Monday, 15 September 2014

OUTLANDER, 1.6 – 'The Garrison Commander' • tables are turned

Monday, 15 September 2014
RANDALL (to Claire): I run in darkness, Madam. And darkness is where I belong. I need no sympathy and you'll get none from me. One way or another, I will get the truth out of you.
★★★½ (out of four)
written by Ira Steven Behr • directed by Brian Kelly

If you've bailed on OUTLANDER, for whatever reason, I implore you to resume viewing to this episode, at the very least. "The Garrison Commander" had a very simple plot and was built on essentially two scenes, with an unforgettable flashback, and it was a gripping showcase for Tobias Menzies—whose Captain "Black Jack" Randall suddenly became one of the greatest small-screen villains right now, and I'm including Games of Thrones' rogues gallery.

This episode gave us out first real insight into the English side of the conflict, with Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Dougal MacKenzie (Graham McTavish) escorted to a nearby garrison—although she claims to be a willing guest of the Scottish clan. Suddenly, the tables were turned with Dougal being the "outlander" in this English stronghold, and Claire the beauty all the officers wanted to impress. Typically for this genre, the English were either upper-class toffs, typified by their plum-voiced leader Brigadier General Lord Oliver Thomas (John Heffernan), or despicable bastards—which leads us to the aforementioned Captain Randall.

It wasn't long before Claire's opinions and plain-speaking made her a figure of suspicion at the garrison, too, thanks to her insight and sympathy towards the Highlander's cause. That said, most didn't have any real reason to dislike her, or see her as any kind of threat, but Randall already suspects she's holding secrets and intended to expose them.

The success of this episode was down to the writing by Ira Steven Behr (Star Trek: Deep Space Nine), and the performances of Balfe and Menzies. I haven't really been taking Captain Randall very seriously as a villain, partly because Menzies has the slightly amusing look of a man hiding a trio of marbles in his lower jaw, but that all changes with "The Garrison Commander". He's a complete bastard on many levels, and it was genuinely harrowing to see the depths of this. It was relatively easy to find him despicable during a prolonged flashback to a horrific moment when he administered a hundred lashes on Jamie's (Sam Heughan) back—which was already streaked with deep lashes—but it was nevertheless a very effective sequence. I didn't really expect this show to produce a torture scene comparable to those in The Passion of the Christ, but it wasn't holding back. A violent reminder this show does come from the Starz network, after all.
RANDALL: I think all they could see was the horror but I could see the beauty. I saw the truth. That boy and I, we were creating a masterpiece. An exquisite, bloody masterpiece.
But what made that scene really hurt was Randall's psychotic reminiscing, believing he was creating something beautiful by destroying Jamie's back in his tireless hope to make the young Scot cry out for mercy. And just as the scene changed, to suggest Randall's shrivelled heart has a change of redemption, he's callous enough to gut-punch Claire to the floor, then order a lackey to kick her like a dog. It was quite a moment, and wouldn't have worked half as well without the groundwork the show has done. We really do like Claire and it hurts to see her in pain, especially physically, and my heart cheered when Dougal burst into the room and ended the cruelty.

I also like how the episode ended, with Dougal managing to leave the garrison with Claire, but obliged to hand her over to the English the next day—which he doesn't intend to do, by way of manipulating the law in their favour, by marrying Claire to Jamie and thus making her a Scott. I've always known Outlander is partly a romance between Jamie and Claire, but didn't really expect them to get together through a marriage of convenience—and, to be fair, Claire doesn't seem too pleased about the matter, and Jamie behaves as if it's just good manners and a way to help. They have feeling for each other, but I like how this marriage isn't a strange shortcut to a "happily ever after". I'm not even sure if the marriage will go ahead, as that's quite a big step.

Overall, "The Garrison Commander" was the best episode of this first season, so far, and a stark reminder that Outlander's not quite the trifling historical-fantasy whimsy some believe it to be. While it has certain ingredients that mean it'll draw the attention of more women than men, perhaps, the actual content has something for everyone. And this episode certainly kicked things up a gear, and I'm glad the doubt over Claire's identity and motives aren't in question by the MacKenzie's now.

13 September 2014 • Starz