Outlander‘s Tobias Menzies on Black Jack’s Brother and the Things You Do for Love
By Jennifer Vineyard
The 2016 Emmy race has begun, and Vulture will take a close look at the contenders until voting closes on June 27.
In the last year alone, Tobias Menzies has played five very different characters, two of which are on the same show. On Outlander, he stars as Frank Randall in 1945, who suffers the loss of his wife, Claire, when she accidentally travels back in time to the 18th century, and Black Jack Randall, Frank’s assumed ancestor in the past, who torments Claire and her new husband Jamie whenever they cross paths. Although one is ostensibly good and mild-mannered, and the other veers toward villainy and sadism, Menzies manages to find their common ground and make them incredibly distinct, without the usual crutches of say, an accent, a limp, or anything too obvious. During a recent visit to New York, Menzies chatted with Vulture about a pivotal trip to the bathroom, confronting two different Jamies, and why he decided not to cry during a death scene.
I heard a story about how you first decided to become an actor, and it involved a trip to the bathroom?
[Laughs.] Yeah, really early on, when I was young, we went and saw a production of The Wind in the Willows in a theater. At the intermission, I went to the toilet, and in the urinal next to me was the actor playing Badger. I didn’t quite know why he was in the urinal meant for the audience, and not backstage, I’m not quite sure about that, but there was something thrilling about seeing someone I had looked up to on the stage, and then seeing him beside me having a piss. There was something really about that which stayed with me. It seemed a little bit of magic in a way, this sort of mythical figure breaking through and just being there. And that was the first time I engaged with the idea of wanting to be an actor, and also being a person.
It seems fitting for the kinds of characters you’re attracted to, in which you take these people and really humanize them, warts and all.
That’s what’s interesting about humans, that we’re always a massive contradiction. There’s a lot more to everyone, isn’t there? What I’m interested in doing is making the character more three-dimensional, big or small, because that’s what’s both great and infuriating about people. Everyone has a family. Everyone comes from somewhere. So it’s harder to demonize someone when you see them with their family, as you do with Black Jack in this most recent episode. You have to engage with Jack the sibling, which is always complicated. That’s one of the benefits of doing a television drama over a long period of time — you get to explore these little contradictions. And one of the benefits of doing the TV show from the books is we can fill in the gaps, and color in more of the characters around Claire, and that’s particularly true of Frank.
We might not have thought we’d get to see a tender side of Jack, just as we might not have thought we’d get to see a more violent side of Frank. But perhaps these men have a few things in common. Do you approach them differently?
Not massively. There are a few physicality things that are different with Jack. Frank is closer to my own physicality. It’s mainly instinctive, really. I suppose it’s gotten more instinctive the more I’ve done it, and I’ve been doing it for a couple of years now. But I never regarded Black Jack as someone who didn’t have tender feelings somewhere. My main thought was that I was keen for him to not be so confident. In the first season, we saw someone with an absolute self-belief, that arrogance, that belief that he’s indestructible. But since then, in different ways, and in much lesser ways, he’s still affected by what happened at Wentworth Prison at the end of season one. We only had a couple of chances to convey that, starting with Jamie and Claire in Versailles, and then with his brother. But these scenes speak to somebody who is a little more lost, a little bit away from his comfort zone, away from his natural territory and strength. And that felt like an interesting development, rather than have him be unaffected at all.
You talked to author Diana Gabaldon for guidance on how to portray that, correct?
Yes. Her main point was that Alex is probably the most important relationship in Jack’s life. It’s not what you usually see or would imagine that he has in his life. It’s someone whose good opinion he values, and that only helps to enrich the person we think we know. So with Alex’s imminent death, and then his demise, it challenges everything for Jack, and brings all of that up to the surface.
And just as we’ve started to see this tender side of Jack, his violence emerges again with Alex’s death. His reaction is odd, to say the least…
It’s perhaps the biggest change from the books, for him. And originally in the script, it was written that Jack wept. He was just full of emotion. But we’ve all seen the scene where a brother cries at the bedside of his loved one, and that didn’t seem quite keeping with the character of Jack. And we could see that he was emotional about his brother passing. So we decided to skip the crying, and have him physically attack the body of his brother. It had to be something odder, something weirder, something more violent. It’s a weird expression of his love: If you abandon me, I will destroy you. And it felt surprising. It’s the last thing you’d expect, but it’s also keeping with the character.
