The latest episode of Outlander can be summed up entirely in two words: Bloody Brilliant!
“I dwell in darkness, Madam, and darkness is where I belong.”
With those words, Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) defines himself to the winded and wounded Claire Beauchamp (Caitriona Balfe). If she has any doubts as to his humanity or his relation to Frank, they are wiped out in that searing moment.
This is the episode for which we’ve been waiting. Yes. Yes. I know. It’s not THE WEDDING, but Black Jack’s obsession is the driving force behind the first novel in the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. His existence compels almost all the major decisions Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) makes in his life.
Yadda. Yadda. Yadda. SPOILERS ahead.
The script by co-Executive Producer Ira Steven Behr grabs the story by the balls and doesn’t let go. Sorry for the visual, but it’s what popped into my head and I write from the gut. It’s filled with humor, darkness, drama, horror, and twisted sentimentality. Black Jack and Dougal’s (Graham McTavish) characters come on strong. Claire still hasn’t learned when to keep quiet and seems to forget in which century she is living. Jamie steps up in the end to do the right thing. No Angus. I half-expected Dougal to offer the wee bugger as a bride-groom in place of Jamie, rather than Rupert as in the book. Lots to cover tonight, so let’s not delay talking about Angus, aye?
We return to the scene of Claire and Dougal by the stream with Lt. Jeremy Foster (Tom Brittney) awaiting an answer to his question of last week. From the look on Dougal’s face, he’s been waiting as long as we have.
We already know – no matter what Claire says – she’s going with the English. Of course, where Claire goes, so goes Dougal.
Although Claire doesn’t look thrilled in the picture above, she is quite happy to be among her countrymen, British soldiers no less. She is finally going home. Tra la la la la la la.
This episode is the best example of Claire’s naiveté. Even though she knows how strained relations are between the Scots and the English in 1743, she doesn’t seem to grasp how precarious her situation is as her voiceover indicates.
She and Dougal are escorted to a small Scottish village, occupied by enemy soldiers. The ever polite Lt. Foster escorts them into the upstairs banquet hall of the local inn. A party is in progress with the most gracious English officers you’d ever meet in the 18th Century – as long as you’re not a Scot.
The conversation is civilized if not pompous. Brigadier General Lord Oliver Thomas (John Heffernan), commanding officer of the Northern British Army, is thrilled to see an “English Rose” enter the room – less thrilled with the horrendous accent of the war chieftain accompanying her. I don’t think he’s ever been so close to a real Scottish warrior in his life, or he wouldn’t talk the way he does – as if Dougal cannot hear his condescension.
There is much yuck-yucking around the table until Dougal shows them he is not in the least intimidated by a room full of red coats. He suggests the General stay in London if he doesn’t like the country.
Apparently, it’s fine for the British to poke fun at the savages, but the General can’t take what he dishes out. His party face turns sour as he reminds Dougal the only reason he’s in their country is because the Scots won’t behave.
Dougal does not reply with words, but his now famous “F#@* You” face is plain.
However, the General doesn’t read my blog, so he misses it and turns back into a dancing monkey – claiming how much he would enjoy being called a Laird. He doesn’t like the idea of having to wear a woolen skirt though, and I must admit – I do not need to see him in one either.
Oh, do we feel the bristles on the back of Dougal’s neck go up when the General asks what a clansman wears under his skirt. That has to be the oldest joke in the UK.
With hands on their weapons and Dougal ready to go medieval on their asses, starting with the kind Lieutenant, Claire takes command and tells everyone to stop acting like children. The General falls even more in love with her – a common reaction around Claire. The entire scene is vastly entertaining and makes a wonderful addition to the story.
After Dougal is summarily uninvited to the party, a montage follows of Claire charming her hosts over a pleasant dinner of venison – killed by the General himself – with happy harpischord music playing in the background.
Because everyone in the room is enthralled by Claire’s beauty, they fail to see the holes in her story. She is offered an escort back to Inverness. Yay! Happiness all around.
Claire decides it’s safe to drink up and asks for more wine. She’s almost home.
Enter Black Jack Randall in grand fashion because how else would he ever make an entrance? The General throws a hand over his glass of claret, appalled at the amount of dust clinging to Randall’s uniform. He delivers one of the best lines of the show:
“You’re putting the claret at risk.”
Followed by Randall’s cocky rejoinder:
“By all means, we must protect the claret.”
Whew! Glad they’re all in agreement. If not, I thought Black Jack was ready to take off a few heads.
