By Nora Dominick ‘17/ Emertainment Monthly Assistant Stage Editor
Outlander has never been a show to shy away from sensitive subjects, and the season one finale may have been the most daring episode this season. Last episode, fans watched as Jamie (Sam Heughan) was brutally tortured in Wentworth Prison as Claire (Caitriona Balfe) helplessly tried to rescue him. The season one finale of Outlander entitled “To Ransom a Man’s Soul” pulled out all the stops as fans watched the cast deliver some Emmy Award worthy performances.
The previous episode of Outlander was rough as well. Jamie was stranded in Wentworth Prison as Captain “Black” Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies) further exemplified why he is one of the most feared and hated villains on television right now. This episode hits the ground running as fans watch the Jamie Fraser they all know and love lying on his cell cot next to none other than a naked Jack Randall. As Jamie faintly sobs, Randall hears something in the distance. As he leaves the cell to see what is happening, fans watch as Jamie is reduced to nothing but the shell of his former self. With this only being the first scene, fans were in for quite an episode, especially when it came to Black Jack and Jamie’s storyline. Heughan and Menzies continuously prove that they aren’t afraid to tackle sensitive subjects and exemplify the true decorum and hard work actors put into their shows. Outlander has cast these beloved book characters flawlessly, and Heughan and Menzies are two of the many reasons this adaptation is working smoothly.
As Black Jack investigates the strange noise emanating from Wentworth Prison, he peers out the door to see none other than a herd of cows. In the last episode of Outlander, Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) and the rest of the gang come up with an ingenious plan involving cows. As the plan comes to fruition, the herd of cows tramples Black Jack, knocking him unconscious. Murtagh, Angus (Stephen Walters) and Rupert (Grant O’Rourke) storm in and rescue Jamie from Wentworth Prison. Cue the fanfare and cheering from every Outlander fan. Jamie may be out of Wentworth, however, he is far from saved. Half-dead Jamie is loaded onto a cart and zoomed as far away from the prison as he can be.
With Claire anxiously pacing a dirt path, the cart comes racing towards her. Any Outlander fan who was hoping for a warm embrace reunion is out of luck. Jamie is far from recovering, and Claire is far from having her perfect, ginger-haired husband back. Jamie proceeds to strangle Claire because he thinks she’s Black Jack. No dialogue is exchanged (except for the gasps emanating from Claire) which isn’t a bad thing. The faint expression of Balfe’s face after this incident says it all. Claire is worried for her husband, and doesn’t know if she can even save him.
Jamie, Claire, Murtagh, and the gang make their way to a monastery in Scotland, a change from the book which had the gang seeking solace in an Abbey all the way in France. With Jamie barely hanging onto his life, Claire watches as her once funny, lovable, proud Scot retreats further and further into himself. He doesn’t talk to Claire, he refuses food and barely allows anyone to lay a finger on him. Claire sets Jamie’s damaged hand, and her inner monologue allows viewers to see just how scared she is. Balfe does an incredible job at showing every emotion in just a simple expression. Heughan, on the other hand, further proves why he is the breakthrough star of Outlander. He effortlessly portrays a man who has abandoned all hope. His scenes are gut-wrenching, and this leads viewers into one of the most hard to watch portions of Outlander this season: flashbacks to Jamie and Black Jack in Wentworth Prison.
When Outlander debuted last summer, television critics and fans knew this would be a show to break down barriers and push television limits. Fans of the book series have been waiting to see how the TV series would handle this portion of the book. Due to the fact that the novels are set in Claire’s perspective, it’s always interesting and eye-opening to see how executive producer/writer Ronald D. Moore creates and tells the storylines not involving Claire. With none of Jamie’s torture sequences explicitly “seen” in the books, fans waited to see how much of it would be shown. Outlander may have just dished out one of the most explicit, eye opening, twitter-exploding storylines television has ever seen.
