I Binge-Watched Outlander during Quarantine...
...and I have some things to say about Jamie Fraser.
Outlander is a show that has long remained on the edge of my awareness, without my ever really having heard of it, consciously. Which, as a lover of period dramas, surprises me as much as those of my friends when they realise that it took me five seasons, and several years, to truly discover it. Even more surprising, as a bookworm, was my ignorance towards the epic book series, from which the TV-show is based. The series is yet unfinished, but to date, consists of eight novels (ranging from 600-1200 pages each), a ninth oncoming, and a spin-off series, several short stories, and a graphic novel. Clearly, this is a mega-series, a brand in itself, and yet, somehow, it's until now avoided my attention.
Quarantine is the perfect time to discover such a show - and book series - however. With each episode lasting an hour in length, and with, to date, 67 episodes spanning five seasons, there are plenty of episodes to help stay occupied during these times. Needless to say, I binge-watched all five seasons in a single week, ever-hungry for more.
First, a brief outline, for those of you who, like myself, have apparently been living under a rock these past six years (or who, like myself, don't own a TV and so have only now turned to Netflix/Amazon Prime for quarantine entertainment).
Outlander begins in 1945, shortly after WW2, and Claire Beauchamp Randall, a strong-minded, no-nonsense army nurse, is enjoying her second honeymoon with her husband, Frank, in Inverness, Scotland. Within days of their arrival, however, she inexplicably stumbles through a portal/universe glitch/wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey-thing concealed within one of the UK's many, mysterious stone circles, finding herself somehow living instead in 18th century Scotland (cue beautiful, sweeping scenes of rugged, untamed landscapes).
Soon she finds herself torn between her desire to somehow return to Frank, the husband she has left behind, and a growing attraction towards the dashing, rugged young Scotsman, Jamie Fraser.
It has to be said, Jamie Fraser (played by the gorgeous Sam Heughan), is way up there on the list of reasons to watch the show. He and Claire (played by the exceptionally talented Caitriona Balfe) ooze chemistry in every scene, leaving you craving more.
Nevertheless, I have some things to say. About Jamie Fraser.
Firstly, Jamie is just such an unrealistically portrayed male character. I like to naively hope that we're beyond the days of absurd romantic plots and characters. Yes, naturally, a premise involving time-travel will always be absurd, but that doesn't mean that the characters involved shouldn't be as relatable as possible.
Yet, I guarantee, you will never meet a man like Jamie Fraser. Spoiler alert ahead, as I make my point.
18th century feminist
Firstly, while there have always been forward-thinking people throughout history, people born before their time, with liberal views and opinions simply too-advanced for the world of the time, I find it hard to believe that rugged, man's man, Jamie, born and bred in the early-mid 18th century, would be such a feminist. While he at times corrects Claire on her 'impropriety' as she attempts to navigate the misogyny and social structure of the 18th century, he respects and believes in her whole-heartedly, supports and encourages her career; a doctor in the 20th century, a 'healer' in the 18th. In fact, he fully respects all women, despite being surrounded by men who see women as little more than mothers, carers, prostitutes, and wives to be beaten into submission.
He's a virgin...
In series one, Jamie is introduced to us - and Claire - as the 'hot one' in a rag-tag band of rebel Highlanders; he is constantly portrayed in contrast to his kinsmen through demonstrations of his big, kind heart, quieter demeanour and, as mentioned above, greater respect for women. While the rest of the men joke about sex (and sometimes, rape) around the campfire, Jamie never contributes, while constantly watching over Claire protectively. Having grown up in a culture so entrenched with misogyny, around men who boast about their sexual prowess on a daily basis, would a man as attractive as Jamie really have opted to remain a virgin until his mid-twenties?
...But it doesn't take long for him to get the hang of things.
That said, while Claire does know what she's doing in bed, given her 20th-century marriage, it still only takes Jamie two attempts to become an insanely good, and very generous lover. There is no 'lying back and thinking of England' in this relationship; Jamie won't stop until the lady finishes first, he's always up for giving pleasure, and he's always, always in the mood.
He prefers his women au-natural
Season 2 spoilers; while living in Paris, Claire gets a bikini wax (an 18th century craze of the time, apparently), as a surprise for her husband. However, he makes it clear that he prefers her 'honey-pot' au-natural, and doesn't need her to go through unnecessary pain and suffering on his account.