I’m going to stop to acknowledge from here on out, this is Black Jack’s show. We don’t need a voiceover to sense what he’s thinking or feeling. Tobias Menzies, in a performance keeping me riveted on the edge of my seat, is simply fascinating to watch. Steve McQueen, the master of dominating the silver screen while simply standing still, comes to mind while watching Mr. Menzies. I have not seen anyone command attention the way he does in this role.
Mr. Menzies brings Jonathan Wolverton Randall’s character to full life in a way not explored in the novel. Ron Moore talks about expanding the scene between Claire and Randall in order to accomplish this task. With the aid of Mr. Behr’s script and Brian Kelly’s direction, we meet the real dark menace.
Like a rose – black, of course – he reveals his petals one at a time. Within seconds, we know he thinks very little of his commanding officer and his entourage. Black Jack is a true soldier and hates being subordinate to these lesser men.
As expected, he and Claire lock eyes. Unfortunately, Claire is feeling a bit smarmy and doesn’t shy away. She holds his gaze with a “F#@* You” face to rival Jamie and Dougal’s, only with a pretty smile. I would start a countdown of all the things she does wrong in this episode, but what’s the point? We all know Claire underestimates Black Jack every time they meet.
They exchange a few pleasant words. “Na na na na na. I’m under the General’s protection, you wanker,” says Claire.
“I’m evil. No one can protect you from my wrath,” Claire completely misses – too much wine and delusions of 20th Century grandeur on her mind.
With an unexpected bit of dazzling comic timing, Black Jack continues to the door whence he came and sheds himself of road dust, stomping his boots against the door jamb and slapping his uniform into tidiness. Then he reenters the room to the General’s general chagrin and is invited to join the party.
At this point, Black Jack has completely stolen the show for me. I am happy simply to watch each facial tick, each calculated glance, each casual gesture without the aid of dialogue. If I didn’t know better, I’d say he was chewing gum. But he does speak, and his speech is pretty damn good.
The word I keep associating with Black Jack in my mind is fascinating. I am fascinated by his darkness though it hasn’t been fully revealed in the show just yet. We are introduced to it bit by bit through this episode, but we won’t truly see the depths of his darkness until Ep15.
Up until now, Claire has been interrogated by amateurs. She has no idea Black Jack’s interrogation begins the moment he sets eyes upon her. Even when not addressing her, he’s questioning her story. He already believes it’s bull, so he knows it won’t be difficult to trip her up. With a few well-placed barbs, he is able to induce exactly the response he wants from her. I think Claire needs to cut out all consumption of alcohol until she’s safely back in the 20th Century.
Going back to Ep101, when she first meets the MacKenzies in the cottage, she tells us in voiceover:
“The wisest course of action would have been to keep my head down, my mouth shut, and wait for the search parties Frank must have called out by now.”
Boy! How far she has strayed from that good advice. And how many times did we mentally scream out.
Stop talking, Claire!
Black Jack starts out easy, making a general statement about how the Scots and the English can’t be friends, and jumps right into . . . so Claire and Dougal must be sharing a bed. I’m kind of getting the sense no matter what you say or do as woman in the 18th Century, all the men pretty much think you’re a whore – unless you’re sleeping with said man.
Claire responds with the usual huffy:
“How dare you!?”
and is defended by the General who also thinks she’s a whore, but a nice one he’d like to boink until she starts spouting off about the Scots:
“. . . wanting the same freedoms we enjoy.”
Shut up, Claire.
The faces around the table grow less friendly. Black Jack all but laughs at how easy that was. Of course, the officer to the right of General Dancing Monkey looks exactly the same as he does in the happy picture up above. He must have been smiling inside. Black Jack snickers.
Right on a cue, a soldier bursts into the room declaring attack from a band of rebels. One of their own is wounded. Claire to the rescue. She rushes down to the tap room where Dougal is relieved to see her and is well past ready to get the heck out of Dodge. Claire assures him she is fine and insists he leave in the event the English start pointing fingers.
What follows is a lovely amputation scene with squirting blood, sawing through flesh sounds, screaming, and a table of local Scots barely letting the impromptu surgery interrupt their meal. Ah, it’s entertainment!
Now we get to the nitty gritty. Claire finishes her nursing duties and traipses back upstairs to ask her new friends what time the stagecoach leaves. Alas, she finds the room emptied. Only Black Jack remains with the poor Corporal assigned the task of giving the Captain a close shave.
