Episode 106 – The Garrison Commander

Even having seen (and loved) the wedding, this is still my favorite episode. Tobias Menzies is amazing in ways that words cannot express. He takes fantastic writing and elevates it to a transformative experience.

Black Jack Randall is one of my favorite characters in the books. He wasn’t when I first read them, but I’m older now, and have written a few books of my own. I understand the darkness better, and the need for it.

Because pretty much this entire episode is an expansion/extrapolation/fabrication and is not in the book, I’m going to abandon my usual review style (looking at differences from page to screen) and just talk about what is going on with BJR (and Claire and Jamie). I’ll make some comments about Dougal at the end, too.

One of the things I love about BJR is that, within his own particular boundaries, he has a very intense sense of honor. Claire has never fallen within these bounds. He doesn’t know who or what she is, but he knows what she isn’t: a stray 18th century Englishwoman lost in Scotland, as she claims to be.

Even without Claire’s legendary glass face, BJR is very, very good at reading people. He knows she is lying from their very first encounter, and the lies and her reasons for them both intrigue and infuriate him, the moreso because he cannot ascertain them. Nothing about her makes sense, or will fit into his understanding of the world. Therefore, he needn’t treat her as he would treat a real stray 18th century Englishwoman lost in Scotland.

To that woman, he would show absolute courtesy and hospitality, if not actual respect. To Claire, absurdly, he can show his true self. In the show, he does it here, at Brockton. In the books, he doesn’t do it until Edinburgh in 1745, but there is something about the way she is outside of his understanding, and the way they are both connected to Jamie, that allows him to speak of things he hides from everyone else in the world.

Tobias has spoken of his portrayal of Jack as someone who was changed by war, just as Frank was. Jack’s is an insurgency war, on the edge of rebellion, and we know (from the books, and it’s hinted at with the talk of Sandringham in 101) that he is an agent provocateur in the Highlands. Whether he means to draw out Jacobites and arrest them, or rile the Highlands to later support the Jacobites is unclear. But we know he has been given the task to be, basically, as vile and despicable as possible to the people of the Highlands.

What happened to him in that process was that he discovered that he liked it. That the brutality, the cruelty, the pain and blood and terror, woke something inside him, called to him with a lover’s song. And so he reveled in it, steeped himself in the sweet miasma of fear, until one day he met a boy named James Fraser. And in that boy, he found a spirit and a flesh capable of withstanding everything he could inflict. At least in public. He promises Jamie that he will break him, and in that promise is a lust and a longing, and a sick and twisted form of love that binds them through Jamie’s flesh and blood.

“I will break you,” Randall says.

And he will.

But not by flogging.

In the episode, we also see that BJR has a flagrant disregard for his foppish superiors. Lord Thomas is not stupid, but he is lazy and willfully ignorant. Jack cannot respect a man who is more interested in the integrity of his claret than in possible Jacobite sympathizers sitting in the taproom below.

In fact, Jack doesn’t truly recognize the chain of command at all. He is somewhat protected from it by the Duke of Sandringham (in ep. 101 we’re told he must have had a powerful patron to protect him from the censure of his superiors), but it’s another example of him adhering only to the code and the rules inside his own head. He gets to decide who is worthy of respect, and Lord Thomas isn’t.

Foster might be, by the way. BJR doesn’t condescend to him, although he does play off of him. But I get the sense that, of everyone in the room during the officers’ meal, the only two men who are actually soldiers and not just officers are Randall and Foster. That is probably because they are the only two who aren’t wearing wigs.

Note that that’s a change from the books- there’s a scene where Claire pours blotting sand into Jack’s spare wig, and after he punches her during this first interrogation, she tells him, “your wig is crooked.” But I’m totally fine with the change, because it makes him seem more…connected to his job. The wearing of a wig is an adherence to faraway London rules of etiquette. Jack is beyond those, now.

There is also a sense in this whole episode that Jack is a mixture of a cat toying with a mouse, and a spider spinning webs to ensnare its prey. I can see Claire as both mouse and fly here, unwittingly falling into his trap. She wants so very much to help him, both for Frank’s sake and his own. Although her good sense is probably screaming that there’s nothing she can do, that he’s dangerous and shouldn’t be trusted, she needs for him to be redeemable. She needs that for Frank, to be able to believe that he isn’t descended from a sadistic sociopath and that he might eventually find solace for the horrors he was responsible for during his war. And she needs that for Jack, because she is a compassionate healer who can’t stop herself from helping anyone who needs it. Even people who have tried to kill her (see Lionel Brown).

So she is sucker punched along with the audience. I’ll admit that I wasn’t certain what was happening, when BJR talked about redemption and making Claire happy. They were so far away from the books at that point, I wondered for just a moment if his plan was to take her away, but head south toward Edinburgh and the Tolbooth, not west to Inverness. I never really thought he would let her go. And then he punched her, and we were right back to the book.

Let me talk for just a moment about Jamie and the flogging. I’m sure we will get Jamie’s perspective on the scene in an episode or two (if they follow the books, it will be after the spanking, as part of his attempt to explain his notions of justice and punishment and his guilt about his father), and so the show may veer off in some way from the books and therefore change what I’m about to say. But here’s my take on things, from my reading of the books.

