There has been speculation online for months about whether Outlander season four will include a somewhat controversial plot point, one that might seem particularly insensitive or gratuitous in this day and age.
Warning: do not keep reading if you don’t want to be spoiled about future events on the show.
In Drums of Autumn, the fourth book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, after Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) daughter, Brianna (Sophie Skelton), travels back in time, she meets Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers), an odious man who has already robbed her parents. When she sees that Bonnet is in possession of her mother’s wedding ring to Frank (the man Bree considers her father), Brianna approaches him about buying it back. Instead, Bonnet rapes her and gives her the ring as “payment.”
The rape not only devastates Brianna at the time, but it also continues to have a ripple effect as the book moves forward (and into subsequent books), as Brianna finds herself pregnant and there is a question of the baby’s paternity. A couple of years down the line, they come to realize because of a birthmark that Roger (Richard Rankin) is the boy’s father, and Brianna eventually gets her revenge on Bonnet for the rape, but not before it deeply affects her and those around her.
However, based on a couple of things that happen in the season four premiere, “America the Beautiful,” we’re wondering if the rape is going to be omitted from the show (which would be just fine with us). Here’s why we think it might be.
First, it seems the show is making Bonnet more unlikable right from the start. In the book, he seems more like a charming thief when we first meet him. He certainly acts like he is a petty criminal who would only kill someone if his life were threatened. On the show, during the robbery of Jamie and Claire’s barge, Bonnet mercilessly slits the throat of Lesley, one of Jamie’s friends who is traveling with them and tries to protect Claire from Bonnet. That is not in the book.
In fact, in the book, Bonnet sees himself as honoring his debt to Jamie for helping him escape the British in Charleston. He does rob them, but he won’t let his men lay their hands on Claire because Jamie helped him. So until he rapes Brianna, Bonnet seems like a bad guy, but not that bad — a petty criminal, rather than a rapist or a murderer.
But the show takes him from zero to 60 within the first episode, which does make us wonder if the writers are trying to make him a full-on baddie now so they don’t have to use the rape as the catalyst later.
The second bit of evidence that has us wondering about the rape is the fact that there is no gold wedding band for Brianna to see Bonnet in possession of; therefore there is no inciting incident to get her in his company for him to then rape her.
Yes, Bonnet does make off with one of Claire’s rings at the end of the episode, but it’s the wrong ring. The show switches things around — Claire manages to keep Frank’s ring, and Bonnet steals Jamie’s ring. Brianna probably would not recognize her mother’s silver ring (maybe she would; it kind of depends on how much Claire wore it when she was raising Brianna). But that makes things needlessly convoluted when the show’s writers could have simply left things the way the book is written, with Bonnet taking Frank’s ring.
Without that plot point, maybe Brianna doesn’t encounter Bonnet at all, or maybe it’s in a different context. We’ll have to wait and see. One thing we do know: the show has neither confirmed nor denied the inclusion of Brianna’s rape in the season’s story arc.
Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, executive producer Ron D. Moore did say back in March that since the rape is “a big story point,” there “wasn’t really an option not to do it. It’s more a question of how you’re going to do it and what it meant to that story in how you presented it.”
But speaking with us during a recent interview, Starz maintained that the EPs haven’t really confirmed whether or not the rape is going to happen. Those may seem like conflicting reports, but the main point is that it sounds like the rape plot point will be quite different than it was in the book. Hopefully, that might mean the show doesn’t use the rape as a dramatic incident in Roger and Brianna’s relationship. Guess we’ll all find out together.