Claire’s mind immediately flashes back to an intimate scene early in her marriage where she is pampering Frank with the very same straight razor cutting a close shave across Black Jack’s face.
Like the cut to Culloden in Ep105 RENT, the time shift is jarring, more so because it’s personal to Claire. In the novel, we know she’s comparing her husband to his ancestor, searching for commonality. This vision of him using what will some day become Frank’s razor presents a false sense of familiarity with this man.
The scene between Claire and Frank above is quite tender and perfectly placed as we transition from one man in love to another. Black Jack is in full control of the situation, merely toying with Claire. She still has not grasped how out of her league she is with this man.
For the next 20 minutes, we are in Black Jack’s mind. There are no voiceover interruptions from Claire to break the spell. He asks her to tell him who she is knowing she is going to lie. As she weaves her sad tale of love gone wrong, Black Jack watches with a dispassionate face, almost bored with her transparency. A few moments pass where he looks about to laugh. There is no challenge here.
Claire finishes her weak story, adding a few tears to sell it. Without a word, Black Jack rises and busies himself sharpening a charcoal pencil almost as if Claire is not in the room. If she’s going to waste his time, he might as well make the best of it. Claire follows his every movement in confused wonder.
This is the beginning of my favorite scene. It’s something that needs to be watched with rapt attention, not described in a summary. Black Jack reveals the beauty of his darkness to Claire, something I don’t believe he’s done with anyone else in his life. He make a confession to her, not to seek forgiveness but to share his favorite memory.
That it involves Jamie, I don’t need to tell you. This is where the script takes a huge departure from the novel and what makes this episode so bloody brilliant. In the novel, the tale of Jamie’s flogging is told by Dougal from a heroic point of view. Jamie is brave. Jamie withstands more than Dougal could have. Dougal tries to save him by paying Black Jack a ransom of sorts.
While there is nothing wrong with telling the story through Dougal’s eyes, what element is missing is subjectivity. Dougal can only imagine the suffering and pain Jamie endures. During the original telling, Randall is a black figure with no emotion.
By giving the story to Black Jack Randall to relive, we feel both his rapture and Jamie’s agony On the first stroke of the whip, Randall talks about pacing himself. This is something he wants to enjoy and make last. With each successive stroke of the whip, he talks about not feeling pity for the boy and fondly recalls the
“sheer judder of the whip coursing up my arm . . . exploding into my heart.”
A masterpiece, Black Jack calls not only Jamie’s back but their connection. He may not pity him, but he admires, hates, and loves this boy with each stroke. He wants to break him, but loves and admires him more for remaining strong. Perhaps he feels Jamie is the only person worthy of his affections – not forgetting about A, of course.
The scene of the flogging is appropriately gruesome, and Sam Heughan’s performance is on par with Tobias Menzies’. Not only is it visually appalling, but the sound of each stroke makes it more real. I have a rather high tolerance for movie gore so was not bothered by the scene. Jamie’s deterioration is impressive to watch, and Randall’s degeneration continues to fascinate.
During the narration, I enjoy watching Mr. Menzies’ face. He is sentimental but not gushing. The parallels between Frank’s tenderness for Claire and Black Jack’s passion for Jamie are eery and perfectly performed. How horrifying for Claire to watch the same emotions cross Black Jack’s face as those to cross her husband’s. Because we aren’t privy to her thoughts, we can only wonder if this is the moment she recognizes the depth of Black Jack’s feelings for Jamie.
Once the tale ends, Black Jack looks on Claire with a passive face while she shows heartbreak for Jamie and him. It makes me ask if he’s disappointed she doesn’t see the beauty in his creation – maybe even disgusted. No one seems to understand him. Did he hope she would? Perhaps not.
In any case, he goes back to playing his game of pretending he has a soul that didn’t expire long ago and letting her think there can be a joyful ending to their meeting. We reach another departure from the novel here – an extension of Black Jack’s character.
Calling a Corporal Hawkins (Edmund Digby-Jones) into the room as he gentlemanly assists a happy Claire up from her chair, Randall punches her in the gut, taking her completely unaware.
While she’s down on the ground, trying to recover her breath, he whispers in her ear my favorite Black Jack line:
“I dwell in darkness, Madam, and darkness is where I belong. I need no sympathy from you, and you will get none from me.”
Turning Claire onto her side, Black Jack orders Hawkins to kick her, telling him “it’s very freeing.” He really does live in a different reality than the rest of the world. What’s so freeing about kicking a woman? I’d like to know. Corporal Hawkins doesn’t look convinced when he taps Claire with the toe of his boot.
