Recap:“The Garrison Commander” picks up where the previous episode ended, with Lieutenant Foster inquiring if Claire is accompanying the MacKenzie party by choice. Dougal turns to her, anticipating her possibly damning response and after a moment, Claire assures Foster she is a guest of the MacKenzies. He accepts her answer, but asks her to accompany him to meet his Commander, who will no doubt wish to speak with Clare. Dougal insists he travels with Claire and the pair set off with the red coats on horseback. Though Claire had little choice in this excursion, she still feels a sense of comfort being among the armed men, since she herself was part of the army for six years during World War II.
The caravan arrives at a Scottish village which, though on MacKenzie land, is now enemy territory with the presence of the English soldiers. The group dismounts from their horses and Foster asks Claire and Dougal to follow him inside. Foster enters a room occupied by higher ranking red coats seated around a table for a meal and introduces them to Brigadier General Lord Oliver Thomas. Thomas leaves his seat at the head of the table to formally greet Claire and invites her to join the men for a meal and regale them with her story. Claire takes her seat as Dougal remains standing by her side. When Thomas inquires about how he should refer to Dougal, he instructs them to call him “MacKenzie” or “Chief MacKenzie.” The men look on in confusion as Dougal speaks and Thomas admits to not understanding a word he has said. The other men agree as Thomas suggests the Scottish people should be taught the King’s English since their form is “damn offensive to the ear.” Claire comes to Dougal’s defense, claiming there are some areas of England where a certain accents makes ones speech indiscernible to others. Thomas concedes her point and believes all should strive to speak like Londoners, to which Dougal replies Thomas should have stayed in London if he so desired. Dougal’s comment silences the crowd’s laughter and marks a turn in Thomas’ attitude towards him.
Though Thomas quickly returns to his jovial attitude, his comments concerning kilts and lairds are markedly rude in nature. Maintaining his calm demeanor, Dougal wonders if Thomas is trying to embarrass the lady or if he is simply being arrogant. The men take offense to his words and Claire quickly extinguishes the tension by scolding the men for their childish behavior. Thomas dismisses Dougal, who reminds Claire he will be downstairs before taking his leave. In Dougal’s absence, Thomas wonders how they will “make peace with such an ill-mannered people” as he and Foster take their seats at the table.
As the meal comes to a close, Claire expresses her hope that her adventure has now come to an end. Thomas refers to Foster, who assures him there will be no difficulty in securing Claire passage to Inverness and then onto her family in France. The group’s toast to “homeward journeys” is interrupted as Captain Jack Randall bursts through the door. Thomas admonishes Randall for exposing the Claret to his filth and asks him to clean himself off before returning. Turning to leave, Randall stops at the sight of Claire, who meets his heavy glare with a challenging one of her own. Noticing the exchange, Thomas wonders if they know each other, but both admit to simply mistaking each other for someone else.
Stepping over to the doorway, Randall bangs his clothing to rid himself of some dirt before rejoining the party. Randall wonders if Thomas is aware that the MacKenzie’s War Chieftain is downing ale below, to which Thomas identifies Dougal as Claire’s escort. When Randall seems suspicious of interactions between an English lady and Scottish War Chief, Thomas suggests he join Claire’s escort to Inverness so that she may share her story with the Captain. When Foster assures him Claire was well treated by her “Scottish friends,” Randall responds he was unaware the English had any. This allows him to segue into a story about a private who waundered away from patrol and was later found tied to a tree. Claire remarks that it sounds like nothing more than a prank, but Randall reveals that the private’s severed head was placed in his lap. Claire turns somber as she expresses that it was a sad day that brought the man to Scotland and Randall wonders if that is the only response such as story would elicit. After a moment of silence, Claire recounts her own story of the two Highlanders the MacKenzies came across a few days before and condems both sides for their actions. With this, Randall implies her morality has been compromised by spending too much time among the “savages,” which clearly upsets Claire and Thomas agrees he has crossed a line. Randall apologizes if he is wrong about her, but cannot help but wonder why else Claire would favor “barbarians” over her own people.
Claire’s growing agitation gets the better of her as she declares the Scottish only want the same freedoms the English enjoy. She continues by calling the English the aggressors with their occupation of Scottish lands. Randall smirks at her response as the other men appeared disturbed by her speech. Thomas chimes in, reminding Claire that these are the king’s lands and she realizes the implications of her words. She assures them that her loyalties are with the king and the men agree with Randall’s earlier notion that she has lived among the Scots for too long.
Claire tries to better the situation by saying she would be able to leave to Inverness that day as a soldier charges through the door with word that a group of men were attacked outside of town. Randall points out that these ambushes are an almost weekly occurrence and this one has left one dead and two wounded. The men are brought to the inn and Claire excuses to help until the surgeon arrives. Dougal catches Claire as she descends the stairs, asking after her since he saw Randall head her way. Claire inquires if Jamie and the others are behind the attack, but Dougal assures her they would never attack without his orders. Knowing the army will look for someone to blame, Claire tells Dougal to make himself scarce as she tends to the wounded. Claire begins to make preparations for an arm amputation on one of the men as the surgeon arrives. With the help of a few soliders, Claire restrains the man as the surgeon begins his work.
