***Spoiler Warning: Spoilers for Outlander through Season 2, Episode 12, and minor Book Spoilers for Dragonfly in Amber follow. Spoilers***
First, a confession: I’ve been trying to read Diana Gabaldon’s novels at a leisurely pace, but when this weekend I realized how far behind my reading was, I became impatient. If you’ve bumped into any recent casting headlines — and most entertainment sites cover Outlander, there’s been fairly impossible to avoid news — you know there are a couple important characters coming to the show by season’s end. So, I did what any reasonable (read: rabid) series fan would do; I read ahead. As much as I’ve been enjoying the first book, because the series is nearly through Dragonfly in Amber, the urge to skip forward became greater and greater, and finally, I could no longer resist. Time being the quickly slipping beast it is, I didn’t completely finish, but I did get through the part series fans watched play out in “The Hail Mary”, and of the confounding emotions I have about two particular characters (I won’t spoil events concerning the second), it’s Black Jack Randall’s slight changes that feel inexplicable.
I’ve discussed Tobias Menzies’ incredible talent, playing two such opposite characters as Black Jack and Frank Randall (as well as Game of Thrones‘ Edmure Tully), and it’s because of his amazing range I was all the more looking forward to Episode 12. ***Dragonfly in Amber Spoilers*** begin: As events occurred near the end of the novel, before Murtagh offs the Duke of Sandringham, Claire is surprised by Randall while at Holyrood. She’s not only shocked to see his face again, but also by his lack of ill intentions toward her. Asking Claire to come with him and after several assurances that he means her “no harm”, Randall convinces Claire to speak with him privately in the grounds’ church. There Black Jack proposes a deal to exchange information about the movement of certain English troops for Claire’s “powers of darkness” aka help with treating Jack’s brother, Alex. (Randall seems to believe as some others have, that Claire possesses magical abilities, specifically because she told him the date of his death.) And, while at this first reencounter, Black Jack is admittedly still pretty terrible — he needles her extensively about what happened between he and Jamie at Wentworth Prison — the next time she sees Randall, he’s a much softer man. Walking to see and tend to Alex, he steadies Claire on wet cobblestone, and obeys Claire’s commands, tending to his brother’s bedpan (during which time, she advises Alex of his true illness and conspires to keep it secret from Jack — “Johnny” — as Alex calls him). Over the course of several visits, Claire observes the brothers’ closeness and passes on to Jamie the intelligence Black Jack gives here; of course, Jamie has no idea where the valuable information is truly coming from. Weeks later — following some of what we saw in “Vengeance Is Mine” — Claire, Mary and Jamie head back to Edinburgh; while Jamie tends to business, Mary and Claire go to see Alex who is near death. Alex asks Claire to bring Jamie to see him, and after they arrive, tells the group they’re waiting for another person. When Black Jack arrives and sees his brother in the state he is, everyone is witness to their highly emotional reunion. It is then that Alex asks “Johnny” to wed and take care of Mary and their unborn child, and though Black Jack is stunned and stoic, he certainly doesn’t turn transform into the vicious madman we saw in this week’s episode. “The Hail Mary” went a much darker route with Black Jack, and closed with this disturbing scene of a ferociously angry Randall pounding his dead brother’s chest.
It probably seems an odd thing to be bothered by, especially after what Black Jack did to Jamie (one of the most horrifying, violent scenes I’ve ever peeked through my fingers to see), but I think the slight show changes to Black Jack’s character are a disservice to fans, and Tobias Menzies. Randall is arguably one of television’s best ever villains, but one of the things that makes him truly interesting is that we don’t only see him as one-sided. It is that character’s depth, his utterly strange affection — dare I say love? — toward Jamie that really freaked out audiences. In the book, the way Black Jack describes to Claire what he took from Jamie is bizarre and affecting; it matters to him that he reached into (he believes) Jamie’s soul. Seeing Menzies play out the emotional range of this character is one of the series’ greatest strengths, so missing another layer of Randall’s personality — his intense warmth and adoration of his brother — is our loss. In Dragonfly, even Claire admits to herself that if it were anyone else she was seeing so upset about his brother’s condition, so affected by the familial bond Alex and Jack share…she can hardly help herself; Claire almost feels pity for him. That sort of scene is exactly what Menzies was born to play. Conversely, that in “The Hail Mary” Black Jack’s awful rage is physically taken out on his beloved brother’s body (this didn’t happen in the novel death scene), instead adds to our intense dislike of the character, which may well be the writers’ intent. Perhaps they want Black Jack to be more definitively shaded dark than an in-between grey. It’s just a shame we didn’t get to delve a little deeper into Randall’s twisted brain.
In other Book Spoilery contemplations, I’m so curious whether or not they’ll carry out another (Major Book Spoiler at the link, last paragraph before “1968 Again”) tragic ending; I wonder if this is anything to do with the (Book Spoiler discussion at the link) rumored big change. I’m also having difficulty reconciling the book event with what will probably happen in the 90 minute Season 2 finale, “Dragonfly in Amber”, which doesn’t air until July 9th.
Here’s the detailed synopsis, though I’m going to Spoiler code it, because it does give a fair amount of information.