In defense of Laoghaire, the Rebecca Bunch of Outlander


Laoghaire is either a stock villain or a just girl in love, who can’t be held responsible for her actions. It’s all a matter of perspective.

There’s not much love lost for Laoghaire MacKenzie, Jamie’s second wife on Outlander. Nell Hudson’s character originally came on the scene as the Castle Leoch girl Jamie had a fling with before he realized (or admitted to himself) that Claire is his soulmate. Once our heroes got married, however, Laoghaire (pronounced like “leery”) began wreaking emotional and literal havoc. She tried to seduce Jamie shortly after his marriage, planted an “ill wish” (basically a cursed bundle of twigs) under his and Claire’s bed, framed Claire for witchcraft in a time when it was a crime comparable to murder and shot Jamie.

In short, Laoghaire is presented as a villain and the audience sees her as a villain. But after watching last week’s “First Wife” and the most recent episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend in the same 24 hours, I feel like someone needs to stand up for Laoghaire. Sure, she’s a baddie from where we’re standing, but it’s not like she’s the villain in her own story.

In “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Is Crazy,” Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom) implicitly defends herself and every other scorned woman when she compliments Erika Christensen in Swimfan:

"Erika Christensen is so strong and brave in that movie. I mean, I know she’s technically the villain and a ‘murderer,’ but you know what? She is treated so unfairly. Like, [the main character] tells her that he cares about her and then casts her aside, like she’s garbage. I mean, I totally get it."

Thanks to the way Rebecca frames the situation, we get it, too. And we get that, despite the objectively terrible things she has done since the beginning of Crazy Ex, Rebecca is not a terrible person. The truth of the matter is she feels used and discarded by Josh and, like anyone, wants her pain to be acknowledged. How she goes about getting that acknowledgement is not good to say the least, but it comes from a place we can all recognize.

Same goes for Laoghaire.

Our knee-jerk instinct might be to boo when Laoghaire interrupts the newly reunited Claire and Jamie in “First Wife.” And that instinct is justified when she practically spits a bunch of pejoratives at Claire, the most printable of which is “Sassenach witch.” And, of course, we are all disgusted when she tries to shoot Claire in a jealous rage and ends up hitting Jamie instead.

To be clear, I’m not condoning these actions. But, after taking a minute to consider how Laoghaire feels, I, like Rebecca, get it.

Imagine that the guy you’ve been in love with forever takes a beating so you won’t have to. And what if he kisses you and seems to want to start something before he leaves on an annual trip with his uncle? How would you take it if, without any forewarning, he returns from his regularly scheduled outing with a wife — the very woman who encouraged him to pursue you?

You’d probably be crushed. And sometimes doing something, even something you know is wrong (like making accusations of witchcraft), is preferable to sitting around and feeling devastated.

And that’s not all, folks! After 18 years of getting on with her life, having children, losing two husbands, and suffering some hinted-at trauma, Laoghaire’s long-dormant dream finally comes true: she weds a now-widowed Jamie. Almost immediately Jamie decides the marriage isn’t working and bails. After a couple of years of living separately from him, Laoghaire discovers one day that Jamie has snuck back to his family home with his first wife, who apparently is not dead after all.

If you were in Laoghaire’s shoes, you’d be furious, too. Hopefully not furious enough to come at the first wife with a pistol, but furious nonetheless. Jamie has run hot and cold on Laoghaire since the beginning. It’s hard for us to see that since he is a protagonist, not to mention kind, handsome and charming. He is the romantic hero of Outlander, but he isn’t in Laoghaire’s story. Or, at least, Jamie’s not the romantic hero Laoghaire longs for him to be.

Next: Outlander S3E8 recap and review: First Wife

We (including me) can get so caught up in the romance of Outlander that we forget that there are actually characters besides Claire and Jamie, characters who have their own thoughts, motivations, and emotions. Laoghaire is a peripheral character, but she doesn’t see herself that way. She sees herself as a victim of Jamie’s whims and Claire’s manipulation. With 20-plus years of unrequited love, repeated rejection, and intermittent love kernels, it’s no wonder Laoghaire snaps in “First Wife.”

Rebecca and I get it, Laoghaire. Rebecca and I get it.