PopWrapped and I would like to welcome the wonderful Beth Wesson of My Outlander Blog and thank her for engaging in this discussion. Caution: We will be discussing a pivotal sequence taking place over several chapters in the third Outlander book, Voyager, so there could be some mild spoilers for purely show fans. If a reader does not want to know about the intricacies of this part of the story prior to next Sunday's episode, "A. Malcolm," please bookmark this article for later. We also were careful not to divulge details that will come about in episodes 307 and beyond. Enjoy!
With Outlander's sixth episode, “A. Malcolm,” bringing the twenty-year separation of Jamie and Claire Fraser to a close, we will finally see the apotheosis of their separate but interdependent journeys of loss, heartache, isolation, and sacrifice. As they have lived incomplete lives for so long with their connections to each other rooted in either the future or past, their reunion in the present is breathlessly intricate, as two souls who are perfect for each other must navigate the imperfections of bodies that can be awkward or uncoordinated after years of being underused. Thankfully, the atrophy doesn’t last for long as their spiritual transience and solitude is rectified through liberating sexual congress.
Beth Wesson: I was thinking about when I first became aware of you and your writing. It was when the first EW cover came out and I had issues.
“... It wasn't the picture I had an issue with, but rather the way it was coupled with those headlines. In fact, I found someone I would have liked to have written the headlines. Here is a great article written by Brooke Corso that beautifully explores the meaning behind that photo for fans of the series and books. Couple the picture with some of her words and I'm buying the whole thing!”
You wrote a beautiful article that attributed meaning to everything in that picture! I was impressed, to say the least, and struck up a conversation with you. I saw right away that you understood that sex in this show and between this couple was more than titillation:
“...Sex in all its shades and motives is laid bare throughout the Outlander series: sometimes tender, sometimes cruel; sometimes selfless, sometimes selfish.”
Brooke Corso: When that first cover came out, I was initially worried that it would misrepresent the show as some tawdry sex romp or, as you wrote, a “Harlequinesque bodiceripper,” but as I examined the tiny, easily overlooked details that were pointedly visible in the shot -- Claire’s two rings, Jamie’s scar from Black Jack’s brand -- I realized that the front image said as much about the truths within the couple’s story as the perceptions about the show. The same goes for whatever sex scenes they share throughout each new season: rather than be gratuitously embedded within an episode to provide some sort of lusty respite amidst the drama and adventure and intrigue, each encounter carries meaning beyond the act itself.
BW: The article was wonderful and I agree completely, sex in this story is never gratuitous and is always used to advance the character’s story. Sex is once again about to take center stage in the show. We are all anxiously awaiting the reunion in episode 306 “A. Malcolm”. I’m anxious to see these scenes because for me, this sex is inextricably connected to the longing of twenty years. I want to see how these actors will communicate the need that goes beyond lust. These two people NEED each other.
BC: I think it’s been so long since both of them have had someone with whom to connect beyond (but still including) the physical act. His and Claire’s sexual experiences with other people swapped expectations of gender as his interactions either stemmed from a mutual loneliness or by blackmail. Conversely, Claire was willing to participate in sex with Frank as long as it was reduced to the act without the emotional engagement. Frank wanted to respond to Claire, but knew she couldn’t or wouldn’t allow herself to respond in kind. In their scene by the hearth, he kept telling her to open her eyes and she basically responded, “No, I’m enjoying this,” meaning using Frank’s body as a conduit/avatar for Jamie.
I think in their first night back together, there is a sort of awkward fumbling due to the layers of protection they have built around themselves for survival. Now that they aren’t in survival mode anymore, it is a bit jarring. Plus, they’ve regarded each other from a distance -- spiritually, chronologically, geographically -- for so long that once they are close enough to touch, that physical immediacy becomes a feast for the senses as well as the spirit.
BW: Don’t you just love how Diana messes with those gender stereotypes? Yes, they have lived a long time without any true loving connection. I’ve always thought that Jamie’s celibacy spoke volumes about his connection to Claire. Aside from his moment with Mary and his night with Geneva, Jamie remains chaste outside of marriage. I have always believed it was because he so closely associated sex with love. He couldn’t really separate the two. Claire was his first. He learned about lovemaking from Claire. To him, making love is Claire.
