jamie’s and on the nearly complete, and incomprehensible, lack of sex and intimacy between Jamie and Claire (see Yeah…It Kind of IS About the Sex). I won’t revisit them here.  In preparing to write this post, I re-read many different parts of the first three books, among them “the print shop scene.”  As always, it brought me to tears.  I so want the filmed version to do the same.  I mean, seriously, I want to be like this when I see it:

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As of this writing, the cast and crew have reconvened in Scotland and are ready to start filming Season 3, Voyager.  So here are my pleas to Ron, Maril, and all of the directors and writers:

  • Please DO NOT continue down the path you were on in Season 2.  Focus on Jamie – and on the relationship between Jamie and Claire.  A LOT happens in Voyager, but don’t get so lost in the “action” that you forget why millions of fans love these books.  If we want to watch a high-seas adventure in the Caribbean with lots of gratuitous and unnecessary sex, we’ll watch Black Sails.  There are many scenes you can skip or merge together for the sake of time. Some suggestions:  99% of Claire’s life with Frank, the serial killer in Edinburgh, Mr. Willoughby, some of the events in the ocean crossing, much of the voodoo in the Caribbean.  There are plenty of things you can skim over that won’t affect the story going forward to Drums of Autumn. Please do not skip over Jamie’s time without Claire (i.e., Ardsmuir, Lallybroch, Helwater) or any of the time with him when she returns. Those scenes are far too important not to include in all their glory.
  • PLEASE, do not make the mistake you made in Season 2 (and yes, I do think it was a mistake) by skimping on the love story (including the sex) that is the heart of Outlander. There is no shame in producing a top-quality love story. They are sorely lacking on television today. You have enough talented people working on this show that you can weave the romance between Jamie and Claire seamlessly into the history and adventure of the story.  You did it in Season 1 and it was adored by critics and fans alike.  I challenge you to do it again. Let us see more of this:

“Do ye know?” he said softly, somewhere in the black, small hours of the night. “Do ye know what it’s like to be with someone that way? To try all ye can, and seem never to have the secret of them?

“Yes,” I said, thinking of Frank. “Yes, I do know.”

“I thought perhaps ye did,” He was quiet for a moment, and then his hand touched my hair lightly, a shadowy blur in the firelight

“And then…” he whispered, “then to have it all back again, that knowing. To be free in all ye say or do, and know that it is right.”

“To say ‘I love you,’ and mean it with all your heart,” I said softly to the dark.

“Aye,” he answered, barely audible. “To say that.”

His hand rested on my hair, and without knowing quite how it happened, I found myself curled against him, my head just fitting in the hollow of his shoulder.

“For so many years,” he said, “for so long, I have been so many things, so many different men.” I felt him swallow, and he shifted slightly, the linen of his nightshirt rustling with starch.

“I was Uncle to Jenny’s children, and Brother to her and Ian. ‘Milord’ to Fergus, and ‘Sir’ to my tenants. ‘Mac Dubh’ to the men of Ardsmuir and ‘MacKenzie’ to the other servants at Helwater. ‘Malcolm the printer,’ then ‘Jamie Roy’ at the docks.” The hand stroked my hair, slowly, with a whispering sound like the wind outside. “But here in the dark, with you…I have no name.”

I lifted my face toward his, and took the warm breath of him between my own lips.

“I love you,” I said, and did not need to tell him how I meant it.

  • Please stop changing the story by focusing so much on Claire (and giving so many great lines written for Jamie to Claire).  Diana wrote them for Jamie for good reason. It doesn’t bolster Claire’s character to diminish Jamie’s.  Claire is not a character who would give up everything for a man who was not her equal.  And Jamie wouldn’t be with a woman that was angry and shrewish.  If he wanted that, he would have stayed with Laoghaire.  And therein lies the secret to what makes this story so popular with your key demographic, i.e., women.  Jamie and Claire are not only soul-mates; they are a match of equals.

“You are my courage, as I am your conscience,” he whispered. “You are my heart-and I your compassion. We are neither of us whole, alone. Do ye not know that, Sassenach?”

“I know that,” I said, and my voice shook. “That’s why I’m so afraid. I don’t want to be half a person again. I can’t bear it.”

-Drums of Autumn

  • Please, please, please stop with the Frank lovefest.  I have nothing against Tobias Menzies, but ENOUGH. This story is NOT about Frank. We don’t need to see every detail of Claire’s life with Frank.  Even the non-book readers can infer what those 20 years were like. Personally,  I don’t want to hear from RDM & Co. ever again about how we “need to include Frank so that we can understand Claire.” No…we don’t.  And we really don’t if you keep changing Frank’s nature.  “Book Frank” was kind of jerk; not the nice, understanding saint you changed him into.  If Frank were that wonderful, why would Claire want to go back to Jamie? Why would she have spent that entire 20 years in love with a ghost?  The story needs to make sense to the non-book readers.  If you truly want to understand Claire, you need to focus on JAMIE.

“All the time after ye left me, after Culloden-I was dead then, was I not?”

“I was dead, my Sassenach-and yet all that time, I loved you.”

I closed my eyes, feeling the tickle of the grass on my lips, light as the touch of sun and air.

“I loved you, too,” I whispered. “I still do.”

The grass fell away.  Eyes still closed, I felt him lean toward me, and his mouth on mine, warm as sun, light as air.

“So long as my body lives, and yours-we are one flesh,” he whispered. His fingers touched my, hair and chin and neck and breast, and I breathed his breath and felt him solid under my hand. Then I lay with my head on his shoulder, the strength of him supporting me, the words deep and soft in his chest.

“And when my body shall cease, my soul will still be yours.  Claire-I swear by my hope of heaven, I will not be parted from you.”

The wind stirred the leaves of the chestnut trees nearby, and the scents of late summer rose up rich around us; pine and grass and strawberries, sunwarmed stone and cool water, and the sharp musky smell of his body next to mine.

“Nothing is lost, Sassenach; only changed.”

“That’s the first law of thermodynamics,” I said, wiping my nose.

“No,” he said. “That’s faith.”

-Drums of Autumn

 

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(Not sure who made this .gif, but thank you!)

 

You have found the perfect actor to play Jamie Frasier in Sam Heughan.  Diana has created one of popular literature’s most beloved characters in Jamie Fraser.  Give Sam his due; let him run with it.  The fans will love you, and the show will be all the better for it.

I Love Paris in the Springtime: The Frasers Take a (Much Needed) Holiday Abroad

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So…we ended with the Frasers on a cruise ship, heading for La Belle France, with a trusty Murtagh in tow, and a baby on board. I suspect, however, that even in the 18th Century, it would still take less time to cross the Channel than it will for Droughtlander Part Deux to end. Whatever shall we do with ourselves while we’re in Outlander Purgatory? (not to be confused with MyOutlanderPurgatory.com which you should all check out BTW, because 1. I say so. 2. It’s awesome; and 3. Tracy and Carol.  That is all).  There’s just one wee problem…

Season One is over and WithOutlander has begun,,,

I thought I would take this first stretch sans Outlander TV to talk about Gay Paris.  I know, I know, no one wants to see Jamie Fraser in a powdered wig with a faux beauty mark stuck to his face. (Although, if I recall correctly, our Jamie resists that ugly temptation until Voyager). That doesna mean that there is nothing good about France.  Au contraire, mes amies.  France is a lovely country full of wonderful things, especially Paris.  And no, all French people are nae rude…they only behave that way when they’re in England (‘tho I’m no quite sure how they got into Castle Leoch) :

Things I love about Paris:

Aaahhh Paris, The City of Light

What’s NOT to like about Paris? It’s beautiful, it’s romantic, it’s full of magnificent art and architecture!  The history, the bistros, the shopping, the food…Need I I go on?   So, with so much to see and do, where should you start?  Here are this wee coo’s top 12 (just to be contrary, as coos are wont to be)  recommendations (for humans) *Coo note:  these 12 are “respectable” for all..I’ll get to my recommendations for those with more “singular tastes” a bit later.