Jamie is very sensitive about the scars on his back, obviously. There are several reasons for that. The first is what he told to Claire when he wouldn’t let her remove his bandages in front of Auld Alec. It makes people pity him. The second is the reason he fought with the lads in the book after Dougal showed him off- because it makes people think him weak. (If you don’t remember what happened, it’s at the end of chapter eleven. Another lad makes a disparaging personal remark to Jamie, and Jamie beats the tar out of him. We aren’t told what was said – it was in Gaelic – but Claire assumes that it was something similar to what she heard murmured another time, and was in ep. 105: “I would die in my blood before I let a whey-faced Sassenach use me that way.”) But neither of those reasons are strong enough, on their own, to explain why Jamie still is sensitive about the scars thirty years later. He hesitates when his daughter innocently tells him to take off his shirt to keep it from getting dirty. He flinches when his grandson, who idolizes him and could never see him as weak or pitiable, touches the scars.

The reason for that has everything to do with Jack Randall, and with the death of Brian Fraser. No matter how much Jenny tries to take some of the blame for their father’s death, Jamie will bear the guilt of it for the rest of his life. The flogging (or rather, believing Jamie had died from it) is what made Brian have a stroke. And if Jamie had given in to BJR’s “request” to have his body, he wouldn’t have been flogged the second time. So that’s one part.

And the other, of course, is because the second flogging – the one that truly marred him and made his back a pulpy mass of scar tissue rather than simply striped by weals and gashes – was done at the hands of Randall. After Wentworth, everything Randall ever did to Jamie has become part of that invasion, that breaking of his self and his soul. The flogging, the rape, the death of his father, the attacks on Claire, all of it has attained a kind of critical mass.

So it is more than fear of pity or of being seen as weak that makes Jamie want to hide the scars. It is guilt and shame.

Jamie has to constantly reaffirm to himself that he has forgiven Jack Randall. And in the later books he has, as far as that goes. But he has never “gotten over” it. Here is the truth: you don’t. You don’t get over trauma. You learn to live with it.

And the scariest part, the part that is hardest for people to accept, is that Randall is proud of what he did. He sees it as beautiful, as this deep, transcendent connection between them. As an act of love.

OK, enough about Randall. Let’s talk about Dougal.

This is the episode where we see Dougal start to respect Claire and to believe her when she says she isn’t a spy. And it isn’t a magical spring that convinces him (although that’s part of it). It’s the way she defended him in front of her countrymen, and warned him away when she thought he might be in danger. It’s the fact that she didn’t spill his secrets to Randall under coercion or punishment. And that she’s willing to marry Jamie (and to sleep with him) in order to escape BJR’s clutches. But the thing about Dougal is that he’s always thinking, always trying to manipulate situations to his best advantage. So while he appears to be solidly on Claire’s side in this episode, the desires that drive him are still under the surface.

It suits his purposes to have Jamie marry Claire. An English wife neatly removes Jamie from consideration as Laird of the MacKenzie Clan. It also keeps Claire safely where he can see her- even though he is pretty sure she isn’t an English spy, she is still an unknown quantity. And now Jamie is going to watch out for her, and is too honorable to do anything that will overtly damage the Clan, even for his wife.

But let’s face it. Dougal wants Claire for himself. This is coming out much earlier on the show than it does in the books (the groping kiss in the corridor during the gathering notwithstanding), but it is definitely present in both. So he’s pissed off at the thought of Jamie getting to have the thing he wants. And even more pissed off when she so clearly wants Jamie, too.

So Dougal gets to be a complicated, three-dimensional character and not a flat stereotype. He gets to do things that we don’t understand or that don’t seem to make sense right away. He gets to make decisions based on motivations that are muddy or selfish or practical.

And that is what makes this an amazing series. Because no one always makes the right choice, not even Jamie and Claire. Because everyone does bad things sometimes, or can’t forgive mistakes. And because even Black Jack Randall has redeeming qualities. Don’t believe me? Ask Roger MacKenzie. Ask Jack’s brother Alex. Now, those qualities may not be enough for Claire and Jamie, but think of it this way: in Dragonfly, Jamie actually walks BJR back to his quarters after his marriage to Mary Hawkins and Alex’s death. It tears Jamie to pieces, and he is angry and outraged and hates himself and the world while he’s doing it, but he does it. Because Jack is devastated at the loss of his brother, and for that single moment, Jamie can also feel something like pity for him.

And I am so glad that we have a second season so that we’ll get to see that moment on screen.

Although I am re-reading Voyager right now and praying to all of the gods that we get at least through season three. Although they’re going to have to cast someone as young Lord John Grey for season two, I imagine they’ll cast someone else to play him as an adult. And I cannot wait to find out who that is, and to see him and Sam Heughan interact. There will be much rejoicing.

So I know I didn’t really talk about the episode much. If you have a comment to make about any part of the episode, please do so! I’d still love to talk about the actual scenes, I was just more interested in the characters for my review. But please do comment, especially once we get into the hiatus and we’re all starved for more Outlander!

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