One of the most poignant moments in this reunion happens “upstairs” in the print shop, after that initial shock of seeing each other is over. Jamie looks at pictures of Bree. I’m hoping (I’m sure) this will make the screen. He asks Claire, “the child?” Everything had been sacrificed for this child. He is overwhelmed by “seeing” his daughter and knowing his sacrifice wasn’t in vain. I think these things combined, seeing Bree, Claire being beside him, signals an end to survival mode for both of them. There is finally some kind of closure. When Claire said that Jamie turned into her arms and fell quietly to pieces, I can remember thinking he had needed to fall to pieces for twenty years, but the only place he could do that was Claire’s arms, the only place where he is free to be himself without fear. I actually worry that the scene in the “Surrender” episode, where he falls to his knees after Fergus loses his hand and Jenny comforts him, might take some power away from this moment. It was an important moment, I always believed it to be the first time he had let himself freely express the weight of it all. Jamie is able to finally express what he feels and just be because it’s Claire, his other half. When they make love he will also be free to just be himself and express what he feels because it’s Claire.
BC: Yes, when you said it was their “end to survival mode,” that is a big transition. For a long time, they lived outside of themselves, partly by force or circumstances beyond their control and partly by choice as a defense mechanism. When they were first together in their twenties, sex was a part of their expression of love beyond a physical or reproductive act. When Jamie was apart from Claire, that expression left. He could have gone the other way, engaging in sex with multiple or random women in an attempt to forget that depth of expression or reduce himself to blind need. Instead, he withdrew within himself as she did.
That being said, when Claire returns, she and Jamie don’t immediately fall all over each other. They have had only their memories of the other as consolation for twenty years, so having a two-dimensional, one-sided image suddenly become three-dimensional and interactive and responsive is a bit of sensory overload, and leads to a bit of initial awkwardness. They never stopped dreaming of the other, even seeing each other in the details of their individual lives, but watching that dream incarnate itself explains some of their hesitancy and careful baby steps.
This isn’t to say they don’t enjoy their first tentative moments back together - quite the contrary. I imagine it was like that moment in the 1999 film Pleasantville where Joan Allen’s character pleasures herself for the first time in the bathtub and slowly her black-and-white world transitions into color. In Jamie and Claire’s reunion, that sensuality they had been so adept at and honest with returns in steady increments, like a fire warming frozen muscles. When they do literally “hook up,” Claire doesn’t want Jamie to come to her gingerly (no pun intended) but really break through that last wall of defense, literally and figuratively.
BW: I too loved that they didn’t fall into bed together right away and agree that living with an idealised memory for twenty years and then having that memory become flesh has to be jarring, to say the least. Their awkwardness feels right to me. They are shy with one another and that feels natural. Of course they would be, they don’t don’t know if this person is the person they loved. I loved your image of baby steps. In the book, we watch them return to each other in increments over the course of a few hours and dinner. I think Diana was wise to have them leave that print shop and go out into the world together once again a team. We see them fall into their old patterns of interaction. Their comfort level with each other increases with each new action and conversation, and, by the time they have finished that candlelit dinner in a brothel (love the irony), they have become aware of each other sexually and the memory of what they once shared has to be foremost on their minds.
When I first read the print shop scene, I can remember taking in ragged breaths and feeling my own eyes fill with tears. The need these two have for each other was overwhelming and Diana’s description of them holding each other and shaking “with the longing of twenty years streaming down our faces” was visceral. All of their longing, loneliness, and remembered love was displayed on that shop floor. I loved the moments of levity that followed that embrace, when they blew their noses, Jamie sitting on the ale pot and Geordie’s outraged disapproval. I could feel their joy and I could picture their faces with the “evidence of so much sudden emotion”. I saw them wiping away tears of joy and tremulously smiling at each other. This emotional reunion of lost souls takes the natural course of returning them to their bed and the sexual side of their love.
I love your allusion that that first awkward sexual reunion turns their world from black and white to color. The grey cloud of their loss that hung over their lives coloring and diminishing their existence has been lifted and the sun of their future comes shining through. I was actually discussing this first coupling between the two with my husband last night (when he discovered I was going to be writing an article about sex and looked a little shocked, lol). I was telling him that the biggest moment for me in that scene was when and why they both climaxed. It was the moment they both realised this was real, it was Jamie inside her and it is Claire’s face beneath him. I’m so ready to see this unfold and see Jamie “break through” that last wall of defense and have them once more laid bare to each other and be once again “in possession of “ each other’s “secrets”.
BC: Your article “Get Ready For Sexy Old Folks” from October 2016 addressed the dearth of movies and television shows featuring mature couples engaging in tenderness or sex beyond the precious or the predatory, “cougar” type of situation. There is so little opportunity offered to women to demonstrate healthy, vibrant sexual appetites and aptitudes past a certain age, and when an older man is with a much younger woman, their lovemaking often veers into farce.
“I believe that our society has a very unrealistic view of being in love which Hollywood has tended to perpetuate. We tend to believe it’s like the fairytale. Happy endings aren’t necessarily easy to obtain. Ms. Gabaldon’s books take the reader beyond falling in love and into the everyday realities of how people stay in love despite tragedy and hardship.”
