Below are excerpts from new interviews and videos with Maril Davis, Sophie Skelton, and Richard Rankin about Outlander episode 408, “Wilmington.” Be sure to click on the links to read the full interviews. Since these posts/interviews follow the latest episode, beware of spoilers and there may be a discussion about storylines in future episodes.
It wasn’t an easy decision. Skelton said she filmed multiple versions including one where the camera sticks with Brianna throughout her ordeal. After much “debate,” the footage of Brianna’s full attack was cut. For her part, Skelton says she understands that the writers were “trying to be sensitive to the time period that we are in now” but that from an actor’s point of view she thinks it’s a “shame not to see the whole thing” because it’s important for audiences “to witness what Brianna went through.”
But Skelton, who did a good deal of research to prepare for this moment, wonders if the scene might not have been even more powerful if the episode included all of the footage she filmed of the attack. In the book, when Bonnet goes after Brianna a second time, the girl’s body shuts down. Gabaldon wrote the whole rape scene as a flashback that Brianna relates well after the fact and Claire and Jamie’s daughter says that while her physical defenses broke down, in her mind she was still fighting off the attack. Skelton interpreted Gabaldon’s description as a condition known as “tonic immobility” which is an involuntary paralysis that researchers believe is a not uncommon response to sexual assault. That’s how she played the attack that audiences won’t see:
When we filmed the rape scene, I played tonic immobility—your body completely cops out on you and you go black. It’s like a machine, it just stops. Brianna’s eyes glaze over and she’s just not in the room basically. So at the end of the rape, you can see the sudden aftermath with Brianna waking up in a way and then her body starting to feel the pain and everything else. She is shaking like an animal that’s frightened. Involuntarily, just shaking, shaking, shaking, but she herself in her mind kind of feels numb.
Skelton says that numbness and pain is with Brianna as she approaches Bonnet to get her mother’s ring back and is the over-riding feeling when she goes to collect the boots that have been carefully stacked by the door: “No one’s helped. It’s not even disgust in that moment, it’s just pain. I think the disgust comes in later and the anger and everything else.” Skelton promises that her research into tonic immobility and the very specific, self-recriminating strain of PTSD that comes with it will feature in future episodes this season.
But while the actress in her may regret the performance that will never see the light of day, Skelton also acknowledges the power of the version that made it into the episode: “I think you might get split opinions on whether it shows how far we’ve come or how far we haven’t. I do think it will encourage people to talk about the bystanders. They’re not the ones doing the rape, but the fact that they’re seeing it and doing nothing puts them on the same page as being guilty.”
HB: You’ve said several times in the lead-up to tonight’s episode that you wanted to do justice to real-life rape survivors. What did that look like for you? What sort of research did you do, and have you heard anything from readers who know what’s coming in this episode?
SS: I’ve had a few real-life fans of the books come up to me and say they are petrified to watch that episode. They obviously didn’t go into depth about what they’ve been through, but said they’ve been through similar things. It’s heartbreaking that people, A) have been through it, and B) feel that way. One thing that’s wonderful about movies and TV shows is that you get to know these characters, and you get to be in their head, and in a way, they help you through your real life. If you see a character go through something, and see them come out the other end, not unharmed, but okay, then it gives you hope that you’ll be able to do that, too.
One thing with Bree I wanted to make sure [we showed] is that PTSD after rape doesn’t go away. She’s not hiding it so well. She’s putting on this brave face when she meets her family; at the dinner table, you can see that all she wants to do is run to her room and be by herself, to not have to put on this facade. Little things [too], like when Bree walks into the tavern the morning after the rape, she flinches from people. I wanted to add that in to show all these different ways [the trauma] can affect people.
I watched a lot of interviews of women who’d been raped. I watched a lot of court cases where they confronted their rapist. I read a lot of interviews, and one that really stuck with me was this girl who said she felt like she wanted to peel her skin off her body, that she didn’t belong in her own skin anymore and she wanted out. That’s something I always kept in my head when playing Bree.
We actually did film the whole rape scene, but in the end they decided to have it behind closed doors. In my research, I found something out which I didn’t really know about: A victim response called tonic immobility, which happens to a lot of women when they get raped. Their bodes go black on them and they go completely numb, so they don’t feel anything during the rape. They’re not in the room. When Bree’s coming to after the rape, she’s shaking and her nerves are kicking back in, and she starts to feel the effects of what she’s just been through. And apparently, women who have that tonic immobility response then experience worse PTSD later because they go through the trauma afterwards. I wanted that to be very apparent when Bree says to Jamie, “Why didn’t I fight?” I wanted to say, “Bree, it’s not your fault. You didn’t not fight hard enough. Your body copped out on you. You went blank.” Her eyes glazed over, and she was numb.