1.  Les Cathédrales:  Notre Dame, Sainte-Chapelle and Sacre Coeur.  There are hundreds of lovely churches, cathedrals and chapels in Paris, but ye shouldna miss these.  No one can fail to marvel at these structures; their beauty is beyond compare. Don’t forget to check out the frequent chamber, chorale or medieval music concerts at Notre Dame (and the others). Absolutely magical. Just do it, you’ll be glad you did.

2.  Les Bateaux Mouches (a “mouche” is a type of wee midgee, en français, in case ye didna ken that).  Oui, they are touristy.  So what?  It’s a lovely way to see Paris.  Go at night and you’ll understand why it’s called the City of Light.  Magnifique et si romantique!

3. Avenue des Champs-Élysées.  Do stroll along the most famous of Paris streets from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde.  If anything epitomizes Paris, c’ést ça. Stop at one of the many outdoor cafés, have a bottle of wine, or two, and take it all in.

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4.  Les Musées.  This is a tough one. There are soooo many to choose from in Paris. The Louvre, the Musée d’Orsay, the Centre Georges-Pompidou, the Jeu de Paume, the Musée Rodin…it can be a wee bit overwhelming.  Moo’s advice? Pick one of the biggies I mentioned and decide in advance what ye want to see (e.g. specific works of art, special exhibits, etc), since ye could easily spend an entire week in the Louvre alone. Then pick one of the smaller, more “specialized” museums of something ye find particularly interesting (ye can find everything from museums dedicated to Salvador Dali and Edith Piaf, to space museums, music museums, natural history museums…the list is endless)

5.  Le Shopping!  (I didna make that up…ye can really say “le shopping”), window or real, if ye have plenty of clink, on the Rue Ste-Honoré.  Ye can find everything from the ultra-hip (Colette, Damir Doma, Comme des Garçons),  to French status labels (Goyard, Hermès, Chanel), to shops that are a bit less pricey but every bit as stylish. If you want to shop at places a little more down to earth, try the quartier Marais (in 3rd and 4th arrondissements). If you’re a serious Power Shopper, have a sense of adventure, and good right hook,  then ye must go to the Marché aux Puces St-Ouen de Clignancourt, the world’s largest and most famous flea market (it’s over 150-years old!).  If ye canna find it there, you’re probably no going to find it at all, lasses).

6.  La Tour Eiffel.  Dinna argue with me.  Just go, and go all the way to the top.

7. Les Cocktails.  Do splurge and go for cocktails at the Hemingway Bar at the Ritz or Bar 228 at Le Meurice.  So shi-shi!

8. Le Château de Versailles.  Ok, not technically in Paris, but only a short train ride away.  It’s magnificent and WAY over the top in every way. The Palais is truly a sight to behold and the grounds are amazing. Take some baguettes, a few bottles of wine (don’t forget the corkscrew!), a nice assortment of cheeses and fruit and have yourself a lovely picnic.  Ye might just see Donas, Bouton and myself, if ye look carefully!

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A verra cool way to spend the day.  Here’s a link to the home page: http://en.chateauversailles.fr/homepage for more info.  Be wary, though, lasses…if the King’s about, ye may want to hide yer nipples.  He’s into inappropriate touching, ye ken?

9.  E. Dehillerin (metro stop Les Halles).  If you love to cook, this store will blow.your.mind. It’s also verra cool that probably every famous chef in the world has wandered the aisles at some point.  It’s worth going to ogle and drool over the copper cookware alone.

10.  Shakespeare and Company,  For half a century, this world-renowned bookshop on the Left Bank (opposite Notre Dame) has offered food and a bed to penniless authors – the only rule is that they read a book a day. A kind of book-induced euphoria takes over as ye enter. Its wee nooks and crannies overflow with new and second-hand  books (and they’re in English for those of ye that are French-challenged). Take note of the  hand-painted quotations and the wishing well, then wander up the miniature staircase to the reading library in the attic. Shakespeare and Co. is the stuff of legends. A must for all book lovers. Go. You know ye want to.

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11.  Les Jardins Publiques, Cimetière du Père Lachaise, et  ” Les Isles.”

Wanderin’ aboot Paris is one of my favorite things to do.  If yer lookin’ for a little respite from the bustle of the city, walk around the gardens (they have lots of tasty flowers and plants to nibble on). Les Tuilleries, les Jardins de Luxembourg, le Jardin de Plantes (which is no just a park, but also a Botanical garden) and Le Bois de Bologne are all beautiful places to relax and eat some grass.

Cimetière du Père Lachaise.  Ok..it’s a cemetary, not a park, but it’s beautiful and trés cool.  Some verra famous people are buried here:  Honoré de Balzac, Sarah Bernhardt, Maria Callas, Frédéric Chopin, Jean de la Fontaine, Molière, Jim Morrison, Édith Piaf, Marcel Proust, and Oscar Wilde, to name a few.  It’s a nice, peaceful place to ruminate.

In between the right and left banks of Paris are the Ile de La Cité and the Ile St. Louis. Ile de la Cité is the more famous of the two, since that’s where ye’ll find Notre Dame Cathedral and Ste-Chapelle.  However, just behind the gardens of Notre Dame is the Pont Saint-Louis pedestrian bridge which leads to the the Ile Saint-Louis.  It’s a lovely place to walk among the quiet courtyards of 17th-century mansions, shop in local boutiques or get some ice-cream at the world-famous Bertillon. Yum.

12.  Le Fromâge! Le Vin! Les Patisseries! oh myyyy

From a wee coo’s perspective, I could write an entire blog just about cheese (the milk, ye ken)…particularly le fromâge français. These people don’t mess around…they take their cheese verra seriously!  Did ye know that there are approximately 692 different kinds of cheeses in France (and that list keeps growing!)? Aye, ye heard that correctly. Six.Hundred.Ninety.Two.  That’s a lot of fromâge.  And it DOESNA come in pre-packaged, individually wrapped slices…can ye feel French people crossing themselves and makin’ the sign against Old Nick at the very thought!?  No…in France, one goes to a fromagerie. The next time you’re in Paris, try the Fromagerie Laurent Dubois at 47 Ter. Boulevard Saint-Germain (taste the Roquefort with quince jam, yer mouth will love ye for it) and Chez Virginie on 54 Rue Damrémont (near Montmartre).  They’re two of the best (I still have their business cards for the next time I go on holiday!).  You will think you have died and gone to Cheese Heaven. Don’t be afraid to ask for a wee taste first to see what ye like (most cheese shops are verra accomodating, even to Sassenachs). Ye can also request smaller amounts when buying from a large wheel. Ye should plan to buy only enough to eat for a day or two, and then go back and try something else. Fergus will tell ye that that’s what the French do.

