‘Outlander’ and TV’s Sexual Revolution

'Outlander' and TV's Sexual Revolution

Word has been getting around about "Outlander’s" wedding episode and although its first (half-) season ended on Saturday, the Huffington Post’s Mo Ryan suggests that its revolution continues. 

The show, Ryan writes in an incisive and far-reaching essay, "has blown up a lot of the received ideas about sex on television — how it’s shot, who it’s for, who it’s made by and who it’s about," specifically in the way it foregrounds and stays true to the perspective, both figurative and literal, of its female protagonist, Claire (Catriona Baife). "This is new," she writes, switching to italics for emphasis. "This shift occurring on this many notable shows is new." (It’s also good business: Ratings for "Outlander’s" wedding up were up 40 percent in the demo.)

The other notable shows include "Girls," "The Good Wife," "Sleepy Hollow," "Orange Is the New Black," "New Girl," "Orphan Black" and many others, and if you take a look at that list, you may notice two things: One, that it’s largely devoid of the masterpieces-by-acclamation that dominate much TV coverage (no "Mad Men," no "True Detective"), and Two, that all of them are built around female protagonists, or at least women who share equal footing with a man. If the revolution led by "The Sopranos" marked a change in "what a protagonist could do," Ryan says, the last several years have seen a change in "who a protagonist can be."

Critically, it’s not a simple matter of swapping women into the slots previously occupied by "difficult men," but of telling stories that reward their characters for pursuing fulfillment rather than punishing them. (Ryan points out that "Mad Men’s" Joan and Peggy "have spent much of the last few seasons doing well at work and enduring disastrous personal lives" — I’m hard-pressed to say Don and Pete have done much better for themselves.) "Outlander’s" wedding episode tells that story in miniature, as Claire and Jaime (Sam Heughan) go from co-conspirators in a marriage of convenience to avid and attentive sexual partners.

The sex in the wedding episode told a story. Foerster, Kenney and Moore made sure the events created a very careful progression of, well, hotness: The first act was about getting it over with and about Jamie and Claire giving in to the physical attraction they’d long felt toward each other. The second time they had sex, it was with relief: They realized they liked and respected each other. 

Before their third go-round, Claire asked Jamie to strip for her. He did. She walked around his body, appraising it, getting to know it, appreciating it. By that point, both Jamie and Claire were about as physically and emotionally intimate as they could be. Jamie enjoyed being seen; Claire’s appraisal reflected desire, curiosity and her general ease in the situation. Foerster’s choices leading up to and during the characters’ third sexual encounter made the closeness and warmth between these two people almost palpable.

Although she’s mainly in a celebratory mood, Ryan sounds a little bummed out that more people aren’t watching "Outlander," and that it’s not kicking up the same amount of critical dust as other shows that fit more neatly into the "quality TV" mold. (Airing Saturday nights probably doesn’t help, either.) Her excellent piece may convince a few more people to give "Outlander" a try — not because it’s "important," but for their own pleasure.

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Comments

Lori

Jessica it is the climax of the tension that everyone is talking about. They spark, the loves smolders, and in the end they marry and have passion real passion for each other. That is what draws us in. You want them together, and for a man, he is protective, caring, yet strong and passionate for all that he believes in. BEST LOVE STORY SO FAR!!

Laura Carmichael

I’m baffled about this piece’s comment that Outlander may not be "quality television." Outlander is intelligent, surprising, wonderfully acted, gorgeously produced, and has captivated both my husband and myself as viewers. We both prefer programs considered high-quality for our general viewing, and Outlander is definitely extremely high-quality in every aspect I can think of. Why was that dismissive throw-away phrase included in this piece? I’ve seen no basis for it – quite the opposite! It’s unique, and we will be watching it when it returns to the air in April 2015!

Jessica

Every time I read an article about this show, it’s always about the sex scenes. Is there a story? What is this show about? Is it nothing but sex scenes all the time? Because that’s all I see about this show. The story must be worthless if the only thing about the show that gets discussed are the sex scenes.

paul

wow!! love this show;want all my gals be as gritty as Claire ;onward girl!must see

Tina

I don’t know what you consider quality TV but this show is definitely "quality" with a capital Q. The esthetics of the production team are excellent and shows every scene of the final product. To dismiss it in such a manner is doing it a great disservice.

Clementzia

It may not have broad appeal but it is quality TV.

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