Outlander: OK, Let's Have a Conversation About That Goddamn Spanking


Outlander: we’re back! And we’re dumped right back into the action and also a morass of feelings about spanking and gazes and women’s stories and oh Jesus, let’s gird our chunky knits and do this thing.

First we backtrack, to see poor Jamie’s horrified face when he learns Claire has been captured.

But the fellas quickly organize a rescue and so our hero bursts through the window in the nick of time. I’ll admit, I felt like they spent a little too long lingering on Claire’s exposed breasts; consider this your warning not to get gross, guys. Black Jack takes a timeout to request a peek at Jamie’s scarred back (which is refused) before attempting to coerce them, but Jamie’s three steps ahead and knocks him out. They make their escape, taking a flying leap together into the dark toward what they hope is water. Hey, a metaphor for marriage! They do not kill Black Jack Randall. They will live to regret this, I’m sure.

It quickly becomes clear that despite that very dashing rescue, all is not well between our hero and heroine. First comes their first truly brutal fight as a married couple. Look, pretty much all of us have gotten pissed and blown up at our loved ones, but Jamie and Claire tore into each other so hardcore you want to sit them down for a little chat about maybe discussing things before it reaches this point. Also, Claire, my friend, please do better about your situational awareness. You were a combat nurse in World War II! You know better!

But Claire’s very sincere apology to Jamie is not enough. This little escapade could bring the full might of the British army down upon Clan MacKenzie, and nobody’s happy about it. The men are not speaking to Claire, and they don’t think she understands the potential ramifications of what’s just happened. This is pretty much the situation that “sometimes sorry just doesn’t cut it” was invented for, and as we saw from that scene several episodes ago where Laoghaire was nearly strapped for “loose behavior,” there are certain expectations for how bad behavior will be handled in this setting. It’s time for the goddamn spanking scene.

I’ve been dreading this scene (and, more specifically, writing about it) since I started writing about the series. Even though I haven’t finished the books, I knew it was coming, because it’s one of the most famous things in the first novel, and I was nervous about how it would play out. Yes, Jamie is a man from a very different time and culture and we can’t expect characters in the past to share our assumptions. Gaboldon has also always insisted her novels are historical fiction, devoted to showing the gritty, unpleasant aspects of being a woman from the 1940s wandering Jacobite-era Scotland. But, you know, I prefer my female-driven narratives without weirdly handled paddlings. And a big part of my enjoyment of this series is sweet, hunky Jamie, and I don’t want to have to forgive him for anything too dreadful.

Apparently, the writers of Outlander decided to cut this particular Gordian knot by playing it as, basically, spanking porn. And not safe, sane and consensual BDSM played according to Robert’s Rules of BDSM Order, either. Claire says nope, absolutely not; Jamie chases her around the room and then goes to town on her bare behind. While the lead-up and the aftermath were serious, the scene itself was downright goofy, which also felt pretty spanking fetish-y. The whole thing felt like a holdover from the days before the advent of ubiquitous Internet resources for kinky people. Also, she raises hell and kicks him in the face. It was weird!

But honestly, I’m not sure how else they could have handled it short of cutting the scene entirely, which is what I would have done because who needs that sort of headache, but that is why nobody will ever put me in charge of adapting any beloved series.

Thankfully, the rest of the episode is Jamie realizing that he’s blown a giant hole in the side of their brand-new marriage and if he doesn’t patch it quick, their bliss is going to founder. Caitriona Balfe gives A+ pissed face, by the way.

This is why I think getting a bit of Jamie’s perspective actually works, in this case. It’s used to demonstrate that Jamie is acting like a foolish little boy trying to be a grownup, one who has no idea how to be married and therefore defaults to what people like Dougal have been telling him his whole life. (Notice that Dougal is not married.) Because we’re getting it from his perspective, I buy that what happened here is Jamie is transcending the teachings of his own era and coming to an understanding every married couple has to hash out their own personal social contract, and if he wants Claire, he’s going to have to abide by a different set of rules. A set of rules where he can’t treat her like shit.

In the end, we got both a weird titillating spanking and the very clear acknowledgement by the show that Jamie did a fucked-up thing and a promise that he’ll grow into a character who’ll be a real partner to Claire, not a kid talking a big, gallant game. Now Outlander just has to keep that promise.

Finally, as though to apologize for putting us through all this, there is a very long, very noisy sex scene, in which Claire puts a knife to Jamie’s throat and tells him if he ever raises a hand to her again, she’ll fucking kill him. He made a pretty speech about their hashing out their own way of being married and I think he truly believed it, but now he really knows he better do right or else. Outlander will never be the perfect, polished, platonic ideal of a feminist text—but we’ve cleared one hurdle with my affection intact.

Anyway, before we go: A) Nice corset, Laoghaire, but take a damn hint already B) nobody is more excited about this marriage than Mrs. Fitz C) they need Jamie sorting things out over on Game of Thrones and D) the MacKenzie family dynamics are fucked up as a bucket of worms. All politics are local… to somebody’s genitals. (Don’t think that turn of phrase is gonna make it into the playbook.)

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