Claire reenters the dining room some time later to find it deserted except for Randall and Corporal Hawkins, who is shaving the Captain. The scene before Claire brings back a memory of her shaving Frank until she is brought back to the present when the solider nicks Randall’s face. He dismisses the Hawkins, telling him to make sure he and Claire are not disturbed. Claire asks after Foster since she is eager to leave for Inverness, but Randall says Thomas agreed to her departure before she made her questionable statements.
Randall tells Claire that he has been is a state of discomfort since their first meeting and he wishes to apologize for his shameful actions. Claire is pleased by the apology and he looks forward to revealing his true nature to Claire, hoping that honesty will be met with honesty. He invites her to join him at the table and begins questioning her about her identity and reasons for being in Scotland. Claire says she is from Oxfordshire, but is cut off when Randall claims there are no Beauchamps there. When she lets it slip she knows he is from Sussex, she credits her assumption to his accent, not her personal knowledge of Frank’s lineage. Randall then inquires about her maiden name and Claire tries to divert his attentions by acknowledging her earlier mistake in making such comments about the Scottish. She cannot see why her journey must be delayed and he recounts their meeting, including being knocked out by what he later learned was a member of a band of Scottish rebels. The only conclusions he can draw are that she is an “empty-headed trollop” or someone in league with the king’s enemies.
Wondering if those are her only two choices, Claire says she is forced to recount things no woman should even have to say out loud. Concocting a story on the spot, Claire claims that is was an “affair of the heart” that led her astray. Randall listens to her story before going to his coat to retrieve a drawing pencil. Moving to take a seat closer to her, he stares intently at Claire and begins to drawn on a piece of cloth before returning to her story about being spurned by a lover. Randall calls her over to his side interested in her opinion about his drawing. Claire obliges and compliments him on the portrait he has drawn of her.
Having her attention, Randall admits he knows Dougal is raising funds for the Jacobite cause, but lacks the proof he needs to take him into custody. He wants Claire to act as his spy and gather proof for him, but she maintains her innocence, insisting she has not heard any treasonous discussions. Randall claims she will not leave the room until he is satisfied Claire is not sympathetic to the Scottish and will employ his own methods if necessary. Claire claims she knows about his methods and wonders if he will also “lay her back open to the bone.” With Claire’s reference to Jamie’s punishment, Randall begins to recount the story about the “Highlander boy’s” flogging, which Dougal was there to witness. Randall says the “thief didn’t break” and took his punishment without uttering a single sound.
Jamie approaches a wooden platform and stands before Randall. He removes his shirt, which is already caked in blood from his previous lashes, and exposes a back that is marred by deep, bloody gashes.
Two soldiers cuff Jamie and secure his hands to a wooden post with his back to Randall and the crowd of onlookers. Randall pushes the handle of his whip into Jamie’s massacred back, claiming to prefer working on a “blank canvas” as to mark the progress of the damage. Randall tells Jamie he will break him before hitting him in the stomach. Removing his coat, Randall moves into position to begin the punishment.
Jamie did not cry out, though Randall knew the pain he was causing, as the sensation of the whip hitting Jamie reverberated through his arm and to his heart.
Jamie struggles to stand as his blood pools on the platform and the crowd looks on. Randall is stained by some of the blood from Jamie’s desecrated back as he stands fatigued by his work. He pulls Jamie’s head back, asking him if he has had enough. With no response, Randall continues to whip Jamie’s back, he himself barely able to stand with each slap of the whip. One of the soldiers faints at the sight before him, causing laughter to dispurse through the crowd. Randall calls for silence and in that moment decides to “bleed [Jamie] to the bone.” The crowd’s laughter disaptes into gasps and sobs at the horror before them, many averting their eyes from the sight.
Randall thinks the crowd is foolish for not being able to see the beauty and the truth in his actions. He tells Claire he and the boy were creating a masterpiece, “an exquisite, bloody masterpiece.” Randall promised to reveal himself to Claire, and with his story, he tells her he has. Tears pool from Claire’s eyes as she tries to restrain her reaction to the story. When Randall says he thinks she must think him a monster, she responds by saying the fact that he cares what she thinks means there may be hope for his soul.
Randall says he came to Scotland to protect his king and country, but finds himself the “watchman” of a violent people. Darkness has grown within him and finds himself no longer able to recognize the man he has become. Claire knows he is not the first solider to be changed by combat and his acknowledgement is yet another hopeful sign that a decent man still lives within him. Wondering if he can one day gaze upon his reflection and not be filled with loathing, Claire responds that she believes a man like him can do whatever he wants.
When Randall tells Claire he will start gathering her escort to Inverness, a smile emerges through the tears staining Claire’s face. He admits her happiness is an odd sensation and perhaps a new beginning. Randall calls out for Hawkins’ assistance and stands, offering his hand to Claire. Before she can express any gratitude, Randall punches Claire in the stomach, sending her breathlessly to the ground. Randall crouches by her and, pulling her head up by her hair, tells her that he dwells in darkness and darkness is where he belongs. She will get no sympathy from him, but one way or the other, he will get the truth out of her.