Frank, Black Jack, and even Edmure Tully, who you play on Game of Thrones, are all very different characters, and you give each of them a complete sense of self. But it seemed like all three were placed in these positions that they didn’t want to be in, where they had to make a difficult choice, and they ultimately chose the person they loved over themselves. Frank takes back Claire and agrees to raise another man’s child. Black Jack gives up military intel and marries Mary for his brother’s sake. And Edmure gives up Riverrun to protect his infant son, even though he’s never met him.
All three of them, yeah, it’s a theme — the things you do for love. We talked quite a bit about Black Jack’s betrayal of the British army, of his battalion, that he gives their secrets to Claire. I was worried that it seemed too easy of a choice to make. Whatever you might think of Black Jack’s morality, I think he is a loyal soldier, a loyal subject. He wrestles with that, even though we don’t see it. He’s in disguise, because these two armies are very close to each other around Inverness. And he feels vulnerable around Claire because of his concern for his brother. I don’t think he enjoys having to ask her to aid his brother, but it’s his only choice. We both need each other, and distrust each other. And Alex is so important in his life, he’s willing to make that bargain. There was a lot to play with there.
With Edmure in Thrones, you could almost argue that it’s an expression of self-love. Self-protection. Self-preservation. He feels much more cowardly in that decision, and obviously he doesn’t want to lose his family, his people, his castle, but that character is less about the expression of love than Frank is. Jack, love is very weird for him. But they are all different facets of, What are you made of, in extreme situations? When the shit hits the fan, which way do you go? And why? They certainly all have that in common, that larger theme of love and betrayal, cowardice and heroism.
You really feel Edmure is a coward? He seemed prepared to deny Jaime Lannister, until his son became part of the equation. My interpretation was that he betrayed his uncle to save his son. And he’s also endured a lot over the years, being a prisoner.
You’re right. Thinking back on playing that first half of that scene with Jaime Lannister, he actually has arrived at a place of despair and has resolved himself to die, denying Jaime. He’s forced to engage with what that entails, all the ramifications, what would follow from that apparently heroic act of saying, “No.” It would result in great suffering. Edmure now, the man we met in these last few episodes, is not the man we met before, the almost comic, buffoonish character of season three. He has changed. And I guess you can’t be a hero unless you feel fear. So maybe he’s heroically being a coward! There certainly is a moral dimension to the scene with Jaime, the investigation of Jaime’s position, to see Edmure wrestling with that larger question. Game of Thrones seems increasingly a meditation on deeply flawed people. I don’t think there are many inherently good people. Everyone’s been compromised. Everyone’s in a position they don’t want to be in.
How did you manage to fit in not just Game of Thrones, but also The Night Manager and Catastrophe? You’re juggling so many characters at the moment…
It’s a good problem to have! Catastrophe, I went to do that, almost as an in-joke. Sharon Horgan is an old friend of mine. We’ve known each other and worked together for many years. So whenever she calls me up and asks me to do something, I generally do it. She’s a brilliant woman, and it’s a particularly brilliant show. The Night Manager, I fit in between season one and two of Outlander, and then I did Thrones in the middle of shooting Outlander, in September or October? And I also fit in the new Underworld film in Prague, where I play a vampire.
One day, you’re a sadist British redcoat, the next a prisoner of war, the next a vampire…
I had a few different personalities going around my head! Weirdly, I didn’t find that hard. I don’t know what that says about my psyche. [Laughs.]
July 19th, 2016
In the second half of Season Two, Outlander took a major geographical and tonal leap, returning Jamie and Claire to Scotland at the dawn of the Jacobite rising. These episodes focused on their efforts to prevent inevitable deaths at Culloden. My score needed to shift back to the haunting Scottish sounds of season one, with an added emphasis on military percussion and pipes.
This change is evident immediately with the new Main Title Theme in Episode 208, “The Fox’s Lair.” The track begins with Raya Yarbrough’s haunting vocal once more, but I removed the viola da gamba and chamber orchestra that implied Paris. Instead, the bodhrán frame drum returns. At first, it feels like we are simply reusing the season one theme, but the track quickly evolves from there. Iconic Scottish snare drums sneak in behind her voice, providing a distinctly militaristic feeling. For the final chorus, I replaced the moving bassline with a steady drone in the low strings and bagpipes. This gives the final chorus a distinctly Scottish feeling, evoking the pedal-tone drones of military bagpipe bands. The instrumentation is predominantly the same, but the emotional impact of this harmonic change is intense. This main title sequence prepares us for war.
