[Editor’s Note: The following review contains spoilers for the Season 5 finale of “Outlander,” titled “Never My Love.”]
The fifth season of “Outlander” has been full of big moments, from the death of Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) and Roger (Richard Rankin) being hanged, to Bree (Sophie Skelton) getting justice and Jamie (Sam Heughan) facing death from infection. On the season finale, it was Claire (Caitriona Balfe) whose life was in danger, as the story picked up on her kidnapping from last week and doled out some of the most brutal scenes in the series’ history. And once again that meant turning to rape.
“Outlander” has never shied away from using sexual assault to either advance plot or characters, as it faces the challenge of staying true to the source material while delivering an 18th-century drama to a modern audience. In that vein, Claire’s gang rape, led by Lionel Brown (Ned Dennehy) was inevitable as a big moment of her journey in the books, but it was also a brutal character blow meant solely for Lionel to silence, degrade, and break her. (As historical rape in war and households of that time did.) That didn’t make the scenes of Claire struggling in the dirt any less triggering — in fact, they were more so. Because of how often the series tackles sex scenes from the female point of view and hones in on female pleasure, when the opposite is true, it feels particularly brutal.
Unlike the much-talked about first-season rape scenes with Jamie and Jack (Tobias Menzies), and much more in line with last season’s bar incident between Bree and Bonnet (Ed Speelers), there were no lingering shots as the men lined up to take their turn with the “witch.” Instead, Claire flashed to her happy place, a modern-day Thanksgiving set to the tune of “Never My Love” in which all of her family members were there. It was a beautifully shot, peaceful illusion that punctuated Claire’s mindset in a much more bearable way, until the roof stared leaking and two police officers showed up to inform her that Bree, Roger, and Jemmy had died in a car accident on the way there.
The shattering of that dream image could be construed several ways: her realization that her daughter was gone for good, the moment when she broke after such brutal treatment, or the recognition that the present is just as hopeless as the past given how newfound time-traveler Wendigo Donner (Brennan Martin) refused to help her. In the end it was probably all of those things, and that’s how the story transitioned into finding out what happened to Roger and Bree. As it turns out, the MacKenzies traveled exactly where they truly wanted to go: home, having come to that realization they accepted Fraser’s Ridge as their permanent place in the world, and returned just in time to help Jamie and the rest of the men find Claire.
When the crew got there, once again the story mostly switched back to Claire’s point of view. Aside from flashes to Ian and Roger battling in the distance, most of the rescue was shot from her vantage point, which — along with the lack of opening theme song this week — added weight to what the character had gone through. As Jamie reminded her, she was alive and whole, although it will take some time for her battered and bruised body to heal. To drive that point home, the back half of the episode focused explicitly on that healing journey.
As a season capper, the incident also triggered many events to come in Season 6. Roger and Marsali (Lauren Lyle) both killed for the first time, Richard Brown (Chris Larkin) has sworn revenge against Jamie for the death of his brother, and Wendigo knows that the Frasers have gems that can potentially return him to 1968. Bree and Roger are back, but Claire is still reeling, and although she is determined to not let this be the thing that breaks her, the end shot of her and Jamie naked and cradling each other in bed is powerful. Every inch of her is a physical reminder of the healing that needs to happen, and this is a battle that is far from over, even if the season is.
“Outlander” has been renewed for a sixth season on Starz.