My review of Episode 6 of Season 1, Outlander entitled “The Garrison Commander”. If you haven’t read the books, don’t read any further.
!!!! OUTLANDER SPOILERS !!!!!
Okay, you probably expected me to say this but WOW! Tobias Menzies knocked it out of the park this episode and Caitriona Balfe stepped up her game considerably. Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore took the first encounter between Claire and Randall from a few pages in the book and expanded it into an entire episode that crackles with tension. IMHO Menzies should get an Emmy nomination for his acting in this episode–it really is that good.
Claire’s emotions run the gamut. She starts out feeling relieved. Finally in the presence of other British citizens, she thought she was going to be safer and for the first time in a long while, she did not feel like an outsider. The British officers, lead by a Lord Thomas with the rank of General, were very happy to see her as well not having seen a English gentlewoman in some time. Dougal, on the other hand, was the outsider and as expected, the British officers were very insulting to him. They talked about him as if he wasn’t even in the room, insulted his speech, threatened him, dismissed him….the list is long and he wasn’t even in the room but for a few minutes in the beginning of the episode. You have to admire Dougal here. He’s in enemy territory, surrounded by hostile men and he didn’t back down. He even called the General out for his poor behavior in front of Claire. The General called Dougal ill mannered, which was ironic in the extreme since Dougal was nothing of the kind until the Brits started showing their metaphorical asses.
Claire made quite the impression with her manners and charisma. She had them convinced she was an innocent victim (which she really is, of course, just not in the way they think) until Black Jack Randall burst into the room. Her feeling of safety evaporated upon seeing him. Both of them were shocked to see the other but Randall recovered better. They both gave the General the impression that they had never met before. Randall couldn’t admit to finding her and not seeing to her safety the first time around. Nor did he want to mention the fact that he attempted to rape her on their initial encounter. Likewise, Claire couldn’t admit to knowing him without drastically changing the story she had just told the other officers, which would cast doubt on the veracity of everything else she said. She also wouldn’t be able to explain why she ran from Randall in the first place. To do that she’d have to report the near rape and as we saw with Colum, no one would believe her, gossip about Randall notwithstanding.
So Randall’s entrance was very sudden and cranked up the drama just when Claire was thinking she was home free. This scene not only sets up the main confrontation of the episode but it also serves to demonstrate Randall’s power even among the officers. He was downright rude to the General who he clearly has no respect for. I have to say I agree on the General…a silly, arrogant poof who wouldn’t know subtlety if it slapped in the face. There was a point earlier where the General says in front of Dougal that if he stays long enough in Scotland, he might just be made a Laird (with maximum mocking Scottish emphasis on the word). Although my family is a few generations removed from Ireland that statement created quite the visceral reaction in me because that’s one of the many things the English did in Ireland as well. The English Kings gave land and title to Englishmen and stole the land right out from under the Irish. For Scottish and Irish people there was nothing more important to them than the land they lived on–it was not only their birthright, it was a fundamental piece of who they were. To take it from them, make them live on it as tenants with forced obligations to some foreign twit who treated them like animals, was almost unbearable. So the insult and threat behind the General’s statements really got my dander up and it obviously wasn’t lost on Dougal. Anyway, I digress.
Randall’s responses to the General was at times dismissive and condescending but the General let it slide. Claire should have seen the dynamic at play and realized that Randall was powerful enough to insult a General in front of an entire cadre of officers and get away with it. She may have been in shock or she just didn’t see what was going on. In any case, Randall proceeds to masterfully manipulate both Claire and the other officers. I kept saying to screen, “shut up, Claire, shut up!” Suffice it to say, Randall succeeded in planting a large seed of doubt in the General’s mind and Claire sealed her fate by saying that she doesn’t blame the Scots for being angry since the Brits are occupying their land. In 1945 such a statement would not have been treasonous but in 1743 it was most certainly considered as such.
Even though the General is doubting her he still says she should go home as soon as possible. And no sooner does Claire ask if she can leave for Inverness that day than they are interrupted, learning that the Scots supposedly fired upon British soldiers at the edge of town with one soldier is dead and another badly wounded. Once again Claire can’t help herself when it comes to someone in need of medical care. So she goes downstairs and helps amputate the soldier’s arm. At this point we are given the impression that someone is acting as an agent provocateur, trying to gin up hostility between the two sides because Dougal is very clear that it was not his men. The most likely culprit is Randall. Claire, bloodied and tired, returns upstairs to find her hope in the form of the General has left the Inn without giving her permission to go to Inverness. She finds, instead, Randall having his face shaved by a corporal using the very razor that she would shave Frank’s face with 200 years in the future . These memories of Frank are really getting in Claire’s way because she can’t help but think of Frank, who is or will be a kind gentle man, when she interacts with Randall. This puts her at a distinct disadvantage that she won’t be fully aware of until this episode ends.
Randall keeps her off balance by first apologizing for his behavior on the day they met and begins interrogating her in a relatively polite manner. Claire, unfortunately, is not a good liar, making mistakes like admitting to knowing he is from Sussex, which she only knows due to Frank’s genealogy research. Such an admission that she knows something about him that other people do not only puts her in more danger. When he asks her about her maiden name, she doesn’t answer and instead argues that she should be allowed to go home. This tells him that she is lying about her name. He basically accuses her of being an empty headed trollop or an agent in league with the King’s enemies. Obviously she can’t tell him the truth and she isn’t either of those things so she comes up with another story about her unfortunate love affair with an officer who misled her. Another mistake that Claire makes is that she keeps appealing to his gentlemanly nature. Randall only acts like a gentleman when it gets him what he wants. Ultimately, Randall doesn’t believe the new story either.
