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Some Final Words on ‘Outlander’ Season 3

Some Final Words on ‘Outlander’ Season 3

Outlander

This season of Outlander is over, and the book Voyager has come to a close. Outlander season three took its fans of color on one hell of a ride, from the relationship with Joe Abernathy Claire’s Black doctor friend to the slave dancing foolishness in the season finale. Throughout each episode, I sought a reason for the reckless abandon that the writers and showrunners used in portraying the POC characters. Finding none, I wrote about the dissonance, the racial deafness, the utter White nonsense that seemed to propel the season forward into episodes that revealed a piece of racist fresh hell that seemed created to top the shenanigans of the previous week.

Each review was met with fierce defense by the white middle-aged people that occupy most of the Outlander fan space. However, I also heard something else, voices that seemed to pick up steadily throughout the season. They were the voices of Black women who came to the series as fans and were now feeling betrayed by their own fandom. As I reflect on the season three and look forward to season four, I am forced to ask myself is it time to part with the Outlander series?

One of the things that I constantly heard from White fans was that I should read the book before commenting because the book is much worse. The state of the original source material does not erase any of the racist dog whistles that are blown throughout season three of the show. In fact, I listened to all the White women telling me to “read the books and then you’ll see how it all makes sense” and borrowed a copy of Voyager by Diana Gabaldon. Reading her work after seeing the series did lead me to a few conclusions that I would like to share with the White middle-aged fandom that has challenged my words for half the season.

  1. Diana can write her ass off. I started the first chapter and didn’t think to stop until well into chapter three somewhere. Bish can turn a phrase, make prose into lyrics, paint a picture with words — all of that. There is no doubt in my mind that the creator of Outlander is talented and she should get her props for using her talent to create such an entertaining story. However, that leads me to my second point…
  2. You can respect the talent but still have issues with the human behind it. Black people have been living with this concept for centuries. We’ve learned to love the work of a particular person knowing that same person would have us arrested and possibly sent out to the lynch mob if we dare fix our lips to ask for an autograph. I remember hearing my dad saying about Elvis one time, “he prejudice as hell, but that boy can SANG!” Meanwhile, my White mother-in-law has a veritable shrine to the guy in her home but will never entertain the idea that he would do anything wrong, let alone be a racist.

Why is it that Black people are so comfortable with the fact that an artist can create amazing things but have flawed or downright horrible ideas about race? Because we had to deal with our famous faves being “racist” long before the word carried negative connotations in White America. We can tap our feet to the music, or spend a rainy day enjoying the words, all the while remembering that this beautiful piece of art was created by a flawed, human creator. The two can be separated.

  1. Finally, I learned from the book that Outlander is a great romance novel that treats POC characters very badly. Yes, I read the book and still came to this conclusion. In fact, I went back to Amazon and ordered the rest of the series. I want to read from the beginning. Like I said, the woman’s writing is entertaining as hell despite the fact that it is evident that she uses and abuses her POC characters in the text like moveable scenery. The core story of Jamie and Claire romance is tantalizing and addictive. The writing is well paced, with great imagery and a plot that keeps you turning pages. However, I do find myself cringing at the places where she tries to be inclusive and really wishing she would just omit those areas altogether, or that she would get a sensitivity reader to help rework those spots — not the rest, don’t mess with the love story!

These conclusions are what I hope you will read and consider as we all wait, speculate, and anticipate any new tidbits on the fate of the Frasers in Season 4. Yes, I will still look for and report on the dissonance and tone-deafness that will be present in the next season. We all must talk about it in order to ever have a chance of changing it. Furthermore, the Black women who love the franchise deserve a space to voice their concerns over these issues. I would be naïve to hope that Gabaldon and the showrunners employee some POCs to consult for the future of the franchise. In lieu of that, I’ll still be there with the rest of you, watching the premiere of Outlander season 4 like my four-year-old on Christmas morning.

Jonita Davis loves, reads, studies, and writes about comics, books, TV, culture, and more. You can usually find her in a corner somewhere, dragging a pen across paper in an effort to make sense of the world. 

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View Comments (8)
  • As an AA lover of Outlander, I have tried to start this discussion with others in the Outlander fandom, including other AA Outlander fan outlets. I continually get shut down.
    I understand that this is Diana Galbadon’s story, I understand that it’s about Jamie and Claire (I love those two, and their family), I understand that SOME of it may be historically accurate. But the bottom line is that DG does not do POC well. The primary reason, from what I can tell, is a lack of character development and interaction for them – she holds them apart from the core Outlander characters, despite their proximity and involvement in the Outlander story. As you said, she is a great writer. If she were inclined, I’m sure she could imbue these characters with more depth. It’s obvious to me, however, that she never is inclined. Her main characters are never made (and Claire has barely the slightest thought) to interact with POC in a greater capacity other than to fulfill the historical and stereotypical roles that DG cannot avoid including, or to move a particular B-story plot along.
    This is not new, however. When history is told from the POV of European immigrants, the contributions of POC are rarely explored, and even less so in historical fiction. But I am glad to read your conclusions and to know that I’m not the only AA female who feels this way about this series. And I must warn you that the depictions of AA will only get worse as the story progresses. Jaime and Claire’s story, however, remains solid throughout.

  • US HISTORY treats POC badly. The Outlander novels are historical novels, so I think that they are pretty historically accurate. (I’ve studied and interpreted slavery history for 22 years.)

    This is a bit of a spoiler, but Ulysses (Jocasta’s right hand man) RUNS River Run! She couldn’t do anything without him! He’s respected, as is Phaedre (Jocasta’s personal maid.

