Outlander Recap: Storming Wentworth Prison

17 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Outlander’ Writer on “Uncomfortable” Jamie vs. Black Jack Scenes: “Worst I’ve Ever Spent on a Set”.

The end is nigh, Outlander fans. After discovering Jamie (Sam Heughan) had been condemned to hang at Wentworth Prison on last week’s episode of Outlander, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) plotted to break him out.There is one thing that I’ve had to tell myself over and over again from the moment I first saw “Wentworth Prison,” the penultimate episode of the first season of “Outlander.” Reminding myself of this fact, twisted as it might be, is the only way I can even begin to make sense of what we have just witnessed. (Word of warning, I will most likely also be repeating this mantra after the season finale in two weeks.) Jamie can’t be saved if he’s already dead, so the longer Jack keeps him alive – even if it’s to serve his own sick, depraved desires, the better chance Claire and Murtagh have of rescuing him.It’s an uncommon episode of television that halfway through leaves you realizing that the protagonist probably would have been better off had he been killed in the opening scene. “Wentworth Prison” was precisely that type of episode. Tonight’s “Wentworth Prison” and last week’s “The Search” have set the stage for a brutal end to season 1. (You’ll want to note that the finale airs May 30—not next week.) So without further ado, let’s revisit the bloody events of this penultimate episode.

After being captured by the British and sentenced to hang alongside Taran McQuarrie (Douglas Henshall), Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) is granted a stay of execution … by an all-too-keen Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies). That spanking scene everyone made such a fuss over last month seems like child’s play in light of the things Jack did to the Frasers in the dungeons of Wentworth Prison; these were some of the rawest scenes ever filmed for television. Finally able to take control of the man he’s long been fascinated by (and, frankly, attracted to), Black Jack promises Jamie a noble death in exchange for mental and physical control.

Jamie tries to hatch an escape plan, but McQuarrie isn’t game. “Aye, nothing like a wife to make a man feel disquieted in his own death,” McQuarrie answers, before his own name is called and he mounts the gallows. Just as our skin is really beginning to crawl watching Jack kiss, lick and fondle Jamie’s scarred back (“It’s a masterpiece,” he echoes from an earlier episode), we cut away as Jack asks, “Shall we begin?” Perhaps that’s why Starz is offering us a reprieve. When Jamie’s turn at the gallows arrives, he attempts to break his bonds, fighting to the end, only to be “saved” at the last minute by a late arriving Captain Randall, who dumps Jamie out of the frying pan and into the fire, freeing him from the gallows only to imprison him in a secret dungeon. It’s interesting because the episode sets up for an even more intense finale, but it was, in and of itself, also incredibly violent and hard-to-watch. Jamie attempts to overpower his guards and die like a man not a prisoner, but they soon overpower him due to their number, his weakened physical state, and his shackles.

She told him that it was her Christian duty to pay a visit to the condemned Jamie. “I could tell you’re a Christian woman the moment you entered,” he answered. Maybe he did find some temporary success in that, but both the end of the episode and the tease for the finale give us hope that Claire may still be able to save him … or at least whatever is left of him. I know how this is probably going to look in print, but the fact is the five or six days we shot were without a doubt the most uncomfortable and worst I’ve ever spent on a set. Rupert and Angus have managed to get vital information from the guards while gambling and have determined that lunch hour is the best time to break into the prison, and so a new plan is hatched.

To the credit of Tobias Menzies, this is one of the most terrifying performances that we’ve seen from an actor this year; he was so calculated as a villain, knowing precisely what to do and how to best destroy Jamie completely. Thus, while author Diana Gabaldon in no way sugarcoated what happened to Jamie in her book, those events had less of an impact in “Outlander” the novel than they did when portrayed first-hand onscreen (at least they did for me). In general, the line between serious depiction of criminal brutality and straight-up torture porn is a difficult one to determine, with the difference often lying entirely in intent.