There was one thing that puzzled me in this scene. In the middle of the scene, while still questioning her he draws her likeness on a napkin and asks her opinion. I’m not sure if this was a ploy to get her to come closer to him, if he wanted to have her likeness in case he needed to make wanted posters or if he was trying throw her off balance again. In any case, he tells her he will call the drawing, “Beautiful Lies”. The tone of the interrogation shifts at that point and he offers her a deal–provide evidence of Dougal’s Jacobite activities and Randall will allow her to go to Inverness. She refuses, of course, and she demands he either arrest her or leave her alone to wait for the General’s return. He ignores her and threatens to use “enhanced interrogation” techniques.
Then Claire makes a HUGE mistake. She admits to seeing the result of those “techniques”. She gives away that she has met Jaime and that the McKenzie clan has been sheltering him at Castle Leoch. Not only is she giving away too much information, she opens a can of worms that she’ll forever regret. Randall proceeds to tell her how he laid Jaime’s back open. In the book it was different because it was Dougal who tells her the story of Jaime’s second flogging after her disturbing meeting with Randall. On the show Randall is kind of using her to confess his darkness but he’s also telling her as a warning. And he’s probably telling her because he wants to watch her fear and disgust grow–he’s a sadist and her fear and anger only excite him more.
This is an Emmy worthy scene for Menzies and the make-up and prosthetic department and if you see nothing else of the episode you should watch this part. Randall narrates the events and his feelings while we watch every stroke. I should warn you though, the flashback to Jaime’s flogging is absolutely brutal. My boyfriend, 14+ years as a first responder has seen many absolutely horrifying things in life and even he was shocked by the flogging. The wounds on Jaime’s back looked so real that I had to avert my eyes several times. And I’ll admit to tears. Claire mistakes him telling the story as a means of expressing remorse and I was shocked that she so clearly misread how deep the man’s sadism extends. But I think it goes back to Frank. She thinks there is some tiny bit of decency in him still–it’s as if she needs to believe it. Also, Claire is a very empathic person. She’s seen what war does to people’s psyche. All this comes together and makes her see him as another version of Frank, if he’d been to the front and been mentally damaged by it–in the end there is some pity amongst the horror. Feeling pity is also a mistake because Randall doesn’t want her pity as she will soon learn.
Another mistake that Claire makes is that she thinks he cares about her opinion of him, but he really doesn’t. He can confess to her for the opposite reason. Because she doesn’t matter–she is disposable. By hearing his confession she is in even greater danger than before. Claire is dealing with a creature she has never encountered before and she is in way over her head. Randall is so very clever. He knows that she has mistaken his motives and doesn’t yet understand the depths of his depravity. He uses her pity against her to make her think there is some chance of redemption for him. He teases her by saying he should let her go back to Inverness as his first step toward that redemption and Claire buys it, hook, line and sinker. That is until he helps her to her feet and punches her in the stomach, full force. This is followed by him ordering the corporal to kick her while she is down, which the corporal does twice before Dougal busts into the room.
Dougal demands that he be allowed to leave with Claire and claims that Randall cannot continue to question Claire on McKenzie land (the Inn and village the soldiers are currently in is in McKenzie territory). And if not allowed to leave, then it will be a declaration of war. Apparently Dougal is making a decent legal argument so they are allowed to leave but he is ordered to surrender her at Ft. William by tomorrow at sundown, where Randall will be on British “land” and can do whatever he wants to her. Dougal and Claire hightail it out of there but instead of taking her back to their camp he takes her to the Spring of St. Ninian, aka the Liar’s Spring. He asks her, one final time, if she is a spy and she says no, like she has a thousand times before. This time he believes her because he believes the superstition surrounding the spring. If a person lies right after drinking its water, it is supposed to burn out their “gizzard”. Once he’s determined she’s no real threat, Dougal tells her his plan to save her from Randall’s clutches. She’ll have to become a Scottish citizen because while Randall can compel a British citizen to submit themselves for questionning, he can’t force a Scottish person from clan lands without the Laird’s permission. And to become Scottish, she’ll have to marry a Scotsman.
Claire is very against the idea but she can hardly explain why. So while examining the written contract that Ned Gowan had prepared, Jaime, her soon to be groom, brings her some booze and discusses why he is willing to marry her. Jaime says that he owes her for all the medical care she’s given him and he’s her friend and a friend would never leave her to Randall’s not so tender mercies. He admits to not being much of a catch as he has little money to live off of and there is a price on his head, so he could be caught and hung at any time. Then comes one of my favorite exchanges from the book. In one last ditch attempt to get him to say no, Claire asks Jaime if it bothers him that she’s not a virgin. And he responds, “No, so long as it doesna bother you that I am.” In the books, this entire conversation occurred in an Inn but here they’ve done it outdoors at their camp. But it’s the same dialog as from the book and it works just as well. The episode ends with Claire snatching an entire bottle of alcohol from Dougal and walking away with the contract in one hand and the booze in the other.
Next week is the wedding and millions of women worldwide are swooning with anticipation. But as I’ve said many times, this series isn’t just about romance and all of the episodes so far are more than ample proof of that. However, this episode, in particular, stands out and deserves all the critical acclaim being heaped upon it.