The penultimate – yes I love using that word – episode of Outlander was a masterpiece of collaboration between actors, set designers, costumes, and the writers of this series. The scenes from Wentworth Prison do not rest easy on one’s soul, or eyes. It’s meant to show the true character of everyone involved, and it does so brilliantly.
Jamie is one shove away from being hanged when Black Jack Randall rides into the prison yard on his powerful black stallion. He’s dressed to impress, more like a groom arriving at church, than a soldier hoping to save his obsession from the hang man’s noose.
Claire finagles an audience with the prison commander by saying she’s a distant English relation of Jamie. She feels it’s her Christian duty to visit him as his family would want her to see Jamie before he’s put to death. Claire didn’t know until she arrived at the prison if Jamie was alive, or not. The commander won’t grant her visiting privileges though he does give her Jamie’s possessions to take back with her. It’s pitiful to see the small items. Is this all there is left of Jamie?
Jamie is literally chained to the prison wall in a cavern like cell in the bowels of the prison. He’s no doubts as to what awaits him and, I’d assume, is thinking the noose would be a far better end than what Jack has in store for him.
I’ve never seen a character such as Black Jack Randall on the screen before. He’s so much more than the villains we’re spoon fed in movies and some TV shows. He’s layered and riddled with contradiction and we can see all the dark thoughts flit through his mind as he looks upon Jamie. I find myself wondering when the exact moment occurred to make Jamie the target of all his rage and lust and desire. Was it at Lallybroch? Or the first time he whipped Jamie?
Jack begins his assault on Jamie by producing the legal document the Duke of Sandringham was to submit on Jamie’s behalf to get the price off his head. The pardon will never happen. Nor will Jamie ever be laird of Lallybroch. Jack says he cannot save Jamie’s life, but he can give him a warrior’s death instead of an ignoble hanging in a prison yard. All Jamie has to do is submit to Black Jack. We all know this won’t happen.
Claire, Murtagh, Willie, Rupert, and Angus are at a local inn strategizing their next attempt to free Jamie. Rupert and Angus – love these characters – have discovered the prison commander takes one hour each day to read his bible and reflect. Claire and Murtagh visit the prison again, during that hour, and gain entry to the commander’s office. They find keys, but no map to tell them where Jamie is being held. Unwilling to leave, Claire slips through the horrors of the prison in search of Jamie.
Black Jack wants Jamie with an intensity that almost unmans him. He’s dreamed his dark fantasies of having Jamie under his control for so long that he almost can’t contain the emotions oozing out of him. He won’t give in to his carnal desires until Jamie relents and give’s himself over. To entice Jamie, Jack has a prison guard who is large of muscle but small of mind hold Jamie’s hand on the table. Jack takes a heavy iron mallet – it looks like a short-handled sledgehammer to me – and repeatedly slams it into Jamie’s hand until it is no longer functioning. It surprised me that Jack destroyed his left hand and not his right. Jamie is still capable of fighting and using his sword. Is Jack saving the right hand for later? Or does Jack want Jamie to use the right hand on him, when he has control of Jamie? Jack and his henchman leave Jamie curled up in a heap on the floor.
Claire moves through the prison asking for Jamie at each cell. This prison isn’t like the ones of today with
individual cells that look like they’ve been cleaned by hospital staff. There are many men packed into dark, dank, and dirty cells. Almost so many men that they can’t sit. All the men look starved and riddled with disease. She’s told that Jamie is down below in the worst part of the prison. Her face shows she can’t imagine anything worse than what she’s already seen.
When Claire finds Jamie he’s still on stone floor in the fetal position. He’s passed out. She manages to wake him and tries to use one of her keys to release him from his leg irons. She doesn’t have the right key. As she’s trying to smash it off, Jack returns. Claire is so close, so very close to freeing him. It’s by sheer force of will that she’s gotten this far.
Jack is obviously pleased. He knows that Jamie would never relent to him. Now that he has Claire, well, it’s a different situation entirely. Claire and Jamie both put up a fight. Claire even manages to slam Jack down, but it’s not enough. Jack easily wraps his hand around Claire’s neck and proceeds to strangle her. Jamie loses all the fight he has left and relents. He’ll do whatever Jack wants if he’ll release Claire and see her safe out of the prison.
To test Jamie’s commitment to the deal, Jack instructs him to put a hand on the table. Jamie puts his right hand, but Jack wants the mutilated one, the one that will hurt the most for whatever he has in store. Claire is screaming and crying and holding on to Jamie as if she can still get him out of hell. It’s an agonizing scene. I found it incredible hard to watch. Jamie, in extreme pain, slowly opens his destroyed hand. Jack pulls out a nail. He pounds it into the bloody hand until Jamie is secured to the table.
I have to take a moment to commend the acting. This whole episode is shot intimately. No sweeping scenes of Scotland, just the camera next to the actor’s faces. Everything is visible to us. Everything is exposed. I never for a moment doubted that this was truly happening. It just the best acting I’ve seen in a very long time. By the end of the scene I had tears in my eyes. That’s not something that normally happens to me.
In front of Claire, Jack violates the last memories of Claire and Jamie, by forcing a deep kiss from Jamie. Desperate and still unwilling to give up Claire clings to Jamie. Dragging her through the tunnels of the prison Jack tries to taunt Claire with the witch trial she barely escaped. He’s miscalculated. Claire tells him she is a witch. That she curses him and whispers in his ear the exact date of his own death. We see just a tinge of fear light Jack’s eyes before he shuts it down. Good for Claire.
We’re left with Jamie inside the prison being violated by Jack and Claire and friends in the farmhouse of own of Ellen’s, Jamie’s mother, old suitors. What the heck was it with this woman? Anyway, they won’t be getting any more men to try and save Jamie again. It’s Murtagh who gives us some hope of a rescue attempt. Something to do with cattle?
Only one more episode and I’m sure it will be even darker than this one.