Outlander's Christie family breaks down their penchant for corporal punishment
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Warning: This article contains spoilers about Sunday's episode of Outlander.
The Christie family have only been with us for two episodes of Outlander, but already they have shown a disturbing trend toward corporal punishment.
In episode 1 of season 6, Allan (Alexander Vlahos) took a beating from Jamie (Sam Heughan) as his requisite punishment for stealing a powder horn from the Brown's contingent of men in the Committee of Safety. But in this week's episode, it was Malva's (Jessica Reynolds) turn to be whipped, this time by her father, for what he perceived as her impertinence.
"I found it incredibly fascinating that for Allan, especially that episode, that mirrored Jamie's whipping and his stoic heroic-ness that we've come to love," says Vlahos. "Jamie being whipped throughout the show is a symbolic thing. And then the contrast of Allan getting whipped and crying like a little boy, and the disappointment of that, I always felt was quite lovely. Because Allan sees himself as the Jamie Fraser of the Christies. He feels like he's a real big man, but it turns out he's not."
Reynolds adds, "There's an important paradox with the kids being punished and gaining the audience's empathy. It's always that argument of nature versus nurture. Are these guys this way because of the strict religion they've been placed under and the strict parenting style? Does that justify some of the things that are to come? We see them in these very vulnerable situations, and no one should be physically punished in that way. Then, we see things that they do to other people, and we think maybe they need to be punished that way."
That's fairly ominous. But Vlahos echoes his onscreen sister, noting, "We're lulling you into a false sense of security with the Christies."
So, just how bad are they then? We already know their father, Tom (Mark Lewis Jones), is so deeply religious it borders on zealotry — and he has a history of butting heads with Jamie that seems destined to continue.
"They are two very different people," teases Heughan. "Tom is a dangerous man and uses his beliefs to control people. Jamie is quite forward thinking, and he wants a level playing field for everyone. It comes down to this power struggle with the meeting house, a place [Jamie believes is] for everyone to come no matter what their religion. But it is this exchange of power. It's the first time that Jamie and Claire's popularity on the Ridge wanes. Tom has a lot of followers. Jamie's fought battles and he's been a general and done all these things, but actually, the biggest challenge he's had is in the form of Tom Christie."
Tom Christie might have something to say about that. So, we got in touch with the actor behind him, as well as Vlahos and Reynolds to see what the rest of the season might have in store for this new, dark presence on the Ridge.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You're a very intense family, so how did the three of you go about developing that very complicated bond with each other?
ALEXANDER VLAHOS: The bond started when we all met each other the day before we did our read through. Just purely on the fact that we're all Celts. It always helps that two Welsh and an Irish formed to create a Scottish family. There was always a lovely little bond there with all of us.
MARK LEWIS JONES: It's funny. Because it comes across on screen like we're the most intense, weird family, and yet we had such a laugh together. It was so lovely. And when the cameras weren't turning, it was the polar opposite when we were on set together... I remember the first day I met them and we just clicked somehow. Perhaps that's what makes it easy to slip into the intensity and the weirdness of the family.
VLAHOS: Playing parts as serious and as intense on this means that you have to have lightheartedness off camera to balance the books. Episode 1 starts quite intensely for all three of the characters in the Christie's introduction. It always felt like we couldn't be serious off camera because they would bleed into each other.
Tom is a very self-righteous man, verging on zealotry almost. What do you think has made him that way, or will we learn more about that this season?
JONES: Oh, more will be revealed for sure. From Tom's point of view, his life experience has pushed him towards this ultra Protestantism, as you say, almost like a zealot. In a way, he only trusts God. He's imposed that upon his children and he tries to impose it upon the people he arrives with into Fraser's Ridge. He's harder on himself than anyone really. He hasn't got some secret life where there's a life of the luxury. He is extremely hard on himself. So he's quite genuine in a way. The madness of his beliefs, he truly believes in them, it's not put on. But it makes him a very difficult person to be around, particularly for his children and anyone who comes into contact with him. We see that straight away in Ardsmuir, and by the time he arrives in Fraser's Ridge years later, it's got worse.
Malva seems the most open to new situations and people of the three. How will the bond between her and Claire and her interest in medicine continue to develop this season?