I felt the Jacobite uprising story arc should be represented with a theme drawn from folk music of the era. Jacobite history is rich with famous folk songs. Indeed, the main title’s “The Skye Boat Song” is one of the most well-known. However, the vast majority of these songs were written after the Scots’ tragic defeat, and lyrically depict themes of melancholy and longing. None of these songs would have been appropriate for these episodes, because the story takes place during a brief historical time of rousing optimism. To properly underscore these episodes, I needed a song that was written during the Jacobite uprising as opposed to after it, a song that makes no comment about loss, only promises of victory.
I turned to famed Scottish composer and music historian John Purser, who was gracious with his time and assembled a collection a historically-accurate songs for me. I was immediately drawn to the soaring melody in “Moch Sa Mhadainn,” a song composed by Alasdair mac Mghaighstir Alasdair. A celebrated poet of the Jacobite era, Alasdair composed this song upon hearing the news that Prince Charles Edward Stuart had landed at Glenfinnan. That was perfect! When Jamie opens the letter in “The Fox’s Lair” and learns he has been roped into the revolution, this song was actually being composed somewhere in Scotland at that very moment.
“Moch Sa Mhadainn” Lyrics (in Gaelic):Hùg hó ill a ill ó
Hùg hó o ró nàill i
Hùg hó ill a ill ó
Seinn oho ró nàill i.Moch sa mhadainn is mi dùsgadh,
Is mòr mo shunnd is mo cheòl-gáire;
On a chuala mi am Prionnsa,
Thighinn do dhùthaich Chloinn Ràghnaill.Gràinne-mullach gach rìgh thu,
Slàn gum pill thusa Theàrlaich;
Is ann tha an fhìor-fhuil gun truailleadh,
Anns a’ ghruaidh is mòr nàire.Mar ri barrachd na h-uaisle,
Dh’ èireadh suas le deagh nàdar;
Is nan tigeadh tu rithist,
Bhiodh gach tighearna nan àite.Is nan càraicht an crùn ort
Bu mhùirneach do chàirdean;
Bhiodh Loch Iall mar bu chòir dha,
Cur an òrdugh nan Gàidheal.“Moch Sa Mhadainn” Lyrics (In English):Hug ho ill a ill o
Hug ho o ro naill i
Hug ho ill a ill o
Seinn oho ro naill i.Early in the morning as I awaken
Great is my joy and hearty laughter
Since I’ve heard of the Prince’s coming
To the land of ClanranaldYou are the choicest of rulers
May you return unhurt, Charles.
In that most modest cheek
Runs blood that is pure and undefiled.Along with overflowing nobility
That ever rises up along with good nature
And if you came again
Each laird would be at his post.And if the crown were placed upon you
Joyful would your friends be
And Lochiel, as he ought,
Would be drawing up the Gaels for battle.
I knew the song would require a vocalist. I tracked down an inspiring Gaelic singer named Griogair Labhruidh. I was struck by the power in his voice, which was both contemporary and traditional. I knew he would be perfect for Outlander, and featured him prominently in the episode “Je Suis Prest.” Fittingly, Griogair recorded his vocals in a recording studio less than twenty-five miles from Glenfinnan, where the Bonnie Prince first raised his standard on the shores of Loch Shiel.
This relatively rare song did not survive in mainstream memory as effectively as others from its era, perhaps because it originated in that brief window of history when Scots really believed this uprising could succeed. For that reason, I felt using it here made Outlander even more authentic. “Moch Sa Mhadainn” was very likely sung during the uprising by mounted or marching Highlanders, with larger groups joining in at the choruses. I wanted to capture that feeling by featuring male vocals in the soundtrack.
Listen to this song on Griogair’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/GhettoCroft/
“In the aftermath of Culloden and the centuries following many of our traditions were deliberately wiped out during what was effectively a cultural colonization,” Griogair told me recently. “Schools were built in which only English was taught in which children were often beaten for speaking their native Gaelic language. Songs like this therefore only survived in the most remote regions of Gaelic Scotland or were otherwise appropriated by the bourgeoisie of the Anglicised Highlands and denatured by their passage through a musical system which was completely alien to the free flowing, ornamented and non Western rhythms of the natural Gaelic music of Scotland.”
“Moch Sa Mhadainn” had the melodic qualities I was looking for: strong intervallic leaps and a simple, repetitive structure to make it memorable. I did, however, make several musical changes to shape the song to fit the needs of the series, perhaps bending a few rules along the way. I worked closely with Griogair and John to ensure that essential Scottish musical traditions were preserved while simultaneously accomplishing my musical narrative goals.
“It is always difficult negotiating the gap between tradition and innovation but it is something I am becoming increasingly used to,” Griogair recalled. “I performed the song at a much slower tempo than it would normally be performed traditionally but I think it worked to great effect with the rich string voicings and the percussive elements of the piece. I was also very pleased to work with my friend John Purser who helped direct my performance of the song to suit the arrangement.’
