Outlander’s massive, and rabid, fan base knew what was coming. The show’s producers, creative team, and actors had been preparing the viewers for what fans of the book have often referred to as “the strapping.” While the book’s author, Diana Gabaldon, has long defended the scene in her book where Jamie beats Claire with a leather strap as simply Highland justice for the heroine’s reckless disobedience, there is a world of difference between reading an uncomfortable scene (that oddly ends in an even more uncomfortable sex scene) and watching it play out on a TV series. This is tricky stuff, even for pay cable, which partially explains the odd musical cue that kicks in halfway through.
Jamie and Claire struggle as he attempts to settle her across his lap for the beating. She kicks and screams and throws things. Then, right at the darkest point, a lighthearted jig of a tune begins to play. The music, by Outlander composer Bear McCreary, instantly drains some of the tension from the scene. It sends a clear message to the viewer that Jamie and Claire’s relationship will be fine, in spite of the domestic violence playing out on screen. In the LA Times, Outlander showrunner Ronald D. Moore affirms this impression. He says that he “wanted to tell the audience that it’s going to be OK—mostly the audience that doesn’t know the books.”
The change in tone is a powerful and deliberate choice by the production team. Even so, it is a strange choice and whether or not it works is debatable. (For their part, the New York Times Arts Beat blog was not impressed.)What is not debatable, however, is the power of music to inform the narrative and other story decisions.