Take a deep breath, Outlander fans. The anguished, drawn-out penultimate episode of the season is here, and those of us who have read the book all know that the Worst Thing is about to happen either in this episode or sometime soon.
Turns out of course that we’re not spared any agony throughout “Wentworth Prison,” and neither are the prisoners. To set the mood, a lively gallows scene: Jamie watches MacQuarrie hang, and it’s botched. And then just as his own neck is about to be snapped, Jack Randall gallops in. Jamie is saved from the drop but consigned to a dungeon, where a good meal and a whole lot of bad anticipation await him.
Claire makes an attempt to see Jamie, disguised as a kindly Christian woman, but is thwarted by the jailers’ concern for her virtue and safety in the gaol. Back at the tavern, she’s disgusted with the members of her rescuing party who are gambling, but it turns out they had a purpose. “We were losing our coin to two Wentworth jailers.” What they gleaned? The warden eats and studies Bible an hour a day. Claire and Murtagh return and ransack his office for the keys.
Black Jack Randall comes down into the dungeon and reads Jamie’s petition against him, filed via the Duke of Sandringham, sighing and acting generally terrifying, and then he burns that petition.
“I prefer the noose to your company,” says Jamie, which prompts a very chilling monologue from Randall:
“Do I make you uncomfortable? Do I haunt your dreams since Ft. William? When you awaken in the middle of the night shaken and sweating, is it my face you see looming in the darkness? Tell me, when you lie upon your wife and her hands trace the scars on your back, do you ever think of me?”
Then he attempts to make a sadistic deal with Jamie, declaring he can give Jamie a “clean death of his choosing” if the prisoners surrenders his pride and admits he’s terrified, and also presumably surrenders in another way. When Jamie doesn’t acquiesce, his torture at the hands of Randall (along with his bearded caveman of an assistant “Marley”) is not a barrel of laughs to witness, particularly the hand-smashing. Claire, sneaking in with her stolen keys, attempts to save an insensible post-torture Jamie, but gets snared up by captain Randall, who — after telling the guards she’s part of a “rebel plot” — tries to do all kinds of nasty things to her, but not the nastiest thing, because his inclinations go another way. There’s fighting and shouting and weeping, and Claire ends up pinned to a wall, at Randall’s mercy. Finally, to save her from harm, Jamie offers up his body — and as a down payment, his ruined hand is nailed to the table and Randall steals a kiss.
All I have to say is: Captain Jack Randall, you are sick, Diana Gabaldon you are sick, this show is sick, and the faces I made while watching any and all scenes involving Jamie’s hand would have terrified a small child. Not cool, everybody.
But wait, it gets worse! After she parts from Jamie wailing and crying, Claire has to step over an entire trench of dead bodies, including MacQuarrie’s, which she recognized. She hears wolves howling (no wolf-fight as in the book though, perhaps even the producers realized that was a bit much) until Murtagh grabs her and takes her to a house of a local fellow who is a friend to their clan. Claire attempts to pay him to help her, bribing him with a string of pearls. Turns out, of course, he knows those pearls — those pearls were once his. “I gave these to Ellen MacKenzie as a wedding gift. I’ve thought of them so often around her bonnie neck,” he says, recalling Jamie’s mother.
Absolutely no one knows what to do to rescue Jamie until Murtagh sees some cows and gets an idea. In the meantime, Captain Randall is standing over Jamie, asking “shall we begin?”
Your recapper’s opinion? The extreme pain that is inflicted on Jamie in this final section at Wentworth Prison is unnecessary from a plot standpoint and a general human decency one. It’s interesting in that it further valorizes Jamie by making him suffer the kind of gendered assault Claire is continually spared, as if he’s her proxy, taking the era’s misogynist violence onto his body as an act of love for her. But I still find the storyline somewhat homophobic and overly grotesque, and it ruins the best part of the entire Outlander story, which is its sense of fun, even on the edge of danger and violence. This episode was not anything near fun, even if Tobias Menzies was one of the most compelling psychopaths ever. Fortunately, we have two weeks to get over our shock before we head back in time and see what has befallen poor Jamie.