‘My own regional version of the song differs quite dramatically from the one I performed [for Outlander]. This is quite a common occurrence as there is no such thing as standardization in Gaelic traditional music. Our music is much like modal jazz in that sense and involves a lot of improvisation. All the decorations and irregular rhythms I used in the performance were all improvised round the theme melody.”
I was thrilled to work with Griogair and to bring his unique voice to my score. I was especially grateful for his enthusiasm for the material. “Much like the characters of Outlander, we are living in very interesting times here in Scotland,” he told me. “And much of the music I perform is about being a contemporary twenty-first century Scottish Highlander as well as carrying the spirit of my ancestors who fought alongside Charles Edward Stewart in a struggle for freedom which continues to this day.”
The second season of Outlander concludes with an epic 90-minute long episode, “Dragonfly in Amber.” The episode leaps forward in time to the 1960’s, where Claire has an adult daughter, Brianna, and together they return to Scotland and meet Roger MacKenzie, now a grown man. Narratively, the story picks up from the season’s dramatic opening episode, bookending the season. My score, too, calls back to the premiere episode with an increased orchestral presence, and richer, more contemporary romantic writing.
“Dragonfly in Amber” was a logistical challenge for me because of its structure. The narrative leaps back and forth between two centuries, with different tones in each storyline. In the 1740’s, the tension gradually mounts as Jamie and Claire make their final preparations before the battle. This required a backdrop of Scottish instrumentation and a relentlessly accelerating percussive spine that peaked in the soaring emotional farewell at the stones. The music from every scene in the 1740′s can actually be stitched together to form a cohesive single piece of music, something fans will get to hear when the soundtrack album is released this fall.
In the 1960’s, Claire reminisces about the past while Brianna pieces together the clues of her ancestry. This storyline required a more subdued approach, leaning more towards orchestra than folk instruments. I struggled with writing a new theme for Brianna and Roger for this episode, and ultimately found there wasn’t room in the narrative for an entirely new musical idea. In this story, Brianna chases Jamie’s ghost. She discovers her own identity in this episode. It felt premature to define her musically when she hadn’t yet defined herself. Instead, I used snippets of the Jamie and Claire theme as she gets closer to the truth, an effective way of underlining this idea. Now that she knows who she is, I am confident I will find opportunity to compose an original theme for her next season.
The season ends with a glorious shot of the camera pushing back in on the stones, as the sun rises in the background. Here, I quoted the Stones Theme once more. I introduced this melody in the first episode, and have used it since to represent our characters taking important steps on an epic journey. There seemed no better way to wrap up one of the most ambitious seasons of television I have ever scored.
I am thrilled that my label Sparks & Shadows has partnered once again with Madison Gate Records to release my original score for Season Two! The soundtrack will be available on October 28th, and pre-orders are already available on Amazon. The tracks include my favorite cues from throughout the entire season:
1. Outlander – The Skye Boat Song (French Version)
2. Leave the Past Behind
3. Wrath of the Comte
5. Into Paris
6. Honey Pot
7. The Apothecary
8. Baroque Chess Match
9. The Duel
11. Outlander – The Skye Boat Song (Jacobite Version)
12. Je Suis Prest
13. 125 Yards
14. Vengeance at Your Feet
15. The Uprising Begins
17. Moch Sa Mhadainn
18. White Roses of Scotland
19. Tales of Brianna
20. Running Out of Time
21. Destiny on Culloden Moor
22. A Fraser Officer Survived
The second season of Outlander has been a tremendous musical adventure for me. One of my favorite experiences as a composer is working on a project that allows me to learn a new musical language. My crash course in French baroque music, performance, and history, was one of the most exciting creative times in my career. I followed that with a dive into unexplored areas of Jacobite musical history. I concluded this season a better composer than when I began, and for that I am grateful. With the series now boldly picked up for two more seasons, I know my musical adventure is only just beginning.
OUTLANDER REFUSES TO APOLOGIZE
As the second season of Outlander officially concludes Saturday night, many fans have recently binged on, discussed, and reexamined the past twelve episodes that have occupied our social media feeds for the past five months. “Come for the action, stay for the conversation” I wrote in a February 29 article responding to the Entertainment Weekly cover that generated heated debates from both fans and detractors as to its appropriateness and message. I admit that my first reaction to the two leads, Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe, embracing on a bed with only the fabrics of one kilt and one sheet between them (plus the inclusion of “bodice-ripping” in the cover lines) was “Oh, geez,” because I knew it would only fuel the misconception of the show as some Harlequin revue of heaving bosoms and muddy kilts and PASSION. As I noticed all the details referencing prior events and characters’ motivations (physical vs. mental scars, sexual intimacy influencing spirituality), I realized that was the kicker: the image both acknowledged and countered that cover line.
