Outlander brings together Brianna, Jamie, and Claire for a complex reunion

Outlander brings together Brianna, Jamie, and Claire for a complex reunion:

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Outlander over-relies on sexual assault as a plot device. I say that as someone who has praised its depictions of trauma aftermath many times before and as someone who’s about to praise its depiction of trauma aftermath in this very episode. Yes, “The Birds & The Bees” does technically portray the psychological effects of Brianna’s assault with depth, empathy, and attention to detail. But that doesn’t negate the fact that the way this rape unfolded in the first place is frustrating storytelling. It speaks volumes that this episode is the most in-depth character work that has ever been done with Brianna, so her arc hasn’t just been affected by the assault; it hinges on it.

Especially now that it turns out Brianna is pregnant and her rapist Stephen Bonnet is likely the father, this character and her narrative on the show seems largely forged by this horrific event. Even without showing the assault last week, Outlander seems guilty of the kind of trauma porn that often infests fantasy series (Game Of Thrones being one of the biggest offenders).

Brianna talking to Claire about the assault is devastating, and Skelton and Caitriona Balfe are powerful in their performances. Claire’s conversation with Jamie about it is moving, too, especially knowing that Jamie is a survivor of rape as well. Still, to define Brianna’s arc so much by this assault is a troubling story choice and one that makes it hard to believe “The Birds & The Bees” could ever really work. There’s good stuff in here, but the reason we’re here in the first place is frustrating.

And it’s made even more frustrating at episode’s end when Lizzie pulls an Atonement and mistakenly identifies Roger, who has made it to the mountains of North Carolina in search of Fraser’s Ridge, as Brianna’s attacker to Jamie. Without hesitation and without any kind of communication with Brianna, he takes justice into his own hands and beats the crap out of Roger before throwing him over a horse and sending him off into the woods to rot. It only reiterates that this sexual assault is being exploited as plot device, creating more conflict like an issue of mistaken identity. Is this really about Brianna and her recovery from trauma? Or is it conflict for the sake of conflict? A lot more thoughtful character work needs to go into the writing of Brianna for Outlander to really overcome this.

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