“We did actually film the whole rape scene, but then the writers decided to show it behind closed doors,” Skelton says over the phone, explaining that the show’s team was influenced by the #MeToo movement. “I think because it’s a conversation of today and because rape has been quite prominent in shows. I think that Outlander wanted to make sure they were showing that they are sensitive to that, but obviously without disregarding it completely.”
“Showing the reaction on the faces of the men was something [the writers] wanted to use as the harrowing moment as opposed to what’s happening inside the room,” Skelton says. “I think [the writers] wanted to show… obviously the #MeToo movement now is talking about how people did sort of turn their heads to what was going on.”
“I think one thing Outlander has always done well is make sure that you don’t just see rape and then it’s gone,” Skelton continues. “You really follow the character through.” In Briana’s case, that means showing the reality of her trauma on-screen. In the episode following her assault, the upcoming “The Birds & The Bees,” we see Briana flinch from a sudden touch, become intermittently numb and withdrawn and then suddenly emotional, blame herself for her own rape, and generally struggle to grapple with the horrific violation she endured.
“It’s one of the hardest things that a person can go through in life. The main thing we follow is the aftermath of the event,” Skelton tells The Hollywood Reporter. “For me, the challenge was getting into that headspace and making sure that I played it in a way that can hopefully in some way help women who have been through it. I know it’s going to be an exceedingly difficult thing for women to watch, and I have spoken to a few fans who have been through a similar situation and they are saying that they are kind of dreading watching the episode because they’ll be reliving something through Brianna.”
“I hope that they can relive the aftermath and dealing with the event through Brianna, too, and I hope that it can in some way give a cathartic element to their trauma,” she says. “Sometimes seeing something that you’ve been through, lived through someone else and seeing them come through the other side of it hopefully will give some strength to women who have been through it. The challenge really was trying to do justice to it and trying to play it in as true a way as possible.”
“It’s such highs and lows for Brianna. She has, in less than the span of 24 hours, one of the greatest nights of her life and also one of the worst nights of her life,” executive producer Maril Davis tells THR. “It’s heartbreaking. We had so many conversations with Richard and Sophie about their handfast scene and that moment and where it all goes wrong. It’s such a beautiful moment and seeing their relationship evolve to that level, so we had so many conversations with them and in the writers’ room about what would cause Roger to leave that room? How hard would that be?”
“We had to escalate that fight so that he would need to leave for what happens next,” Davis says. “That fight really showcases where they are in their relationship, the fact that they do love each other, they’re ready to make this commitment, but there is still lots for them to learn. It’s all very new. They haven’t worked out all the kinks, and it’s very evident in that fight, it’s a fight of new lovers as opposed to a fight of people who have been in a relationship for a long while.”
“From the outset, we always knew, and we talked to the director [Jennifer Getzinger] about this, but we weren’t going to remain with Brianna and Bonnett in the room the whole time,” Davis says. “We certainly start there, but we also wanted to show the tragedy in this time of how rape was not seen as that big of a deal and…how horrible it was that no one raised a hand to stop it. All these people in this bar knew this was happening and didn’t reach out to help this girl, and that’s tragic.
“Whether we show the rape occurring or we’re outside that room, it doesn’t lessen the tragedy of that horrific experience for Brianna. But we also wanted to show the tragedy of this environment that she’s in and thrust into this new world and the violence and the fact that no one was going to help her and how awful that was.”
“In the book, we don’t know that rape has happened; several things pass and we just find out about it in flashback,” Davis recalls. “We felt like that’s certainly an interesting way to go, but we wanted to see her struggle with it and not have to have her hide it. We see that she’s working through this, and we stay on that journey with her as opposed to having to look back and seeing if we could track where this happened. We wanted to give Sophie the ability to play that as a character as how it would affect her moving forward because this is a life-altering moment.”
“There is a lot of rape in Diana’s books,” admits Executive Producer Maril Davis to EW. “Obviously we’ve seen some of it and every time we try to figure out what is best for the story. We certainly want to be sensitive to the character who is going through this situation. We knew from the outset that we wanted to [have the rape occur off-screen]. We’re in the room with her at the beginning. Sophie did such an amazing job. It’s just a heart-breaking moment.”
Sources: All are linked in this post