The reappearance of Black Jack Randall, in all his sadistic glory, provided for the most tense and most dramatic episode of Outlander yet. Tobias Menzes and Caitriona Balfe gave fantastic performances as Claire and Black Jack tried to match each other in a battle of wits. But Menzes’ performance absolutely owned the episode.
The redcoats ask whether Claire is with the MacKenzies willingly. She and Dougal are “invited” to meet Brigadier General Lord Oliver Thomas. He and the other officers are haughty and pompous and insult Dougal right in his presence. Claire is able to charm them, is comfortable and at ease with them, and is able to secure her passage back to Inverness from General Thomas.
Suddenly, Black Jack Randall bursts through the door. When he finally notices Claire, they stare at each other, prompting the general to ask whether they know each other. Some of this air of familiarity between Claire and Black Jack is likely due to the fact that he looks exactly like her husband. One later finds out that Black Jack remembers their encounter in the woods from when Claire first fell through the stones. I found there to be this sort of odd chemistry in their scenes. It was not a romantic or a sexual chemistry, but something I could not look away from.
Black Jack is as skeptical of Claire, as the others are charmed by her. Claire and Black Jack’s cat and mouse game then took center stage for the remainder of the episode. After returning to the dining hall to find Black Jack getting a shave, Claire remembers a moment between her and Frank, of her shaving him presumably with the same razor, as she and Frank talk about the razor being 200 years old and an old family heirloom. The soldier giving Black Jack the shave nicks him with the razor and profusely apologizes. I thought for a moment that Black Jack was going to slit the soldier’s throat, as he is that unpredictable. It provided such a contrast between the loving, gentle Frank, and Frank’s dark and twisted ancestor.
Black Jack is masterful in manipulating her and controlling the tone of the conversation. In one breath he says Claire’s story is questionable, and the next he lulls Claire into being more comfortable by apologizing for their earlier encounter in the woods and indicates that he will “reveal his true nature” and be honest. He listens to Claire tells a tall tale of a suitor who wronged her, and then tells her he know she is not being honest. Black Jack knows Dougal is raising money for the Jacobite cause and he will not allow her to leave until she tells him what he wants to know both about her and about the activities of the clan Mackenzie.
Black Jack then retells of the tale of Jamie’s flogging. The story and the flashbacks were gory, fascinating, harrowing, disturbing, cunning, and calculating. Claire characterizes Jamie as just a “poor highlander boy” whose punishment outweighed any crime, whereas Black Jack calls Jamie is a thief and murderer. Black Jack describes the whole experience and encounter of whipping Jamie’s back to the bone as a “masterpiece,” “exquisite,” and “beautiful.” I suppose it might have been to the sadistic soldier used to blood and gore and who takes enjoyment in suffering.
At the end, Black Jack states, “the truth carries a weight that no lie can counterfeit. I promised I would reveal myself to you, and now I have.” Claire is in tears, but tells Black Jack that there may be hope for his soul yet that he cares what she thinks. Black Jack says that being stationed in Scotland and combat has changed him. Claire says she thinks there is still a decent man within him who can earn back some humanity. It’s unclear whether Black Jack was genuine in telling Claire about being changed and his issues and self-loathing. Was he just embellishing the story about his own soul in order to manipulate and trick Claire? It’s hard to imagine someone with his cruel tendencies wouldn’t have experienced combat horrors or wouldn’t have some sort of self-loathing issues causing him to look at Jamie’s raw, bloody back as “artwork.”
Black Jack then makes Claire think that he will take her back to Inverness, and she’s happy. Then something in him completely snaps again and he punches Claire in the stomach, knocking the wind out of her. He also orders Corporal Hawkins to repeatedly kick Claire. Black Jack says he “belongs” in the darkness, he does not need sympathy from her and she gets no sympathy from him.
Dougal barges in to save Claire, but not before Black Jack warns him to return Claire to Fort William by sundown the next day for “further questioning.” After finally being convinced by some sort of “truth” water that Claire is not a spy for the English, Dougal comes up with the plan to have Claire marry Jamie, as the only way to prevent to having to turn her over is if she becomes a Scottish subject and then Black Jack could not force a Scottish subject from clan lands without permission from the Laird.
Jamie seems much more willing than Claire to buy into the plan and pays some lip service to “owing” Claire for mending his wounds. Claire also seems to realize this is likely the only way to avoid having to be turned back over to Black Jack. In one of the more surprising exchanges, Jamie tells Claire that it does not bother him that she is not a virgin as long is does not bother her that he is. I realize Jamie is supposed to be a bit younger than Claire, but that shocked me.
Next week is what much of the audience has been waiting for – Claire and Jamie get married, and finally connect romantically – the consummation of the connection between the two that has been building since the beginning of the series. I am sure the episode will provide some levity after the darkness of The Garrison Commander, but I am also sure we have not seen the last of Black Jack Randall.