Caitriona Balfe Talks Us Through Claire's Tragedy On Outlander (Spoilers)

Photo: Courtesy of Starz.
Pictured: Caitriona Balfe as Claire Fraser.
Warning: This article contains spoilers from Saturday's episode (#207) of Outlander. Read at your own risk.

Anyone who has read Diana Gabaldon's books knew it was coming, as did anyone who did the math when Claire told Frank she was pregnant with Jamie's child in the Outlander season 2 premiere. That didn't make the events of Saturday night's episode, "Faith," any easier to process. (For a full recap of the episode, click here.)

Last week's episode ended with a heavily pregnant Claire (Caitriona Balfe) collapsing in pain and bleeding on a field outside Paris. On Saturday, the show didn't flinch from revealing the bad news: The baby, a girl that the nuns at L'Hôpital des Anges had christened Faith, was stillborn. We saw the mourning mother's anguish on both an emotional and physical level, with placenta-triggered bacteria coursing through her feverish, wrecked body. She wept, she screamed, she raged at her husband. And as we saw in a flashback at the episode's end, she spent a full day clinging to her dead daughter's lifeless body.

It's certainly not the first time miscarriage has been addressed on TV. Characters on series like Big Love, Gossip Girl, Sex and the City, and Downton Abbey have had miscarriages. To show a stillborn delivery, however, is rarer. Grey's Anatomy tackled the topic with characters Jackson and April last February. Last Thursday, the on-off couple welcomed a healthy baby girl.

Dr. Marni Rosner, a New York City-based psychotherapist specializing in infertility and grief, told Refinery29 that infertility is often an "off-the-radar" topic in the world of TV and film. She praised Outlander's portrayal of the stillbirth, citing the importance of showing Claire holding her baby, a common practice for grieving parents.

"I thought the stillbirth scene, and how the stillbirth was addressed subsequently, was handled beautifully," Rosner said. "The writer and director portrayed the experience accurately and Claire’s grief was handled in an ideal, even textbook, manner."

Photo: Courtesy of Starz.
Pictured: Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Balfe) mourn their daughter.
The scenes were devastating to watch, and the Outlander cast and crew went to great lengths to make sure they treated the tragedy with respect. Much of that burden fell to Balfe.

"When I got the script that Toni Graphia wrote, it was just so beautiful, and she filled it with so much care," Balfe told Refinery29 via phone last week. "I remember crying when I read the script for the first time and thinking, Ah, this is so heartbreaking."

To prepare for this storyline, Balfe read books on grief, including Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights, memoirs in which the author recounts the loss of her husband and daughter. The Irish actress also tapped into the experiences of loved ones that she'd witnessed.

"I think everyone knows someone who has gone through something like this," she explained. "If you have women in your life, it’s unfortunately quite a common thing for people to experience miscarriage. I know some people who have — and not that I went back and asked them about it, because I think that would be disrespectful — but I’ve listened and I’ve seen some people close to me go through that heartbreak. I think that drove me even more to want to hold a space for Claire’s grief in a respectful way."

The hospital scenes were shot at the historic Glasgow Cathedral for a week, a process that Balfe calls "draining and tough." The cathedral, which dates back to the 1100s, provided an inspiration of sorts for the actress.

"It's a beautiful old building that has many different chapels within it," she said. "When we were shooting, I would go and sit in one of the little chapels upstairs. I was very struck by the fact that thousands of women must have come to this place seeking comfort and solace for similar things like this. In a weird way, I felt like this energy was in the stones of the building. I just tried to tap into this collective grief that was already there."

For writer Toni Graphia, who penned the script, showing the impact of the stillbirth on Jamie and Claire's marriage was crucial. That resulted in the flashback at the end of the episode, which allowed both Jamie and viewers to fully grasp Claire's harrowing experience and her anger at her absent spouse, who was arrested for dueling Black Jack Randall right as Claire began miscarrying.

"I definitely felt that I wanted to show the toll that it takes on Claire and on the marriage," Graphia explained in a phone interview. "A lot of couples who lose a child like that break up, because they are not able to process it and they can’t comfort each other because they’re both in so much pain. This marriage is unbreakable. We didn’t want it to be simple. We wanted to show the cost of it and how they fight to come back together."

The episode ended with the reunited Frasers saying goodbye to Faith at her grave. The trauma of her death will certainly continue to haunt the couple as they try to rebuild their life back in Scotland. And if the sensitivity and care of this episode is any indication, Claire and Jamie have a long road of healing in front of them.

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