outlander 115 – wentworth prison – thoughts, feelings, and sam heughan

Outlander Wentworth Prison Title Card

Ye are Blood of my Blood, and Bone of my Bone

I give ye my Body, that we Two might be One.

I give ye my Spirit, ’til our Life shall be Done.

– Diana Gabaldon, Outlander: A Novel

NOTE: this is going to be extremely long and very spoilery; read no further if you wish to avoid knowing details of the books, this episode, and possible speculation on what may happen in the next one.

Oh, and I use very unladylike and blunt language, which may not be appropriate for something like this, but sometimes you gotta say what you mean.

I also wander into some sexually graphic stuff, so this thing is definitely for adults who lack delicate sensibilities.

Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Screen grabs courtesy of Outlander-Online

Man, this one was tough to write about.

Initially I started doing one of those ‘things I noticed’ sort of recaps, which can be fun, but when I got to the part with Jamie (Sam Heughan) getting his hand hammered by Black Jack (Tobias Menzies) it became difficult to write anything that was the least bit amusing. I initially tried to keep going, but once Jack forced Jamie’s good hand in between his legs, I couldn’t really go any further.

I figured most folks wouldn’t appreciate a whole bunch of lines that had pretty much alternated between ‘Holy shit!’ and ‘Oh, fuck!’ or variations thereof…

Maybe people would have right in there with me, since my reaction to the episode probably isn’t that much different than anyone else’s. That’s actually part of the fun doing a recap like that, voicing what others saw (maybe pointing out things people didn’t) in a hopefully amusing and/or entertaining way, but I was stymied by the darker tone of the episode.

And there are things I could have written about which might have been amusing… I could have mentioned that it’s ‘hanged,’ not ‘hung’ like Jamie said, when you talk about someone getting strung up for an execution. Also, I adored how cute Angus (Stephen Walters) and Rupert (Grant O’Rourke) were when they got drunk losing playing dice with those guards. And were those guards who skint Rupert and Angus the same men who took Jamie food and drink?

It might have been amusing, but that sort of recap wouldn’t really have added much to the conversation about this episode. Actually, I’m glad I didn’t write something like that because it would have seemed a tad on the tone-deaf side…

And there has been a lot of conversation about the episode already, so once I realized just how un-fun writing about this episode would be, and how difficult it was (this is my fourth or fifth attempt to write **something** about this episode), I considered not writing anything about it at all. I’m not a coward, but I wasn’t sure how it would play, as it were. And so many have written about it, why did I need to bother, especially if I wasn’t going to enjoy it?

I don’t do this for money, I don’t have a deadline, and I actually have a full-time job (which takes up 40 or 50 hours of my time each week), so maybe I didn’t need to do it. I mean, I haven’t even written about all the episodes up until now (skipping episodes 4-11 completely at this point, although the current plan is to write about them eventually)… Honestly? Who would miss it?

Yet, when I was reading some commentary online, I was perplexed that people weren’t seeing what I did in this episode, some even completely missing the beauty of it, even as it depicted very gruesome, sick, and twisted stuff. I was at times horrified by this episode, other times fascinated, thrilled, scared, and disgusted, while still finding parts of it beautiful, or just beautifully realized, even with the horror.

So, maybe I should write about it… But the drawback of reading other people’s stuff is that it kills the impulse to write for me. It’s why I didn’t read other people’s reviews until after I’d written mine when I was reviewing Smallville for Kryptonsite.

Yet, for Outlander somehow I couldn’t stay away from the Facebook posts, tweets, Tumblr, and WordPress blogs. I’m an Outlander addict, if my writing about the show even as irregularly as I do wasn’t proof enough…

Then I was reading some articles online that started to make me really confused and surprisingly angry. It’s like people think that this change or that took away from the story or cheated some niche part of the fandom.

Look, I’m not some noob when it comes to these sorts of things: I used to write online reviews for Smallville, of all things. Believe me, you ain’t seen bitching and moaning about the minutia in a fandom until you write a review about something you loved on a Superman show and everyone else on the planet hated, or vice versa.

And you know, the stramash about this episode has probably spewed more vitriol from some of the darkest and most joyless parts of this fandom than anything I had ever seen with Smallville. Believe me, that’s saying A LOT.

So, I have to put my two bits in, whether or not anyone else really cares, agrees with me, hates me, or even bothers to read what I write…

While probably not the worst thing about what others are saying, it really made me annoyed that everyone it seemed, almost without exception, was more keyed in on Tobias Menzies’ performance as Black Jack, and mentioned Caitriona Balfe’s and Sam Heughan’s performances as almost an afterthought.