And what goes well with sublime French cheeses?  Sublime French wines, that’s what. Aye, I ken verra well that in these days, ye can buy lovely wines from all over the world. But in Jamie and Claire’s time, France was the center of fine wine production, as I’m sure Jared will explain to ye next season.

There are 10 principle wine growing regions in France: Alsace, Bordeaux, Borgogne (Burgundy), Beaujolais, Champagne, Jura Languedoc, Loire Valley, Médoc, Côtes du Rhone and Provence. Personally, I prefer the hearty red wines from Borgogne and Bordeaux, but ye can find delicious wines to suit all tastes in France. I dinna pretend to be an expert (they willna let coos into the programmes to become sommeliers…can ye believe that? Hmmmphmm!), I just know what I like when I taste it, ye ken?  If you’re feelin’ a bit confused about the intricacies of French wines, just follow this wee link for a nice, fairly short, overview of the regions and the wines they produce: http://about-france.com/wines.htm  Slàinte Mhath!  Oops…I meant A Vôtre Santé! (to yer health), or if you’re feelin’ a bit more informal: Tchin Tchin!  (Here’s a wee bit of trivia for ye…do ye ken where “Tchin Tchin” comes from?  Well,  it’s from the Chinese expression qing qing (or tchin tchin), meaning “please-please” or “happy days,” which was historically used in China to invite people to drink. French soldiers coming back from China after the Second Opium War introduced it in France. However, this didna occur until after the late 1850’s, so Jaime should remind Claire not to use that expression during their time in France, ye ken?  They willna know what she’s talking about, and we dinna want her dragged off to be burned as a witch again, do we?)

Les Pâtisseries

Mon Dieu, regardes les pâtisseries!

No one..NO ONE, does pastry like the French.  I dinna care if you’re on a diet, if ye go to France, ye must eat the pastries (well, the pastries AND the bread). Bakers tend to specialize in one or the other in France, so make the effort to seek out a good Pâtisserie shop for the pastry and a Boulangerie for the bread.  (This wee coo wouldna “steer” ye wrong in this…hehehe).  Where to start with the pastries? So many classics to choose from.. the ones you’ve probably heard of: profiteroles (delicate cream puffs drizzled with chocolate), éclair au chocolat, macarons and madeleines of all varieties, pain au chocolat, beignets and milles feuille,  and those you probably havena, but must try:  pain au raisin (delicate viennoisse pastry spiraled with raisins and custard), croissants amande (croissants dusted with sliced almonds and powdered sugar, filled with almond paste resulting in a crispy, nutty, yet soft in the middle treat that will make you slip into a dream-like #PASTRYCOMA), chausson aux pommes (kind of a hand-held apple pie – NO not like our fast-food hot apple pies…don’t MAKE me stab ye with my horns!) and palmiers (made with a croissant-like dough, folded over and over and over with sugar, creating lots of flaky layers and a caramelized sugar crunch when you bite into them…simply sublime). I’m dying here right now…any of ye seen my drool bucket?

 * * *

Ok, lads and lasses, those are the socially acceptable things to do in Paris.  But there are other things to do, as well, ye ken?…Viens mes petits espèces de pervers…(et. non…ye may NOT ask me how I ken about such places. Hmmmmphmm. 

Paris After Dark: The Adult and the Unusual

Deyrolle.  Would you like to visit Master Raymond’s “secret room”…?. Paris has many unusual shops, but one of the strangest has to be Deyrolle, a 184-year old establishment on rue du Bac, not far from the Musee d’Orsay on the Left Bank. Tis no an apothecary, but a taxidermy shop.

The ground floor looks like a fairly ordinary small home and garden shop (apart from a couple of stuffed gazelles standing on their hind legs and dressed to look like humans).

Does this make me look fat? (It’s verra weird in here).

But walking up the stairs is like passing through the stones. The second story appears to have changed no much at all since the store originally opened it’s doors. It’s dusty, crazy, chaotic, and crammed with stuffed animals of all shapes, sizes, and…poses. There’s also ancient wooden cases full of insects, shells, botanical prints and a variety of curiosities. Yeah…no, it’s creepy.  Can we leave now?

AHHHHHHHH!!!! OCH…it’s me cousin Gerald!! How did this happen to ye. lad? We thought ye were on holiday in Vegas!

(WTF?) I once caught a fish “this big”…

Les Cabarets Français.  Paris is verra famous for it’s burlesque/nude reviews, and sex shows.  If ye’re lookin’ for the sexiest revue in the city, ye can spend the evening at the Crazy Horse Paris cabaret, which has been entertaining Parisians and tourists alike with its “Art of Nude” shows for over 50 years. Ye can also book a dinner-revue at the world-famous Moulin Rouge and enjoy a French Cancan show.  The club is in Pigalle (the “red light” district, known for its strip clubs and peep shows).  Aye, I ken it’s a wee bit touristique, but, c’mon!…Toulouse Lautrec used to hang out here! Other well-known cabarets in Paris are the Lido on the Champs Elysées, the très parisien Paradis Latin, La Nouvelle Eve, a belle époque-inspired music-hall, the exotic Brasil Tropical revue,  and the glamorous Folies Bergères. (Ye should know that there’s lots of nekkid women in these shows…don’t bring the bairns.  Unless yer French.)

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Musée de l’Erotisme.  Oh stop it…yer in Paris, for god’s sake!  Of course, there’s a sex museum!  Also located in Pigalle, the musée  houses Alain Plumy and Joseph Khalif’s private collection of erotic artworks as well as temporary art exhibits by French and International artists. Visitors can also find sacred sex art objects,  historical and contemporary erotic art pieces, antique sex education books, fetish photos, sex comics, rare pictures of brothels, anal jewelry, and chastity belts, among other things.

Sexy Lingerie!  Like the food and the wine, les femmes Françaises do NOT compromise when it comes to lingerie.  And, unlike in most other countries, lingerie shops in Paris dinna cater to men’s tastes…they cater to women’s. French women ken there is an art to seduction, and lingerie is an essential component of the game. If you’re looking for top-notch, beautifully-made lingerie, three of the best boutiques are Louise Feuillere (this is the best (and most fun) choice if ye want something truly unique).  Madame Feuillere does lingerie sur mesure, meaning her pieces are custom made to fit your body.  Stop by her workshop to see her pre-made pieces and get inspired, then work together with her to design something personalized to your taste!), Chantal Thomass (ye should know, this is one of the finest and most famous lingerie shops in the world.  Chantal Thomass is credited for the trend “Dessous Dessus” (innerwear as outerwear) and is famous for cutting-edge, haute coooture lingerie.  Their line is FAB!! But dinna go into CT dressed like a wee slob…they will nae pay ye any mind – think Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman tryin’ to shop on Rodeo Drive in her whuuure outfit). Ye’ve been warned. Finally, if you want something, ah, a bit more, as Mrs. Fitz would say,…(interesting, that is), ye must go to Agent Provacateur (their lingerie is of impeccable quality and are a wee bit on the naughty side!  Expensive or no, I dare ye not to buy anything.  All the sexy wee coos LOVE, LOVE, LOVE AP!). Ooh la la!

