The following response (spoilers included) comments on a fine post from a welcome, in-depth Outlander blog, Outlandish Observations, which has been praised by book series author Diana Gabaldon herself. I especially enjoy the detail involved in the book-to-show comparisons by this Outlander expert. Although I’ve only begun to explore the site, I already found keen insights on story elements and plenty of helpful book-related reminders. Check it out.
I disagreed with only one thing about this thorough episode response: the notion that adding the two search-party soldiers to the show (as this feature is absent from the book), to catch up with Claire in the dungeon cell, should decrease the chances of Black Jack Randall’s (BJR) “interrogation” being interrupted by other officers and possibly a superior of his.
Note: Granting that focusing on this element carries with it a chain of possibly unfounded assumptions and burrows into supposition that could rightly be seen as moot or nit-picky, bear with me if you wish. One of the aspects I so prize in this cross-genre book and TV series is the historical realism created by Gabaldon’s incredibly thorough and well-applied research. It is thus the question of authenticity and plausibility that brings me to this review.
So, what of these two soldiers?
Once Randall lets them know he’s there at all (by leaving the cell door open), let alone with a now high-profile woman and the captain’s assistant, he has drawn unwelcome additional attention to himself, which alone would risk exposing his later sadistic perversions to his superiors.
Boisterously crashing the execution yard on his mount to save Jamie Fraser from the noose, and for himself, makes at least an initial splash. The captain has saved Jamie from immediate hanging, which is entered into official record, as we know from Sir Fletcher’s reference to at least a temporary “stay of execution” when Claire inquires after Jamie, posing as a friend of his family in Fletcher’s office.
Otherwise, for all we know, up until the raised alarm brings the two soldiers to the dungeon cell, BJR’s purpose to use that space expressly to brutalize convicted murder suspect Jamie Fraser could be quite clandestine. Though I suppose this depends on, among other things, the accepted interrogation practices at a British jail in 1740s Scotland.
Among those in the know are the two jailers who bring Jamie food “compliments of Captain Jonathan Randall” early in the episode. However, at least one of them seems in full awareness of, if not collusion with, the captain’s sexual proclivities involving Scottish prisoners, given the jailer’s line to Jamie as they leave: “…have a wash, and your luck could change any minute, boyo!” Their tacit acceptance clearly poses no threat to Randall’s plans, and the only other person with any notion of the disturbing details is the literal numbskull Marley who accompanies BJR as his weapon of pure muscle.
By sending the pursuing soldiers back to their commander with the message that Randall has “the situation well in hand,” the captain might rather increase the likelihood that prison warden Sir Fletcher may subsequently send someone to check in on that situation. Any number of reasons to do so emerge, particularly considering Fletcher’s status in the prison and his recent contact with the woman involved (Claire). Here are a few possibilities:
(1) Sir Fletcher wishes to check on the interrogation’s progress, either out of curiosity or due to indignation that someone he thought was doing a good Christian deed has instead had the audacity to infiltrate his prison.
(2) To verify the facts of Claire’s involvement to his own satisfaction, perhaps to answer his doubts, Sir Fletcher inquires after the welfare of the woman who left such a positive initial impression on him as a “Christian woman.” After all, he himself has not directly witnessed any suspicious behavior on her part.
(3) Knowing even a modicum of Randall’s true character might alarm the warden enough to be concerned for Claire’s welfare even if he believes she is guilty.
So I felt the appearance of the two soldiers posed a new and special problem, but I acknowledge that perhaps this disagreement rests on a minor point regarding storyline plausibility.
Of greater concern to me in this scene is the fact that Claire–this bold, intelligent woman desperately fighting for her husband’s life and safety, as well as her own–misses an opportunity to show the two soldiers exactly “what’s going on in here.” Those words comprise the vague reality she pleads with them to help her share with Sir Fletcher, by requesting they take her to him.
Why doesn’t she ask the soldiers, and with a greater sense of urgency and horror, to look at “the prisoner’s” ruined hand for themselves? (Jamie lies unconscious on the floor at this point.) Why doesn’t she make a specific accusation against BJR while she has the chance?
Why doesn’t she at least try to appeal to the humanity of these young men? Although Randall forbids them to take her into custody and back to Sir Fletcher, Claire could still make an impression, some kind of play for their empathy, which could translate into adding just enough detail to the report BJR commands they deliver to bring about some form of merciful intervention.
That she does not do any of this elicits my grave disappointment in the Claire of Outlander‘s TV adaptation and, thus, in its writers and producers.
And yet, what difference would it make? Randall could simply take that moment to say what he says momentarily anyway about Claire’s being a rebel plotting against the king. Either way, no matter what she says or however much they’re likely to believe a woman they’ve been searching for under suspicion of aiding an escape attempt, the soldiers must obey the captain. And like Corporal Hawkins of episodes 106 and 108, and presumably most of his subordinates, they’re probably (rightly) terrified of Captain Jonathan Wolverton “Black Jack” Randall.
Still, Claire has never before allowed futility to prevent her from trying. Why start now, at the most critical moment yet?
If we could stop Randall, though, what would such merciful intervention look like? Involving Sir Fletcher yet again may spare Jamie further sadistic victimization by BJR, but it may well simply ensure his death sentence, perhaps by increasing security at his cell. What a choice! A more peaceful hanging or a soul-tortured one.
I suppose at the root of this discussion is the hope-against-hope that, with the onset of another departure from the plot of the book, we as book and show fans could possibly change the inevitable horror we know is about to unfold. There’s no way out; the alternative would, with Jamie’s execution, only spell the end of the saga as we know it.
While my frustration with Claire’s reaction to the soldiers’ presence lingers, perhaps introducing them is a wise choice after all. It adds plausibility by representing the likely fact of a raised alarm, a representation absent from the book. It toys with the audience’s emotions by casting a flicker of hope into Jamie and Claire’s dark, hopeless situation. Then, rendering that hope impotent reinforces the overwhelming sense of doom and Black Jack’s absolute supremacy.
Our poor hero and heroine face their ultimate tests of survival so far–yet again for both their lives and their marriage–as we head into the season finale “To Ransom a Man’s Soul.” After escaping death but being completely broken in mind, body, and spirit, what of Jamie Fraser can be salvaged to make his life worth living again?
Episode 116 is set to air May 30, 9:00pm EDT, on Starz. Until then, all 15 episodes to date will run over Memorial Day weekend as a build-up to the end of this fascinating TV adaptation of Diana Gabaldon’s first book of the series Outlander. Enjoy the marathon, and stay tuned!
Other Outlander posts on my blog include the following (the first two are closely related):
- Scotland’s Burns and Outlander rival Shakespeare’s bawdy
- Adapted Bawdy Lyrics: Outlander TV Series, Episode 114, “The Search”
- Review: Outlander Season 1’s Ironic Chilling Effect
- Book Review: Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
- 3 Quick Book Reviews: Outlander, Dragonfly in Amber, and Voyager
- Outlander, 2015 San Diego Comic-Con: Binge On
- Outlander: The Denial, Acceptance and Rise (a reblogged post)