Moore and his crew took the visceral subject matter and presented it in such a way that’s vivid and disturbing – and more searing than any book description. Is the work making a larger point by detailing the horrors a victim is subjected to, or is it just exploiting the cheap thrills of particularly gruesome violence? Same with hair and make-up and costume — I would check with them on occasion after a particularly harrowing scene and, I kid you not, there were tears. Though at times it feels excessive, it’s also effective at transferring the innate discomfort of the moment to viewers, forcing them to bear witness to the abuse, the better to understand the full extent of its savagery. Head over here to preview the “Outlander” finale right away, and sign up here to get some other TV updates on all we cover, courtesy of our CarterMatt Newsletter. (Photo: Starz.)

The level of infatuation that Jack has for Jamie goes beyond mere hatred – if that were the case, he would have let the Highlander hang without a second thought. Of course, Jamie refused, but Randall insisted that his refusal was only momentary as well. “I will have your surrender before you leave this world,” Randall said. Angus and Rupert learn that the warden insists on having his evening meal in private followed by a 25-minute Bible-reading session and quiet reflection. If the reason is just to demonstrate that evil exists in the world and that no one is immune to it, surely there are more effective and less exploitative ways to show it.

A notable side-point to this scene is Sir Fletcher is played by the man, who more than twenty years ago, inspired Diana Gabaldon’s character of Jamie Fraser and Scotland setting of her first novel. Randall was still trying to convince Jamie to surrender, but the Scot was holding up admirably. “You’re the broken one,” he told Randall when he asked to see Jamie’s warped back yet again. “You’re the one that sees my face every night.” Jamie then staged a daring escape attempt and nearly made it, too, but Randall’s muscle eventually managed to subdue him. Chain up Jamie in the prison dungeon, then taunt him with the news that the Duke of Sandringham shot his mouth off in London about the Scotsman’s Petition of Complaint – which, instead of being presented at court, wound up back in Jack’s hands. What makes the interactions all the more strange is the suspicion that, were Jamie a woman, there would be less luxuriating in extensive and detailed abuse and violation.

It was, “I can’t save you from British justice but I can give you the death you deserve, but in exchange you must allow me to break you physically and mentally.” Now that sounds crazy, but to Black Jack that makes a certain amount of sense. Her success as the Singing Sassenach last week has given her enough confidence to try sweet-talking the warden, Sir Fletcher Gordon (Frazer Hines – read here for some fun info on Hines’s “Dr. It turns out the Wentworth bar flies aren’t the only ones with loose ale lips. (Yes, we’re looking at about you, Sandringham!) Randall sets the parchment on fire, effectively dashing any hopes Jamie has of becoming a truly free man. No dice on the letter, but Sir Fletcher does allow Claire, posing as a distant Fraser family friend, to take Jamie’s personal effects (“Je Suis Prest” tartan pin and Sawny, the wooden snake).

To me, the line that was truest to Black Jack’s character was when he ripped open Jamie’s shirt and said with wonder, “How does it feel to be alive and wear so much dead flesh?”I give Sam so much credit because it was tough. The episode is a marvel in just how graphic television can get and still have the audience stay engaged with the material, a testament to the strength of the bond between viewer and character. This is never clearer than during Claire’s rescue attempt within the prison walls, an attempt that nearly succeeded but for the ill-timed return of Randall to Jamie’s prison cell.

Claire is threatened, yet again, with violence, but nothing is as frightening or as torturous as watching her breakdown when she is forced to leave Jamie behind to whatever Randall has planned for him. It is a very, very different experience watching that heavy metal hammer come down on the Highlander’s hand, and witnessing Jamie yelp in pain – so loudly that, ironically, it helps Claire locate her husband’s cell that much faster. To his horror, Claire tells him the precise date of his death but her words are toothless against Randall’s supreme power and she soon finds herself back with her men, holed up in the home of Sir Marcus MacRannoch, a friend to the clan. The psychological abuse that the British captain hurls at the Scot is frightening, illustrated by Sam Heughan’s preternatural ability to widen his eyeballs as Jamie realizes that this goes way beyond 200 lashes. Though she begs for assistance in freeing Jamie, she is refused, as a pointed attack on the prison would be akin to treason, an unreasonable risk to ask of anyone, particularly a stranger.