    Claire is forced to buy a slave, but frees him immediately. She has interacffions throughout (from book 4 on) with Phaedre, as does Bree.

  • I found season 1, binged and quickly read the entire book series. You are right…as a reader, I can eye roll and skim when I need to. But I rely on the show writers to risk the wrath of the fandom (good title for a B movie, no?) and cut out characters, etc. when editing is needed. A lot of the season finale made me cringe a little. But I am in it for the long haul. And you are right, Diana G. is one helluva good writer. Thanks for speaking up in a positive way!

  • SPOILER ALERT: During season 4 another captivity narrative will be introduced if the series follows the books. Young Ian is forced to become a member of a Mohawk tribe. Later, he is expelled, but has as much difficulty re-assimilating as a Scots American as he had becoming a Mohawk. In some ways, Claire’s story is also a captivity narrative. I am sure that there are many problems with Gabaldon’s treatment of Native American culture, though she’s done her research and goes into the subject with tremendous energy and purpose. I would add that the captivity narrative is often a feature of American literature. I like to think that is because it seems ideally designed to teach tolerance by revealing the ways in which tribalism has shaped American culture, for good and for bad alike. Will Moore, working on a scyfy series, and his self-satisfied writers treat this subject matter appropriately? I don’t think they have the faintest idea about such things.

  • I think I know where you’re coming from (although, being white, I’m sure I don’t get all the nuances). Outlander does the same to the whole Highland AND French part of the story. To a certain extent I think it has to generalize and exaggerate, otherwise it would fall rather flat… But the whole bit with King Louis and St. Germain and the secret occult chamber? Or the very first episode with druids dancing-floating around the standing stones (preceded by a conversation about chicken’s blood on the doorjambs) or the Season 1 priest who got Claire tried as a witch? Overall the whole series focuses a lot on very different beliefs and superstitions (like that ship episode, with “Jonah”. Sailors, amiright?) and often makes a point to tell the viewer “It’s not about whether what they believe is actually true. It’s about that they believe it’s true. So respect that even if you don’t share the belief”.
    So. your point is valid and will probably continue to be valid as the show goes on. But maybe, like so many other points, they can approach it in a way that the viewer can go “um, wait, that’s not right… is it? No, that’s definitely not right”

    Edit: Phaedre is badass

  • I thought I’d throw my two cents worth in. I’m a middle aged white woman fan of Outlander, though not American, and I agree with what you have said here. I thought the show’s portrayal of Willoughby was a significant improvement on the horrid, caricature he is in the books, but other depictions of POC were either underdeveloped or misused. As you know, the books are VERY long so deciding what to include and what must be omitted or adapted for a screen medium is a constant challenge. My opinion is that if the show can’t afford the time to develop a story or chatacter element well, then they should probably leave it out. I have always loved the friendship that Claire and later, Briana, shares with Joe Abernathy who I think is presented in a positive light in the books. The show left this very underdeveloped in favour of boring, pointless scenes with Frank & his mistress, or C/F and their neighbours. I call that stepping over dollars to pick up nickles. They then include scenes like the slave market mostly for its shock value but they don’t have enough time to develop a proper message about its injustice etc., so perhaps, it shouldn’t have been included at all? And without time to explain that the voodoo fire/dance scene was part of a large slave revolt on Hispaniola (not Jamaica), it’s purpose comes off as confusing to those who haven’t read the books and the net result is to exploit it as a bizarre backdrop to the “magic” of the main storyline, and to present those POC as “savages” instead of a group reclaiming some of their cultural practices as part of a bigger push for emancipation. If the show couldn’t afford to give this the time and respect it deserved, then I feel they shouldn’t have included it at all. I was embarrassed by how POC were depicted and used in this episode. So, in the end, i don’t know if this makes me any different in your eyes than other middle aged, white, female viewers of OL, but I, for one, was squirming too.

  • SPOILER ALERT: Moore and his writers just can’t follow Gabaldon’s lead, because they insist that their way will be more appealing to the viewers they THINK are interested in this series. Their main concern is commercial, getting the series renewed and selling merchandise, I guess.

    So in season 2, we get that long bizarre sequence of King Louis and his toilette, which is ahistorical and mainly inserted for titillation, as far as I can see (well, it’s scatological). St. Germain becomes a cartoon French aristocrat because Moore and his team choose to ignore the fact that he may turn out to be the biological father of Fergus Claude Fraser. Moore does not seem to anticipate the series continuing that long.

    This may also explain the cartoon characterizations of Father Fogden and Mamacita in season 3. More in line with the novel, Claire’s visit with them could have served to fill out the history of Spanish colonization followed by English colonization in the Caribbean, which Gabaldon rather skillfully compares to the British attempt to eradicate the Highland culture. Instead, Moore and his team play it up as a comic interlude.

    In “Voyager” the novel, Jamie’s sojourn as the Dun Bonnet at the beginning of the book resembles Temera’s decision to join the Maroons at the end of it. Jamie is in chains at the beginning of “Voyager,” which gives him some perspective on the slaves in chains whom he encounters at the end of “Voyager,” a comparison underscored by the fact that the governor of Wentworth Prison where he was in chains is the the governor of Jamaica, Lord John. This line of thought also seems to have flown right over the heads of Moore and his writers. If they had thought it was commercially advisable to do so, they might have done more to exploit Jamie’s role as emblematic of the prevalence of slavery in the eighteenth century, a theme that should dominate season 4.

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