For such a fierce warrior/soldier, he's a sweetheart
Jamie does have a dark side, with a fierce temper and an even fiercer protective side, where family - and Claire - are concerned. During the course of the series, we witness him in battle multiple times, most notably, during the Battle of Culloden. Yet, for someone who can so easily wage war, fight, kill, and act out of vengeance, pain and, at times, hatred, he also has a heart of gold. A lover of children and animals, Jamie is a man willing to stay up all night with newborn nieces and nephews simply to give his sister a chance to get some sleep. We see him rescue and adopt stray kittens and sleeping in stables to keep horses company because he feels a 'connection' with his equestrian friends. His isn't just a heart of gold; he shines like the purest diamond.
Now, don't get me wrong, it's importance to have nuance, contrast and complexities, and all well-written characters have, and demonstrate, both a light and dark side, but I do at times feel that he is simply too good, too kind, too pure-of-heart, especially, perhaps, for the era, when people were often far too focused on simply surviving to afford quite so high a value to the lives of animals; wild or domestic.
He's far too tall for the 18th century
At 6ft 4, Jamie towers over average heights of the time. Not to say that there haven't been exceptionally tall individuals throughout history, but once again, Jamie's height is just another feature which caters to our ideal male fantasies rather than being realistic for the time.
He believes Claire, just like that
While she does keep her time-travelling a secret for most of the first series, she does eventually confide in Jamie as to her back-story, every detail pouring out of her; she cannot stop, once she has begun. Note, too, that she chooses, unwisely, I would argue, to divulge this unbelievable tale immediately after Jamie has rescued her from the accused's stand of a witch trial. A risky move on Claire's part, given that she has found herself living in a time when even her medical knowledge proved enough for her to be accused of practicing witchcraft. And yet, Jamie not only listens to her tale (yes, Jamie is an excellent listener), but believes her, even if he doesn't understand every - or any - part of her story. Realistically, he would no doubt have dragged her straight back to the witch trials. Even in modern times, most people, if told a tale of time-travel such as Claire's, would probably instead worry about the wellbeing of the tale-teller, rather than believe them outright.
He lets Claire go
While confessing to Jamie about her origins, and her bizarre tale of time-travel, she also informs him of the husband she has left behind in the 20th century; Frank Randall, and her many attempts to return to him. By the time he learns this information, Jamie's feelings for Claire had long-since developed beyond a crush. Nevertheless, he chooses to let her go, even taking her to the stone circle, through which she passed through the centuries, himself, in order to reunite her with his lost love. He doesn't beg her to stay with him, but instead accepts her love for her husband, and is willing to break his own heart, in order to repair Claire's, and that of her husband.
In fact, he regularly bears the brunt of things for others
Throughout the series, Jamie frequently offers himself in exchange, in order to protect others. From regularly putting himself in harm's way in order to save Claire, to taking a beating on behalf of a young girl in the Scottish court, simply to spare her the humiliation and to protect her reputation, he is constantly making a martyr of himself. While it isn't unusual to protect those we love, his insistence on going to extreme measures to protect acquaintances, or even strangers, seems a less realistic character trait.
In short, he's just impractically perfect
There's nothing wrong with escapism, romance and fantasy. Isn't that what we all seek when we binge-watch TV, or devour a book-series, after all? However, Jamie is simply too perfect; tall, handsome, strong, loving, caring, protective, trusting, supportive, brave, wealthy, hard working and entrepreneurial, complete with a six-pack, russet-curls and a mega-watt smile. There are plenty of wonderful men in the world who embody many of these traits, but Jamie's entire character leans too heavily towards female fantasy.
For anyone who has found a man like Jamie Fraser, you're a lucky, lucky woman/man. Otherwise, I call for more realistic male characters; men who are sweet, but flawed, men who improve during their relationships, rather than men who are introduced as the perfect man, pre-made; men who perhaps need to better learn to listen, or who mellow with age, or who are perhaps indifferent or uncomfortable around children until they have their own. These characters exist, for sure, but they are never placed upon the same pedestal as their overly-romanticised counterparts.
Enough of the unrealistic expectations born from romantic dramas, I say. Give me more imperfection on my TV screens, and in the pages of the books on my shelves.