Go shopping at a Sex Supermarché

For more naughty fun in Paris, go shopping at a Supermarché de Charme Concorde. There are 4 of them (that I know of), all of which are located, surprisingly, in quiet neighborhoods of Paris.  The Concorde supermarkets are huge sex shops offering over 10.000 different sexy items for ALL tastes.  The atmosphere in these stores is much more…convivial (at least to wee coos), than sex shops in the US. (Why are American humans sae silly and prudish aboot these things? Just askin’). These stores attract a large and varied clientèle, straight, gay and other, who shop for everything from adult magazines, erotic DVDs and videos, sex toys, and aphrodisiacs to hot lingerie (not quite the same as ye find in the other boutiques I told ye about, ye ken), fetish shoes and accessories, all with the help of the friendly (usually not skanky) staff.  (Shhh..these stores also feature ultramodern private viewing booths where clients can watch more than 3000 adult movies of all kinds, if yer into that sort of thing).

Les Clubs Libertin. Looking for a little more adult fun?  Paris is home to (allegedly) more than 500 clubs libertins (aye, that would be sex clubs…for swingers, ye ken?)  One of the most famous (said to be frequented by the rich and powerful) is Les Chandelles at 1 rue Thérèse. It’s kind of a legend, but caters more to the over 40 crowd.  Another “club échangiste” is Le Mask, which has a slightly younger crowd (mostly 30 somethings).  As the name suggest, they encourage people to wear masks, both for discretion, and to give the experience that “Eyes Wide Shut” feel.  There doesna seem to be much “swinging’ going on…more a place to watch other people having sex (or having strangers watch you!) than swapping. Most of these clubs are private, so to even have a chance to enter, ye must be dressed properly (at least until ye get inside).  Oh, and pants are discouraged for women, just so ye know.

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Do ye think I’m sexy?

Well, mes enfants, I guess that’s enough to to get ye started….what are ye waitin’ for?  Vas-y!  Paris is waiting…

“I Just Want This To Be A Pleasant Experience For Us Both”

Like many people I was dreading this episode the most.  On the one hand, I had a very definite set of expectations about it, and on the other, I had no idea how they would include the wealth of material remaining in the story, while dealing with the extremely difficult subject of Jamie’s rape and torture.  Based on the series as a whole, and the Wentworth Prison episode in particular, I did not think that Ron Moore, Anna Foerster and Ira Stephen Behr would be gentle about his ordeal, to paraphrase Jamie. They weren’t. In spite of how brutal it was, and as strange as this may sound, I found this episode to be incredibly beautiful. Oh, Lord, maybe Black Jack is rubbing off on me.

The finale was brilliant.  Once again, all of the actors outdid themselves, especially the three principals.  But this episode belongs to Sam Heughan, hands down.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a performance that raw (and I’ve see a LOT of films/shows/theater).  He was ridiculously good.   It took a lot of guts to allow himself to be that vulnerable and exposed.  He held nothing back. Very few actors are willing, or able, to put everything on the line like that. In doing so, he gave us the gift of an incredibly powerful performance.  I’m a wee bit in awe of you right now, Sam.

On to the show…there has been a lot of complaining about specific scenes that were left out from the book. Enough already. Please hear me out.  Were there some things I would have liked to see? Yes, of course.  Here are the very few things I missed, and why (not just because they were “in the book”):

  1. I missed Jamie and Claire finding their way back to each other physically. I would have liked the scene where Jamie crawled into bed with Claire, both of them scared to death: her fear of it being “too soon”, and his of being able to respond to her sexually without seeing Randall. A very slow, tender. love-making scene would have been cathartic to the characters and to the viewers.  That scene was very powerful in the book and important in bringing him back to her.  They could have even incorporated the end of the fight scene with that, having the two of them weeping after making love, with Claire telling him “to lay his head, man.”   However, given the time constraints of the show, I understand why this was left out.  Since there was not a lot of time spent on Jamie’s recovery, that kind of intimacy between them would have been incongruous and unrealistic.
  2. The scene where Jamie explains that Randall has completely destroyed his “secret fortress” and then later, as he recovers, telling her that he’s managed to build a little lean-to with a roof.
  3. The exchange where Jamie is examining his hand and crying. Claire sees him and misunderstands, apologizing for not doing a better job.  And then his reply to her, that he was crying with joy that he still had a hand with which to hold her, and oh yeah, she also gave him back his life and his manhood.

(I’m still secretly hoping they manage to add some version of all of these back in to the beginning of Season Two…hint, hint Ron and Maril). I think these omissions could have been included if they had combined The Watch and The Search episodes into one.  As much as I enjoyed both of them, the time would have been better spent on an additional hour of To Ransom a Man’s Soul: the hour we had, and an hour for a much slower recovery time for Jamie at the Abbey.  Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda. Just my opinion.

That being said, I went into this episode with an open mind.  I took Diana Gabaldon’s advice to heart;  I PUT THE BOOK DOWN. As of this writing, I’ve watched the episode probably eight times, each time paying careful attention to the details and references to scenes from the book, of which there are many. You just have to allow yourself to notice them.

This episode, like the last, was harrowing and intensely uncomfortable to watch. But, as I said in my last blog post, I think it was necessary to see what really happened between Randall and Jamie in that dungeon, especially for the non book-reading viewers.  I don’t think it was “too much” or exploitative. The critics (just regular people, not the professionals) have mainly commented that (1) it focused too much on Randall’s pleasure/Jamie’s pain and not enough on Jamie and Claire, and (2) the final “encounter” with Randall was upsetting because Jamie “participated in it,” “consented to it” or “enjoyed” it. Seriously, people?

I don’t normally do re-caps, but for this episode, I felt like I needed to go through the episode in order to address these comments. Perhaps some people simply don’t understand the concept of torture and rape and their effects on a victim, especially in extremis.  I plan on using a lot of stills from the episode, so if you were offended by the show, you won’t like these images either.

We open with a the British fife and drum corps greeting the new day, thus informing the viewer that Jamie has been with Randall for a good 12 hours (if you recall, it was about dusk the day before when Randall pushed Claire down the corpse hole).  The camera then focuses on a naked and battered Jamie in the dungeon, looking a bit like a corpse himself.

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The frame draws back, and we see that Randall is in the bed with him, also naked, so we know “the deed’s been done.” Randall looks like a he just had a great one-night stand (if he could have high-fived himself, he would have). The look on Jamie’s face?  Vacant, dead, in shock… (Were you getting as sick a feeling as I was at this point?)  This opening shot was pure cinematic genius.  It told the viewers volumes without a word being spoken.

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Randall gets up and starts to dress.  Jamie reminds him that he owes him a debt (to die). Randall takes out his knife, seemingly to oblige Jamie’s  request.  But, he’s distracted by a strange noise out in the corridor.  He leaves to investigate. Jamie’s voice hitches in his throat seeing Randall leave…he whispers something in Gàidhlig.  I don’t know what he said, but it broke my heart.

Focus on Randall in the corridor, trying to figure out what the hell that noise is….He looks.. and IT’S THE COOS!!! (And boy were we pissed! We trampled that son of a bitch and left him in a puddle of his own blood.  I actually did a little happy dance during this scene).

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Murtagh, Rupert, and Angus rush in to Jamie’s cell and find him on the floor.  It’s clear from the looks on their faces that they know what’s happened to him. Murtagh gently covers him, hoists his godson over his shoulder and they get the hell outta there.  The barely contained rage on his face says it all.

