Outlander, Episode 15: Wentworth Prison
In the adaptation's most pulse-pounding episode yet, Claire and her Highlander allies race against time to save Jamie from a fate worse than the hangman's noose.
One of the most captivating elements of the Outlander phenomenon is the way the atmosphere of the story can change by the influence of characters. Scenes in both the book and its television adaptation range from emotional to romantic to lightly comic, and in the season’s fifteenth episode audiences are taken into the depth of Outlander's dramatic center. In "Wentworth Prison" we find Claire and her company of rescuers – Murtagh, Rupert, Willie, and Angus – plotting an attempt to break into the imposing fortress and save Jamie. Their plan, however, is complicated when Black Jack Randall arrives to commandeer Jamie's fate.
Randall is at his most terrifying in this episode as he makes Jamie a dangerous offer: death by means of his own choosing - considered far more noble than the hangman’s noose – in exchange for Jamie's complete surrender. In the episode fans have been anticipating all season (most with dread, if they've previously read the pages this portion of the story is based on), Randall finally holds all the cards - not to mention Jamie’s physical and psychological fate - in his hands. While in the book the events behind the walls of Wentworth Prison are revealed after the fact, the Starz reimagining puts the audience directly in the scenes as they unfold. What results is a stomach-clenching episode full of extraordinary performances from the show’s deeply talented cast, moving at a slow pace that somehow ramps up the viewer's adrenaline by simply lingering on taut silences and ominous glances.
With perhaps some of the story's most challenging subject matter in the offing, the actors handle their material with subliminal grace and remarkable execution. The majority of the disturbing scenes focus, of course, on Randall (Tobias Menzies) and Jamie (Sam Heughan). The two actors prove themselves to be exceptionally determined in their efforts to capture the devastating scenes from the novel, each giving a performance that astounds, enthralls, and terrifies the audience, the last most especially true in the case of Menzies. He captures the impenetrable blackness of Randall's villainy thoroughly and with immense artistic courage. While Menzies has always allowed himself to disappear into the role – something that makes his dual performance as Frank Randall so arresting – it lends a great deal of devastation and atmospheric realness to the story that he continued even deeper into the villain's role here. Ultimately, his mere presence on the screen radiates foreboding and unthinkable danger straight through to the viewer; it's the performance that all his other powerful performances on the show so far have been leading to, and it's unquestionably his best, most harrowing yet.
Meanwhile, Sam Heughan – our Jamie – captures all the complicated, heart-breaking emotions of his literary counterpart with riveting skill. He delivers so much of Jamie's internal struggle through only his eyes, staying true to the way Jamie refused to let Randall see his fear. Despite how Jamie seeks to hide his emotions and Randall, on the other hand, freely commands the air around them, both characters seem to swallow up the viewer's awareness until it's only Randall and Jamie and a devastatingly private cell. But salvation, to some extent, comes in the shape of the dauntless Claire (Caitriona Balfe as she quite truly fights tooth and nail to see Jamie rescued from Randall’s grasp. In her performance, Balfe once again raises the bar and shows herself to be an intrepid force. Whether surrounding herself with Claire's steely resolve or dissolving into brutal tears when she thinks all hope is lost, Balfe’s performance in this episode is one of her most consuming and utterly remarkable.
With the season finale two weeks away, the harrowing notes of this – perhaps the show’s most heart-wrenching episode – will undoubtedly resonate with viewers as they anticipate what will come next for Claire and Jamie and their deadly adversary.