I only watch television a couple of nights out of the week. I detest reality shows, and find very little to attract me to network dramas or comedies. In fact the only two network shows that I like got cancelled last week, so I see even less in my future. Nope, cable is where the real TV game is, and right now, my television week mostly consists of Outlander, Game of Thrones. I might slip in an episode of Daredevil or Turn during the week, but that’s only as writing time allows. This weekend provided a very interesting juxtaposition.
Before Outlander started airing there were a number of people who labeled it the “feminist answer to Games of Thrones”. Back then, I bristled at this comparison. First, Game of Thrones is complete fantasy. Sure they seem medieval, and there is plenty that is based in reality, but Westeros is not a real place. For all its time travel, Outlander is still very well-researched historical fiction. It’s grounded in actual events. Also, as epic in scale as they both are, Game of Thrones casts a wide net around the Seven Kingdoms showing the machinations of multiple families and far flung characters. The Outlander books focus on one family, in fact, Diana Gabaldon has many times referred to it as the story of a marriage. There is a domesticity, an earthiness to the Outlander stories that I haven’t seen yet in Game of Thrones.
As I said, the books are different. So, I didn’t really go in for that comparison so early in the lives of the shows. Now, we’re almost a whole season in and what I have seen is stark. Both shows push boundaries, and I like that. They don’t pull punches. They’ve both shown men nude, which for some reason seems to super taboo while women’s bodies can be displayed at any given moment. They don’t shy away from violence. They’ve each shown brutal violence in battle, sexual violence and violence against children. All of these things are brave choices for any show to make. However this weekend we saw something that separated the shows so completely that it’s worth taking note.
On Outlander we saw two determined women leave a man at home in an attempt to save another man in distress. Then of all things we saw a woman expressing breast milk on television. In complete view of the camera, and naturally executed without a second thought. The scene was brilliantly acted by Laura Donnelly. I don’t think that it can be stressed enough what a watershed moment this is. This wasn’t a show about childbirth on the Discovery Chanel. This was a scripted drama.
As any woman who has nursed a baby in a public place can tell you, many people in American society have a problem with that. Nevermind that feeding babies is what breasts are made for in the first place. It is far more acceptable to wear a bikini or show cleavage that skirts right at the edge of nudity than it is to actually feed a child with them.
I should point out that this very scene occurs in the book, so Diana Gabaldon deserves some credit for including a plain interpretation of what it means physically to be a woman. Readers of these books know that this is how these books work. Claire is a physical person, and we are seeing the story through her eyes. However, the writers of the show (Matthew B. Roberts in the case of this episode) didn’t have to make this choice. They could have left it out entirely, or had Donnelly turn her back to Claire and the camera and talk over her shoulder. But they didn’t and I want to hug them all for it.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we have last night’s Game of Thrones. Which showed us Myranda, Ramsey Bolton’s paramour, on display by the window for a scene that combined characterization and the show’s signature “sexposition”. In true Game of Thrones style, viewers got reminded that Ramsay is a bat-shit crazy sadist (though a bit more crude and clumsy than Black Jack) and that he promised to marry Myranda while being visually distracted by naked actors. In addition to being a tactic used so often on GOT that it has become a bit of a joke, I found myself distracted from the whole scene by prominence of actress Charlotte Hope’s hip bones and ribs.
Now, I hate expositional dialogue as much as (probably more than) the next person. And Outlander hasn’t been the standout on exposition. My mind goes back to the execrable scene in the first episode when checking into Mrs. Baird’s. Even the brilliance of the very talented Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies couldn’t rescue that clunky dialogue. However, I can excuse a few clunky lines and flashbacks over the continued use of the visually distracting sexposition. It may have worked the first few times, but after several seasons, it’s starting to be insulting to the viewers.
So I may have bristled a bit at the Outlander Game of Thrones comparison initially, but this weekend kinda changed my mind. David Benioff and D. B. Weiss should be watching Outlander and taking note. Women’s breasts have a purpose and distracting us during exposition isn’t it.