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In the wagon on the way to the Abbey, Rupert notes that Jamie reeks of lavender oil.  Claire says it’s used to relieve pain. (Author’s note:  It’s also an oil…i.e., a lubricant. A fact which will be significant at the end of the episode), Jamie is hallucinating and sees Randall when Claire leans over to check his injuries. He freaks out and tries to strangle her.  Serious PTSD, or as Claire would know it, shell-shock. They race off to the Abbey where the monks have offered them shelter.

Claire is alone with Jamie. He keeps flinching from her and telling her not to touch him. She asks him again what Randall did to him.  He replies, “Too much. And not enough.” His face is just…lost. (You’re killing me, Sam).

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Jamie flashes back to the dungeon.  Randall offers him a drink and then pries the nail out of Jamie’s hand, the pain of which causes him to vomit and fall to the floor.  Randall picks him up like Mary’s evil twin brother and lovingly tells him what a “magnificent creature” he is. He assures him that “the worst is over.”  NOT.

Pietà – Michelangelo

Coincidence? I don't think so...

Coincidence? I don’t think so…

Randall kisses him, but Jamie’s having none of it.  He reminds him that his men can have Claire brought back within the hour and that they have an agreement. Jamie says it was that he wouldn’t resist. Randall responds, “So that’s your plan, to submit, like Christ on the cross?  We’ll see about that.”

He hoists Jamie up on the stool and pries his legs apart, trying to arouse him with his hand and his mouth.  He explains “Jamie, I just want this to be a pleasant experience for us both.” (I think I just threw up a little in my mouth).

Jamie is clearly in hell, wanting with every fiber of his being to resist, knowing he swore he wouldn’t in exchange for Claire’s life.

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He lashes out at Randall, telling him to “take his pleasure and be done with it”, spitting in his face. (Yeaaah, probably shouldn’t have done that, lad). Randall pulls him to his feet, drops Jamie’s kilt, turns him around and slams him (and his mangled hand) face down on the table, informing him that “one way or another, he will get a response from him.” He then proceeds to brutally rape him, so brutally, in fact, that Jamie finally screams in agony (which is exactly what Randall has wanted from him since the flogging…to hear him scream.  He clearly gets off on that).

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Again, kudos to Sam. Anyone else NOT cringing here?

That was one of the most vicious things I’ve ever seen on film.  Horrible to watch, but incredibly well-done by Heughan and Menzies.  There’s no doubt in anyone’s mind how much Randall is hurting Jamie.  Nothing pleasurable to see here, folks. At least, not from Jamie’s point of view.

Back in the present, Jamie is interrupted from his “daymare” as Claire tries to give him laudanum so that she can set the bones in his hand.  He tells her that Randall made him crawl, beg, and in the end, made him “verra much want to be dead.” He takes the bottle from Claire and tries to swallow all of it before she grabs it from him.  She realizes just how much he wants to die. Personally, I thought Jamie’s suicidal thoughts and actions in this episode were actually more realistic than in the book. While it’s true that he is a Catholic and believes that suicide is a mortal sin, it makes sense that he would have been so traumatized and depressed that he would to want to die, given everything that happened to him.  We have to remember that Jamie’s only sexual partner up to this point was Claire, the woman that he loves unconditionally. For him, love and sex are completely intertwined.  Randall decimates that belief through his manipulation of Jamie’s mind and body.

Claire sets the broken bones in his hand (while Jamie is still hearing Randall in his drug-induced stupor). When she finishes, the monk tells her to go and rest. She goes to the chapel for some quiet time when Father Anselm comes in.  He offers to hear her confession and she tells him everything that’s happened to her, including the time travel.  In the end, she also confesses that she feels responsible for what has happened to Jamie.  He absolves her of her sins (and also thinks it’s pretty cool that she’s from the future!)

Claire goes to Jamie’s room to check on him.  The monk tending him tells her that he is still refusing to eat.  She tries to be matter-of-fact with him, telling him his hand is looking better and that she can give him a regime to help restore the use of his fingers.  He tells her that she “canna save a man that doesna want to be saved.”  She is becoming more desperate and afraid for his mental state.

Screenshot (58)As an aside, Caitriona Balfe’s face is so expressive. Just like Claire, you can read every single feeling, thought and emotion on it.  Another amazing performance from her as well.

After a brief scene with “the boys” talking and worrying if Jamie is going to recover, Murtagh leaves after Willie makes a really stupid remark about how his uncle starved himself to death.  We then see him in Jamie’s room and they are having a conversation in Gàidhlig. There is no translation, but none is needed. We really didn’t need to understand the words to understand the meaning. (However, If you want to know what was said, here’s a link:  https://wordpress.com/read/post/id/63756291/2604/

Jamie starts flashing back to the dungeon again.  Not sure if everyone thought this, but in my view, this was that scene in the book that we were (thankfully) spared from witnessing (that one might have been too much, even for me).  You know, the bloody blowjob scene. We see Jamie on the floor, blood “and other things” on his face. He is gagging and spitting something out of his mouth. His upper thighs have blood on them.  Although there is no cut on Jamie’s chest, as in the book, this is that scene.Screenshot (160)

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Once again, nothing pleasurable to see here, either. In fact, it’s pretty safe to say that, again, Jamie has been subjected to still more intense abuse.  Randall is sitting on the floor watching Jamie struggle. He asks him, “Am I close?  Have you reached your limit yet?” Jamie is obviously in a huge amount of physical pain, but the viewer doesn’t know exactly why.  Those of us who have read the books know all too well what Randall has done this time.   In some ways, the show version was worse; we see the blood on his face and thighs, but we don’t know from where it came.   Ughhhh.

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He then proceeds to prey on Jamie’s weakened mental state by conflating himself with Claire, playing on Jamie’s delusions, thus breaking him down even further.  It is completely heart-wrenching watching Jamie realize that he will never see Claire again.  He sobs, “She’s gone…there’s no more Claire”.

Ahhhhhhhh! Stop it!  This is just so bloody awful.  But the worst is still to come.Screenshot (70)

Not only does Randall want to completely destroy this man, now he wants Jamie to prove to him that he belongs to him by branding him…no wait, by getting Jamie to brand himself for him, the bastard.Screenshot (78)

Back to the present, Willie comes to Jamie to tell him that Murtagh has gone to secure passage on a boat to get out of Scotland.  He asks Jamie what he can do to help him. Jamie asks for his blade, to put himself “out of this black misery.” Willie, of course, refuses to give it to him.

Claire confronts Murtagh with this information.  He knew about it, but was sworn to secrecy by Jamie.  He tells Claire that he “refuses to watch Jamie waste away. To die like an animal in the woods with it’s foot caught in a trap.”  He will kill him himself, if it comes to that.  Claire collapses in his arms.

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When she comes to, she and Murtagh decide it’s time for drastic measures.  She anoints herself with oil of lavender, and holds it under Jamie’s nose to bring back the nightmare of Randall.  He tries to get away from her and the smell, but she refuses to give in. They wrestle and fight, he is on top of her, telling her he doesn’t want to hurt her.  She screams that it’s too late for that, since he wants to kill himself and he won’t tell her why. She cries “Do you want me to hate you?” She tears off his bandage and finally sees the brand, which has healed enough to now be a discernible “JR”.  Jamie confesses that he did it himself. He then finally tells her the rest of what happened.