I agree with this, and the age of Jamie and Claire on their reunion night is shown in both the weight of years upon their memories and the momentary awkwardness in rediscovering the physical self and feeling that muscle memory return. That’s why I like that they didn’t immediately jump back in bed and when they did, they fumbled a bit. Their bodies were syncing back up!
BW: Yes! I think Claire even comments that when she worried and thought about things she was awkward, but when she let go her body remembered the language of the two of them. Syncing! LOL! I just had this little mental picture of an iPhone message… ”This couple hasn’t been synced for 20 years”. Outlander has a chance to break some ground here, they will be showing us sex between an older couple that is, as you said, neither “precious or predatory” and I would add or “boring”.
BC: Like an iPhone! They would definitely be overdue for a software update -- or hardware?
BW: Hardware, definitely hardware. LOL! We talked a bit earlier about the difference in the lovemaking because of their age and you had some very interesting things to say about the benefits of the being a more mature lover. I know this is a difficult concept for some, especially Hollywood, but I gotta say sex ... with age ... way better. Nobody’s in a hurry unless they want to be. Lovemaking in a loving long-term relationship has reached that point where, as Diana has Claire say, sex “takes on infinite variety”.
BC: The trailers and stills for the upcoming episode have already shown the couple talking at and outside the print shop and sharing a meal -- basically reconnecting with each other’s bodies outside the bedroom in the way they interact with others and comport themselves, but at the same time each watching how the other walks, moves, runs fingers along a surface. The eroticism of the entire sequence begins in the small details: after two decades -- mature lovers appreciate the minutiae, from the movement of a jaw while eating to the twitch of an eye in sleep, much more than a younger lover would. As Michael Ondaatje wrote in The English Patient, “New lovers are nervous and tender, but smash everything. For the heart is an organ of fire.”
And yet … there are some things they still retain from their younger years, especially due to their relative paucity of sexual encounters over twenty years. The desire to be vigorous and experimental but also listening and responding to each other, which often is an older, more experienced trait. Their sexual encounters now carry the weight of the “alone times” and the things they have lost or left behind; they aren’t afraid to experiment and have fun but still need it as a way back to completeness.
BW: One of the reasons fans lament the lack of sex scenes in season two was because they missed the communication that happens when these two are in bed together. Even when there are no words these two can say volumes with a touch.
BC: Yes, in the book they reconnected physically a lot earlier after Wentworth than on the show, but with thirteen episodes in Season Two versus hundreds of pages in the book, the writers had to sacrifice those scenes in favor of Jamie’s arc towards physical and spiritual recovery and Claire struggling with how to adapt her roles as wife, lover, nurturer, and healer to his trauma. Remember when he came back to their Parisian home one night with bite marks on his upper thighs and Claire explodes? He could be aroused by prostitutes but not by his wife, as Jack had forced that invisible wall between them. Jamie had to find his way back to her as his spiritual and emotional home, and season two reflected that tedious journey; it began with the destruction of their physical bond as Claire went through the stones, but it ended with the hope and promise of a way back, which culminates in this week’s episode. Coming home again.
BW: I’m still blaming the numbers 13 and 16!! The choice to not have Jamie and Claire physically battle his demons meant it took much longer for him to heal. What is done is done, but I felt Season 2 and Jamie and Claire suffered much longer than they needed to had a different choice been made. Sex between these two heals their souls. Claire knew it in Paris when she sought him out in the blue alcove, “Come find me Jamie…” These two always seem to be finding a way back to each other and I agree, this week they will come all the way home. Sex will play an integral part in getting them there.
I’m going to go home to one of my original points, this couple needs each other. As you said earlier, it is about completeness. The sex between these two, in the next episode and beyond, is glorious. It is tender, rough, slow, fast, playful, inventive, lusty, it is whatever they need it to be, but in my opinion, it is not so much what they do to each other, but what they say to each other in their bed that makes us sigh. They are always honest with each other and maybe even more so in bed. They are open and vulnerable in their intimacy and it is touching and inspiring.
Meaningful sex is truly the icing on this cake. Jamie and Claire say it best:
"...to have you with me again_ to talk wi' you, to know I can say anything, not guard my words or hide my thoughts_God Sassenach" he said, " The Lord knows I'm as lust crazed as a lad and I canna keep my hands from you _or anything else_ " he added wryly, " but I would count that all well lost, had I no more than the pleasure of havin' ye by me, and to tell ye all my heart". And she replies, " It was lonely without you, " I whispered," so lonely."
Outlander’s third season continues with its sixth episode, “A. Malcolm,” on Sunday, October 22, at 8:00pm ET.