Caitríona Balfe &  Sam Heughan On Claire's Use Of Ether In The 'Outlander' Season 6 Premiere

- Outlander -
Caitríona Balfe & Sam Heughan On Claire's Use Of Ether In The 'Outlander' Season 6 Premiere

Major spoilers ahead for the Outlander Season 6 premiere, "Echoes."

After lying down with Jamie for the night at the end of the Outlander Season 6 premiere, Claire abruptly gets up from a nightmare and tells her husband she wants a cup of tea. But when she gets downstairs to her surgery, Claire uses ether on Outlander. Claire has been through a lot in the Starz series, but she's using her latest medical experiment to give her a respite from the flashbacks of her traumatic past, particularly the kidnapping and sexual assault by Lionel Brown's gang in the Season 5 finale. In a Zoom with reporters ahead of the premiere, The Dipp had the chance to talk to Caitríona Balfe and Sam Heughan about Claire's reliance on this substance and what her keeping it a secret means for her relationship with Jamie.

"It's not something that is necessarily a conscious decision of hers," Balfe tells The Dipp of Claire going to the ether. "I think she begins to self-medicate in a way that she's lulling herself into this thought that it's purely for medicinal purposes and experimental purposes, but it does offer her an escape."

"As we see, Claire is dealing with PTSD from the events of last season and this is something she's never really had to face in the same way before," Balfe says of Claire's mind flashing to Lionel Brown and the group of men who kidnapped her (plus, other traumatic moments from her past, including those involving Geillis Duncan, Dougal MacKenzie, and Black Jack Randall). "Her ability to compartmentalize and to continue on, it's not serving her anymore this season."

With so many of the main characters experiencing sexual abuse throughout the series, Outlander has had to creatively demonstrate how different characters respond. Though Claire does suffer from post-traumatic stress related to the attack later in the book series, this use of ether is a departure from A Breath of Snow and Ashes by Diana Gabaldon. As Gabaldon goes to lengths to show how volatile ether is and the dangers to Claire of creating it, the show made an artistic choice to have Claire administer it to herself.

"It was really interesting to explore her in that way and definitely she starts to lean on the ether," Balfe says. "And I think it takes an intervention from Jamie for her to really realize how far down that rabbit hole she's gone."

When it comes to Jamie's role in this plot, Heughan notes that one troubling aspect is that Claire is keeping it a secret from his character.

"Claire and Jamie always have each other and they always have that honesty between each other," Heughan says. "She doesn't tell him and she starts to self-medicate and it grows, this dependency on it."

"When any one person is going through trauma, there's a side of them that they're trying to protect and they're holding back from sharing with somebody else. And I think we see this with Claire and Jamie," Balfe adds. "She ends up having a secret, right? Her secret is that she's struggling and that she's leaning on something other than her family and her relationship to get through it."

"I think that's a very common thing with trauma. That people end up hiding in a certain way or hiding a part of themselves," Balfe says. "And any secrets between a couple can just drive a slight wedge between them."

In the first "Echoes" scene that takes place in present-day on the Ridge, Jamie is concerned when he finds Claire under the influence of the anesthetic. She chalks it up as an exciting medical experiment, but the final scene of the episode reveals the darker truth. "Jamie's aware that there's something wrong, but he can't, obviously, put his finger on it," Heughan says. "But he also doesn't want to pressure her. Having been through something similar himself, he wants to give her space and time to come to terms or to deal with the trauma."

"He knows that she will come to him or talk to him about it if and when the time's right," he says.

As supportive as he is, Heughan also notes that Jamie is "distracted" by the "external forces" that are forcing him to choose which side he'll be on in the upcoming American Revolution. Not to mention the arrival of his old Ardsmuir rival, Tom Christie.

"I guess they lose sight of each other briefly," he says of Jamie and Claire. "But obviously to get through any of these traumas, they need each other and that is the same in this case."

While book readers may initially struggle with this change from the novels (though Claire's voiceover using the Drums of Autumn ghost prologue should help), both Balfe and Heughan — who became producers during Season 5 — appear to be proud of the way Claire's trauma is being handled this season.

"It's a really tough storyline for Claire and I think Caitríona really beautifully played it," Heughan says. "She pushed the writers to really make sure that it was an honest and rewarding storyline." And onscreen, it seems it will take some gentle pushing from Jamie for Claire to realize she's not as healed as she's pretending.

Images: Starz

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