Outlander – Season 1 Episode 15
Only one more episode of the first season of Outlander to go and I’m not sure how much more brutality I can handle from this show. I don’t say that as a bad thing because it’s quite the opposite and it’s a testament to how good this show is that I can keep watching it despite the horrific things the characters go through.
This episode was a stark contrast to the last couple of weeks having more external locations that gave the show a sense of scope. Most of this episode was set in dark and dingy claustrophobic locations in an attempt to make the viewer feel as uncomfortable as the characters do in this situation.
Jamie is saved from a hanging by “Black Jack” Randall and anyone who watches this show will realise that this cannot end well for Jamie. Randall has been obsessed with Jamie and Claire pretty much since the beginning so it’s always clear that he has his own motives whenever he does anything.
In this case, he really wants Jamie to surrender to him completely. He wants an admission that while Jamie managed to escape Fort William, he hasn’t managed to escape him. If he complies then Jamie gets to die on his own terms rather than suffer the long, drawn out and undoubtedly humiliating death at the hands of Randall.
Jamie is a proud man who won’t let Randall win like that so naturally refuses and in return he suffers some of the worst scenes of violent torture I have ever seen. I found it really difficult to watch Randall brutalise Jamie in many painful ways. As I’ve said in other reviews I don’t really like graphic violence so this was definitely a difficult thing to watch.
It’s so difficult for me in part because I am really invested in the characters on this show and care what happens to them week on week. Jamie is so well developed that seeing him go through this isn’t an easy thing. Sam Heughan does a fantastic job of portraying the fear, anger and pain that Jamie is feeling as he goes through this. His hatred for Randall has always been clear but here it comes across more than ever.
Randall predictably uses Claire as a bargaining chip. Jamie lets Randall have him in exchange for her release which shows that he is entirely devoted to her and the man that he is won’t let her undergo the horrific treatment that Randall will undoubtedly subject her to.
Naturally this episode keeps the interactions between Randall and Jamie at the center of everything. Jamie’s scars serve as a constant reminder of everything that Randall did to him and the permanent nature of them could translate to the psychological scars that he will ultimately take with him after this ordeal is over. Jamie will definitely be changed by this experience and I’m fascinated to see how this change will play out.
Randall is a character who appears frequently and has long stretches of dialogue that bring the audience into his thought process. There’s no attempt made in the script to elicit sympathy from the viewer or even understand why he is the way he is. He is simply a monster but he has no guilt over what he does or how he does it. The writing and acting is strong enough that his villainy never comes across as cartoonish. He just seems like a guy who really loves his job and is a complete sociopath. Tobias Menzies consistently makes Randall believable without being over the top.
The acting in general between Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies was incredible. Heughan plays Jamie as strong yet vulnerable. I could almost see the wheels turning as Jamie seriously considered the various deals that were thrown his way. Obviously he would never take them but what sane human being wouldn’t at least consider them? Especially when put under that much pressure. Tobias Menzies plays Randall as both ruthless and uncompromising. It’s clear that he takes pleasure from Jamie’s suffering and the fact that it’s a perverse sexual pleasure only makes the whole thing all the more unsettling.
I love the interplay between these two actors. Heughan manages to put across the disdain mixed with fear as well as the inner strength that defines Jamie’s character while Menzies puts across how sadistic Randall is as well as the intense pleasure he feels at being in control of the situation. Their scenes together are very impressive to watch and the performances keep everything compelling.
Caitriona Balfe was no slouch this week either. She expertly transitions Claire from being calm and manipulative to breaking down when she learns that Jamie is alive. Her strongest moment comes when she uses her future knowledge to try to make Randall believe that she’s actually a witch. She tells him the exact day of his death but whispers it to make it seem even more intimidating. It also helps that she’s not telling the audience when it happens so that when he does die then it won’t have been so obviously foreshadowed.
The only thing that didn’t really work for me here is Claire and Murtagh coming up with a plan to save Jamie. Apparently it involves 21 cows in some way. It just felt like information that we didn’t need to receive yet as the finale will probably be almost completely focused on the rescue. It wasn’t a bad scene but felt really out of place and took some of the sting out of the intensity of the rest of the episode.
Another outstanding episode that brilliantly showcases the considerable talents of the Outlander cast when it comes to dramatic acting.
Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies were incredible in their performances here. Heughhan gives Jamie a sense of fear and vulnerability while remaining strong at the hands of “Black Jack” Randall. Tobias Menzies plays Randall as intimidating and ruthless. He is always uncompromising and clearly a sadist who enjoys every terrible thing his authority gives him the power to do.
Randall has a personal vendetta against Jamie and Claire who have been the focus of his obsession pretty much since the beginning so it makes sense that Randall would take great pleasure in having this much power over him. In this case he wants Jamie to surrender to him completely and admit that despite the escape from Fort William Jamie could never truly escape him. He gets a perverse sexual pleasure out of torturing him in search for this apology and it’s very distressing to watch.
The interplay between the characters was great. It’s clear that Jamie is doing everything he can to not give in and his facial expressions betray a little temptation when deals are presented to him. Moments like this make him human and his decision not to succumb to that temptation to protect Claire shows how strong he is as well as how deep his devotion to Claire is.
Caitriona Balfe has some great moments as she transitions from being calm and manipulative to breaking down when she realises Jamie is alive. I loved the scene where she told Randall that she was a witch and cursed him with the information about the exact day of his death. It was kept from the audience so that we’re still in suspense over when it might happen but that scene was very well done.
The only thing that didn’t work for me was Claire and Murtagh discussing their plan to save Jamie that apparently involves 21 cows. It was a fine scene but probably should have been left for next week. It sort of took a little bit of the sting out of the intensity that was the rest of the episode.