Over the last thirteen episodes (yes, I’ve screened the finale but won’t reveal spoilers), the brilliance of Outlander has been its continuous ability to place those assumptions under the microscope and flip them over, reshape them, or recontextualize them. “Brilliance” as a descriptor is in danger of being reduced to the worth of a participation medal for any show that requires a thinking hat, but what makes this show so worthy is that it challenges the assumptions of not only its detractors, but also for its most ardent fans. The intricate and painstaking process of adapting Diana Gabaldon’s epic story of Jamie and Claire for the medium of television means change is inevitable within the confines of time, space, budget, context, and other variables. This is what makes the show an interpretation of the novels, not a word-for-word mirror image of each chapter, and it carefully balances the wants of the book fans with the needs of the strictly show fans. Each facet of its production, from dialogue to costumes to cinematography, demands the engagement of the audience (and often repeated viewings) to discern the meaning behind the images: issues of power and control, masculinity and femininity, and the manipulation of genre and stereotype.
To put it plainly: it is one of the smartest and most proactive shows on television, embracing love and passion and intrigue and refusing to apologize. Will Outlander ever break free of its “kilty pleasure” stereotype in the press? It’s getting close. I don’t think anyone could watch “Wentworth Prison,” or “To Ransom a Man’s Soul,” or “Faith,” or “Prestonpans,” just to name a few, and still reduce the show’s appeal to only one gender or viewers who like only one genre. Yes, the romance of the two leads is at the forefront of their ongoing story, and rightfully should be celebrated as part of a healthy adult relationship. Jamie and Claire’s friendship and later marriage unfolds and matures within a violent and chaotic world, where their decisions are tempered by forces beyond their control as well as factors they try their hardest to influence.
Much has been written and rightly so about costume designer Terry Dresbach’s magnificent creations that have adorned the characters both in Scotland and France, from a salon in the 1740s to a country house in the 1940s and 1960s. Following Dresbach online is participating in a master class about what costumes bring to and reflect about the story and what they reveal about the characters. Claire’s Highland wardrobe was primarily a matter of function and defense against the elements (i.e. the layers upon layers of wool) while her Parisian dresses reflected her very pointed political and social strategy. As she and Jamie establish themselves in Paris to try to thwart the Jacobite rebellion, their carefully structured public personas were shown through their appearance and style. As Jamie needed to perfect the image of the successful businessman to the French elite as well as his Scottish heritage to Prince Charles Stuart, Claire utilized her newfound wealth and privilege to design a wardrobe that reflected her most unique situation: as a woman of the future, she brings a 1940s sensibility to mid-18th century haute couture with equal parts refinement and titillation.
Throughout the Paris episodes, each creation was an examination of womanhood under the spotlight: confronting societal expectations with a silent protest in each cut of skirt or peek of décolletage. Like a sartorial chess game, Claire had to predict what situation she would be in, and what lines of etiquette she could tiptoe across, and who she had to impress. Of course, as a woman of the 1940s transplanted to the 1740s, as she becomes acclimated to Paris society, her style becomes brilliantly meta, such as when she wore a gown that resembled the famous Bar Suit of the late 1940s by Christian Dior, which was itself inspired by 18th century designs. She is a woman of her own time asserting her identity within the societal structures of the 1740s.
As Outlander blends elements of science fiction, military history, and action-adventure, when considering the aspects of romance and love it is crucial to examine how the male characters are portrayed. There are several types of love depicted on the show: romantic love, filial love, love of country, love of self. While we are predisposed to focus on the women and their displays of love, the Outlander writers place as much if not more emphasis on how their male counterparts deal with matters of the heart (or lack thereof).
James Fraser is certainly the dashing, attractive partner of Claire, but the paths they take towards loving each other are very different. Jamie knows romance on a more personal level than Claire, as his parents, Brian and Ellen, ran off and eloped. Claire was orphaned at a very young age and raised by her uncle; as she lead quite a nomadic existence until adulthood, she has a deep, internal craving for home. For Jamie, his family home of Lallybroch is his stability and sense of self, and his years away from it – first as a soldier and later an outlaw – have made the farm his idyllic dream in most of Season One. When he tells Claire in “The Reckoning” that he fashioned her wedding ring from the key to Lallybroch, as she is his home now, you can see that emptiness in both of them has been filled.