JESSICA REYNOLDS: Malva is looking for a purpose and looking for a way to break free from her very strict and controlling family who all consists of men. When she sees Claire, along with an opportunity to learn more, she's so intensely curious. To have a woman be able to teach her these things is a dream come true for her. It comes hand in hand with finding this mother figure, but also being able to learn and potentially use these skills to her advantage and break away from what she's being tied to. We'll see a lot of development, a lot of curiosity, a lot of learning, and if only it just stayed that way.
Right now, Allan is the biggest enigma of the Christie family. Alex, what can you tell us about him?
VLAHOS: With Tom, with Malva, it's very clear where they're at. But with Allan, he has a contrasting episode where he's quite clearly introduced as his father's carbon copy. And does what his father says. Whereas actually, he's incredibly mischievous and a liar. That's the very first clear flag for everyone is that Allan lies. Allan lies to get further in life. And he lies because he's clearly not happy with who he is. With all three characters, they find themselves on Fraser's Ridge, hoping for something a bit different from their previous life. That stealing of the powder horn sets in motion for Allan and for the Christies a train track and a train ride heading toward a lot of carnage and chaos on Fraser's Ridge.
We've already got hints of the ways that Tom's religion might have damaged Alan or Malva along the way, but how much might the siblings be able to unite or support each other against their father's cruelty or rigidity?
VLAHOS: The book readers will know that Allan was the man of the house while Tom was in Ardsmuir. Allan feels like he is the dad to his younger sister. When Tom returns, Allan's been knocked down a peg and lost his status. But he still feels like, when he's with Malva, that he has the controlling voice. He can see that his sister's finding her own destiny in her way. And he dislikes it. He's very controlling, possessive.
REYNOLDS: For Malva, it's that hard balance between only having her brother to rely on at this point. And having only had him to rely on for the last however many years. And also again, wanting to break free from that and thinking, is this her destiny? Is this all that she's going to amount to? Are there other people that she can reach out to and create more genuine bonds with? It's that push and pull because they are all united in such complex ways. There's a bizarre attachment there between them.
VLAHOS: It's almost like Stockholm syndrome, I guess.
Mark, that last scene in episode 2 between you and Malva is very frightening, and you were saying how much you all got on right away. So how difficult is it to film something like that, where you have to be so cruel?
JONES: Malva takes her whipping more in line with Jamie Fraser. The whole business of it happening was dealt with so well by the production. They were really careful with the whole thing. We had meetings about it beforehand and with [executive producer] Maril Davis as well. There was an intimacy coordinator on board throughout it all. When we came to do it, it's one of those things that looks brutal, but it was handled really well. And the way it comes in the story is interesting because the person we never see, but is always apparent in the Christie family, is the mother, of course. For Tom, there's a strange kind of revenge on Malva for the way he was treated by his wife, by her mother. The beating of Malva has other stuff going on for Tom, and I think Malva knows that.
All of the beatings, they have other meanings. I felt at the time that there [were] so many layers to that beating at the end of episode 2. And it was really about his inability to let go the hurt he felt from his wife, who died while he was in Ardsmuir.
Alex, how much might Allan resent Jamie for being the one to met out that punishment in episode one?
VLAHOS: These seeds are planted within Allan in episode 1 that flower toward episode 6, 7, and 8 of this season. I do think Allan, whether he knows it or not in that moment subconsciously, he locks Jamie Fraser as the one person that he admires. He's in awe of this man. And sees also how he runs his life with such love and a very strong moral compass. But with admiration comes jealousy, and with jealousy comes hatred, and vengeance really. They're all building toward Allan becoming a puppeteer and trying to figure out a way of punishing the Frasers.
Jessica, how much danger is Malva in from her father and her brother?
REYNOLDS: The damage has been done already. Even before she gets to the Ridge. So it's not so much the danger that she is in from her family. It's more the danger that the Ridge is in, at the cause of her father and her brother.
Lastly, if you all had to pick one word to describe your characters and their journey this season, what would it be?
VLAHOS: Jealousy. When jealousy seeps itself into someone's core, it can poison them from the inside. Allan has started to be poisoned immediately from arriving at Fraser's Ridge.
JONES: Hurt, hurting. Hurt people, hurt people, and he's damaged.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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