Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Outlander: “Wentworth Prison”

Illustration for article titled Outlander: “Wentworth Prison”

At the end of last week’s episode, so many characters told Claire she’s crazy to try and break Jamie out of Wentworth Prison. But nothing could have quite prepared her—or us—for the agony that comes in “Wentworth Prison.” In retrospect, it’s a good thing we had last week’s episode to lighten the mood at least a little bit, because saying this week’s Outlander is dark is a pretty big understatement. The aesthetics of the episode reflect its dark tone: We don’t get any of those sweeping, bright shots of the beautiful highlands. Instead, the episode is full of browns, grays, haunting blues, and, of course, blood red, the color that marks both Captain Jack Randall’s uniform and his sadistic desires.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Tobias Menzies’s Black Jack Randall is the most terrifying villain on television right now. That much became clear several episodes ago in “The Garrison Commander.” Randall has violated Jamie, Claire, Jenny—all because of his obsession with Jamie. All of his villainous acts have been in the name of breaking Jamie, which he once again becomes set on doing in “Wentworth Prison.” The majority of the episode takes place in Jamie’s cell, with Randall laying out his terms. He wants Jamie to surrender to him, to admit that he may have escaped Fort William, but he never escaped him. In return, he offers Jamie the gift of death on his own terms. When he refuses to surrender, Jamie withstands more violence and abuse at Randall’s hands, who uses a hammer to nearly render Jamie’s own hand completely useless.

Jamie’s pressure point is Claire, and he’s hers too. Outlander has tested the limits of their love over and over, and though Randall says every man can be broken, he fails to understand that the love between Jamie and Claire is a bond that certainly cannot be broken, a bond that gives them both the stubborn will to go to the end of the world for one another. Claire comes so close to saving Jamie in this episode simply because of her will, strength, and focus to get him out of Wentworth. But it isn’t enough. Randall looms large, and in the end, he gets exactly what he wants, using Claire’s release as leverage over Jamie, who he rapes and further brutalizes.

It’s difficult to write about “Wentworth Prison,” because it’s a difficult episode to watch. Like “The Garrison Commander,” the episode relies so heavily on the exchanges between Jamie and Randall and asks us to delve once again into the psychology of a monster. That’s not to say that “Wentworth Prison” expects us to understand or parse out why Randall is the way he is, but just having to listen to him speak unsettles, and seeing his violence slices all the deeper. Outlander is such an immersive and intimate show, placing us right there with the characters, whether it’s in the throes of a passionate love scene or in the tenser moments that have defined these last few episodes. In the case of “Wentworth Prison,” that intimacy with our main characters makes it a grueling episode to get through. If the episode’s goal is to make is experience fear and pain in tandem with our two protagonists, it accomplishes that and then some, especially because the acting is so phenomenal.

Caitriona Balfe shows off a whole new range here than she does in “The Search.” Her performance is fantastic from beginning to end. When Claire first meets with the warden Sir Fletcher, she’s cool and calm as she expertly lies to him in an effort to visit Jamie in his cell. The moment Sir Fletcher walks out, Claire breaks down, feeling the weight of finally knowing that yes, Jamie’s alive, but getting to him will be an immensely difficult task. Balfe doesn’t speak at all as she transitions from Claire’s feigned calmness, to her breakdown, and back to collecting herself again. It all happens in a matter of seconds, but it’s one of the episode’s most memorable moments.

But the best scene comes near the end, after Randall has nailed Jamie’s hand to a table and the episode has severed every last piece of hope. Claire, fueled by her rage and despair, turns to Randall and tells him the rumors are true. She’s a witch, and she’s going to place a curse on him. She curses him with knowledge, whispering into his ear the exact day of his death. It’s a wonderfully shot scene, and you see, for the first time, the slightest glimmer of fear in Randall’s eyes as the camera focuses in on him. Claire fucking Fraser, y’all.


Stray observations:

  • I clapped so hard when Claire threw Randall against a wall like he was nothing.
  • I’m not sure exactly how Claire’s going to get Jamie out of there, but the new plan apparently involves 21 cows.
  • Sam Heughan also has an incredible episode. That single tear he sheds at the end had me feeling so defeated.
  • This is one of those episodes of television that I realize is strong in its acting, writing, and direction, but I will never rewatch it. I can’t watch these characters suffer in those ways again.
  • Next week, Outlander is taking a break for the holiday. But it will be back for the season finale on May 30, which is my birthday, and all I ask as a birthday gift from the show is for Claire and Geillis to fall in love, run away, and live happily ever after. I won’t hold my breath. I’ll settle for Claire saving Jamie and Randall dying alone in a pit somewhere.