That might be in part due to the fact that Sam and Cait are not really available right now for interviews. They’re busy filming the next season (or series for the folks over on the other side of the pond) and I’m guessing that since Black Jack isn’t a central character in Dragonfly in Amber, Tobias’ schedule isn’t quite as packed… You land an interview with a member of the cast, or you read an interview someone else did with him, maybe it pushes what he did more into the forefront when you write your review.

Or maybe it’s the fact that Tobias plays Jack as JUST. SO. FUCKING. EVIL.

Critics tend to love actors who play bad guys. And even if you don’t buy that as the reason, it’s not hard to see that it’s those sorts of parts which seem to be the ones that get actors and actresses critical acclaim, if not also getting them Oscars and Emmys. Roles like that are flashy, I suppose, acting-wise…

Not that Tobias isn’t due kudos for his performance, or that what he did was more flashy than it was substantial. No, quite the contrary: Tobias took the character to a whole new level of evil in a surprisingly layered performance that was full of nuance. He probably deserves some awards for his portrayal of Black Jack, especially since what Tobias delivered probably wouldn’t have been the first choice for most actors in a part like that. Tobias showed a level of skill that proves he’s at the top of his game, acting-wise. It was completely masterful, but like I said he wasn’t the only one showing off his considerable acting chops in this episode.   Everyone brought out his or her ‘A’ game, so ‘Wentworth Prison’ was a perfectly acted episode from the very start.

In fact, the first scene in the yard was totally awesome in just how perfect it was, both in the writing and acting departments. The scene revealed tons about both characters, and their reactions as they waited their turn at the gibbet were perfect. When Jamie and Taran MacQuarrie (Douglas Henshall) waited to be hanged, the tension was plain on Jamie and Taran’s bodies and in their voices.

The gallows humor was an awesome addition to the story. I liked how Taran was so keyed on the ejaculation that men get when they’re hanged. It was fitting. Taran’s so crass and blunt, him contemplating that his final moments would be made better if he had an epic erection and orgasm he was told men have as they’re hanged was perfect.

Douglas played his character as outwardly sanguine about what was happening, but still made it quite clear that Taran was petrified as men were hanged in front of him, with his turn about to come. It was a nice touch that Jamie felt regret more because Claire wouldn’t forgive him for getting hanged than he did for getting hanged. Yet, his tone showed he was bitterly angry with himself with where he found himself.

There were three men hanged before Jamie’s turn. Each condemned man having progressively worse time of it than the one before him, with Taran’s being the worst. How badly that goes seemed a perfect way to reinforce Jamie’s resolve to not go quietly. Better to go out fighting, rather than go meekly and meet his end as badly as Taran had.

It made sense, even after he had unsuccessfully tried to fight the soldiers, that he seemed reluctantly resigned to his fate. Jamie accepted it, even as he looked at Taran’s finally dead body in dread. It was in a few simple, and subtle ways, that Sam was able to convey just how terrified he really was. The wide-eyed look as he saw men hanged, then the convulsive swallowing, and he looked vaguely as if he would about to vomit. It was beautifully done…

What added to the scene was the music. Composer Bear McCreary started with deep strings, low and mournful, slowly building until Black Jack rode up on that Friesian. It helped underscore the fact that the fear on Jamie’s face was completely justified. If the show had to take Jamie out of the frying pan and into the fire, they couldn’t have found something more fitting. I agree with Jamie, about the only thing worse than hanging would be to fall under Jack Randall’s power again.

Yet, it’s important to point out again, that Sam was able to convey volumes of what Jamie was feeling without saying a word. It’s a very impressive performance already and I haven’t even gotten out of the first five minutes or so of the episode. Sam Heughan was amazing in this scene and he barely spoke 100 words in it. This lack of verbosity continued throughout the episode.

In a lot of commentary I read after this episode aired, folks seemed to think the lack of dialogue for Jamie shortchanged the character and somehow hurt Sam. This is what made me angry enough to write this, after my enthusiasm for the task had initially faltered.

Some commentators even went so far to suggest that the producers, namely Ron Moore (the show runner and the series creator who has said in interviews just how perfect Sam Heughan is for the part of Jamie), through this supposed short-changing of Jamie has shown how little regard he has for Sam. That isn’t only ridiculous, but that isn’t what is happening at all.

