Outlander, Episode 6: The Garrison Commander

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Outlander’s sixth episode takes us into some of the most emotional territory of the series so far, picking up from last week’s suspenseful ending when Claire found herself at a crossroads between the British and the Scots. In “The Garrison Commander” we follow Claire’s decision, whether to remain with Dougal and the MacKenzie or seek refuge with the British redcoats. Her choice ultimately leads her and Dougal to a village hosting the Brigadier General Lord Oliver Thomas – a character unique to this adaptation – and, consequently, the notorious Black Jack Randall. Outlander, Starz, Diana Gabaldon, Graham McTavish, Dougal MacKenzie, Caitriona Balfe, Claire Randall

Claire soon finds herself once again face-to-face with Frank’s ancestor, and in a confrontation that will test her loyalty to the MacKenzie she learns for herself just how deep the vicious darkness in Jack Randall runs. Bound by her love for Frank, who appears to her so readily in the staggering likeness of the garrison commander, Claire’s emotional reality is shattered as her contempt for Jack develops.

With all she’s been through, nothing has quite prepared Claire for what she’ll feel when she comes to terms with Jack Randall’s black soul. This is an element of the novel that I’ve always thought was crucial to Claire’s development, and it’s given remarkable attention in this episode. Jack isn’t simply a villain – he’s a villain to turn the stomach, and the ultimate stroke of his darkness is the fact that he looks at Claire with the face (quite literally, in this case) of the husband she’s trying to return to. I think that presents the most fascinating and compelling arc; it creates a sense of attachment between hero, heroine, and villain that I’ve always found to be unique to Outlander. This episode certainly becomes about drawing those lines and sewing that impenetrable seam.

Starz, Outlander, Diana Gabaldon, Tobias Menzies, Black Jack Randall

Although he’s been appearing consistently as Frank throughout the series so far, Tobias Menzies rejoins us as Black Jack here, giving what I thought to be an incredible performance as we go beyond that initial meeting, further into not only his history with Jamie but also delving into the character as he stands with Claire. When he opens himself up to reveal the true nature of his character the episode quietly erupts into a monologue that I found simultaneously riveting and disturbing.

One of the hallmarks of Outlander, for me, is the way it goes into these dark places and quiets our experience with the brutality and barbarism not only of the historic truth, but also of psychological truth. It’s a story of such substance, and that substance comes from many places – from Jamie’s valor and Claire’s heart, but also from the way it’s able to journey through darkness and come out into the light, no matter how many times the dark might follow again. It’s the sort of important, harrowing, and exhilarating stuff that makes the story stay with us from the pages. Capturing it in an adaptation is a challenge, but in this episode especially I thought it was marvelously done.

As ever, you can catch up on the episodes on Starz OnDemand or the Starz Play app, and check out Starz.com for previews, character profiles, and the behind-the-scenes scoop. As the promo for next week reminded us, there are only two episodes left before the midseason break; after that, Outlander will be back in early 2015 with the rest of Season 1. Until next week, Outlanders!

Disclosure: Access to programming was made available for the purpose of review