The spiritual connection between the two continues to develop in and out of the bedroom, as Jamie’s respect for Claire as a healer and Claire’s witness of his increasing skill as a leader of men make them ideal partners, best friends, lovers, and soulmates. Jamie recognizes that love is all-encompassing and requires sacrifice and devotion, and he demonstrates this not only for his wife but for his home and family and clan. This is what makes Sam Heughan’s performance so heartbreaking after Wentworth: even the demonstration of love has been tainted. After his assault by Jack Randall, he cannot physically connect with his wife, causing him to literally and figuratively withdraw from her for the first few episodes. When Claire discovers the bite marks a prostitute left on his thighs in “La Dame Blanche,” and surmises that he can still muster the will for physical intimacy, just not with her, he confesses his ongoing torment. This is not something a romantic male lead is supposed to experience, let alone admit to, but Outlander presents his suffering honestly and openly, and it is Claire who comes to him later that night, assuming the roles of protector and nurturer and lover, instigating their physical reunion.
Once the episodes return to Scotland, we see the Frasers continue to work together in a shared cause to save their friends and Highland culture altogether. Jamie rides with his wife by his side, consults her in all matters, and recognizes her independent and tenacious character. The weight of prescience about Culloden weighs on the couple, and one of the most tender scenes shared between them is when Jamie is leaving for Prestonpans. He says no words to his wife, but their passionate kiss and his deep bow to her is testament enough to the emotion between them.
Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix) is one of the most romantic characters in the last two seasons, and not because of his brief romance with the chambermaid in Paris. Jamie’s godfather carries the burden of unrequited love for Ellen Fraser and a steadfast devotion to her son. He is grave and intense and gruff in a Gary Cooper sort of way, his dark eyes attesting to the hard life he has lived and his social awkwardness in Paris revealing his introversion and isolation from home. Murtagh is a romantic in the unswerving attention he pays to his loved ones, which come to include Claire, and his appreciation for love itself. When he argues with Claire in “The Search,” or wraps Jamie in his kilt and carries him out of Wentworth, or later argues with him against suicide in the Abbey, or becomes Fergus’s unwitting big brother back in Scotland, or offers to wed Mary Hawkins to save her from possible abuse by Jack Randall, his gallantry is unaffected by pretension or expectation. He has not been lucky in love, but he will not let that stop him from devoting his life to helping others, and recognizing love in turn.
On the other hand, Charles Stuart (Andrew Gower) merely thinks he is a romantic. He is in love with passion and desire and glory. Most devoutly, he is in love with himself, and his attentiveness to his beloved in terms of appearance and bearing is tenderly wrought. He is in love with dramatic gestures, and frivolous women, and the faux-liberality that comes with strong wine and dimly lit brothel parlors. Unfortunately, his rose-colored glasses extend to grander schemes, where a combination of ego and entitlement layered over a foundation of daddy issues threatens the very lives of the people he hopes to regain sovereignty over. He sees the romance of war, the style of military regalia, the songs and tributes and crowns of laurels. He cannot be bothered with the elements, the mud, the broken of body and sick of heart. That would ruin the spectacle he has created in his mind, the everlasting glory of his predestination that renders the reality around him a necessary sacrifice. He is a foolish dreamer that has created a nightmare that all come to see except himself.
Frank Randall is a polarizing character, depending on how actively you feel he participates in the hand he is dealt. Without spoiling the books for the “show fans,” the television portrayal of Claire’s hapless first husband is fantastically done because he is not relegated to the dimwitted cuckold nor some beastly tyrant who drove his wife into the arms of another. He loves Claire, and she loved him, though not at the intensity of her connection with Jamie. He loves her enough to want to rekindle their passion at Inverness in the first episode of Season One, and he loves her enough to want to start over with her unborn child in the first episode of Season Two. Frank believes in new beginnings, and when Claire physically and spiritually can not return his love, he channels it into a devotion to Brianna who he takes as his own child.
Finally, how could Jack Randall have any part in a discussion of love? Praise must be heaped on Tobias Menzies for not only portraying Frank with heart and hope, but exposing the pathology of Jack in a meticulous, brutal way. A year ago, I debated whether or not Jack could experience love in a review of the last two episodes of Season One. In “The Garrison Commander,” he interrogates Claire as a possible spy and tries to get her to confess by assuming the persona of a man in need of redemption. Just when he moves her to tears with his profession of remorse, he physically beats her and assures her that he is in total command of the evil with which he surrounds himself. Later, moments before raping Jamie in Wentworth Prison, Jack challenges Jamie’s determination to remain numb to the assault by saying, “You think I cannot control the darkness I inhabit?” He wants his victims to know and believe in his complete power over them, and over the evil that causes one human to commit such cruelty to another.
