'Outlander' EP Ronald Moore, director Anna Foerster explain season finale rape scene
This story contains spoilers from Outlander’s season finale. You’ve been warned—read at your own risk!
The season finale of Starz’s Scottish drama featured a moment that may have caught new fans by surprise though Outlander book fans saw it coming: In an unbelievably vivid scene, Jamie (Sam Heughan) was brutally raped by Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies). Yes, really.
Though Black Jack was ostensibly killed at the top of the episode, when Claire (Caitrona Balfe) courageously rescued her Highlander husband from Wentworth Prison, the damage had been done. Jamie was left with disturbing emotional and physical scars that couldn’t be healed with Claire’s usual nursing methods—that is, until her heady concoction of lavender oil combined with a bit of role-playing psychology brought him back as the man she first fell in love with.
A surprise pregnancy announcement from Claire as the pair set sail for Paris capped off the final minutes of the time-travel show, but several burning questions remain. Is Black Jack really dead? What went into shaping the finale’s darker tone? Why were certain scenes from the book omitted from the show? Here, EW grills executive producer Ronald D. Moore and episode director Anna Foerster about the gripping scenes that unfolded in Saturday’s jaw-dropping finale.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Ron, what kind of discussion did you have with [Outlander author] Diana Gabbadon about adapting the book’s final moments for “To Ransom a Man’s Soul”? Were there any particular scenes or moments that she fought to keep onscreen?
RONALD D. MOORE: Diana really wanted to keep the scene when Claire has an impromptu confession with Father Anselm. That was actually a piece which I kept cutting from the script, because I was looking at it more analytically—from the perspective of, “How does this scene serve a function in the story?” It’s a nice scene in the book, but do we need it? But it was an important scene to her, so we were like, “Okay, let’s find a way to make it work within the context of what we were doing.” So we shot it and moved it around in editing a coupe of times. It went in and out and shifted positions in the show [laughs], and then finally we got to a place where it seemed to work comfortably with the character.
Fans are up in arms about finale, largely because of the brutality of Jamie’s rape by Black Jack. Ron, what is that scene really about?
MOORE: I think it’s about a lot of different things. I think a lot of it has to do with power. Jack has been with obsessed with this young man for literally years now, beginning when he first saw him at Lallybroch. Then he takes him to Fort William, where Jamie endures incredible flogging not once, but twice. And then Jack walks away from that feeling that he never quite broke him. Jamie was the one he never broke. Jack couldn’t quite let go of that. So the scene is about breaking him and getting pleasure from that act, and forcing him to admit he was broken is at the heart of everything that’s going on in that chamber. Then there’s a sadistic, a literal sadistic aspect to that, which is the subject of Jack’s pleasure. Can he get it? Can he experience it? In what form can he accept it? Can his pleasure ever be associated with someone else’s pleasure? Does his pleasure always have to be associated with someone else’s torment? I think there are a lot of questions swimming around in those scenes.
Anna, what do you think?
ANNA FOERSTER: I think what Ron said is exactly right. I think everyone will probably draw their own conclusions about what this is about, and I think many people will potentially read it differently, and I think that’s fascinating. But I think you can perhaps say that Randall is, to a certain extent, jealous of Jamie. Jamie is someone he can never be as a character. Jamie is somebody who is able to express love to someone else in a way that Randall knows he probably never will be able to. Is there a certain jealous in that? Does he want to see himself in Jamie? There are so many different ways to explore [the rape scene], and that’s what I tried to do. I wanted to show all facets of the relationship between those two men, which is absolutely fascinating.
Anna, creatively speaking, what was your biggest challenge in directing that rape scene?
FOERSTER: It was such tricky territory. The crucial thing was to show that the rape wasn’t just about power. There are so many layers to their relationship, and I didn’t want to simplify it. That was the biggest challenge, and in a way, the biggest goal.
In Saturday’s episode, we saw Jamie suffer with the psychological consequences of the rape in a way that wasn’t depicted in the book. Can you explain the decision to go into that direction?
MOORE: Well, some of it has to do with timing. The book version of events lays out a different chronology after the rescue at Wentworth Prison. There’s a sea voyage and they go to France. There’s an abbey and it’s much more distant from events. Jamie is in a safer place. For TV, I felt that structurally and dramatically you didn’t want Jamie and Claire to go scot-free. [Laughs] By keeping the action in Scotland, there’s much more tension and everything feels much more immediate. You know, all those events he’s remembering are much more closer. It’s literally a day or so since it happened, so it’s all with him in the now. It’s not quite as removed in time and space as it was in the book.
I just have to ask—is Black Jack Randall really dead? He was trampled by a stampede of cows, but it wasn’t quite clear whether he had died or was just unconscious.
