In the Second Season Premiere, Outlander‘s Tobias Menzies Accomplished the Impossible

outlandertobias2

“Through a Glass Darkly,” the first episode of Outlander‘s long-anticipated second season premiere, really surprised me. But before we continue, here’s your requisite ***Spoiler Warning:  This post contains Mild Outlander Spoilers through this episode*** though I’ll keep it on the light side.

 

outlanderspoilers

 

Tobias Menzies aka Frank Randall, aka Black Jack Randall (and who many of you also know as Game of Thrones‘ Edmure Tully, and The Night Manager‘s Jeoffrey Dromgoole) is a sublime actor who in Outlander‘s first season managed to completely blow my mind. His quick transition from GoT — Tully was immediately banished from my brain — was only a hint at what Menzies is truly capable of; never mind that he’s playing what (thus far) seem to be two completely different personalities. Since toward the end of Season 1 we spent so much and such intimate time with Black Jack, the memory of Frank was nearly wiped away as well and when Starz debuted the new season trailer, I’ll admit I was rather crushed at the idea of Claire (Caitriona Balfe) being sent back to him.

 

claire hosp

Indeed, as Season 2 opens, Claire is inexplicably transported back to the late 40s; Frank later mentions she’s been gone from his world two years. For those of us non-readers (I started the first book, but am considering jumping to Dragonfly in Amber) it’s a confusing time. The intimation has always been that the stones at Craigh na Dun, or merely the area itself had something to do with Claire’s involuntary time travel, so when and where does she disappear from the 1700s? Are we yet to see her purposeful return, or did she vanish from the ship she and Jamie (Sam Heughan) were taking to France; are we flashed-forward to the 1940s, and then flashed back to see the France storyline play out? Perhaps that’s a question the series will answer (if you’re a reader and you’d like to comment, please add Spoiler tags).  Regardless of how she gets there, Claire is likewise confused and finds herself reunited with her first husband, just as unhappy as most viewers probably are. After all she and we have been through, one thing is perfectly clear:  the past is Claire’s more exciting and adventurous timeline, and as Jack Shephard would say, “We have to go back!”

Sitting across from each other in the same room, Frank and Claire are most uncomfortably awkward and in dissimilar circumstances, and as they struggle to explain what they’ve experienced to each other, all we can wonder is how this union could ever work again. Why would either of the pair even want to try? For Frank it feels like he’s on the other end of an unintended extramarital affair; Claire is completely committed to another husband. After a period spent trying to come to terms with where and when she is, Claire manages to convey the story to Frank, aware that she must sound like a lunatic…and in those quiet moments, tears quietly escaping despite both their tightly held emotions, Menzies takes us somewhere we never thought we could go —  to a place of empathy. Where we, like Claire, couldn’t help but flinch at the sight of Black Jack’s face up close, Frank’s vulnerability takes over. Menzies’ somehow physically-expressed duality pushes past all those dark places in our minds. That an actor can, with barely a word, overcome the absolute psychological trauma anyone who watched “Wentworth Prison” has felt seems impossible. In those moments where our minds are inexplicably moved by Frank, Menzies gives the audience as close an experience as we can possibly have to standing directly in Claire’s shoes. When we can look at Frank and think to ourselves, “I actually do feel sympathy for him,” despite knowing we’re looking right into Black Jack’s eyes, that is a feat beyond reason, beyond acting. It doesn’t matter that we rationally know he’s not the same person; as Jack, Menzies evokes an instinctive reaction. It does matter that Frank has a moment of barely contained rage, our initial response is emotional — visceral — that is, until Menzies plays with our psyche like warmed putty in his hands. It should be impossible. It is impossible. Yet, there is no denying the pangs of Frank’s heart pounding inside our own when he swallows his pain and his pride and tells Claire his intentions. His pain is palpable. Somehow, Frank believes he can will Claire to move on. We feel his desperation as he burns Claire’s old clothing; if only he can rid her of the physical reminders, surely his wife will forget the past.

And, just as we get used to where we think we are…Without getting into more detail about the goings-on (if you haven’t watched, you’ll want to stay in this unknowing state), suffice to say that popping back into Outlander‘s new season is like that wonderful feeling of crawling back into dreamland, when after waking you peek at the clock and still have many hours left to sleep ahead. It’s so easy to pull the soft warm covers back up to your neck, settle your head into that squishy pillow cradle, and to feel yourself drifting just to where Claire and Jamie, Claire and Frank, and Gabaldon and Moore’s story left off.

