Outlander – Season 2 Episode 5
The stakes rise in Outlander as Captain “Black Jack” Randall makes his return to show Jamie and Claire that they are not safe in France.
It was always going to happen, there’s no way to not have a threat like that still out there and not capitalise on it. I’ll admit that I didn’t think it would be so soon but the handling of it suggests that it’s going to be a slow burn. It took a while for the threat he represents to manifest itself last season to it makes sense that the same would happen here.
Randall’s return was actually pretty understated in its execution. There was no fanfare about it as he simply appeared. I liked this as it gave his return more impact with the audience being as surprised as Claire was. The ensuing discussions were absolutely dripping with tension as Claire was clearly uncomfortable but couldn’t explain well. Caitriona Balfe played Clare as if she was screaming internally and conveyed this using nothing more than facial expressions and awkward body language.
Fortunately the King picked up on this and took to belittling Randall in front of everyone. Randall has always coasted by on fear and respect so having these two things taken away from him through the course of a simple conversation is fairly damning. The way he makes fun of Randall’s attempt to speak french and makes him get down on his knees as a mark of respect while enjoying the power he has over him was hilarious yet didn’t take away from the tension that filled the scene.
So much is put across here without dialogue as it’s clear that the King picks up on Claire’s discomfort and puts his support behind her. It shows how well Claire and Jamie have slotted into French culture that the can have such a powerful ally. Randall may have a lot of trouble getting to them with this sort of support behind them.
Jamie’s reaction to seeing Randall isn’t what I expected it to be but made sense nonetheless. He is clearly taken aback but doesn’t react violently or angrily, he simply gets on with what he was doing which shows that his commitment to his role in French society is something he holds in very high regard and he isn’t so consumed by his emotions that he would risk derailing that. Revenge is something he can clearly wait for and Randall’s presence should afford plenty of opportunities for that. The smug look on his face as the King belittles Randall was a really nice touch. It isn’t anywhere near the revenge he wants but it’s clearly a good start and he is fairly content with that for now.
After the King is out of sight he immediately challenges Randall to a duel as Claire looks on in horror. We see the exchange from her perspective so don’t immediately know what he is doing but we are right there with Claire as she is terrified about what might be going on. The conversation happening out of earshot works really well and Randall’s simple gesture of putting his hand on Jamie’s chest is a chilling reminder of the power he still has over him.
The duel presents another problem as Claire knows that Randall needs to survive at least long enough to conceive a child with Mary so that Frank can be born. If Jamie kills him before that happens then Frank will never be born. Despite her desire to change the timeline there are certain things that she wants to return to and Frank is definitely one of them so she doesn’t want to be part of a situation that would prevent his birth.
Jamie is determined to go through with the duel to get his revenge. He discusses strategy with Murtagh and wants to ensure his victory while still giving Randall something of a fair fight because otherwise the revenge wouldn’t be real. Claire tries to appeal for him to change his mind by reminding him that duelling is illegal in France and their child would be without a father if he ends up in prison or worse. Murtagh and Jamie seem to have thought of all that which forces her to tell him the real reason for wanting him to back down.
This is something that Jamie really doesn’t appreciate as he is still haunted by what Randall did to him. Claire pleading for his life for her own reasons isn’t easy for Jamie to accept and he makes a comment about always being the one to compromise. The line “Must I bear everyone’s weakness?” sums up his frustration perfectly and Sam Heughan’s performance really puts that across. As far as he’s concerned killing Randall will bring him the peace he desires and let him overcome the feelings on inadequacy he feels all the time. Revenge has consumed him so completely that his own self worth is tied to it. It’s hard for him to really care about someone who won’t be born for centuries when his head is full of that.
Claire pleads with him to wait a year and then he can have the revenge that he wants and Jamie agrees but it’s clear that he would rather not. He reminds her of everything he has done and how deep an effect he has had on their relationship. There is also the issue of all of the atrocities he has yet to commit that seem to be ignored because of the existence of one man. It’s interesting that Claire tells Jamie that he owes her this for all she has done for him which really surprises Jamie as it seems like she is defining their relationship as some sort of scorecard which is not how he views it. Since she uses that way to describe it he agrees because he always pays his debts which puts a real distance between them on this issue. It’s interesting that Jamie and Claire seem both intimate and distanced in the same scene which shows how layered their relationship is that these complexities come through so easily. I wonder how this will continue to develop throughout the season as having Randall hanging around definitely won’t make things easy.