“Dear God you are a magnificent creature,” Black Jack purrs as he caresses Jamie’s cheek. “I know you can do better. My men can have Claire back here in an hour. We have an agreement.” Black Jack then leans down and begins fondling Jamie as Jamie stares away and holds tears back. On most television shows that would have been the end right there. Rape would have only been implied. Not on Outlander. Black Jack proceeds to flip Jamie over, pull down his kilt and rape him. And if that’s not bad enough, Jamie begins to see Claire’s face during these horrific actions. This cringe worthy scene not only brings to the forefront images of rape and the brutal horror of it, but it also further exemplifies the stellar acting abilities of Menzies and Heughan. Menzies portrays one of the most brutal characters in both books and television, and he does so with ease. There seems to be nothing this actor cannot accomplish. Heughan further proves how much he has grown as an actor over the course of this season. He has taken Jamie from a conservative soldier fighting for his homeland to a helpless rape victim who just wants to die. Heughan’s tears rip deep into the soul of every Outlander fan. Heughan should be handed an Emmy Award on a golden platter for this performance.
Meanwhile as Jamie wrestles with his inner demons, Claire decides to get some things off her chest. Claire gives her confession to Father Anselm (Ian Hanmore). She tells him everything, time travel and all, and the best part of this is he believes every word she says. This was a nice break from the brutal subject matter of the entire Outlander episode however it doesn’t last long. Murtagh brings up the fact that the British are still looking for Jamie and he should get out of Scotland as fast as possible. Murtagh tells Claire that he and Jamie have a cousin in France, a merchant, that would happily house them.
Now, if watching Jamie endure being raped wasn’t enough, fans now watch as Jamie deals with the psychological trauma of these events. He asks both Murtagh and Willie (Finn Den Hertog) to kill him, put him out of his own misery. This is one of the few times fans see Jamie in a total state of helplessness. He would rather die than live another day with these demons. Heughan continues to astound in this role and he is the breakout actor of this episode alone.
Outlander fans live for Claire and Jamie’s relationship. From their flirtations to their brutal fights, Claire and Jamie exemplify every fans ideal television romance. It’s hard not to ship these two characters together, and Balfe and Heughan exemplify the very definition of sexual chemistry. Jamie would do anything to save Claire from pain and suffering, and in this episode of Outlander, fans watched as Claire got to save Jamie. Armed with lavender oil, a scent Claire noticed on Jamie when he was rescued from Wentworth Prison, Claire is determined to find out everything she can about Jamie and Black Jack’s dreadful encounters. After a small cat-fight Claire notices a brand on Jamie’s side that reads “J.R.” In one of the most gut-wrenching, tear inducing moments this episode, Jamie tells Claire about a point during his torture where Black Jack made him think of Claire as he raped him. Jamie submitted to him for the first time. A broken up Jamie whispers to Claire through tear-filled eyes, “He didn’t just use force to get what he wanted from me, he made love to me Claire, and I couldn’t help myself Claire. I felt so good not to be in pain…I cannot be your husband any longer… He broke me, Claire.” Claire replies in one of the best ways she can, “You belong to no one else but to me and I belong to you and nothing will ever change that… And we are meant to be together.” And for the first time this episode, Jamie hugs Claire and everyone’s favorite couple seems to be headed toward some sort of normalcy. Heughan and Balfe continue to play star-crossed lovers flawlessly, and further prove why they are one of the sexiest, heart-warming couples on television.
By the episode’s end, Murtagh slices the brand “J.R.” off of Jamie, and Outlander fans begin to watch as the old Jamie they know and love begins to come to light. Jamie, Claire and Murtagh bid their goodbyes as they set off for their new lives in France. Jamie is sounding like himself again as he and Claire chat on the boat about the future. Claire raises the interesting idea that they should take advantage of what lies ahead. They can change the future and stop the catastrophic 1745 Jacobite Rising and the Battle of Culloden. “Change the future, the two of us?” Jamie replies. If that wasn’t enough to keep Outlander fans talking all summer long, “there’s something else,” Claire adds, “I’m pregnant.” With that a smile comes across Jamie’s face as he and Claire sail off toward a new life and a new adventure.
Outlander continues to deliver crushing blow after blow as fans become more attached to Claire, Jamie and every character they encounter. This season one finale may be one of the best of a new television series. Heughan, Balfe and Menzies leave everything on the table as they deliver Emmy Award worthy performances. Outlander has left its mark on television this past year and fans cannot wait for what lies ahead.
Outlander will return with new episodes on STARZ
Overall Grade: A+