Ok…last week, I wrote off the cuff my first impressions of episode 5. And, a lot of you know how that went! So, I, of course, decided I might as well continue cuff writing for episode 6. (You’d think I’d learn, but evidently…no)
I had heard this episode was going to be good, so I purposely avoided watching previews and reading cast interviews in an effort to increase my viewing pleasure. It was more than pleasurable, good Lord that was intense. Tobias and Cait’s performance was worthy of every award appropriate adjective I can muster. Bravo! Brava! Bellisimo! You dun good! I usually watch the episode back to back, but I couldn’t muster the emotional energy! I feel spent. I feel like I need a cigarette and I don’t smoke!
Last week, some of my readers pointed out how the show fleshes out scenes and situations that they just couldn’t “see” in the books. I agreed that there was some merit to this point and commented that I too appreciated seeing the nuance of a look or the power of body language. Despite Ms. Gabaldon’s considerable skill at writing these details, the acting does a lot to enhance the story. However, tonight the show truly helped me understand a couple of situations that had alluded me despite multiple (and I do mean multiple) readings of the book.
First, Black Jack Randall looks like Frank.
Yeah, yeah, I can hear you all saying, we already knew that. Me too. I thought. Before tonight, I don’t think I truly understood what Claire must feel when she is in Black Jack’s presence. Claire has been on the front-lines of one the bloodiest wars in history and she has seen first-hand the devastation war can conflict on a man. She may not have the psychological terms to identify the emotional trauma soldiers were often left with, but she recognizes it when she sees it. She saw it in Frank, her gentle, intelligent, moral husband and she sees it in Black Jack. Sitting before her is a man confessing to her a personal tale of war and it’s aftermath. And…he looks like her husband.
The depth of this man’s damage was made obvious. In an earlier interview, Tobias Menzies, the actor who plays both roles, commented that Ron Moore had made an impression on him when discussing the portrayal of these two men. It wasn’t their differences that interested Ron as much as the similarities. These were two men who were shaped by war. This departure from the book, in my opinion, was a powerful and evocative choice. They let us “see” beneath the cruelty and glimpse the ravages of war on a man’s soul. It was mesmerizing. I couldn’t look away.
It certainly is quite a challenge to play two roles in a movie and be able to effectively distinguish the difference between the two characters for an audience. Tobias had commented that sometimes that difference can be found in the eyes. The eyes. The window to man’s soul. Mr. Menzies, I saw Black Jacks’ war tortured soul in your eyes. And, so did Claire.
If we were treated to a horrifying glimpse into Black Jack’s soul tonight, courtesy of the writers’ room and Tobias’s performance, we were also treated to a glimpse of Claire’s soul via Cait’s considerable acting skills. Claire wants to see the good in this man for the sake of her beloved Frank. I saw the roller coaster of emotions on Claire’s face and felt her empathy for this cruel man. For the first time, I think I truly understood her confusion. She knows the stories of this man and his infamous cruelty and yet, …we see her move from disdain and condemnation of his actions to a tearful plea that he save his soul. I believe for a moment, the man sitting in front of her isn’t Black Jack, it’s Frank. And, her tender, kind and moral heart bleeds for him.
It would be a wonderful story-line if Claire’s plea and obvious empathy had worked and Black Jack began a journey to redemption….Thank goodness that isn’t how this story rolls. Black Jack remains in darkness and we remain enthralled. It would be wonderful to think that the loving heart of a woman could indeed rescue a man’s soul. But, the reality is that sometimes love is not enough. Instead, darkness rules, love is twisted and the world becomes ironic.
Tonight, I understood Jack’s unnatural attachment to Jamie.
In the telling of Jamie’s flogging, we are able to see the moment it all changed for Jack and exactly when his world turned black. This man has been placed in charge of keeping order in what he considers a wild and barbarian place full of superstition and ignorance. This is not what he expected. In lieu of a history lesson, just believe me when I say that the road to becoming an officer would not have been an easy one for Jack. He has reached beyond his station and means to become Captain of his Majesty’s Eighth Dragoons. I’m sure many of us can relate to the situation in which he now finds himself embroiled. He is surrounded by lesser men of higher social and political rank. The dumping of the claret was very symbolic. Nice touch that. He isn’t invited to the dinner table literally and metaphorically. He must be seething with impotent rage. So, what does a man do in his situation? What do you do with these feelings? Maybe you express those feelings in displaced anger. Maybe you take out your frustration at your “superiors” on the innocent.
Our Jamie, an innocent, as a result of his own proud and honorable nature, unwittingly becomes the proverbial straw that broke the back of Jack’s soul. Jack tells the tale of feeling sorry for the young man with the raw back. But, his own pride and his position of power and responsibility compel him to continue with the slated punishment. He must not look weak to the locals and his men. He tells Claire that he intended to take his time because he fully expected Jamie to cry for the mercy that I believe Jack would have granted. But…instead, a series of events triggered the black monster that invades Jack’s soul. One of his soldiers faints, the crowd begins to laugh and Jamie will not cry out. The pressure, the anger, the disappointment, the shame at what he’s been forced to do collide. Jack can only survive the collision by changing how he views the world. He tells Claire that the bloody mangled flesh was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. In a moment, Jack slipped into insanity and Jamie and his mutilated back become impossibly entangled in Jack’s new world view.
I finally “get it” thanks once again to the producing, writing and acting choices.
There has been a lot of buzz about a possible Emmy for this episode and it’s performances. I know nothing about what would constitute an Emmy winning performance, but I will say I was impressed. For what that’s worth! ( I’m sure everyone at Outlander Starz had been waiting to hear what I think, LOL) There was a lot more to appreciate in this episode, but I think I’ve said enough. Except, that I know Ron Moore has said that by episode 5 they had a really clear idea of where the story was headed. Off the cuff, <g> I’d say it’s headed in the right direction!