The Sadist Coming
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Wentworth Prison, while continuing Outlander’s tradition of literal titles, is by far the darkest chapter the show has constructed in both a literal and metaphorical sense. It revolves entirely around the horrid tortures that go on at Wentworth Prison, a slight bit of hope ignited at the final chapter. There are always those pieces of art that upon first drink that leave an absolutely incomparable impression. They’re haunting in mesmerizing ways that ensnare your imagination and refuse to let go. But they’re equally disturbing, a terror imbued powerfully throughout their construction that makes one hesitant to revisit them. Wentworth is one of those episodes that is beautifully constructed in every fashion, from the set design to the art direction to the cinematography, all of which combine to give the audience a sense of the terror that is held within those massive stone walls. But that very terror is so gruesomely personified that it’s going to difficult to get back to this episode again, if only for the sequence where Claire and Jamie are tearfully together only to be ripped apart once again.
The episode opens with a graphic display of hangings to set the tone the rest of the hour will follow. MacQuarrie comes to his end, but death doesn’t come easily to him. His hanging isn’t executed properly and he shakes about in absolute pain before his neck finally gives away. Jamie, heartbroken as he realized how much of a folly it would be to die right there, finds out there are much worse fates than hanging in the courtyard of a British prison. One of those fates is embodied personally in Captain Black Jack Randall, upon whom I wish the most horrid of deaths that could potentially exist. Immediately he stalls the execution, the craze in his eyes mirrored with exactly the opposite in Jamie’s, who immediately understands exactly what is about to occur. Randall getting ahold of Sandringham’s letter was the beginning of his vicious combination of physical and mental torture that reveals just as much about him as the blood vessels released from Jamie’s body.
As Jamie is getting beat down below, Claire schemes her way through the prison, the low lighting and austere architecture only reinforcing how dangerous of an endeavor this is to begin with. When she finds him, he’s lying face down on the ground, terrified and terrorized. Randall arrives just at the awful time one would expect, cool in the face of Claire’s absolutely radiating fury that would turn anyone into absolute dust. Claire bravely fights back against him and his troll fighter bodyguard Mauly, whom Jamie kills fantastically with a wooden stick of all things but Randall proves himself to be too powerful for Claire to contain. He begins choking her to death but Jamie strikes a deal. If he lets Claire go, then he can have him. People normally take signatures as a key part of a deal but Randall does things a bit differently. This for me was the scene above every other that was difficult for me to sit through, watching Jamie gracing and yelling with pain, a tearful Claire screaming by his side as he drives a nail through the very hand he had smashed with a gavel earlier.
Randall’s sadism has been a tricky thing to depict well and at times it can often become bemusing as to why he truly commits all of the terrible acts under his name. Sure, it would be easy to dismiss him as insane but the root cause of said insanity needs to be understood for the character and ultimately the story to work. Randall enjoys power over others, a psychopathic desire to see others beneath his heel. His uniform gives him an outlet for that desire that culminates in Randall raping Jamie.* You don’t see it and perhaps that’ll bleed into the finale, but it’s fairly obvious that Jamie’s fate in that regard at least has been sealed by the time the screen fades to black. Outlander has always been a series that has pushed the boundaries of sex and gender politics on television and this is no exception.
Knowing that by the time she returns to rescue Jamie again because Claire simply doesn’t know how to give up it might be too late for Jamie, she still manages to give Randall his first real dose of fear. He mentions her witchcraft trial and Claire notes wryly that she is indeed a witch, cursing him with knowledge. She whispers into his ear the hour of his death and for the first time you see the terror he inflicts on others reflected in his own eyes. Here is the one thing that Randall knows and understands he has no control over, the one thing he knows he won’t be able to beat and crush underneath the heel of his boot. Claire understands this keenly and she can sense his fear even if she can’t see the widening of his eyes and I’m intrigued to see how this understanding comes back into play. For now, I can only hope that Murtagh’s plan with the twenty-one cows, however bonkers it may be, succeeds. For Jamie, it may be his only and final hope.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Claire breaking down twice in the earlyr parts of the episode’s urgency immediately. Sublime work from Balfe there.
+“Is it my face you see looming in the darkness?”
+“Admit that even now… you’re terrified.”
+“Good luck to you too, arse.”
+“Why do you force me to hurt you?”
+“You truly have a gift… for showing up at the most unexpected times.”
+“I haven’t even begun.”
+“How does it feel to be alive and wear so much dead flesh?”
+Claire in the forest was breathtakingly eerie
+Ser Marcus, the pearls, and his love for Jamie’s mother
+“A half dozen men would give us a fighting chance. A dozen would give us a better one.”
+The single tear shedding down Jamie’s face
+I cannot praise everything about this episode enough and I see Emmy nominations hopefully in store for everyone involved with the script, technical work, and acting. Balfe was tremendous throughout, Heughan’s Jamie shone bright at his darkest moment, and Menzies was suitably loathsome.
*I’ll address Jamie’s rape in more detail next week, where it contextually will be more important to the story and the finer points I want to make about Outlander‘s trajectory as a series so far.
Title: Wentworth Prison
Written By: Ira Steven Behr
Directed By: Anna Foerster
Image Courtesy: Outlander TV News