Image: Outlander (Starz)
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“You don’t get to be more angry than me.” Brianna, at last, gets to exert her agency in Outlander’s “The Deep Heart’s Core,” an episode that continues to grapple with the aftershocks of her sexual assault, centering her emotional and psychological trauma. She has just learned that Jamie beat her beloved Roger to a pulp, thinking he was the man who raped her because Lizzie misidentified him as such. Jamie’s overcome. He nearly killed not only an innocent man but the man handfasted to his daughter. To make matters worse, Ian sold Roger to members of the Mohawk tribe.

But something very off-putting comes before Jamie’s guilt over having attacked the wrong man. He confuses what Brianna is saying and assumes she means that she had consensual sex with the man she previously said raped her. His immediate instinct is to think that she’s lying. What exactly is Outlander trying to say here? That rape culture and misogyny runs so deep in the 18th Century that even Jamie, the survivor of serial sexual assault, is quick to believe that his daughter lied about her own assault? It’s such a bizarre and fucked up conclusion for Jamie to immediately jump to, and it doesn’t at all track with the character we know.

“The Deep Heart’s Core” finally serves much needed character development for Brianna and puts her in control of the narrative, but it comes at a weird cost. Outlander steamrolls past Jamie’s history in order to construct a new narrative in which Brianna doesn’t trust him. It’s like the writers are trying so hard to get to the end result of Brianna forcing Claire to go on the Roger rescue mission that they’re willing to sacrifice a whole lot of established character development regarding Jamie in order to do so. It also acts as a means of driving a wedge between Brianna and Jamie, but it does so in a clumsy, inorganic way, which has been a problem with much of season four. The conflict feels mechanical and often ignores past character work. I’m not saying that Jamie is a perfect character; we’ve seen him lash out in troubling ways before. But to make him so tone deaf and ignorant when it comes to sexual assault is irresponsible, and it happens throughout the episode, starting at the very beginning.

At first, it seems like Outlander is setting up a touching scene between Jamie and Brianna in which Jamie assures her that it isn’t her fault, a message he himself has struggled to internalize about his own assault. But in trying to prove his point, Jamie disturbingly re-traumatizes his own daughter, physically restraining her and threatening her in order to show her that there’s no way she could have stopped the assault. It’s such an unnerving scene and, again, to what end? Are we supposed to be moved by this? Is it supposed to be edgy? It just comes off as abusive, and Outlander doesn’t really grapple with that. Even if his intentions are good, the method Jamie chooses is an incredibly bad way to communicate with someone who has very recently survived a violent assault, and he of all people should know that! Outlander is playing fast and loose in an area that should be a lot more thought out.

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There are some scenes that do work, like when Brianna and Claire discuss the possibility of an abortion. Abortion access is difficult enough in the time and place Brianna came from, but here, it poses a lot of risks. Claire ultimately leaves the decision to Brianna. She’ll do it if she wants it, even though it means a serious surgery with nothing to curb the pain other than whisky. She also has concerns about how time travel might play out with a baby, should Brianna decide to go through with the pregnancy. Claire knows from her own experience that it’s possible to time-travel while pregnant, but they don’t know enough about how the stones work to safely conclude that a baby would be able to pass through with Brianna. In other words, Brianna has to make some big decisions with not very much time. This candid conversation between mother and daughter, healer and patient, woman and woman, is really lovely, and Sophie Skelton and Caitriona Balfe give compelling performances, as they have throughout this storyline.

Meanwhile, now that he knows who actually raped Brianna, Jamie resolves to kill Stephen Bonnet without telling Claire or Brianna about this particular plan, suggesting that he has learned absolutely nothing from this whole Roger fiasco. Brianna is rightfully furious at Jamie for taking matters into his own hands with Roger without having all the facts, without consulting her. Even if he has the right guy now, Jamie is still ignoring Brianna’s requests for agency and control over her own life by going behind her back and plotting to kill Bonnet. It’s unfair for him to tell her that he doesn’t think she should kill him herself—something Brianna expresses wanting to do—only to then resolve to do it for her. Jamie tells her that Bonnet’s death won’t make her forget, that nothing could ever make her forget. But he’s going to kill him anyway—for what exactly? To rectify his mistakes? Defend the honor of his daughter? Either way, he’s stripping Brianna of her agency.

The episode’s greatest strength is the way it gives Brianna space to be more than just a plot device, though it all feels much too little too late. Her anger fuels the strongest parts of the episode, and she’s a rare character who actually pushes back on Jamie. This rift between Jamie and Brianna likely isn’t going anywhere any time soon, and it shouldn’t.

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Stray observations

  • Roger stumbles upon another time-travel stone in America, and the episode ends on the cliffhanger of whether he decides to pass through it or not.
  • Brianna has to teach Jamie that cousins falling in love isn’t exactly chill in the future.
  • Brianna and Claire both miss peanut butter. Claire misses aspirin. Why didn’t either of them bring more things back from the future!
  • Is Brianna going to be okay with living on a plantation? Is Outlander going to address that at all?

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