Just the opposite: the fact that Jamie has little dialogue is a vote of confidence in Sam Heughan’s skill as an actor, not a condemnation of it.

To trust an actor to stay silent for such long periods of time in an episode, while everyone else has things to say, is probably pretty scary as an actor. Not that I would really know, not being a professional actor, but I acted for a short time in high school and college, and I stopped for a reason… I am a far better writer than I would have been as an actor. Yet, I had taken the classes and read the books. While it is largely an academic level of knowledge at this point; that study does give me a pretty good idea of what goes into the process.

So, speaking as a former actor, it seems (for most actors) that dialogue is something they rely on very heavily. Words provide a framework to base the character’s intent upon. It seems to me to be sorta like a road map, it’s how the actor knows which way he needs to go. Extending that analogy, some actors are better at navigating without that support, while others need to have the turn-by-turn directions at hand at all times.

From what Ron and a few others said, they had extra rehearsal time so that the director and the actors could get this right. That extra time must have been key for the actors. Working through that undoubtedly helped the actors form their characters.

For many actors, though probably no one in this cast, depend on dialogue too much. This is especially true in TV. So many shows are mostly people talking. That’s regrettable since it seems to be solely for exposition, more than for character development. Not Outlander.

Think about it: what show has one of the leads saying next to nothing for large chunks of an episode? I can think of only a few which have done this, Spartacus certainly is a good example. Here, what Sam did was so good.   He embraced the lack of dialogue, depending on what he could see and hear from his fellow actors. He had apparently requested the dialogue be pared down, which was an excellent choice.  It allowed Sam to shape a performance so true with only his body and face to express what his character was thinking and feeling is remarkable. With the tension in his body and a few convulsive swallows, Sam made it clear that Jamie’s outward calm was only on the surface.

We’re not even out of the first scene and it epitomizes what people think was wrong with the episode. Yeah, Tobias made Black Jack about as evil a character as any I think I’ve seen on TV and Caitriona was terrific as the extremely determined Claire, and they did a lot of talking while Sam’s Jamie was largely silent. But all the talking the other actors did which gave Sam an opportunity to prove how good he is, even with saying very little.

While his look isn’t perfect for the part, he’s right-handed and the dye job effectively turns his dirty blonde hair auburn, I don’t think anyone can honestly fault his suitability for the part. He inhabits the role like he was born to it. He knows this character so well, Outlander author Diana Gabaldon has said that he is Jamie. I agree, Sam Heughan breathes life into the character in a way that probably surpasses all expectations.

“When you most succeed, you do so by seeming not to act at all.”

― Stella Adler, The Art of Acting

Once the episode progresses to the point where Jamie is chained in that dungeon cell, he just keeps getting better. Jamie is off-balance and frightened, but has few options on what he can do to make his situation better. Talking his way out of it probably isn’t one of them, so his relatively non-verbal reaction to what happens makes sense, another reason why the complaints about his lack of dialogue perplex me. (Do I need to say again he asked for that?)

When Black Jack finally visits Jamie in the dungeon cell, he starts out very polite. He showed concern for Jamie’s welfare when he sent the food and drink to him. Although, and this is a chilling thought, I think the only reason that Jack made sure that Jamie ate was because he knew the Scot would need his strength for what he planned to do to him.

Maybe it was all part of a sick version of foreplay for a sexual sadist, soften up the victim, get him to think you care, make sure he’s eaten a full meal… Not that Jamie seemed to be buying that once Jack showed up, since he wasn’t willing to engage Jack in conversation initially. And Sam Heughan played Jamie as tightly controlled and closed off, right from the start.

Jack wasn’t deterred by Jamie’s silence, quite the opposite. So, he talked and talked, trying to get a reaction from Jamie. Tobias played it so smoothly, amusing himself with this part of the game, testing Jamie’s defenses, to see where the chink in his armor was. Tobias had Jack watch Jamie closely until he found what would finally get him to react, which was when he asked about Jamie’s ability to perform with Claire,  maybe going soft, after thinking about Jack.

That was a brilliant line, by the way.

It’s part of why what Jack does to Jamie is so insidious in the book. Jack broke through Jamie’s defenses and worked to keep Claire in his mind even as he tortured and raped him. Jamie had been trying so hard to keep a mental distance from the torture, which he had agreed to do as the price he must pay for Jack to free Claire, but that was impossible when Jack forced him to think of her.

