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Outlander: Caitriona Balfe on the challenges of portraying sexual violence

“I’m very proud of the episode,” declares Caitriona Balfe, by talking with Gold Derby about the devastating Season 5 finale of Starz’s fantasy drama Outlander, by adding how hard they worked to do something interesting and yet be super respectful to the subject matter.

While the show’s acclaimed fifth season saw delirious highs with births, marriages and heartfelt moments between beloved characters, it will be remembered for its devastating lows, as Jamie almost dies after a venomous snake bite, Brianna (Sophie Skelton) being kidnapped and brutally bitten by Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers) and her husband Roger (Richard Rankin) being captured and wrongfully hanged by violent thugs.

The season drew to a shocking close as Claire is abducted, tortured and repeatedly raped by the nefarious Brown clan, leaving her shattered and traumatized. The woman could dissociate herself from the horrific acts being inflicted on her thanks to dream-like visions created by her mind. In those visions, Claire prepares a 1960s Thanksgiving feast for her loved ones, while the 1967 tune “Never My Love” plays in the background.

Balfe explains how long it took them to get it all right. “For me it was always really important to remember why we were doing it. It was a psychological coping mechanism for Claire. Originally we had a lot of dialogue for Claire and I wanted to strip all of that back and I wanted the only things for her to say during that time are ‘no’ and ‘Jamie’ because that is the only thing that she’s expressing that fits in both places.”

The show is repeatedly and often criticized for using sexual violence as a narrative device. While that may be true to a certain extent, the criticism does not fully account for the source material by Diana Gabaldon, other than the fact that these characters inhabit a violent period of history when women were subjugated and treated as property.

Balfe also points out that it remains important to shine a light on difficult or uncomfortable subject matter, if done properly, by taking a point of view on the subject. “Today, one in six women will either experience attempted or complete rape. So, sexual violence is not only something that happened frequently back then, it happens with a horrible frequency right now. […] We should be asking those questions. I understand the criticism and we hear it, but for us we try, with each time that it happens, to find something that we can explore that is going to put out something positive there. So in this instance we really wanted to explore the idea of disassociation. It was also important to show, that as Claire sometimes gets lauded or held up as a ‘strong female character,’ I wanted to show that this can happen to anybody and everybody responds in a different way and the psychological coping mechanisms are different for every single person.”

For further information on what’s been said, you can watch the complete interview with Caitriona Balfe here below!

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