Caitriona Balfe (‘Outlander’) on the challenges of portraying sexual violence in the devastating Season 5 finale [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

“I’m very proud of the episode,” declares Caitriona Balfe about the devastating Season 5 finale of Starz’s epic fantasy drama “Outlander.” She adds, “We worked so hard on the script trying to do something interesting and yet be super respectful to the subject matter.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Balfe above.

SEE Sophie Skelton Interview: ‘Outlander’

The show’s acclaimed fifth season saw the Fraser clan forging a new life in together in colonial America. While Claire (Balfe) used her modern foresight to keep her family together, Jamie (Sam Heughan) defiantly protected Fraser’s Ridge against the looming threats of the untamed 18th Century. While we experienced delirious highs with births, marriages and heartfelt moments between beloved characters, season 5 will be remembered for its devastating lows, as Jamie almost dies after a venomous snake bite, their daughter Brianna (Sophie Skelton) is brutally raped by Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers) and husband Roger (Richard Rankin) is captured and wrongfully hanged by violent thugs.

The season drew to a shocking close as Claire is abducted, tortured and repeatedly raped by the nefarious Brown clan, leaving her shattered and traumatized by the season’s final moments. Interspersed throughout the episode are dream-like visions where Claire dissociates herself from the horrific acts being inflicted on her. In those visions, Claire prepares a 1960s Thanksgiving feast for her loved ones, while the 1967 tune “Never My Love” plays in the background.

“It took a long time for us to get it right,” Balfe explains. “For me it was always really important to remember why we were doing it. It was a psychological coping mechanism for Claire. Originally we had a lot of dialogue for Claire and I wanted to strip all of that back and I wanted the only things for her to say during that time are ‘no’ and ‘Jamie’ because that is the only thing that she’s expressing that fits in both places.”

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The show is often criticized for using sexual violence as a narrative device. While that may be true to a certain extent, the criticism does not fully account for the source material (the show is based on the series of novels by Diana Gabaldon). It also ignores that these characters inhabit a violent period of history when women were subjugated and treated as property.

While Balfe acknowledges this feedback about the show, she points out that it remains important to shine a light on difficult or uncomfortable subject matter when it is done properly. “If you’re going to have a conversation and you’re going to show sexual violence, then you need to take a point of view and that is something that we try to do,” she says. “Today, one in six women will either experience attempted or complete rape. So, sexual violence is not only something that happened frequently back then, it happens with a horrible frequency right now.”

“We should be asking those questions. I understand the criticism and we hear it, but for us we try, with each time that it happens, to find something that we can explore that is going to put out something positive there. So in this instance we really wanted to explore the idea of disassociation. It was also important to show, that as Claire sometimes gets lauded or held up as a ‘strong female character,’ I wanted to show that this can happen to anybody and everybody responds in a different way and the psychological coping mechanisms are different for every single person.”

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