More terrified of his superior officer than the angels weeping down on him, the milksop kicks her for real upon Black Jack’s insistent and loud urging. Before he can kick her a third time, Uncle Dougal bursts through the door.
Much chest thumping ensues, and Dougal threatens war with clan MacKenzie. Black Jack doesn’t feel like starting a war today, so backs down and politely requests Claire be delivered to Fort William by sundown of the next day upon penalty of death to Dougal and anyone else who harbors the dangerous fugitive.
Claire and Dougal hightail it out of the village – friends of my enemy sort of friends – and stop for a refreshing drink of water at St. Ninian’s your-gizzard-will-burst-if-you-tell-a-lie spring. Not quite sure why he didn’t bring her here a long time ago if he really believes in this mumbo-jumbo, or perhaps send Ang or Rup to fill a canteen to make her drink, but whatever . . . We’re here now.
Dougal asks her for the last time:
“Are you a spy for the English or the French?”
Claire’s had just about enough of interrogation and spits out:
“I am plain Claire Beauchamp and nothing more.”
Well, okay then. He believes her. Now, down to business. She can either A) be turned over to the English, imprisoned, questioned none too politely, tortured almost certainly or B) become a Scot by marriage. Yeah, choice B sounds good as long as it’s not Angus. I’d have to give that some thought.
Here, Dougal is awarded his best line of the series thus far when Claire asks if he’s to be her bridegroom.
“Well, I must admit, the idea of grinding your corn does tickle me, but it’s not myself I’d be nominating for the position.”
If you’re a fan of the novel, you know why Dougal can’t marry her. If you don’t know, I’ll tell ya. For one thing, he’s married. For another thing, he can never be clan chief if he takes an English wife.
Oh, who does that leave? Besides Claire’s best friend, Ang, there’s Rupert or Willie or some other red-shirt Highlander, but none of them are in line to be Laird of clan MacKenzie and in direct competition with Dougal. So . . . Jamie it is.
The engagement is short and sweet. I like Claire and Jamie having a moment alone to discuss the matter, though there’s not much to discuss. She’s in a pickle, and he wants to put his pickle inside her. Plus, he doesn’t mind turning the screws on Black Jack Randall.
The show ends with one of our all-time favorite quotes by Jamie when Claire asks if he minds she’s not a virgin:
“Well, uh, no. So long as it doesna bother you that I am.”
Pause for effect on Cougar Claire’s stunned face. It also serves to give the women in the audience who have never read the books a moment to collect themselves. Plus, all the women who have read the books are now squealing with delight that Jamie actually said the line the way they always imagined him saying it.
“I reckon one of us should ken what they’re doing.”
he adds with an excited inhalation of air before striding off.
Claire follows later and crashes Jamie’s bachelor party, grabbing a bottle from Dougal’s hand – hopefully not the only spirit left in camp. Happy Wedding Day!
Much attention was given to Graham McTavish’s powerful performance last week. This week, Tobias Menzies is the toast of Outlander. Both gentleman rightfully deserve the accolades, but I wanted to raise a glass to the continuation of Caitriona Balfe’s weekly performances. She’s so perfect in the role of Claire Randall, it’s easy to forget she’s acting. I almost feel like I take her excellence for granted sometimes.
This week’s episode may very well have been her most difficult challenge, playing against Tobias Menzies’ Black Jack Randall – not because of his mesmerizing portrayal, but because she’s the only actor playing with such a strong inner conflict.
Claire is of a different time, speaking with a man who resembles someone she loves. This is a dual aspect she must carry through every scene with him, and she does it well. We see the change in her at the end when she finally realizes she is completely cut off from Frank. Up until the moment Randall punches her, she feels a connection to her future through him.
I can safely say this is one of my two favorite episodes so far this season. THE GATHERING still continues to hold sway with me because of Sam Heughan’s performance. In Ep104, we meet the real James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. In Ep106, we meet the real Jonathan Wolverton Randall. Heaven help us when these two men come together.
My expectations for Ep107 THE WEDDING are in a quandary because the romance factor has been subdued the last few episodes. I don’t want to watch Jamie and Claire have sex – okay, I do – but I want them to feel something. I want them to feel what they both feel in the novel. Having said that, I continue to have faith in this production team and the actors. I believe they will melt our hearts next week.
Outlander Episode #107: THE WEDDING airs on Starz on Saturday, 20 September in the U.S.