Tonight’s episode of Outlander managed to do in one scene what it took the series of books serving as its inspiration three titles to accomplish: It humanized Black Jack Randall.
While this week’s installment wasn’t, strictly speaking, a bottle episode, it certainly had all the emotional punch of the best of that kind of TV writing. That’s right, I’m basically sitting here fanning myself, so deep has my devotion to this show become. Somebody pass me the smelling salts and a foppish British soldier to attend me, I feel a spate of hysteria coming upon me.
Last week’s cliffhanger ending was almost beside the point when the action picked up this week. Though, admittedly, that wasn’t really a surprise. Claire turning on the MacKenzies would have led to immediate slaughter and, as such, the end of the series. While that would have been a fresh, violent, and abrupt end to the first season inspiring water-cooler talk the world over, it would also have been a terrible, terrible choice. Claire does not betray Dougal, once again proving herself worthy of the irascible Scot in the bonnie bonnet’s trust.
The meat of the episode took place inside the English Garrison. It was great to see just how quickly Claire regretted her feelings of comfort and security once she was in the den of her countrymen of day’s gone by. All it took was their commander behaving like an utter jackass for Claire to be all, “Guys, not cool. Be nice.”
I was bursting with pride, but the English did not feel that way and, after Black Jack baited Claire into admitting that she didn’t approve of her countrymen’s behavior, her loyalty is called into question again — this time by the English.
Claire’s careful strategizing and political tangoing is nothing new, though as always, it was entertaining to watch. It was Claire’s encounter with Black Jack that really upped the proverbial ante. The show managed to convey not just Black Jack’s cruelty, but the layered reasons for it.
As a reader, he wasn’t a character with whom I could emphasize for a very, very long time, and even then it was begrudgingly. But now, almost from go, while I recognize him to be monstrous, I also see that he layered and complex. I don’t know if that’s because the modern TV trope of the bad man as hero has become ingrained in me, or if because Toby Menzies is exceptionally talented, or if because the show’s writing is just that good in reminding us of Claire’s husband and the uncanny resemblance he holds to his ancestor.
Whatever the reason, it’s beyond effective.
Next week: A WEDDING.