The Darkest Affections
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
What a riveting hour of television this was. I know that I’m a bigger fan of darker material and it should come as no surprise that Outlander’s darkest episode yet was also my favorite. The bulk of the episode takes place in a room with two people talking, which contrary to a lot of people’s assumption, can often be the most brilliant scenes. Think of Tywin Lannister and Arya in Season 2 of Game of Thrones or the tour de force that was Brody’s interrogation by Carrie in Homeland’s Q & A. When Claire and Black Jack Randall are in the same room, every moment beats with an intense realization of anxiety and despair. The music follows the ups and downs of the conversation equally and the sound design is accentuated to perfection, carrying each moment with the appropriate gravitas.
The opening is a nice reversal for the standard Outlander fare. This time it’s Dougal who’s the Sassenach amidst the Brits and his discomfort brings some joy to Claire and the viewers, a bit of karmic justice in sense. It’s even more enjoyable in hindsight, considering how little of karmic justice there was throughout the rest of the hour. The Brits under General Thomas behave like absolute a**holes, informing everyone around them of how superior they are of their Scottish counterparts. “What’s underneath the kilt?” is a frequent refrain in this conversation. From what it sounds like, General Thomas is far too interested in that question. An argument erupts between Thomas and Dougal within minutes, an argument that Claire stamps into the ground without a second momentary thought. “She likes to order men around,” Thomas notes. “Aye, she does,” Dougal retorts with something close to affection. The two share a smile.
Captain Jack Randall comes back and I immediately love how no one else seems to care for him very much. He immediately meets eyes with Claire and there’s a collective “This isn’t going to go anywhere fun, is it?” from the audience. In their conversation, Claire goes from being respected by the redcoats to being looked upon with sharp suspicion. What I really enjoy about Claire’s character is her fierceness helping her as much as it gets her into trouble. Her passion gets the better of her and despite her good judgment, she speaks in favor of Scottish independence. Not the right time nor place. She quickly tries to recover, but the damage is largely done. Suddenly news erupts of a British soldier that was wounded. Claire puts her medical skills to use, noting how she never expected to see an amputation ever again. It’s a graphic, well-done scene. And the soldier’s screams remained haunting long after the scene was over.
The conversation between Claire and Jack was a thing of beauty. Tobias Menzies and Caitriona Balfe give their best performances yet. Menzies balances the warmth of Frank and the terror of Jack perfectly. Balfe largely has to do work without dialogue but it is absolute perfection. They go through French rapidly in an amazing moment before Jack gets to the day he flogged Jamie. It’s thrilling, how Jack recounts that war changed him. Claire, having spent six years on the battlefront as a nurse, understands that perfectly. She comes to tears as he recounts how the flogging reflected his realization that he had changed tremendously. “They could only see the horror. I saw the beauty.” But it is horrifying, seeing Jamie’s flogged skin bleeding and shredding apart. It’s a fantastic make-up job, with the bleeding wounds and the scraps of skin falling off. The performances from Menzies and Sam Heughan were fantastic during the flogging sequence. It’s the attention to detail that truly works here, with Jack slipping on Jamie’s blood being my favorite touch. War does change people and often it could be for the worse. Jack recognizes that war made him a terrible person and there was something wrong with what he did even if he did enjoy it to a certain degree. Jack has an incredible sense of obsessiveness and inferiority that grips him and the bloodshed was a release, a way of proving that he’s not weak. There is something more than joy of violence or even masculinity at play here, but we’ll see if that comes into play at some point.
Claire is teared up during the entire scene. “It is not too late to unpack your humanity” she says quietly. Jack could find insight through humanity and for a second it seems these two have come to an understanding, helped no doubt by Jack’s profuse apologies at almost raping her in the forest. Then the music and sound go off and before you know it, Jack kicks Claire in the stomach, whispering “I belong in the darkness.” He has the village officer from last week kick her as well three times, or at least he gets it right. Balfe’s physical performance is fantastic here. Dougal storms in, helping Claire to her feet. He takes her to a spring for water before her meeting with Jack the next day. It was a “magic spring” where people don’t lie after drinking its water. Claire raises her eyebrow, furious at Dougal’s suggestion of marrying a Scot to get away from the English interrogation. Claire doesn’t want to marry Dougal, but he arranged for her to marry Jamie instead. They have a lovely conversation where Claire makes a note that she isn’t a virgin. Turns out, Jamie is and he doesn’t care that Claire has had some sexual experiences in the past. “At least one of us will know what we’re doing,” he jokes and the dark hour comes to a sweet close. I absolutely love how Outlander subverts gender expectations every week and this episode is no exception. So often we see the female virgin but to see that being reversed without antagonism from either side is absolutely phenomenal. Kudos to Diana Gabaldon and the team for sticking to it here. So much love.
Once again Outlander pulls off a solid episode, but this week was especially fantastic. It was dark in every frame, Bear McCreary’s music continues to enchant (when is the soundtrack being released????), the direction was phenomenal, and the acting was sublime. I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of Black Jack Randall and his wrath at the marriage taking his hostage away from him is surely going to come back into play. There’s only two more episodes left until the season takes a hiatus (I hope I’m wrong) and Outlander surely is pulling everything to leave us at an enormous cliffhanger I’m sure. All I can say is that I’m along for the ride. Bring on episode seven.
Post. Script. One. The Scottish independence referendum is next week, incredibly timed for Outlander’s appearance. I’m sure the show’s creators and Starz are ecstatic at this God-send marketing strategy that doesn’t even really involve much effort from them in the first place. It’s like when the Russian spies were caught in the United States and Angelina Jolie’s Salt came out around the same time. Timing is such an interesting thing, isn’t it?
Post. Script. Two. On another note, I’ve noticed wine drinking amongst our female leads, especially red wine, has become ubiquitous. Claire Beauchamp now joins the ranks of Carrie Mathison, Cersei Lannister, Olivia Pope, and Alicia Florrick. Can that become a show? Because I would watch it.
Episode Title: The Garrison Commander
Writer: Ira Steven Behr
Director: Brian Kelly
Image Courtesy: Tracking Board