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Outlander Season 5 Ends With an Incredibly Traumatizing Chapter for Claire

The scars of this will last a while

Megan Vick

[Warning: The following contains spoilers from the Season 5 finale of Outlander. Read at your own risk!]

Claire Fraser (Caitriona Balfe) has been kidnapped or forcibly separated from Jamie (Sam Heughan) in every season of Outlander. A core part of the story is how the two soulmates always find their way back to each other no matter the obstacle, even if that obstacle is time itself. Usually, Claire is able to use her charm and quick thinking to escape her captors or at least deflect their worst intentions until Jamie arrives to save her. That was not the case with the Browns, who kidnapped Claire at the end of the penultimate episode once Lionel Brown (Ned Dennehy) discovered that Claire was Doctor Rawlings, the mystery physician behind the newspaper column that explained to colonial women how to avoid getting pregnant.

Lionel kept Claire tied up for days as he dragged her back to Brownsville to have her confess to being Doctor Rawlings and probably have her executed for claiming to be a doctor (not a title for a woman back in those days). When Claire screamed at the men and fought back after multiple escape attempts, he sliced her breast with his sword, tied her to a fallen tree with a noose around her neck, bound and gagged her, and then raped her before allowing as many of his men that wanted to do the same. Jamie didn't make it to the campsite where they were holding her until all of the men that wanted a turn got one.

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Jamie and his men, including Roger (Richard Rankin) who failed with Brianna (Sophie Skelton) and baby Jemmy to go back through the stones to the '60s, killed everyone in the Brown camp once they discovered Claire. When Jamie asked Claire how many had violated her, she could only give him a defeated, "I don't know."

It's already clear that this will be a defining moment in Claire's life, one that may have permanently altered her previously fearless outlook. What is most heartbreaking, besides the obvious, is how it will affect Claire's relationship with her family, especially with Brianna. The two have spent the past season and a half filling in the chasm of their relationship created by Brianna not knowing the truth about Claire's past, and her own father, until Frank (Tobias Menzies) died in Season 2. They've grown remarkably close with Brianna traveling to the past and staying on the ridge, and it's tragic that both of them being violently assaulted is now on an otherwise beautiful list of things that have brought them closer together.

​Caitriona Balfe, Outlander

Caitriona Balfe, Outlander

Mark Mainz

Even though this was an incredibly harrowing hour of television, this may be Balfe's most award-worthy Outlander performance yet, which is impressive as she and Heughan have been delivering consistently top-notch material since the start of the series five years ago. If the Television Academy were to finally take notice of the great work being done on Outlander, this would be the year to do it with the Season 5 finale and "Famous Last Words" being some of the most stirring chapters the show has ever put together.

However, this finale is far from the first time that Outlander has put its audience through episodes that are difficult to watch, to say the least. Fans, especially those that have read Diana Gabaldon's Outlander novels as well, often complain that Outlander critics too often put a 2020 #MeToo view on a period drama that must be written realistic to its own time period. But the startling fact remains that a series regular character has been raped or sexually assaulted in every season of Outlander -- Jamie in Season 1, Claire and the King of France in Season 2 (if you want to argue that was technically consensual, I'll counter with young Fergus' abduction and the attempted rape of Mary Hawkins), Ian (John Bell) in Season 3, Brianna in Season 4, and now Claire once again. This does not count all of the times women on the show have been threatened with assault or almost attacked before being saved at the last moment.

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While Outlander has gotten better about exploring the trauma of these events, especially for its female characters, and marking them as important chapters in the survivors' lives, it's a streak that I personally don't need to see continue in Season 6. There's enough drama and intrigue in the onset of the American Revolution to create tension between and obstacles for the Frasers without having to see someone else brutally attacked in this way. Even if the show depicts these events responsibly and with care, it's a well that doesn't need to be returned to any time soon.

Outlander is available on Starz, and the first few seasons are now streaming on Netflix.