MOORE: Well, telling you would be a spoiler for second season. [Laughs] So it’s hard to answer that question.
Is that a “No”?
MOORE: You will definitely see Tobias Menzies in season 2, let’s put it that way.
Were there any difficulties shooting with those cows?
MOORE: In the office, we kept saying, “This is going to be a nightmare!”
FOERSTER: It was quite interesting. We spent a long time planning going in, figuring out how to build that corridor, and we had to have consultants who could help us figure out how much space do the cows needed to run up in, and how much space they needed to turn around. And they had to be [trained]. So there was a lot of thought that went into it.
Was that one of the more technically challenging scenes to film in Saturday’s episode?
FOERSTER: Some scenes seemed simple but were nearly ridiculous, like cows coming down the corridor, or where there was a hanging. We had so many limitations of how long someone can hang on those rigs, or how the fall needs to be a certain length. There were so many technical restrictions surrounding that. Same with the boat in the final scene. It was absolutely crazy, because we were only allowed to film with 8 people on that boat. So we basically had zero crew on the boat, and the wind was going in all directions and the sun was going in and out. People were getting seasick, too. So on a technical level, that particular scene was super challenging.
What was one of the more emotionally challenging scenes to get right?
FOERSTER: The scene with lavender oil, where it becomes, as Jamie calls it later, lovemaking. I think for all of us, that was the most challenging to shoot. Technically, there were scenes that were much more difficult, but emotionally that was hard.
Towards the end of the book, there’s a sexy love scene with Jamie and Claire that takes place in the natural hot springs. That didn’t make it to the season finale. Were you concerned at all that fans might be upset about your decision to omit that scene?
MOORE: That was a tricky decision to make. We talked a lot about it. It just didn’t feel like it belonged in the way we were telling the story. In the book, the author can take you to a different space. That scene is almost surrealistic. It’s amazing. Fans love it, but when you step back and try to translate that into a literal, filmable thing, it became “I don’t know if we can successfully translate that passage into something we could film that wouldn’t take you out of the show and make you feel like suddenly you were part of a CG world.” That water scene was just one of those things in film and television production that’s just really difficult to do. It just wasn’t in the cards for us to do that whole scene in the water. We would have had to construct a tank. So it felt like we should stay in the TV show, and stay with the characters to keep it as real as possible.
FOERSTER: I also think that events just were too close to what had just happened [to set the stage for a love scene], because the monastery was not in France and weeks away. It was so much more imminent, so I think maybe that played a role [in omitting that scene] as well.
Fans of the book know that you shifted the locale of certain events so that the episode ended with Jamie and Claire’s departure to France. Why not keep the ending as outlined in the book?
MOORE: Mostly because of jeopardy and time. And it felt like, well, what’s the note you want to end the season on? It felt like that if they had escaped and were already in a safe place in France, then a lot of the drama had been taken away. Whereas the way it’s currently structured, it’s very tense and gripping. They’ve had a harrowing journey, but then there’s almost a cleansing quality to that shot at the beach. Instead of being in these dark, claustrophobic, fire-lit holes where terrible things happen, you’re outside in the blue sky and beautiful ocean—you’re getting on a ship and literally sailing away. It provides this glorious moment and creates an uplifting feeling of happiness and something to look forward to.
Ron, what did you learn throughout the course of filming season 1 that you’re keeping in mind as you’re in the thick of season 2?
MOORE: Just how big a show this really is. [Laughs] It’s a big project, and it’s complex. There’s a lot of moving pieces, you know, a lot of continuity to keep track of. The show doesn’t return to a stable group of standing sets, and it really changes your whole rhythm of shooting television. That’s a big challenge. And the weather is a huge challenge here in Scotland. It’s unpredictable. It’s just a hard show to do, from a straight-up production aspect. So I’ve learned to take a deep breath walking into each of these prep sessions for a block, knowing that a lot of stuff will come up that you didn’t expect. There will always be last-minute changes, and you’re never going to feel comfortable. Like, “Oh yeah, we’re doing another one of these episodes.” You’re never going to have that moment.
What can you tell us about what’s to come in season two for Claire and Jamie? There’s a shift in location, a pregnancy …
MOORE: At the beginning, season 2 is going to look very different from season 1. The characters are going to Paris, which in those days was one of the most populated cities in the world. It’s a very urban environment. They’ll be in the French court. It’s a completely new palette visually. The color schemes are different. Everything about it is different—the chairs, the desks, the lamps, the costumes, and the props. They are definitely going to a different world. There’s more politics, because they’re caught up in the Jacobite rebellion more. You’re dealing with historical figures like Bonny Prince Charlie, who will be in the show. We’re dealing with the court of Louis XV. It’s just a very different story that Claire and Jamie suddenly get swept up in.