How Outlander Handled Its Brutal Rape Scene

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(Image credit: Image courtesy of Starz)

Warning: spoilers ahead for Episode 8 of Outlander Season 4, called "Wilmington."

For all that Outlander is a show filled with steamy love scenes and gorgeous scenery, it has never shied away from showing the very ugly parts of 18th century Scotland as portrayed in Diana Gabaldon's book saga. Unfortunately, that has meant episodes airing rape scenes on more than one occasion, and many viewers knew that another one was coming in Season 4. Book readers knew that new villain Stephen Bonnet was likely going to assault Brianna, and showrunner Ronald D. Moore confirmed months ago that it was happening.

The question was how the show would handle a horrifying scene that changed a great deal in the Drums of Autumn novel and beyond. "Wilmington" delivered the answer after sending Bree on a ride of very high highs and very low lows. Let's start with the highs that led to the lows of the rape.

All things considered, Bree was having a pretty great time for a lot of her time in the episode, although not immediately. She reunited with Roger, and their reunion was a bit tense at first. Roger dragged her outside of a tavern so none of the 18th-century natives would overhear their argument about time travel. Lizzie, the servant girl Bree had brought from Scotland, saw Roger pull her outside and noted that neither he nor Bree came back.

Still, Roger's journey to the past convinced Bree that she was ready to marry him, and she confessed her love for him. That was all Roger needed to hear to prepare to tie the knot with her. They didn't exactly have time to run off and find a minister for a proper wedding ceremony, so they went for a Scottish tradition of "handfasting" that allows a couple to marry themselves and for the marriage to be valid for a year and a day.

It was a happy occasion, even if it lacked to luxuries Roger had imagined for their wedding day (and night). Once they tied the knot via the handfasting, they finally had sex, and Brianna didn't spare a thought to the indentured servant girl whose contract she'd bought back in Scotland. While Lizzie worried back at the inn, Bree enjoyed the afterglow... at first.

One slip of the tongue later, and Brianna realized that Roger had learned about her mother's death before Bree had even gone to the past, and had discussed whether or not to tell Bree with Fiona, of all people. Unsurprisingly, Bree did not take the news well that Roger had hidden such huge news from her and talked it over with another woman, and Roger made the unfortunate insinuation that she should listen to him now that they're married.

The newlyweds broke into a fight that ended in Roger leaving her behind and possibly returning to the 20th century after she pointed out that nobody was stopping him from doing it. Her wonderful night had already taken a big turned for the worse, and then, enter Bonnet.

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When Bree returned to the inn, she didn't find Lizzie, but rather a group of unsavory men gambling in the tavern. One of them was Stephen Bonnet, who grabbed Bree by the elbow and told her to blow on a ring that he intended to use as a stake after running out of coins. Unfortunately, Brianna recognized it as the ring that had belonged to her mother, and after she learned that her mom had been alive when Bonnet left her, she decided she wanted it back from him.

Not knowing Bonnet as anybody other than an uncouth gambler, she wasn't too alarmed when he led her to a back room, ostensibly because he didn't want to haggle with Bree in front of the other men. Once they were alone, however, he revealed that he wasn't interested in her money for the ring. Rather, he wanted her to earn it.

This was enough of a red flag to Bree that she immediately tried to leave, but Bonnet was too fast and too prepared for her. He grabbed her, hit her in the face, knocked her down, yanked off her boots, and slammed the doors shut. The rape scene actually mostly took place outside of the room where Bonnet was attacking Brianna, yet it was still plenty horrifying despite Outlander sparing viewers the graphic details as they unfolded.

As Brianna screamed for help, the pain, fear, and fury evident in her voice, the people in the inn's tavern simply went about their business. Some seemed awkward and uncomfortable while others laughed about what was going on in the next room. One woman even took Brianna's boots and placed them neatly outside of the door, apparently unbothered by what was clearly going on out of sight.

When the camera finally panned back to Brianna, she was on her back on a table, quivering and traumatized. Bonnet commented casually that he'd assumed she was a virgin but realized that she'd had sex before. Unbeknownst to him, Brianna had slept with her new husband only hours before. She was bleeding from the hit to the face and the front of her dress was unlaced.

Thanks to the performances and context clues, it was clear what had happened to Brianna even without Outlander being as graphic as with previous rapes, including what happened to Jamie and poor young Fergus. The rape was still truly horrifying as viewers witnessed everybody around Brianna showing nothing but indifference to what he was doing to her.

The bystander indifference is actually quite different from what happened during the rape in the book. That took place in Bonnet's cabin on his ship, so it was no surprise that nobody was going to intervene on her behalf. With Roger and Lizzie nowhere to be found -- not that poor Lizzie would have been able to do much of anything -- Bree had no friends to help her.

Changes to the rape aside, Bree's story moving forward seems likely to follow as it went down on the pages of Drums of Autumn. Spoilers ahead for Drums of Autumn. Just as in the book, Lizzie witnessed Roger and Bree being rather rough with each other, and it's easy to see why a naive young woman from 18th century Scotland would view Roger dragging her out of sight as an attack rather than noting Brianna's lack of fear of him.

When Lizzie realizes that Brianna was raped later on, she assumes that Roger is the man who did it, and her claim to this effect later on will lead to an unfortunate turn of events for Roger. Brianna certainly won't have an easy time moving forward. She'll realize that she's pregnant, and given the relative overlap of her time with Roger and her rape by Bonnet, she couldn't be 100% sure who the father was for the duration of her pregnancy. End spoilers.

This does lead to an intriguing dynamic between Brianna and a character who could someday get a spinoff, but it could all be quite difficult to watch. Considering the almost shockingly fast pace at which Outlander is tearing through the source material, we could see a fair amount of it before the final credits of Season 4 roll.

New episodes of Outlander air on Sundays at 8 p.m. ET on Starz. If you're in the market for some additional shows in the not-too-distant future, swing by our midseason TV premiere schedule.

Laura Hurley
Senior Content Producer

Laura turned a lifelong love of television into a valid reason to write and think about TV on a daily basis. She's not a doctor, lawyer, or detective, but watches a lot of them in primetime. Resident of One Chicago, the galaxy far, far away, and Northeast Ohio. Will not time travel and can cite multiple TV shows to explain why. She does, however, want to believe that she can sneak references to The X-Files into daily conversation (and author bios).