Screenshot (88)“He made love to me, Claire.” (notice that he has not called her Sassenach at all, reminding us that he no longer feels any joy).  We go back to the dungeon in Jamie’s mind.  He is laying on the pallet, watching Randall clean himself across the room. Randall approaches him, gently moves his ruined hand, and them revives him with oil of lavender.  (Author’s note: Lavender oil is known for its calming and relaxing relaxing properties, and is used for alleviating insomnia, anxiety, depression, restlessness, and stress. It has also been proven effective for nearly all kinds of ailments, from pain to infections.)  

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Randall pours some oil on his hands and on Jamie’s genitals.  He moves Jamie’s good hand, encouraging him to masturbate. Jamie finally appears to relax as he feels some relief from the hours of pain that he has endured. Randall rubs some oil into the burn from the brand, murmuring for Jamie to imagine that it is Claire that is caressing and caring for him. There is a very interesting moment just then: Randall bends over and kisses Jaime, and in his delirium Jamie lifts his head to return the kiss. Randall pulls back, and the look on his face tells us that he knows he has Jamie; he knows that he’s won. As long as he can keep Jamie in his present mental state, thinking of Claire, he can break him.  Randall rubs some oil on himself, gets behind Jamie and enters him, gently this time. Jamie responds to him and gets lost in the pleasure he is feeling, even to the point of reaching back for Randall.  Randall whispers to him, “Say my name, Jamie.” Jamie responds and calls him Claire.  Immediately after he reaches orgasm, Jamie comes back to reality, lowers his head, and cries in shame and despair, Randall strikes the final emotional blow by telling him that Claire will never forgive him. Both he and Randall know that he has been broken.

I’m probably going to get a lot of flack for saying this, but to me, this scene was extraordinary.  It evoked so many conflicting things:  the emotional torment was completely repellent yet, disturbingly erotic in those few moments of Jamie’s pleasure. But the self-revulsion that it dredged up for him was impossibly painful to witness.  Who knew the price of an orgasm could be so costly?  I know that there are a lot of people out there that hated this scene and felt that it completely diverged from the book.  It didn’t. The description in the book was not exactly how it was portrayed on screen, but only in that it was not as detailed.  Jamie told Claire that Randall aroused him. What exactly do people think he meant by that? Jamie is an incredibly strong character.  Pain wasn’t going to break him, no matter what Randall did.  The only thing that could was a physical and emotional betrayal of his love for Claire.

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We are returned back to the present in the Abbey, with Jamie trying to explain how it “felt so good not to be in pain”. Claire has been listening quietly, letting him tell her what he has been trying so hard to hide.  She doesn’t recoil from him, She doesn’t judge him. She just tries to reassure him that there is nothing to forgive, that she understands that he did what he needed to do in order to survive, but he can’t, or won’t, hear it.  He is consumed with guilt and self-loathing because he succumbed to momentary pleasure at the hands of a man and in doing so, betrayed his vow to her.  He can barely meet her eyes when he tells her that he can’t be a husband to her anymore, and he won’t be less. The issue isn’t her forgiving him; it’s his inability to forgive himself.

He tells her “I lie here feeling that I will die without your touch, but when you do touch me, I want to vomit with shame,” Claire finally breaks down, taking his face in her hands, whether he wants it or not.  She reminds him of the promise he made to her on their wedding night, and tells him that Randall may have had his body, but she will be damned if she lets him have his soul.  I  thought this was a great change from the book, where it was Jamie who said that (as a reason for not committing suicide). In my opinion, it made a much more powerful impact coming from Claire. Screenshot (125) Screenshot (128) Screenshot (143) Screenshot (145)

This dialogue was beautifully written, with Claire crying and telling Jamie that everything that has happened to her, and to them,  only makes sense because they are meant to be together, and if he gives up and takes that meaning away from her, she will die right along with him. That finally gets his attention. He sees how much she is suffering along with him (perhaps he is thinking of when he told her that he could stand his own pain, but that he wasn’t strong enough to bear hers?). He tries to reach for her, but still can’t quite bring himself to touch her. He despairs “How can ye want me like this?” For Claire, that’s not even a consideration. She throws her arms around him, telling him she’ll have him any way she can, always, and holds him until, at last, he embraces her in return. For us, the viewers, there is such a profound sense of relief in seeing them back in each others arms, knowing that they can overcome this.

There follows a brief scene of Murtagh cutting the brand out of Jamie’s chest, literally and figuratively cutting him out of Jamie and Claire’s lives.  But I think we all know (readers or not) that a shadow of him will always be there.  Still, it’s a moment of triumph and we’re all glad to see Jamie emerging from the darkness.

The last scene of the episode finally allows us to breath…literally.  We’re outside on the beach, the wind is blowing, the sun it shining,  Claire is saying goodbye to Rupert and Angus (that little bit of comic relief was cute, but silly, in my opinion).  She, Jamie and Murtagh are rowed out to the Cristobel, headed for the safety of France.  Claire is a bit green around the gills, and Jamie teases her a bit about it, the first sign of lightheartedness between them that we’ve had.  We soon find out that Claire’s fainting spells and nausea are the result of being pregnant.  She asks him if he is happy to hear it.  At last, that smile we love, while still a bit haunted, is back.  Yes, Sassenach, he is verra happy.

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“I Will Have Your Surrender Before You Leave This World”

“I felt an intolerable weight oppressing my breast, the smell of the damp earth, the unseen presence of victorious corruption, and the darkness of an impenetrable night…”

Joseph Conrad – Heart of Darkness

Och, lads and lasses, I dinna think I can be witty after watchin’ Episode 115. It’s way too dark in my wee coo heid. I suspect the finale will be just as devastating. I tried in my last post to use humor, not to make light of the subject matter, but to remind myself that these are fictional characters, and to try and prepare myself for the last two episodes.  I dinna think it worked. Most of us knew what was coming.  We thought we were prepared for it. We weren’t.  It was beyond harrowing and extremely hard to watch.  I’m sure I’m not the only person who turned her head away, covered her eyes and physically recoiled at Jamie’s agony, Claire’s anguish and the revolting display of BJR’s sadistic cruelty.  But, in my humble opinion, as a fan of these books, it was important, necessary even, for us to bear witness. We owed it to Jamie. To everyone involved with this episode, you created a Masterpiece.

From what I read out in “social media world”, the reaction of both the public and the critics was, for the most part, very positive. But there were some people that felt that the writers and director went too far in the depiction of the violence, to the point of describing the episode as exploitative “rape and torture porn.”  I disagree. Perhaps the problem was in the medium, not in the material.  In the books, what happened to Jamie is given to us second hand, from Claire’s POV.  On television, Ron Moore and company were faced with the task of giving it to us in real time.  In the books, we can “see” what we want to see, and what we don’t.  We can skim past (or skip altogether) those parts that make us uncomfortable; our minds protect us from what we don’t wish to confront.  On film, however, we can’t hide from the immediacy of the images.  The rape and torture are there for us to see, visceral and brutal, thanks to the skill of the actors, director, writers, make-up artists, special effects crew and cinematographers.  If we choose to watch, we are forced to see their vision of what we have read.  If that vision is even worse than what we imagined, we find it even more upsetting.  But I say to the critics of the episode: if you think it went too far, then you should direct your anger at Diana Gabaldon, not at director Anna Foerster and writer Ira Stephen Behr.  The episode was faithfully adapted from the source material; the rape and torture scenes were not gratuitously added or made more gruesome just to generate hype and controversy.   Re-read the book; that’s how it went down, people.  And don’t kid yourselves…when we get to the finale, if Ron and company stay true to form, things will get a whole lot worse before they get better. I understand what those who didn’t like it are saying. I get it. Really, I do.  So much so that I nearly didn’t read the rest of the series after reading Outlander the first time because of what happened at Wentworth Prison.  I was so angry at Gabaldon for “doing that to Jamie.”  Even now, after having read all of them (more than once), I still struggle with her choice to build up this wonderful character, only to utterly destroy him.  I know he recovers, but it’s clear that he suffers from PTSD for the rest of his life.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t live in fantasyland.  I know life isn’t fair. I don’t expect everything to have a happy ending.  I’ve written things myself that are dark and ugly.  I just couldn’t understand why she felt it necessary to go there with Jamie and BJR.  Wasn’t the flogging enough?  So why?  WHY?

