Though we’re only six episodes deep into a 16-episode first season, I’d bet a dozen of the Laird’s finest horses that Outlander producers will submit “The Garrison Commander” for Emmy consideration. Indeed, it’s a quality hour of television: artful directing, strong writing, and rousing performances by both Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies. Especially Menzies, who’s so far only been able to showcase slivers of what he’s capable of. Here, he’s so reviling yet riveting as Black Jack that the tender flashback between Claire and Frank—in which she’s giving him an intimate shave—somehow felt dirty. Like his ancestor’s darkness stained this future, pure moment.
Now, we’ve seen this episode structure (one set, two actors) already this summer with the Masters of Sex episode “The Fight.” These so-called “bottle” episodes are forcibly intimate and tailor-made for character revelations. If you thought Black Jack was depraved before, well, to borrow a line from the episode: “Bite, Private. Bite until your teeth crack.”
The episode opens on the same beat that closed the last: Lieutenant Foster asking Claire if she’s with the MacKenzies by her own accord.
“I appreciate your concern, Lieutenant, but I can assure you, I am a guest of the clan MacKenzie,” she answers.
Foster takes her at her word but says that his commander would like to speak to her nonetheless.
“If the lady goes, I go,” Dougal replies. So he and Claire follow the Redcoats into enemy territory, on the MacKenzie’s own land. Claire and Dougal are escorted into a dining room to meet Brigadier General Sir Oliver Lord Thomas. (How big must his monogrammed towels be!) Lord Thomas is dining on venison with about a dozen of his comrades and offers Claire his hand (“It’s been far too long since I gazed upon a lovely English rose”) and a seat at the table. Dougal’s teased over his incomprehensible accent (“I don’t know about the rest of you, but I fail to understand a single word the creature said!”) and threatens one of the soldiers (“You pull that needle and we’ll see who pricks who!”) before Claire calls for peace.
“My word, madam, if I were brave enough, I would commission you a colonel in one of my regiments,” Thomas says. “You do know how to order men about.”
“Aye, she does that,” Dougal agrees, displaying just the slightest of smirks before going downstairs to nurse a drink (or five).
Claire regales the table with her tales of Highland life and is promised safe passage to Inverness. All is well… until Black Jack Randall barges in. Rebuked by Lord Thomas for endangering his claret with muck-covered uniform, Randall doesn’t immediately notice Claire. It’s not until he goes to make his exit that his eyes land upon the Englishwoman. And she holds his steady stare, rousing Thomas’ curiosity.
“For a moment there, the lady did look familiar. But I can see now I was wrong,” Randall replies in answer to Thomas’ question.
“I had the same exact experience,” Claire says. “How unusual.”
Black Jack decides he isn’t going to miss a moment of this gathering. He steps just outside the room to dust himself off (kicking his boots against the doorjamb like some petulant child) and walks right back in. He has a tale to tell about the Scot downstairs. Of course, Thomas knows all about that. Duh. And then Thomas comes up with the worst idea ever: It should be Randall who accompanies Claire to Inverness, so he can hear about “Mrs. Beauchamp Among the Savages!” (opening in a playhouse near you).