How Outlander Pulled Off Its Most Harrowing Episode Yet – Vanity Fair
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We would say spoiler alert for that big moment on last night’s Outlander, but to be honest, there were so many jaw-dropping moments we’re not even sure you’d know what we mean. We got Outlander writer and producer Toni Graphia on the phone to discuss Saturday’s episode “Faith,” which contained some of the most wrenching moments of the entire series—and one scene that’s unlike anything else that’s ever been on television before. But before we wade in, as usual, spoiler alert.
The attack on Fergus
When Claire (Caitriona Balfe) finally learns why Jamie (Sam Heughan) broke his promise to her and dueled Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies),it comes in a confession from Fergus (Romann Berrux), the young boy she and Jamie have taken under their wing. In a wrenching flashback we see Fergus caught trying to pilfer a perfume bottle by Black Jack Randall, being mistaken for a child prostitute, and being raped by Randall. It’s then that Jamie walks in the room, sees what’s happening, and challenges Randall to a duel.
“I don’t think we were ever going to not include it, we just wanted to make sure that we did it justice and it wasn’t gratuitous or titillating in any way,” Graphia says of the scene, which appears may be the first-ever depiction of child rape on television.
“Some people are going to be unsettled by it. We did it in what we consider an organic way. Hopefully people understand it and even applaud it, it’s something that goes on and it shouldn’t be in the dark.”
The attack is mentioned in Diana Gabaldon’s book, A Dragonfly in Amber, but not shown; when it came to the episode, Graphia felt that such a crucial moment—the reason Jamie broke his promise to Claire—had to be depicted onscreen, no matter how upsetting. “We need to understand why Jamie broke that promise,” she says. “Claire couldn’t just hear about it. You’re supposed to be angry when you see it.”
Before the episode even gets to its boundary-pushing rape scene, it starts with an equally harrowing moment: Claire’s miscarriage. Again, it’s a terrifying scene that isn’t depicted as directly in the book. “There was no way to skip over that,” Graphia says about the episode’s approach to the scene. It’s like an 18th century version of E.R.”
Graphia says she wrote a lot of dialogue for the scenes in which Claire copes with the loss—including the moment when she wakes up in the hospital, feels her abdomen, and realizes the baby is gone—and then cut it when she realized what Balfe could do with her performance. “Any other actress I would have been biting my nails off,” Graphia says. “They’re never going to bring it to life the way that she did.” It happened with the voiceover in the episode too, which Graphia says the writers always try to use sparingly. “We watched it and we went, ‘Nobody needs to know this, it’s all right there in Caitriona’s eyes.’ ”
The flash-forward to Boston
The actual first scene of the episode, though short, is yet another stunner—we see Claire in Boston in 1950s, looking content during a library visit with a daughter whose red hair immediately identifies her as Brianna, a central character in the books going forward. Book readers already knew to expect the miscarriage, and that Brianna is the baby Claire is carrying when she arrives back in the 1940s in the season premiere. But for the rest of us? “I think it’s going to really make peoples’ heads spin,” Graphia admits. “That’s why we put a chyron on it, to show people that was real.”
The second season of Outlander has diverged immensely from the book in how it deals with flash-forwards to the 20th century, and “Faith” marks the first time we’ve returned to that period since the season premiere. According to Graphia, showrunner Ronald Moore wanted to include multiple flash-forwards throughout the season, and picked this episode because “it will be chilling to show this is what she’s losing when she’s losing this baby, when you see the second daughter that they have.” The connection is visual, too; after we see Brianna in the 1950s, Claire finally gets to hold the baby she has lost, and the production team included “wisps of red hair” on the doll used for the scene.
Claire’s encounter with the king
When Graphia joined the Outlander writing staff she wasn’t familiar with the books, and—at Moore’s encouragement—didn’t read A Dragonfly in Amber until the first season had wrapped. So when a friend mentioned to her “that part when Claire fucks the king of France,” Graphia was stunned. “Knowing Diana there must be some reason that this happens,” she explained to herself. “I was desperate to find out what it was.”
On the show, as in the books, Claire agrees to having sex with the king in order to free Jamie from prison, where he’s been sent for dueling. But “Faith” depicts the encounter as a much quicker, almost comical affair. “We didn’t want him to go on and on, we didn’t even want him to finish.” Graphia said the writers’ room debated how many thrusts to include, and cut details from the scene in the editing room—but not one key line of Claire’s voiceover. “I couldn’t resist writing that line, she said ‘I laid back and thought of England.’ ”
When Claire leaves the king’s bedroom, though she’s clearly sacrificed something, she finds a small way to regain her control. “[Caitriona] improvised the moment where she takes the orange that he had offered her earlier,” Graphia says. “That’s her saying ‘I still have my dignity, you didn’t take this from me.’ ”
Jamie and Claire’s reconciliation
The Frasers have a lot to talk about when Jamie is freed from the Bastille and return home; the two share in the grief over their lost child, but Claire also confesses to Jamie that she slept with the king to secure his release. According to Graphia, in the book this is a major betrayal to overcome, but the writers of the show wanted to go in a different direction. “We chose to make her sleeping with the king more of a footnote,” Graphia says. “Sam has a great flicker, of course it’s a gut punch to him because his wife slept with someone else, but he knows that she did it to save his life much like what he did with Jack Randall [in the first season] to save hers.”
Graphia continues: “In the first draft of the script I wrote I called it ‘His Majesty’s Pleasure,’ it was much more focused on the king and the star chamber. When I did a rewrite of the script, Ron read the first draft and said ‘I like it but I think we can go a lot deeper here, and I think the key is it’s all about the baby.’ It’s not the normal challenges to a marriage that are resolved in one episode the way it does on network TV. This is something on a soul level. We’ve got to find a way to carry this mountain of grief. I renamed the episode ‘Faith’ and I just thought, really, this episode is about the faith in this marriage and that they have in each other.”
The episode ends with Jamie and Claire at the grave of their daughter, with Jamie leaving one of the christening spoons he had given Claire as a gift—as Graphia points out, it’s the spoon for St. Andrew, the patron saint of Scotland, and there are many more spoons left in the collection. “As sad an episode as it is, I knew we wanted to end on a hopeful note. It’s their way of saying we’ll leave a piece of ourselves here with the daughter we lost in Paris, but we’ll return to Scotland [and have more children].”
There were originally several more scenes that followed the graveyard, and fans won’t have to wait long to see them—Graphia says they open next week’s episode, “The Fox’s Lair.” Why cut them? Because it had to end on Jamie and Claire holding hands, confronting both death and the future, Graphia says. “Losing a kid like that is something that would break a lot of marriages up because people are unable to comfort each other and share their grief, but this is a couple that we know is rock solid and we love them for the strength of the love they share.”
How Outlander Pulled Off Its Most Harrowing Episode Yet – Vanity Fair