'Outlander' Season 5 Episode 10 Review: Misogynistic romance genre tropes are put in terrifying context
Stephen Bonnet is animalistic in his approach in the way many romance book's male leads are
There is a popular romantic genre that revels in abusive tropes. '50 Shades of Grey' is the most well-known, but there is a whole clutch of books that top 'Romance Read' lists, catering to women, that feature the 'bad boy'.
The 'hero' is usually a pirate or a savage warlord, who kidnaps the heroine against her will. He is a hair-trigger away from violence at the start, and the woman is often molested or threatened and simultaneously shown acts of kindness or care once in a while.
Then, as they spend time together, the woman realizes that the man just needs to be taught love instead of cruelty. By the end of the book, she 'tames' the man, helping him realize his humanity and off they go off into the sunset.
This week's episode of 'Outlander' puts these tropes in their terrifying context. Brianna (Sophie Skelton) is kidnapped by Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speelers), the pirate, who says he wants to marry her and become "a family", bringing out the dolls he has bought for "his son" baby Jemmy. He proceeds to dress Brianna in fine clothes, alternating between being charming and threatening.
He gets delicacies delivered to their room in a twisted parallel to all the scenes we have seen of Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) snacking together.
Stephen asks Brianna to make him a gentleman — tame him enough so that he can be in polite society. Much like in 'Beauty and the Beast', Brianna 'reads' to Stephen. She picks the tale of 'Moby Dick', reciting the paragraphs of the story from memory while holding a book on animal husbandry. However, this is a ploy is to distract him from trying to rape her again.
Brianna attempts to make him understand who the 'true' monster is in 'Moby Dick', to hold up a mirror to his violence. She also tries her best to hide her revulsion and plays along with his romantic fantasy where "fate" keeps bringing them together and how they are "meant to be together". Stephen is animalistic in his approach in the way many romance book's male leads are before they are "civilized" by the woman.
Yet, Brianna also can't help empathizing with him as he tells her how the sea holds horrors for him and about his recurrent nightmare of seeing the water take him as no one comes to help him. Pity growing to love is another romantic trope — but in this episode, you see Brianna's empathy for what it is — a mark of her goodness — that is who she is as a person.
It is not symbolic of love for Stephen. It is also why she puts a bullet through his brain when he is sentenced to die "by drowning" — she is merciful but it does not imply Stephen deserves mercy.
Sophie Skelton as Brianna also pulls out the stops to show how women behave "lovingly" just to escape being harmed, especially when they are trapped with no visible avenue for escape. Kudos to Ed Speelers too for making Stephen Bonnet simultaneously dangerous and pathetic in this sequence.
Their scenes together show just how misogynistic 'bad boy' romance tropes are — why is 'Beauty and the Beast', a tale of Stockholm Syndrome if there ever was one, regarded as a 'classic', and read to girls as a bedtime story? Why hasn't it been dumped in the bin of history as a quaint remnant of patriarchal conditioning like corsets? And why, as '50 Shades of Grey' shows, are women still not over this trope?
'Outlander' premieres new episodes on Sundays at 8.00 pm ET/PT on STARZ, the STARZ app, and STARZ On Demand.