Wentworth, Wentworth, Wentworth. That’s all anyone in the Outlander world has been talking about for weeks. Wentworth and how no one wants to see it. Or almost no one. A reader corrected me. Diana Gabaldon wants to see it. I can see why as it’s a major part of her life’s work. But almost no one else I hear from wants to see it.
So the question is why. For myself, I can say that I don’t like to watch violence. I pass up most TV shows and movies that portray acts of torture or violence as it is not entertainment for me. And, as we know, there’s going to be a lot of both in the next episode. The exception for me, when it comes to watching violence might be a movie like “Die Hard” which is more cartoon than legitimate film. I’ve seen it more times than I care to admit because my husband and son watch it whenever it comes on the TV. When the bad guy falls to his death, everyone cheers including me. But we cheer because he is pure evil with no redeeming qualities and it’s so obviously not real.
In the case of Outlander, Jamie Fraser, is a man we’ve come to know and love. To see someone we love become a victim of heinous acts of torture and violence is very, very hard. Diana Gabaldon has created a character so rich, moral, good and strong that to see these things happen to him is almost beyond what most people can bear. Yes, it is a television show and most of us know it’s not real, it’s make believe, it’s acting. But the thing is, it seems real. Sam Heughan brings such a pure, subtle and unflinching portrayal to the screen that it seems real. The acting, writing, casting, costumes, sets, everything is so far above the level of what we normally see on the screen, that it has reached many of the audience at their core.
Outlander is setting the bar very high and making history while doing so. This past week’s episode showed a character, Jenny, expressing her breast milk, a very natural act, as she had to leave her newborn baby a few days after she was born. I don’t ever recall seeing a female character’s breasts on screen for anything other than a sexual or violent reason. To see breasts shown that way is so remarkable that a cable network in Canada edited out the scene much to everyone’s chagrin. That alone is the only thing about Outlander that makes me laugh this week and is a topic for another blog, but it’s history-making story lines such as this that make it seem much more real.
The female protagonist, Claire, is also unlike any female we’ve seen portrayed in books or films. Yes we’ve seen characters with some of her attributes, but I don’t believe we’ve seen one character embody them all. She is intelligent, strong and brave. She does not alter her actions or feelings for a man and yet she is feminine and beautiful. She has an unflinching moral compass, she’s a healer and she is always true to herself and her beliefs even though this often places her in danger. And Caitriona Balfe who portrays her does so to the degree that the audience feels they are watching a person’s life unfold, not a character on film. How often has that ever happened on the screen?
At the risk of bringing the wrath of hell raining down, another thought occurred to me. Many Outlander fans are women and many of the book readers are women of at least 40 years of age who’ve been waiting a long time to see a film version of their favorite book. Women of this age are not known for watching violence. Many of our husbands do, as well as our sons, but we don’t. Most of us are the backbones of our families, nurturers who put others needs before our own. Those kinds of people don’t spend a lot of time watching violence for entertainment. And speaking of women over 40, that’s also a blog for another day as I’ve got a lot to say about the Outlander ‘granny’ comments and what it says about the commenter.
When it comes to the Outlander book series, I’m a self-professed ‘skim and cringer’. I’ve always blurred my eyes and skimmed the scary parts for several lines and paragraphs and then focused back in when it was over. You really can’t do that with a visual medium. The most you can do is mute the TV during the scary parts and watch with a remote in your hand so you can mute when it gets horrible. The sad thing is, it will get horrible, it will get terrible and I don’t want to see it. Whether I watch the Wentworth episode remains to be seen, I still haven’t made up my mind, but one thing I do know. I won’t be writing a hilarious, zany re-cap about it.
Post Script: So many comments I’ve received are from people worried about the ratings. The majority of my work life was spent in television so I know how the system works. What I’m addressing here are my personal feelings for and my tolerance of violence and torture. Additionally, I know that these are brilliant actors and not watching is in my opinion not disrespecting them.