I thought Jack might have some degree of anhedonia as a result of his wartime experiences combined with a diseased psyche, especially given his displays of physical and verbal rage. He cannot experience love with anyone but his brother Alex, so he desecrates the flesh out of self-hate. Even worse, he has mastered how to pantomime acts of love as witnessed in his final assault of Jamie, when he figures out how to break him by emulating Claire and displaying a grotesque tenderness. Not satisfied merely to destroy a man physically, he requires the active participation of the victim in his own violation: if Jack can not unite with another in love, to achieve that physical and spiritual connection that comes with true intimacy, then they will unite in fear and anguish.
As the books were written by Diana Gabaldon, and the show has several female producers and writers (Maril Davis, Toni Graphia, Anne Kenney), and a female costume designer (Terry Dresbach), the female gaze and perspective is finely tuned and acutely felt throughout the episodes. The challenges and risks of being a woman both in Scotland and France in the 1740s, including issues of reproductive health and social stability, are examined from Claire’s modern perspective. Something as natural as pregnancy and childbirth could bring a slow, painful death, while a victim of rape could face social suicide if the assault were made public. As Claire navigates the different worlds she and Jamie live in, she has the ability to discern the parameters from which she must conduct herself, and with whom, and to what extent. She has come to a time where women are considered property and marriage a business transaction, and she utilizes the preconceptions of the men she encounters to her advantage in order to survive. The objectification of the male gaze is not limited to the 1740s, either: as Jen Yamato points out in her condemnation of recent profiles of female celebrities by male writers, a woman’s worth is still relegated to a Likert scale of how threatening, physically attractive, and useful she is deemed to be. Regardless of the environment in which she lives, Claire has to gingerly tread the social minefield where her intelligence, independence, and foresight could elicit begrudging respect as easily as distrust or even danger. Like Jamie, however, Claire possesses a natural grace and dignity alongside her resourcefulness that establishes trust, both from the other characters and the audience. We believe in Jamie and Claire, in their actions and decisions, and in the endurance of their love for each other. Throughout the show, Claire’s roles as healer, lover, mother, friend, and leader continue to evolve as she confronts each new challenge with a resiliency and fortitude, bolstered by the man who she allowed into her heart and soul.
(Starz Entertainment, Getty Images (inset))
Posted July 9 2016 — 10:30 PM EDT
The 13th episode of Outlander, “Dragonfly in Amber,” marked the second season finale the Starz series. (Tear!) We asked Executive Producer Ronald D. Moore to look back at the challenges of adapting Diana Gabaldon’s second book, Dragonfly in Amber, to the small screen — and what we can expect in season 3.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How long did you know you wanted to use the Chamber Brothers’ Time Has Come Today for the finale?
RONALD D. MOORE: Quite a while. I think it was actually in the script. I think [writers] Matt Roberts and Toni Graphia came up with that as their end title song. Everyone just sort of loved it from the beginning.
And the title card featuring the scene from The Avengers!
That started with Matt. I think we were talking about doing something with an old television and a clip. At first he said, you know, it should be Star Trek. I giggled and thought that’d be funny, and then immediately I thought it has to be one with Scotty, one where he is wearing his kilt. Then I looked up when Star Trek was actually on the air in the U.K. and it turns out it wasn’t on in 1968. We still wanted to start with a clip that puts us in that time period. What would have been shown there that was iconic and American audiences would get? I think it was Marina Campbell, who’s our assistant, came up withThe Avengers.
Let’s go back to the start of the season, when you began the action in the ’40s rather than the ’60s, when the book actually starts. Was this a way to give Tobias Menzies more screen time?
No. It’s just that starting in 1968 was too big of a leap for the TV audience, because the last time we saw Claire and Jamie, they’re sailing off to France. I just thought fading into 1968, when Claire not only returned to the 20th century, but also has a grown daughter was too much. It was big enough to say that she returned to the 20th century. So you saw her return. You still had the shock value of that. Then we could hold off the 1968 stuff until the end of the season.
The political machinations got pretty dense in France. What was it like for the writers, trying to keep the story clear for the viewers?
It was very tricky. In the book, the section in Paris is even more episodic. The Comte St. Germain’s story is over here and there’s the relationship with Master Raymond over there and then the Duke of Sandringham. We kept trying to find ways to unite the storylines. For instance, the big dinner party where everything goes askew … the book doesn’t have either Prince Charlie or the Duke there, and the dinner party is unrelated to that plot. We knew we wanted to play the dinner party because it was such a key moment in the book. But then we tried to work a way so that it also fed into the Jacobite plot. Those were our struggles — finding ways to unite various plot threads to go through events much, much faster.
