For within him Hell
He brings, … nor from Hell
One step no more than from himself can fly
By change of place.
John Milton. Paradise Lost. Bk. 4
The episode we have all been dreading in Outlander aired and it was as horrible as we imagined it to be (1X15 Wentworth). The image of Jamie clutching his bloody crippled hand was extremely disturbing even though we were prepared for it. Many people, including the Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies, have described the last couple of episodes as “dark” and, as the Wentworth episode coincided with a rape scene on Game of Thrones, a number of writers commented on the violence in both shows (ex. Sara Stewart). Yet we do tolerate the violence on Outlander, gruesome as it was. Why?
Diana Gabaldon has talked about the necessity of putting Jamie through such “pain and suffering” because it’s a “High Stakes” story and how the violence is necessary to show that Jack Randall was “a serious threat” (Gabaldon, “Jamie and the Rule of Three”). She also suggests that the Wentworth scene is part of a triangle of emotional climaxes of the book, which culminates in the Abbey.
The Hell Within
For me, the Wentworth episode is central to the story because it is the moment when Jack Randall and Jamie confront their deepest fears and unconscious desires. In Paradise Lost, John Milton envisioned hell not just as a place, but as a state of mind. After his defeat, Satan leaves hell but talks about the “hell within” him which he carries to the Garden of Eden. Similar to the fiend, Black Jack Randall is a tormented man who takes pleasure in seeing others get hurt. Four years before, Jack Randall tried to break Jamie with sheer brutality and physical force (100 lashes on top of 100 lashes), but that failed to crush Jamie’s spirit. This time, he succeeds in penetrating Jamie’s core through a combination of love and brute strength. Initially, Jamie was unafraid of Jack and refused to surrender, but agreed later to comply with his wishes in exchange for Claire’s safety. Even so, Black Jack’s triumph comes at a cost to himself: he had to admit his desire for Jamie in order to gain the upper hand. Love is risky.
What happened in the dungeon was not just physical torture but an experience that cut through the essence of one’s psyche. Jamie tells Claire later that he could have stood “being hurt, no matter how bad,” but it was the love that got to him. Black Jack aroused a visceral response in Jamie. It was the combination of love and pain, the confusion of anger, sexuality and desire that broke Jamie and made him feel shame and loathing for himself. Later, he becomes reluctant to touch Claire in the abbey because he feels that he would contaminate their relationship (Chapter 39 To Ransom a Man’s Soul).
The Wentworth dungeon represents a hell in more ways than one. Milton had envisioned hell as fiery, in a state of “darkness visible,” and the imagery of fire and darkness permeates Starz’s production. Even the other prisoners all had the look of forsaken souls.
Significantly, this descent down to hell is introduced by numerous images of death. The episode begins with prisoner after prisoner being hung at the gallows, and the camera pans to a close-up of the noose. Jamie, MacQuarrie, and all the other prisoners are confronting one of our greatest fears in life, the prospect of annihilation.
In Episode 1X11, “The Devil’s Mark” Claire had faced a similar prospect, and she had also descended into a kind of hell in the thieves’ den. The imagery is suggestively similar: an underground dark, damp place crawling with creepy creatures. With Geillis, she was held prisoner for three days before being rescued by Jamie. After this imprisonment and near death, Claire has an epiphanic moment of revelation. At Craigh Na Dun, she realizes how much her emotions have shifted in the past six months. Having been given the choice by Jamie to return to her own time, she chooses to stay in the 18th century.
In a similar manner, Jamie also has three days before he is rescued and then redeemed. At one point, the brothers in the abbey give him a sacrament, both to heal and to serve as his last rites (Chapter 39). He is believed to be near death. A nail through the hand, the sacrifice of the self in order to save another, redemption and three days before resurrection are strong biblical echoes, as Gabaldon has remarked. It is the gravity of the scenes and the emotional weight of them that make a profound impact on us. The Wentworth episode is not a gratuitous rape scene. Wentworth is about confronting the limits of one’s self, acknowledging one’s weakness, and being able to find enough courage to come back from the dead, and pursue one’s dreams in spite of the lingering pain and suffering.
By: Eleanor Ty
Gabaldon, Diana. “Jamie and the Rule of Three.” Dianagabaldon.com 9 December 2010.
Stewart, Sara. “Sexual Violence on Outlander vs. Game of Thrones. Women and Hollywood 21 May 2014. http://blogs.indiewire.com/womenandhollywood/sexual-violence-on-outlander-vs-game-of-thrones-20150521