Outlander – Season 1 Episode 16
“To Ransom a Man’s Soul”
Outlander season 1 comes to an end and brings with it a massive level of intensity that holds the audience attention throughout.
The previous episode was really graphic in the portrayal of torture that Jamie was experiencing at the hands of “Black Jack” Randall but this episode made that episode look tame by comparison. What was depicted here was incredibly unsettling to watch and probably means that I won’t be able to sit through this episode again.
I won’t count that against the episode at large because that’s my personal issue and not the fault of the show that I can barely stomach it. There will be those that are able to handle that a lot better than I can and I say more power to them.
A lot of similar violent abuse depictions in film or TV seem to be just for shock value rather than serving any real story purpose but that certainly isn’t the case here. The episode structures Randall’s treatment of Jamie as a traumatic event that is being relived as Jamie lies in bed trying to recover. “To Ransom a Man’s Soul” proves to be an appropriate title as Jame’s soul has been irreparably stained by this idea. I appreciated the cutting back and forth to it as well as it provided a welcome break from the intensity of it all. Nothing about this was even the least bit sensationalised. It was constantly depicted as brutal and demeaning as it should be. I appreciated the execution but as I said it was all a bit much for me to look at.
Randall proves himself to be a truly evil character as he does whatever he can to tear Jamie apart on a personal level. His tactics range from physical to psychological acts of torture. Arguably the most heinous of these is when he pretends to be Claire in order to plant seeds of hate and mistrust for when he is returned to her. This shows that Randall is truly an expert in this sort of treatment and knows his opponent well when turning his skills on Jamie. Throughout this season Jamie as always been depicted as a strong man who could bounce back from most physical injuries. The most prominent example being when Randall inflicted his scars on him in the first place. Logically the only way to really do permanent damage to Jamie -short of killing him but there’s no pleasure in that- is to stain his soul in a way that will be difficult to come back from.
Turning him against Claire by having him associate these acts with her on a subconscious level is the perfect way to drive them apart in the way that Randall has always wanted. Their connection has always been a strong one and Randall definitely resents that for his own reasons so to be the cause of their relationship being destroyed is absolutely a massive victory for him.
Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies turn in excellent performances throughout this whole ordeal. Menzies playing Jack with a tenderness and soft toned voice makes what Randall is doing even more sickening and Sam Heughan manages to keep Jamie strong but shows his resolve waver subtly over time. There’s a real sense that he is being torn apart and Heughan manages to portray that very powerfully.
Couple this with the excellent writing and direction and the drama is carried through the tenderness of the actions. Everything about this episode makes softness out to be a terrible thing as it causes the most damage. As I said, it was very difficult to watch.
Claire has the task of trying to get Jamie through this mess and help him recover both physically and mentally. Naturally this isn’t an easy task as Jamie lies in bed almost catatonic as Claire does everything she can to help him. Sam Heughan has always been good at putting things across without speech and really knocks it out of the park here. There was a near deadness to his facial expression and his eyes that shows a man broken by his experiences and provides a fascinating contrast with Caitriona Balfe’s determined expressions showing how focused Claire is on helping her husband.
The physical manifestations of Randall’s handiwork were an interesting parallel to the emotional turmoil. When Claire was working on making sure his hand would heal there was a sense of hope starting to build in the episode. If Jamie’s body could heal then maybe his soul could as well. My squeamish nature made it difficult for me to watch Claire operate on his hand but the symbolism associated with it was a nice touch. I also found it interesting that the knowledge of Randall’s brand on Jamie’s skin wasn’t revealed until much later. It suggests that no matter how much work Claire does to heal Jamie it won’t be enough as long as he has that.
Claire’s tactics for dealing with Jamie’s issues developed in a really clever way. At first she was almost trying to mother him by using kindness to try and coax him back into something resembling lucidity. This doesn’t work at all as he still lies there asking for death. He admits to himself that he’s broken and doesn’t want to recover so it will take a lot more than kind words and leaving him to it to snap him out of this.
Her second tactic involves facing him with the smells and a facsimile of the treatment he received at the hands of Randall. She basically attacks him and forces him to defend himself. As I said before Jamie has always responded with strength when met with strength so this speaks more to him as a person. He is brought enough out of his daze to begin the healing process and has the brand removed to symbolise the beginning of this. I found this all to be incredibly powerful and I also like that it isn’t portrayed as a complete recovery. By the end of the episode Jamie is still limping and having trouble dealing with what he went through. His physical and mental injuries are symbolically tied together so he still has a long way to go.
Having the episode end with Jamie and Claire leaving for France sets up next season to be something very different. I wonder how much time will be spent in France next season and what that will look like to see the French in that time period. The discussion about changing the future is something that the sci fi nerd in me can’t wait to see developed. Will they succeed or will they learn that it can’t be done? It could be that in this universe time travel is predestined so therefore nothing can be changed. Claire might have a specific part to play in history before she can return to her own. The rules haven’t been explained yet so it provides some fascinating fodder for speculation as the series goes on and the characters learn more about the rules. Claire’s pregnancy should make things more interesting as well. I wonder if her child is historically significant.
I found the rescue attempt to be really underwhelming and very disjointed. It was definitely a clever use of the cows but it was very difficult to figure out what was going on and where everyone was. There have been more coherent actions sequences in this show before so I found this one really disappointing.
A really strong finale that doesn’t shy away from intense character changing actions and treatment.
Randall’s physical and mental abuse of Jamie takes the central focus of this episode and it’s very difficult to watch. On a personal note I will have trouble watching this episode again after this as it was all a bit too much for me but I do appreciate that the episode didn’t sensationalise any of it. The portrayal was intimate and brutal on almost every level.
Randall inflicts some serious physical abuse on Jamie but it’s the mental attack that makes the ordeal worse. The fact that he pretends to be Claire to psychologically associate her with this experience is one of the most devious things I’ve seen someone do. Randall keeps raising the bar for terrible things and the fact that he seems to hate the connection between Claire and Jamie for his own reasons makes this personal for him too.
Tobias Menzies and Sam Heughan both turn in exceptional performances in this episode. Menzies is very sinister as he talks to Jamie tenderly and Heughan manages to keep Jamie strong but shows his resolve eroding away very effectively. Sam Heughan has always managed to convey so much using facial expressions and this episode is a great example of that.
Claire has the task of trying to put Jamie back together physically and emotionally. It is noted that the physical healing is relatively easy but the fact that Jamie is effectively broken and doesn’t want to get better makes the whole situation all the more difficult. There’s a deadness to Jamie that shows how deeply affected he is and Claire’s eventual approach to attack Jamie into snapping out of it is an inspired choice that shows how deep their connection is.
Having Jamie remove the brand that Randall had him place on himself is a symbolic gesture that suggests the start of the healing process for him. There’s a long way to go of course but he’s on a positive road to recovery after being forced to confront his recent issues.
The episode ending with Claire pregnant and on her way to France with Jamie should make the next season interesting. I wonder if they’ll stay in France for a while or not and how their plans to change the future will pan out. I am very excited for next season.
One thing that brought this episode down was the rescue attempt. It was very unclear what was happening and who was placed where. The cows were used effectively but it wasn’t all that coherent. There have been better action sequences on this show that’s for sure.