I guess we’ll never really know why she chose to write that into the book.  I know she’s said it has to do with plotting and structure and the “rule of 3,” but that’s really not the answer we want.  It’s a wonderful story that we all love, much as we might hate the scenes at Wentworth and the aftermath at the Abbey. But in the end, Diana Gabaldon made up these characters and it was her choice as to what trajectory their stories took. We can accept them or put the books aside and never read them again.  The more interesting question is why do we care so much? Would we have been as upset if BJR had chosen to torture and rape just some random character?  I doubt it.  We would have found his sadistic behavior upsetting, but we wouldn’t have cared in the same way. We’re invested in Jamie and Claire, so we care about what happens to them.  It seems to be human nature to care more about the pain of those we love, even when they are fictional, than about other people in general.  What does that say about us?

Another interesting question that comes up in discussions of these events is: “Why do we find it so much more disturbing when this happens to a man?”   Is it so unnerving to us because it happened to Jamie, or because the victim is male?  Let’s face it, we’re all kind of in love with him, so perhaps it is because it’s Jamie. But it’s not really that simple. Why is it that people seem to be much more appalled if a man is raped, than a woman? One reason, and Jamie does talk about this when he describes his ordeal to Claire, is that men cannot stop themselves from responding sexually, even though they are repelled by what is happening to them.

“… he hurt me -hurt me badly- while he did it, but it was an act of love to him. And he made me answer him- damn his soul! He made me rouse to him!”  The hand bunched into a fist and struck the bedframe with an impotent rage that made the whole bed tremble.”

If you stimulate a man, his body body will respond. The same is usually not true for a woman, not under those circumstances.  So, on top of the rage and pain and shame victims feel after being sexually assaulted, men have the added issue of feeling that they somehow “actively participated” in it, even though that was clearly not their intention. Consequently, it must make them question their own role in the assault with respect to “consent.” Their bodies betray them. That’s a pretty horrible burden to bear.  But does this mean that rape is worse for men?  I guess that depends on your perspective. I would posit that it is equally devastating for a man or a woman, just in different ways. And let’s face it, it’s women who constitute the majority of rape victims, both in the media and in the real world. Regarding people’s reaction, or lack thereof, to female rape, that, my friends, is more of a sociological discussion.   Hold on a sec…need to step up on my soapbox for a moment.

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We live in a rape culture. It’s everywhere: on television, in feature films, in literature, comic books, video games…and, worst of all, in reality.  To illustrate my point, Google the name Anita Sarkeesian.  For those of you unfamiliar with her, she is a media critic and blogger who has been repeatedly threatened with rape, torture and death just for having the audacity to speak out against violent and degrading images of females in video games.  Yes, really, you heard that correctly.  Over fucking, stupid, inconsequential video games. Or what about the Indian woman who was gang-raped, tortured and murdered on a public bus in Delhi?  The examples are too numerous to mention.  The pervasive depiction of violence in various media unfortunately only serves to “normalize” the sexual objectification and exploitation of women, to the point that we have become numb to it.  We barely even notice it on the screen anymore. Maybe that’s what we should really get upset about. Pretty scary that we don’t. I do have a pet theory about this episode and the upcoming finale:  maybe, just maybe, they decided not to pull any punches with the violence in these episodes as a way of reminding viewers just how damaging and horrendous rape really is. To remind us that it is not about sex, but about power and control. I have no way of knowing if that’s the case, but I like to think so.  Ok, rant over. Back to the episode…

How is it that you can love something as an amazing piece of film and still be totally creeped-out and repulsed by it? I’m not sure how they managed it, but to Anna Foerster and Ira Steven Behr: Bravo.  As for the actors, I am in awe. The performances blew me away. Fearless and absolutely raw.

“I have never met any really wicked person before. I feel rather frightened. I am so afraid he will look just like everyone else.”Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest

Let’s start with Tobias Menzies. His portrayal of of BJR is riveting and so, so, SO disturbing in its oh-so-polite precision.  It was beyond uncomfortable to watch him smash Jamie’s hand, then hold him and shush him like a child, all the while putting his uninjured hand between his legs to arouse him. But no, he “won’t give in to coarse passion.” He wants Jamie to surrender to him…to “consent” to his own torture and sexual assault.  How does he achieve that?  By using the one weapon he knows will work:  Claire.  And when he kisses Jamie, after nailing his hand to the table…was there anyone not weeping for Jamie and Claire by then?.  Oh, and let’s not even talk about he back licking. Menzies’ performance made me want to: 1. shower, 2. shower again, 3. sit in a corner, curled in the fetal position, clutching a Costco-sized bottle of Laphroaig with a very long straw in it.  Thanks, Tobias.

Caitriona Balfe

“Come away, O human child! To the waters and the wild; With a faery, hand in hand; For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” ― Willam Butler Yeats, Collected Poems

I have to admit, when I first saw Cat, she was not who I pictured as Claire at all, but it didn’t take long for her to turn me around. She is amazing.  She IS Claire: independent, strong, funny, intelligent, and beautiful inside and out. And the chemistry with Sam Heughan? Perfection.  Her performances have been wonderful since the very first episode, but in this one, she was exceptional. We were right there with her in Sir Fletcher’s office, barely keeping it together, and then losing it spectacularly as she stumbled out of the prison. The expression on her face as she looked into the box containing Jamie’s personal effects, the Je Suis Prest brooch, Sawny…all those small, personal things that summed up the life of the man she loved, broke all of our hearts. It was devastating.  Later, when she was in the cell with Jamie, we all experienced her anguish over what had happened to him, and what would happen to him and how helpless she felt, knowing she couldn’t save him from the horror of Jack Randall.

Sam Heughan

“Innocence eroded into nightmare. All because of very bad touch. Love, corrupted.” ― Ellen Hopkins, Fallout

Jesus, man, you could have prepared us! I did not see that coming.  Wow.  Just, wow. Mind blown. I’m not sure Sam always gets his due as an actor, with so much attention being focused on Tobias and how creepy his Jack Randall is.  But that time is over. Sam’s performance was stunning, especially considering that he was chained up and nailed to a table for a good portion of the episode. I’m certainly no expert on acting, but it seems to me that Sam had the harder job in this. All he had to work with, for the most part, was his face.  The range of emotion that he managed to convey with just his eyes was astonishing. In just that one scene, when BJR cuts open his shirt and is caressing and licking the scars on his back, we all saw, and experienced, Jamie’s realization of just how depraved Randall was. We felt his rage, agony, revulsion, fear and finally despair, all in the course of just a few minutes, just by watching his face.  If that performance wasn’t Emmy-worthy, I don’t know what is.