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis

Cindy Davis has been writing about the entertainment industry for ​over seven years, and is the ​Editor-in-Chief at Oohlo, where she muses over television, movies, and pop culture. Previous Senior News Editor at Pajiba, and published at BUST.

You may also like...

  • Jelinas

    THIS is what I need you for most: recaps of shows that I can’t watch (too many naughty parts!!) that’ll allow me to appreciate them without defiling myself.

    I cannot tell you how grateful I am for the work you do. <3

    • I can tell you there are ZERO naughty parts in the opener, and if you want to see what it’s all about, this is the episode to watch. Tobias alone is worth it.

      • Jelinas

        YESSSSS!!!! Thank you so much for doing this recon for me!! 😀 😀 😀 *scampers off to watch*

        *scampers back* And this is a great example of why I need Oohlo. Hence the enthusiasms and support!! <3 <3 <3 *rescampers*

    • p.s. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for your never ending enthusiasm and support. xoxo

  • Tobias Menzies deserves all the awards. Truly. It was an amazing piece of work. I do wonder if this is why Starz had such a long break between seasons, too give people a little more distance from BJR.

    (And you should read ALL the books.)

  • Jelinas

    Holy crap. I just watched, and Menzies is a wonder. I believed every second of his performance; I can’t believe how much I felt for Frank, considering how detestable Black Jack is. The only person who might have any right to criticize that performance is Tatiana Maslany. I, however, cannot find fault with it.

    I have to say though, that I hated how Claire treated him. I get that she’s been through an inconceivable ordeal — torn from her time, nearly raped by a dead ringer for her husband, married off to another man, whom she’s learned to love deeply, and then essentially widowed in a moment and ripped back into her own time. But he was trying his best to be gentle and understanding, putting his love for her and understanding of her character before his own understanding of the realm of possibility, and she responded by accusing him and goading him and refusing to believe that he could possibly sympathize; she almost seemed offended that he was trying to.

    I quite disliked Claire in this ep.

    That said, Frank probably should have burned her clothes somewhere other than underneath her bedroom window.

    • That’s a really interesting take. I can’ see why you’d feel that way about Claire, and I guess she is being selfish — especially the way she couldn’t even look at him when he first walked into the room. I hadn’t thought much about it, other than from the aspect that she had so fallen madly for Jamie, she had really let go of Frank in her mind. Still, none of it was fair to Frank, and he ends up the true victim.

      Then again, that moment where he had to hold his temper really scared me, and must have been traumatic for Claire. And he is a bit on the controlling side, whereas Jamie treats her more an equal (well, sometimes) — on a day to day basis, he’s come to respect her more. I feel like Frank treats her more like a possession.

      • Jelinas

        Upon further reflection, I think the fault lies more with the writing than the actual character of Claire (and all the props to Caitriona Balfe, who’s doing the best she can with what she’s given). I also didn’t like that whole Frank thing where, when she tells him she’s pregnant, he thinks for a blissful moment that it’s his baby. I have a very difficult time believing that the knee-jerk reaction of a man who hasn’t seen his wife in two years and knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that he is sterile would default to “I’m having a miracle baby!” I believe every moment of Menzies’ performance, but I think the writers were asking us to suspend a loooooooot of disbelief.

        I do think his reaction was scary, esp. considering that he is the spitting image of Black Jack (that moment was pretty terrifying; it was as though Black Jack had possessed him for a moment).

        I’d be interested in knowing how long Claire and Frank were married before the war and how long they were kept apart during the war. I wonder how that might have affected his view of her; if she were kept from him for so long and then very soon after disappeared, it might help us to understand why he treats her as he does.

        • Freetheklingons

          Someone jump in and correct me but according to the books they had been married for a year or so before the was=r and then were separated off and on for 5 (?) years withonly brief interludes. She is supposed to be 27/28 when the series starts so she is pushing 30 at the point of their time-travel reunion.
          I was super pissed at Claire when she coldly tells him never to use the word flogging in her presence, and was relieved when Frank decides to lay down a few rules of his own. My estimation of Frank jumped a mile when he welcomes her and the baby back into their marriage. He is a far bigger man (well…) than I could ever be.

  • Pingback: How Terrifyingly Close Are We to This Great Science Fiction Series You Probably Never Saw? – Oohlo()

  • Pingback: We Need to Talk About Outlander’s Tobias Menzies – Oohlo()