Then he gets to his aim: If only Jamie will admit that he’s afraid, Randall will give him a final gift: “a clean honorable death of his own choosing.” In short: Black Jack requires Jamie’s full surrender. I was surprised when I first read the book that Claire is unsuccessful because she’s so smart and so capable that that was part of the tragedy of episode 15. Barely able to stay conscious and in excruciating pain, Jamie cannot fight off Black Jack who proceeds to cuddle Jamie, and force Jamie’s hand to stroke his crotch.

Now, I’m not saying Jamie’s mother was a gold-digger, but I will note that she apparently walked down the aisle wearing the jewelry of two men that she did not happen to be marrying that day. As Randall comes near, Jamie attacks him, but to little avail as Goon Marley throws him against a wall and chokes him, nearly to death until Black Jack intercedes. But this doesn’t last long, due to Jamie’s resistance and Jack’s insistence that he “will not give in to coarse passion.” He has to have Jamie willingly, which makes it an ideal time for Claire to show up and give Jamie the only reason he could ever have to voluntarily become Jack Randall’s butt boy. I will say this — and I never say this because you have to keep your eye on what’s happening in front of you and now we’re in season two — but these two episodes have not let go of their hold on me since the writing and filming of them. Claire discovers her nearly unconscious husband during a brief instance that Jack is away from the cell, but her mission becomes a lost cause as soon as the Redcoat captain returns.

She, like her husband, fights Jack off admirably (speaking for the entire “Outlander” fan community by calling him a “f—ing sadistic piece of s–t!” 20th century represent, yo), but Jack overpowers her, choking her within an inch of her life until Jamie finally surrenders. All three principal actors: Heughan, Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies deserve Emmy nominations for this scene, because what unfolds between them next will stay with you forever. As a “brief test of [Jamie’s] sincerity,” to ensure that the Scotsman will not try to run when Claire is released, Jack nails his busted hand to a table in the cell, while Claire emotes a guttural wail that will make your chest hurt. She’s then forced to watch Jack kiss her barely conscious husband (seriously, how the hell is Jamie still awake given the stratospheric level of pain he’s in? He is a broken man, who takes his last moment of happiness by looking at his beloved wife, smiling, and saying, for the first time, “I love you, mo nighean donn.” Jamie may have to submit to Jack’s sexual whims, but Claire is not leaving that prison without throwing a huge wet blanket on the captain’s excitement.

In a great shot of Balfe’s and Menzies’s faces in close-up, with the flame of a torch illuminating the background, Claire whispers the month, date and year that Jack will die. Upon convening with Murtagh, Rupert, Angus and Willie at a safe house, Claire is unfazed about her sinister experience at Wentworth and insists on another rescue mission. Because what he does have is a herd of 19 hairy Highland cows, and if Murtagh can use them to deprive his old rival of his livelihood and rescue his godson at the same time, then perhaps there is some good to come out of this atrocious day. The episode ends with Murtagh offering a single shred of hope: “I know how we can save young Jamie.” Let’s pray it will be enough for them to succeed this time. My favorite moment had to be when Jack, from the other side of the room, reaches out to touch Jamie’s back, establishing his utter obsession with being able to trace his fingers along every scar.

Despite having a past connection to Jamie’s mother Ellen, he is the one who gave Ellen her pearls that Claire now owns, he will not offer active help as it would put his family at grave risk. Who apparently was also in love with Jamie Fraser’s mom because when Claire offers him the Scotch pearls as payment to enlist his men in the fight for Jamie, he demurs.

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