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OUTLANDER Cuts Us, And We Bleed

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Episode 115: “Wentworth Prison”

[Photos: Sony Pictures Television]

Episode 115 of Outlander makes up for last week’s banality with some serious subject matter, and a stark reminder that the Scottish Highlands of the 1700s aren’t about just about raising goats, picking herbs, and rolling about in the hay. There are equal amounts of violence, inequity and dishonor.

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The show opens as Jamie and MacQuarrie await their turn at the gallows at Wentworth Prison. MacQuarrie proceeds forward to meet his maker, but instead of a quick clean neck break, he slowly strangles to death at the end of the noose. While he dangles, Jamie fights the Red Coats. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, Randall appears and puts a stop to Jamie’s execution. Jamie is ushered to his cell, and the guard urges him to bathe and eat.

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In parallel, Claire meets with the prison warden. After seeing a cross on one of the warden’s books, she claims to know her distant relation Jamie hardly at all but believes it’s her Christian duty to visit. The warden refuses the visit, but when Claire suggest she take a letter from Jamie to comfort his mother, the warden offers Jamie’s effects instead. The possibility of getting information about Jamie’s situation ahead of his rescue dissipates.

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Later, Claire sits in a tavern with Murtagh, and fumes while the men she had gathered to her cause appear to laugh and drink without a care for Jamie’s predicament. Soon enough, she finds these simple Scottish clansmen had an agenda…they were not-so-quietly gathering data about the prison. They share their findings: the warden has meals in private and reads his Bible in quiet self-reflection for an hour after dinner. It’s enough information for Claire to formulate a plan; she lets herself into the head warden’s office, finds keys to the prison, and sallies forth to find her husband.

Back in Jamie’s cell, Randall burns in front of Jamie the letter of complaint about Randall that had been given to the Duke of Sandringham. That reprieve that Jamie had been counting on to truly begin his life, simply burned to ash. The Captain’s makes his agenda clear. He wants Jamie to submit his spirit, will, mind and body. In return, he’ll give Jamie an easy death.

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The reason we are fans of Jamie’s character…it’s not just that he’s easy on the eye. It’s that he’s kind, quick to laugh, but resolute. He dismisses Randall’s offer. A tussle breaks out between Jamie and Randall’s guard, and Jamie just barely loses. Randall crushes Jamie’s hand several times with an implement that looked remarkably similar to the meat tenderizer my mother used to prepare chicken fried steak as I was growing up. The result? Hand-burger. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself.)  All macabre humor aside, every single blow to Jamie’s hand is a punch to the gut.

All throughout this verbal and physical interaction, Randall is menacingly sexual, and here’s where I have to give proper respect to this show. Striking the right tone with this subject matter is very difficult to do. Too much, and it’s gratuitous. Too little, and we don’t take it as a serious threat to a character. But the balance here is perfect, and it communicates the same truth that Quentin Tarantino also managed so well in Pulp Fiction. Sexual intimidation really doesn’t have that much to do with sex at all. It is about control, submission, and humiliation.

Outlander 2014
Outlander 2014

Claire does manage to find Jamie, but he’s fainted from the shock of his mangled hand. Just as she rouses him sufficiently to make their escape, Randall discovers her. They exchange verbal barbs then come to blows, but Randall gets the upper hand, so to speak. When he attacks and threatens Claire, Jamie willingly offers himself instead. The elated sadist nails Jamie’s ruined hand to the table and insists on Jamie kissing him in front of Claire, just to add insult to injury.

Randall ushers Claire away from Jamie’s cell, and en route, asks about the rumor he heard about her being a witch. Claire confirms the rumor, and goes a step further. She “admits” to being a witch, then curses Randall with the knowledge of the time of his own death. He’s taken aback, but recovers and pushes her down the chute where dead bodies are dropped. How she manages that drop with nary a broken bone is a wonder, but she wanders the woods outside the prison and reconnects with the clansmen who’ve been helping her.

We get one last intense scene between Randall and Jamie. Randall cuts Jamie’s shirt up the back and parts it slowly to reveal the crosshatch scarring from the whippings that Jamie received at Randall’s hand all those years ago. Randall caresses Jamie’s scars, cooing over his masterpiece, and asks rhetorically, “How does it feel to be alive with so much dead flesh?” Randall’s touches become kisses, and Jamie tolerates Randall’s touch quietly as tears stream down his face.

Of course, we walk away from this scene feeling revolted at the violation of this character we all dearly love, but taking a step back…wow. The acting from both Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzies is restrained. The words are quiet, all emotions play across their faces subtly, we feel pulled in close to this horribly intimate exchange between the two of them, and we feel every single emotion we are supposed to feel. That there is great TV-making. Bravo, gentlemen.

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Claire, Murtagh, and their group of merry men regroup at the nearby home of a friend, Marcus MacRannoch. Claire begs for his help, but MacRannoch’s disinclined to acquiesce to her request (means “no”).  He can’t endanger his family. When Claire offers payment with the pearls Jamie had given to her on their wedding night, MacRannoch realizes that the pearls are the same he gave to Jamie’s mother on her wedding night, but still he refuses. Murtagh realizes with a grin that MacRannoch’s large herd of cattle can serve as their plan to rescue Jamie, and boom, the episode’s over.

I personally struggle to envision how a bunch of cows can bust Jamie out of Wentworth, but I’m desperate to see how they make it happen. I’m also desperate to see Randall get his comeuppance, Jamie get his hand fixed (is that even possible?), and whether that letter that Randall burned was the real deal. Just two more episodes left, my friends, then the season wraps on May 30th. It’s time to start booking your summer Scotland trips! See you guys next week for the next-to-last episode in Season One!

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