Randall calls Hawkins over to them and tells him to kick Claire. Hawkins administers a slight kick, but is commanded by Randall to use more force. He is about to kick her again when Dougal furiously bursts through the door and helps Claire off the floor. More soldiers enter the room barring arms. Dougal wishes to be free to pass, but Randall claims Dougal has no right to Claire while being questioned by an English officer. Dougal demands she is returned to him, since she is a guest of his brother and the Clan MacKenzie, but Randall insists more questions have arisen. Dougal threatens the Captain’s inquiries will not take place on MacKenzie land unless he wants to start a war. Randall concedes to Dougal, but tells him to deliver her to Fort William the following day or he will be hunted down for harboring a fugitive from English law.
Dougal escorts Claire from the room as Randall tells her he looks forward to their next meeting. The pair leaves on horseback, pausing after some time for a drink of water. While Claire kneels by the hidden spring, Dougal unsheathes a dagger and hides it behind his back. He asks if she is a spy for the English or French, claiming this is the last time he will ever ask. Claire stands and places herself directly in front of Dougal, admitting her innocence to his accusations. Dougal accepts her words and sheaths the dagger, which startles Claire. He knows she is telling the truth because she drank from the “liar’s spring” and was unharmed when she answered his question. Dougal has a plan to avoid Randall since an English officer cannot compel a Scottish citizen unless there is proof a crime has been committed and cannot force a Scottish subject from clan lands without permission from the laird. With this, Claire realizes Dougal has been conferring with Ned Gowan about her situation. Dougal has discovered he can only protect her if he changes her from an English woman to a Scot. Claire is confused until Dougal tells her the only way is to marry one. The notion horrified Claire, who refuses until Dougal wonders if she would rather go to an English prison. Coming to terms with her predicament, Claire’s assumption that Dougal will be her intended amuses him, but admits he has someone else in mind.
Claire sits by herself, playing with her wedding ring as she peruses a marriage contract. Jamie approaches and offers her a drink. Jamie’s willingness to marry Claire surprises her, but he feels he owes her something for mending his wounds more than once. Also, what kind of friend would he be if he left her to “that mad bastard Randall?” Claire wonders if there is someone else he is interested in, but Jamie admits he is not the best prospect for a husband since he is a wanted man. As Jamie stands to leave, Claire stops him, wondering if he is bothered she is not a virgin. Jamie tells her no, as long as she is not bothered that he is. Claire downs the rest of her drink as Jamie returns to the group of men in the distance.
The men are sitting and standing about their carts as Claire emerges from the trees, heading straight for Dougal. With no hesitation, she grabs the bottle of drink from his hand and walks right past the MacKenzies.
Review: “The Garrison Commander” is a difficult episode to watch and come away with any sense of enjoyment, save a few small moments. One the whole, it is an engaging episode marked by wonderful performances, but the violence shown throughout is difficult to stomach. Three scenes come to mind when looking back (the amputation, Jamie’s flogging, the violence against Claire) and each exemplifies the hardships, injustice, and pure horror of the world Claire has been transported back to. It is easy to dismiss these acts as merely being markers of a different time, but recent events in our own world would beg to differ. While Claire’s desperation to get back to the stones has been her goal since traveling back to the 18th century, the imminent danger brought about by the reintroduction of Captain Jack Randall brings a sense of urgency to her cause.
As difficult as some aspects of the episode are to watch, this has never been the case for the casts’ performances and “The Garrison Commander” is no exception. It seems repetitive at this point to commend Caitriona Balfe and Graham McTavish on their performances, but this episode showed a side of their chemistry that was not evident before. The main concern when adapting any work with a beloved central couple is that their chemistry carries from page to screen. Outlander has definitely succeeded in this, but it is also delightful to see the chemistry between Balfe and McTavish and feel a sense of camaraderie between the characters.
The majority of the episode is confined to a single space, removing the audience from the beauty and grandeur of the Scottish landscape. The exchange between Claire and Captain Randall is reminiscent of a play with two characters simply seated at a table, exchanging words for however long the scene demands. In what could have been a static episode, lively characters and building tensions keep the story on pace. Readers of Diana Gabaldon’s novels no doubt know the full extent of Captain Randall’s sadistic tendencies and Tobias Menzies has crafted a memorable and understated performance. While most villains are content with lofty speeches, loud volumes, and sweeping gestures, Menzies’ Randall lures you in with his sense of calm. There are not exaggerated differences between Frank and Captain Jack Randall, but more so in the pair’s tone and demeanor. Captain Randall settles his face differently and sucks his teeth, an action that does not itself scream “villain!,” but nonetheless, is an unsettling tick. The line that reverberates most in my mind is Randall referring to Jamie’s flogging as “an exquisite, bloody masterpiece.” With just a few words and the right demeanor, chills race down the spine and Menzies has crafted a terrifying villain.
With “The Garrison Commander” marked by violence and dominated by Jack Randall, the episode’s end is a welcome reprieve. Jamie’s brief appearance brings a delightful lightheartedness to the episodes’ final moments as audience barrels towards the series’ midseason finale in two weeks.
Below are a few clips from “The Garrison Commander.”