What did Diana Gabaldon think about how things were addressed in France?
She said, “I think you’ve guys have done a nice job. This is tricky material.” She was very supportive.
Did you decide early on to show more of Prestonpans and less of the Battle of Culloden?
Yeah, but that also follows the book because the book doesn’t take you into the Battle of Culloden. That was an easy decision to make. The book did detail a lot of Prestonpans. It also dealt with the Battle of Falkirk, which we decided not to do because we just said, let’s do one big battle. Prestonpans seemed like the best one to do for a variety of reasons.
I understand you shot Prestonpans in a tent with lots of smoke.
It was historically accurate, because it was a surprise attack in the wee hours of the morning. A lot of their numbers were cloaked in fog. That helped to panic the British, because they had no idea how many they were dealing with and where they were coming from. There was a certain disorientation on their part when the Highlanders just came screaming out of the fog.
Were you happy to take the action out of Paris?
I think everyone wanted to get back to Scotland, because it felt like Scotland was home to the show. Season 1 was a love letter to Scotland. There was a sense that when we were in Paris it wasn’t really Outlander, even though it was with our principal characters.
One last question about those France scenes — did French dildos really exist and look like that?
They did actually exist. And I think they looked like that. I think dildos have been with us since the Egyptians.
After finding your Jamie and Claire, was it a walk in the park to track down an actress who could play Brianna?
No. It was difficult. They’re very tricky roles to cast, especially when you’re casting the adult child of two of our leads. So, you want to see both characters in her immediately, which is a big challenge in terms of who that actress is going be. She also has to literally play the daughter of Claire in the episode. She has to have a certain chemistry with Roger. And even though she’s in the episode a lot, she’s not as big in the next season. The roles of Roger and Brianna grow over the course of the books. At first you’re just seeing the two of them for briefer periods of time. All those things added up to a very complex casting process.
Brianna is raised in Boston, but you went ahead and cast Sophie Skelton, who is from the U.K. Did you consider casting an American?
We did talk about that. We looked at Americans. I think there were some Canadians in the mix. It was a fairly wide net.
Brianna is supposed to have a Boston accent, but Sophie ended up not using one. Why?
Boston accents are tricky. It’s easy for them to become a caricature pretty easily. We’ve got so many accents going on in the show. It just didn’t feel like we needed to go there, as well.
Was it important to find a sexy man to play Roger?
He just needed to be charming and funny, and you had to instantly like him and feel like he was a good match for Brianna. Richard Rankin had that in spades. Everyone just immediately likes him when they meet him.
Are you starting production on season 3 any sooner this year?
We’re ramping up now. We are working on scripts and stories. We will probably be on an accelerated overall production schedule now that we have two season pickups. So we can start actively planning season 4 as opposed to waiting for a pickup. Season 3 is a traveling show. It starts in Scotland, but then it’s a sea voyage. There are pirates. It’s in Jamaica. It’s in the New World. And book 4 is in the New World and suddenly in North Carolina. So having the ability to make long range plans about where we are shooting certain elements and where we want to dedicate resources is enormously helpful in planning the show.
Can you say where season 3 will be shot?
Our home base will always be Scotland. We’re looking at various options for where to shoot the ships and where to find tropical beaches and jungles to play the Caribbean section of the story. Hopefully, we’ll find a place that has both things at once so we’ll only have to make one big trip for the company.
Does a Waterworld-like Outlander season excite you?
It will be great. They’re challenging shoots. Anything having to do with the water is very challenging for any production. But my production company is called Tall Ship. This to me is going be a lot of fun. There are big logistical and technical difficulties involved.
How much longer are we fans going to be able to enjoy Tobias?
Unfortunately, his role will come to an end relatively soon. It’s not over yet. We’ll still see him in season 3. But other than occasional flashbacks to Frank or Jack, their story pretty much ends in book 3.
Of all those killed off this season, which one would you have wanted to keep alive?
That’s a hard one to say. I think we all will probably miss the Duke of Sandringham quite a bit. He’s a great character. I lament his loss.
As the Season 2 finale looms before us, let’s take a look at the journey Claire has taken. A journey we have made with her.
Òran Do Phrionnsa Teàrlach
by: Gillebrìde MacMillan (Gwyllyn the Bard, Outlander TV show)
original poem by: Rob Donn