Outlander recap: The Garrison Commander
Claire and Black Jack go toe-to-toe; Dougal has an intriguing proposal.
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).
Talk turns to a recently beheaded Private and those dastardly Scots who likely did it. Claire retorts with the hung Highlanders she and the MacKenzies found along the road just days before. Black Jack picks up on her Scottish sympathies and begins to use them against her.
“All this time living with savages, I have to wonder if Dougal MacKenzie shared more than food and shelter with the lady. Perhaps he’s also shared his bed,” he says to the entire table, getting just the rise out of her that he wanted.
“The Scots just want the same freedoms we enjoy,” Claire huffs. “Freedoms we take for granted. They are not the aggressors, we are. It is their land, and we are occupying it.”
Which, of course, was not the right thing to say to a room full of Redcoats.
“I believe it is the King’s land,” Thomas says pointedly. “I must say, madam, I find your sympathies extraordinarily puzzling.”
Claire begins to defend herself when another soldier barges in (does no one knock!?) to inform Thomas that there has been an attack, and one man is gravely injured downstairs. Claire runs to treat the man, who must have his arm amputated. (That sawing back and forth. Ack!) When she returns to the dining room, it’s just Randall and a lone soldier giving him a shave. Lord Thomas has gone to hunt the rebels.
After a malicious object lesson in which Randall nearly cuts the soldier’s throat as recompense for nicking his face, Claire and Black Jack are left alone in the room. Where, perplexingly, he apologizes to Claire for their first inauspicious meeting. (You know, the one where he tried to rape her.) “The mere memory leaves me ashamed,” he says. He hopes that his honesty will be returned with her honesty. He wants to know who she is and why she’s in Scotland. When she begins to recall her Oxfordshire roots, he interjects. He knows she’s lying because there are no Beauchamps in Oxfordshire. She asks how he could possibly know that since his roots are in Sussex. Oops. She’s not supposed to know that—that’s a Frank fact. She covers herself by pointing out his accent. He doesn’t seem to buy it, but after a bit, he moves on. Claire tries a new tale: She weaves a yarn about a lover she followed to Scotland, one who turned out to be “a rake and whore-monger.” Frank starts doodling on a cloth, asking for the name and rank of her paramour, to which she demurs. He calls her over to look at the drawing. It’s of her. He’s going to call it “Beautiful Lies.”
Claire is fighting a battle she can’t win, but Black Jack will make concessions if she spills a bit of dirt about the MacKenzies raising funds on behalf of a Jacobite rebellion. She says she knows nothing.
“I wouldn’t believe you if you told me that night is dark and day is bright,” he says.
NEXT: Psychological warfare
He takes another tact with her. He begins to recall (and we see through flashbacks) the 100 lashes he inflicted on young Jamie for his supposed “crimes.” And it’s just awful. “I will break you,” he tells the clansman in his best Ivan Drago.
And it’s clear that Randall is relishing every brutal moment of this rehashing. He wanted Jamie to beg, but he would not. At one point, he couldn’t even stand on his own two feet, and yet Randall persisted, flaying his back into strips of pulpy flesh. One of his own men fainted. “I think it was in that moment, I decided to bleed him to the bone,” Randall tells Claire wistfully, romanticizing the idea of the whip connecting him and Jamie. “That boy and I, we were creating a masterpiece. An exquisite, bloody masterpiece. It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen.”
Randall’s slowly lulling Claire into a false sense of security, repenting his sins.
“The fact that you care what I think gives me some hope for your soul,” Claire says. “You can choose the man you wish to be.”
“The Rehabilitation of Black Jack Randall,” he muses.
Dangling the idea of Inverness like a shiny new toy in front of a tot, Randall grabs Claire’s hand… and punches her in the stomach! Knocking the wind out of her!
“I dwell in darkness; darkness is where I belong,” he tells her. There will be no rehabilitation today. He commands a corporal to give her a few swift kicks in the gut too before Dougal barges in (a welcome barge-in this time). Randall gives Claire a reprieve, but not for long: Dougal is to deliver her to Ft. William by sundown tomorrow.
Free of the Garrison, Dougal and Claire stop along the road to get a drink. But it’s all a ruse on Dougal’s part because it’s the “Liar’s Spring.” If you drink from it and prove untrue “it will burn your gizzard out.” So good thing Claire isn’t an English spy! It’s here too that Dougal reveals his plan: He’s doesn’t have to turn Claire in if he makes her Scottish… through marriage. She recoils at the idea of being wed to him. But it’s not himself he has in mind, though “the idea of grinding your corn does tickle me,” he says. (Best/worst sex euphemism yet?) It’s young Jamie he has in mind. And because he doesn’t have much money to his name and a price on his head, this match is actually beneficial to him too.
“Doesn’t it bother you that I’m not a virgin?” Claire later asks Jamie.
Wait for it…
Wait for it…
Wait for it…
“No,” he answers. “As long as it doesn’t bother you that I am.”
Of course, now we have to wait a whole agonizing week for what is surely the most-anticipated episode of the first season. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be taking cold showers every morning for the next seven days until “The Wedding.” Oidhche mhath!