As much as I was dreading this episode (and most of the next one as well), I was thrilled for the actors. They were up against some horribly dark and difficult material and they did not flinch away from it, and they did not disappoint. I’m sure the finale will be just as amazing. Masterpiece, indeed.

The Pleasures of Whisky “Laird Broch Tuarach, that’s me”.

Have ye ever seen anything more flippin’ adorable than drunk Jamie Fraser? (Aside from his arse, which will merit it’s own blog post…patience, my preciouses).  Almost peed my pants watching this scene.  And can we give some props to Sam? Movie night in the meadow has shown more bad renditions of actors overdoing drunk on film than I care to recount.  But not our Sam…well-played, big guy.  Well-played.  Just a touch of word-slurring, the hopping on one foot trying to get the boot off (who hasna experienced that?), the unrealistic over-confidence that only the truly inebriated possess…genuinely funny performance.  Must have been all that practice as the Tennent’s lager guy (along with the lovely and talented Tim “The Enchanter” Downie. WootWoot!)

Now, as most of ye ken, book Jamie says that yer drunk only if ye canna stand anymore.  Sitting on the bed, doesna count.  C’mon, Sam, ye lightweight!  Buck up, man, no passing out!

“Jamie,” I said, “how, exactly, do you decide whether you’re drunk?”

Aroused by my voice, he swayed alarmingly to one side, but caught himself on the edge of the mantelpiece. His eyes drifted around the room, then fixed on my face. For an instant, they blazed clear and pellucid with intelligence.

“Och, easy, Sassenach, If ye can stand up, you’re not drunk.” He let go of the mantelpiece, took a step toward me, and crumpled slowly onto the hearth, eyes blank, and a wide, sweet smile on his dreaming face.”
Diana Gabaldon, Dragonfly in Amber

So all of this drunkenness and debauchery got me to thinking about the sublime pleasure that is Whisk(e)y.  the subject of this week’s blog.

So, How DO  You Spell It?

Here’s what they had to say over at masterofmalt.com (hey,  Àdhamh Ó Broin
@Gaeliconsultant, little help with the pronunciation, if ye dinna mind.  Wee coos have a tough time with the Gàidhlig, ye ken.  Especially after we’ve had a few drams.  Does make the milk taste good, though!)

“The term ‘whisky’ derives from the Gaelic usquebaugh – itself from the Scottish Gaelic uisge beatha, or the Irish Gaelic spelling uisce beatha. Uisce comes from the Old Irish for ‘water’ and beatha from bethad, meaning ‘of life’. With this in mind, whisky is etymologically linked with a great number of spirits, all of which refer to the origins of the spirit – the quest for the elixir of life.” A worthy goal if ever I heard one.

Survey says:  Whisky if you’re a Scot; Whiskey if you’re Irish.  (Oh, who the fuck cares…pass the bottle).  I’m going with the Scottish spelling ’cause I’m lazy and currently obsessed with all things Scot/Scots/Scottish/Scotch.

One Bourbon, One Scotch and one Beer Rye

What is the difference, you ask? Well, first, they are all whisky, which means simply that they are made of fermented grain mash. The differences lie in which grain is used.

Scotch Whisky

To qualify as a Scotch the spirit must be made from malted barley, with many Scotches using nothing more than barley, water and yeast.  It  is aged in oak casks for no less than three years, and must have an Alcohol By Volume (ABV) at less than 94.8%.  Finally, and most importantly, you cannot call your drink Scotch unless it was made 100% in Scotland by hot and well-defined Scotsmen with amazing pecs and thighs that can crack walnuts. Sam Heughan and Thom Evans come to mind:

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images (6)(ok, aye, I made that last part up)

For a little more on the regional differences of Scotch Whiskey, here’s Sam (taste-testing whisky at 10:30 am on a Monday – which I would highly recommend. Side note: Coos do NOT like Mondays…we want to shoot, shoot, shoot ’em all down) with the E’s Kristin Dos Santos:

Laphroaig is my current favorite Scotch whisky (NOOOO, NOT JUST BECAUSE SAM LIKES IT. JEEZ).  It took me some time to come around to it…it’s verra peaty and a wee bit of an acquired taste.  The first time I had it, dinna like it much at all.  (Of course, it may have just been that the name kind of reminded me of Laoghaire…that’ll leave a bad taste in anyone’s mouth, aye?) Be patient…it’ll grow on ye.  One last thing…here’s a handy pronunciation guide for some of the more challenging Scotch names:  www.dcs.ed.ac.uk/home/jhb/whisky/pronounc.html

 Irish Whiskey

This may sound incredibly silly, but Irish whiskey is pretty much any whiskey aged in the Republic of Ireland or in Northern Ireland.  Really…that’s what makes it Irish. I dinna ken why it’s nae more complicated..it just isna!  I never said it wasna tasty! Like Scotch, it must be distilled to an ABV of less than 94.8. However, the distilling standards are much less particular than in Scotland.

“It must be made from yeast-fermented grain mash in such a way that the distillate has an aroma and flavor derived from the materials used”. (Aye, I know…that says absolutely nothing.  I copied that line directly from Wikipedia). From what I gather, you can use any cereal grains, but if you mix two or more it must be labelled as “blended”.  Finally, the whiskey must be aged for at least three years in “wooden casks” (apparently any old maggot-ridden wood will do in Ireland).  Och, I’m kidding! Don’t get yer knickers in a bunch.  Actually, Irish whiskey differs from Scotch in the distilling processes. The three main types are Single Pot, which uses unmalted barley along with the malted barley mash. (this type of whiskey is unique to Ireland); Double distilled and Triple distilled. The vagaries of distillation are beyond my ken.  If ye really want to know, look it up yer damn selves. I’m no yer maither!

Moo’s recommendation from Eire is Teeling Small Batch.  It’s aged in rum casks, which gives it a lovely flavor.

American Whiskys

Bourbon:  Bourbon is made with at least 51%  corn, plus rye, wheat and barley.  By law, it must be aged in new, charred oak barrels, and must be made and aged in the US (but not specifically in Kentucky, contrary to popular belief).  The taste of bourbon is often described as “spicy” and “fiery.”

Moo’s personal favorite is Maker’s Mark (which is a “wheated” bourbon).  If you want a traditional bourbon, I have it on good authority that Evan Williams Single Barrel is excellent.

The other “corn” oriented whisky comes from Tennesee and is made with corn, rye and barley (usually 60% corn to 40% other grain ratio).  It is made with the “Lincoln County Process (which involves pre-aging charcoal “mellowing”).  It has a sweet, smooth flavor with a lot of “corn character.”  Moo recommends the classic Jack Daniels Old No. 7. Dougal would love it, aye?

Rye:  Rye is more or less the same as bourbon, except that it is made with rye (Duh), not corn.  It is described as herbal, grassy, fiery and spicy. It will kick your ass, but in a good way.

I don’t often drink rye, but I once had Whistlepig Straight Rye.  It was verra tasty.

So there ye have it.  Have ye enjoyed this wee trip into the world of whisky?  I hope ye will go try it.  In the immortal words of  that witty American, Mark Twain:  “Too much of anything is bad.  Too much of good whisky is barely enough.”

Beware though…here’s what happens when you have a bit too much (thank you again, Sam)

Slàinte Mhath!