Claire’s devotion to making sure Frank is born links into the overall theme of the morality of time travel that is explored in this episode. The fallout from Mary’s rape in the previous episode is also connected to the existence of Frank. There’s a really good scene between Mary and Claire where they discuss what happened to her. Mary feels shame after what happened and the experience has changed her in a way that she doesn’t feel comfortable with. She also fears becoming pregnant after this. Claire puts her fear to rest on that and tells her that the attack wasn’t her fault so she has nothing to be afraid of.
Mary writes a letter clearing Alex Randall of all charges since he didn’t do it. She thinks that he is a good man and hopes that the attack won’t put him off her as she wants to marry him. Naturally this doesn’t work for Claire as she knows that Mary has to have a child with Alex’s brother so that Frank can be born. This creates an issue for her as she deliberates over posting the letter that clears Alex’s name. If she doesn’t do it then Alex stays in prison and is out of the way but it also means that a good, kind man rots in prison for something he didn’t do. Claire has mentioned that Alex is nothing like his brother so she can’t fool herself into thinking that he deserves to be locked up.
The conversation with Mary is important in reinforcing the fact that she is so much more than a cog in the timeline designed only to play her part and nothing else. She is a person that Claire likes and cares for so doing things that may harm her isn’t easy since Claire sees the person she would be bringing harm to.
It all somewhat works out when she decides not to let Alex rot in prison and manages to convince him to let Mary go since he is not a well man and doesn’t want to condemn her to a life of essentially being his nurse. Claire pushes Alex into this decision and preys on Alex’s kind nature to make him do what she thinks is best for Mary. I use the word “preys” very carefully as that is exactly what Claire does here. She takes advantage of the fact that Alex is a good man who wants to do right for the woman he loves so he agrees to step back and let Mary live the life he thinks that she deserves. It really is a horrible thing for Claire to do and the regret can be seen clearly on her face.
She is literally stealing happiness away from two people who love each other but she is committed to making sure that Frank lives and this seems to be the only way to do it. It’s particularly sinister that she does this from the point of view of a friend looking out for another friend when that isn’t actually the intention. I don’t dispute that she cares about Mary but wanting what is best for her isn’t the reason she encourages Alex to step back. Ensuring that Mary ends up with Alex’s brother is pretty much the opposite. What ever way you look at it Claire is manipulating people to suit her own objectives and that doesn’t strike me as being all that noble. Is the price of what she wants too high?
I can’t help but wonder if recorded history is somehow wrong and Frank is actually descended from Alex Randall. It seems unlikely given the identical resemblance he has to “Black Jack” Randall but it’s hard not to consider it.
The production team are smart to focus on the characters and the morality in this episode because the rest of it feels like the narrative is spinning its wheels. Jamie meets with Prince Charles and they discuss the usual topic of the upcoming rebellion and the financing. It’s a conversation that feels redundant as we’ve had it so many times so far that it feels as if it has been given too much time. I understand that this information needs to be conveyed but it is all so factual with only minimal characterisation that it slows things down. Clunky exposition feels so far beneath this show that it’s a shame to see it used so extensively. The scene where Jamie and the Duke of Sandringham express regret at having to maintain a business relationship when they hate each other was pretty solid but it didn’t go deep enough into exploring their hatred for me.
Another great episode that reintroduces “Black Jack” Randall as a threat to Jamie and Claire while exploring the morality of time travel and what it means to change the future. Claire’s manipulation of Alex to dissuade him from marrying Mary puts her into a real moral grey area that is interesting to explore. She is doing a lot because she wants to ensure that Frank is born but is the price too high? Randall’s return is handled really well with the King mocking him to make Jamie and Claire feel better about the awkward situation and the issue of the duel puts a void between them that is really well performed. Some of the narrative feels like it isn’t going anywhere but the character stories are impressive as always.
- the return of “Black Jack” Randall and the effect he has on those around him
- any exploration of the morality of changing the past as well as Claire’s selfish desires
- further reinforcement of the layered relationship between Jamie and Claire
- too much exposition in the scenes discussing the upcoming rebellion