Outlander S1.5: A WWII-era Englishwoman in 18th century Scotland

A woman stands brandishing a knife against an off-screen hand grabbing for her, a man behind her moves to back her up. The words read
Image: Starz via International Business Times

Genre: Historical/Drama/Romance

Synopsis: Claire, an English WWII nurse, gets mysteriously transported to 18th century Scotland. And thus ends up in the middle of the conflict between the Scots and the English. To protect herself from a particularly sleazy English soldier, she marries Jaime Fraser–a Scotsman, and a criminal with a price on his head. 

Series: Third season is airing, there will be a fourth.

I’ve Watched: Season 1.

Verdict: Hard to gauge, especially since it isn’t my type or a comfortable watch, but it is well-executed.

Trigger warnings: Sexual violence, torture

Well. That was horrific.

It’s been a while since I took a good, long break from this show.

This half-season doesn’t hold back. It remains a slower, thoughtful show–different from the usual, willing to tackle complexities. It’s well done. But it covers several uncomfortable topics with stark frankness, which is why it’s hard for me to gauge whether or not it was actually enjoyable. I certainly didn’t stop watching, though I had to walk away from the more intense scenes for a few minutes.

As such, instead of outlining my thoughts on these 8 episodes overall, I’m going to make a couple of specific points.

Jaime Finds Out Claire is from the Future

I have both a positive and negative reaction to this plot point–positive with respect to Jaime’s characterization, negative with respect to Claire’s.

Jaime chooses to believe her upon finding out, and promptly arranges to give her the choice of returning to her time period. It’s hard for him, because he’s obviously head-over-heels for her. He fully expects her to leave him. But he doesn’t let that stop him from doing the right thing for her. He’s perfect for giving her the choice. This needed to happen to demonstrate that he’d put her wants and needs above his own.

And clearly, the plot needs Claire to choose to stay, or there wouldn’t be a story. But there isn’t a good enough reason for her to make that choice.

Sure, Jaime’s great and the landscape is pretty. But literally everything else has sucked. She’d just been put on trial for witchcraft by people she’d helped with her medical skills. All but one of the friends she’d made in the castle refused to support her, and her uncle-in-law even chose to let it happen–despite having the power to stop it as the local lord. She sat trial alongside the only real friend she had who wasn’t primarily a friend of her husband’s. And that friend died– admitting to the mob that she was a witch, and that she’d manipulated Claire–in order to save Claire’s life.

Let’s not even get into the gender roles, which made everyone think it was funny her husband had beaten her for disobedience. Or the numerous sexual assaults.

All of this makes it really hard to believe that an intelligent, self-respecting woman would willingly choose this time period over her own. Imperfect as it was, Claire had a career there, had friends and family (or at least, she presumably did–I also find fault with how the only family or friends of hers we know about, other than a passing mention of the archaeologist who raised her, is her husband.)

And–quite importantly–the war there was already over. Having lived through five years tending soldiers, on the front lines of WWII, why in the world would she want to live through another war? One that’s just getting started, one that will destroy the few things about this time period she actually likes?

This isn’t just about choosing one guy over another. It’s sacrificing your whole life for a guy. It’s incredibly disingenuous for Outlander to present this as a choice between two men. It’s not.

I get that there would be no story if she didn’t choose to stay. But the show could have been honest about the reality, that she was choosing between two lives. And it had to give a good reason why she chose this one. There was even extra motivation available–Geillis had just died for her, and some of the last honest words she’d ever said were, “It was all for nothing.”

It wouldn’t be an easy choice for Claire to make for herself, to stay. It would be a sacrifice to live through another war and the hardships of this timeline. But she’d been driven to make a difference before, enough to become a combat nurse. So it’s plausible, and it would have made more sense for her to stay for a purpose.

Sexual Violence, Queerness, Disability

There is a lot of sexual violence in this series, which the show mostly tries to treat with sensitivity. (Although the results have sometimes varied.) The most prominent example in this half-season is Jaime, as a male sexual assault survivor. And again, while the show brings up several important things–acknowledging that this can happen to men as well, and that none of the survivor’s reactions are his fault–it’s absolutely brutal to watch.

I’m also not comfortable with Randall being the only example of queerness in the series. He’s a powerful, horrifying, predatory character–but it would have been so much better if there had been other queer characters in the show who weren’t predatory monsters.

With respect to disability, there are a handful of disabled characters who appear in the series as fully-fledged characters. Their challenges are real, but don’t define them. In this half-season, the most prominent was Ian–Jaime’s brother-in-law and former brother-in-arms, who’d lost his leg in the war.

Ian had been with Jaime’s sister for the last four years, which Jaime would probably have known if he’d kept in contact. Alongside his wife, Jenny, he’d been raising a family and managing Jaime’s family holding in his absence. He comes off as a kind man, welcoming Claire to the family while Jenny and Jaime had a sibling’s spat. Brave and loyal, when he immediately joins Jamie in riding out for a fight, ready to have his back. Pragmatic even against his own nature, when he kills someone threatening Jaime and the rest of the family–his sword arm shaking so badly afterwards he can barely sheath the weapon.

That said, there isn’t any intersectionality. All the disabled characters are straight (as far as we know) white men. Perhaps that seems reasonable in an all-white cast where the men go to war–but one of Jaime’s uncles has a genetic disease, a friend of Jaime’s is deaf, and the show repeatedly demonstrates that women aren’t magically safe from violence simply because they aren’t in combat. So there’s no logical reason why we haven’t seen disabled women. Or for that matter, other queer characters at all.


This is not the kind of series I can binge, possibly because of its slow pace. It does have a number of things to recommend it–enough that I do check in on it every now and again–but it is by no means an easy watch. It remains a well-executed show that totally isn’t my type.