Jamie wanted the pain to only affect his body, but Jack wouldn’t let him off that easy. In the book, Jack talked about Claire while he was torturing and raping Jamie. That made what Jack was doing blend in Jamie’s mind with his very healthy and active sex life with Claire, but that only started after Jack came back after literally throwing Claire out of the prison.

It was a brilliant move to have that process start earlier, before Claire shows up. It foreshadows what Jack will likely do to Jamie that will mess him up so badly in the finale. Certain spoilers I’d seen suggest that is exactly what Jack does in the finale, but I wrote this prior to viewing that episode, so I suppose we’ll see if those spoilers are accurate. I think they probably are, it’s not quite what happened in the books, but this show isn’t a book…

Anyway, Jamie lashing out at Jack like that, almost on cue, really was the beginning of the end. It looked like Jamie thought he could play Jack’s game without becoming emotionally involved, but that was simply not realistic.

After that point, I’m not sure Jamie really had any real chance to avoid what was going to happen to him. After all, Jack promised he would submit before getting taken to the gallows. I wonder if Tobias had thought about what Jack would have done if Jamie hadn’t fought and given him the excuse to hurt him with the hammer…

Still, I don’t think Jamie would have done anything differently even if he had known a hammer (and worse) was in his future. He had tried to catch Jack off guard, and with the Englishman standing behind him, Jamie was in between him and the door. It was probably a plan that had little chance of succeeding since Jamie was unarmed and chained to a stone pillar, but he had to try.

Jamie isn’t stupid, he had done that knowing just how long a shot that was, maybe hoping he might be killed outright rather than suffer whatever Jack had planned. So, either way, it would have worked out. Of course, Jack wasn’t ready to end it there, so he punished Jamie instead.

Even after maiming Jamie, Jack tormented him in a way that was likely worse than getting his hand turned into hamburger meat: he taunted him, implying that Jamie was complicit in what Jack was doing. At first it was just with words, it was like he was chastising a misbehaving child, but then he held Jamie’s hand in between his legs.

Man, that was seriously creepy, even Marley (Richard Ashton) was disturbed by that.

When Jack threw Jamie to the floor, jarring his mangled hand, it looked so painful. I flashed back to a broken elbow I had once where a piece of the radial head got jammed into the joint, and the ER radiology techs had to straighten my arm for the X-ray… Before I got any painkillers.

Yet, even THAT was not as agonizing as what it looked like Jamie was suffering. I shudder just thinking about it.

Later, after Claire managed against all odds to find Jamie, Jack used her against him. Tobias was brilliant in that part. Jack probably would have killed Claire outright if he thought it would have gotten what he wanted from Jamie, but he knew from their previous encounter at Fort William that Jamie would likely immediately respond to threats on Claire’s life.

So, like when he ripped Jenny’s dress back at Lallybroch, he watched Jamie closely as he was choking Claire to see the effect it had on him, better to judge how well that tactic was working. (This was especially nice since it was so similar to the way that Frank had throttled the woman in ‘Both Sides Now.’) He was so keyed on Jamie during that part of the scene, no matter what he was trying to do to Claire. Tobias was fantastic as Black Jack.

Of course Jamie didn’t have anything to bargain with, aside from himself, and Jack knew that very well. It was something that had been coming since the first episode. I’m not sure I’d seen a ‘Chekhov’s Gun’ analogy take almost an entire season to pay off before this…

If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on a wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.

― Anton Chekhov

Jamie told Claire in the first episode he said he would rescue anyone taken prisoner by Black Jack Randall. He rescued her from Fort William and now he was going to have to rescue her again.

With how she writes her books, I don’t think Diana Gabaldon is capable of leaving a loose thread. Sometimes it might take a book or two to play everything out, but she always seems to get there in the end. In her writing, Diana seems to live by what Anton Chekhov said in the way she writes her books.

Jamie had said back in ‘Sassenach’ that he wouldn’t risk her, or anyone else, being captured by Black Jack. Here she was captured, at risk of certain death, and things were far different for them both than it had been back at episode 101.

Had she been a stranger, given what he told her then, he probably still would have offered himself up to Jack to save her. He’s the hero of the story, after all, but she’s not a stranger. Claire’s a woman who has become more important to him every day. He loves her with such a deep passion that it makes millions of readers (and now millions more television viewers) all around the globe wish they had their own Jamie Fraser…

“You have my name, my clan, my family. And, if necessary, the protection of my body as well.”

– Jamie Fraser, episode 107, ‘The Wedding’

Jamie promised Claire he would protect her with his body and here he is doing just that, the rifle hanging on the wall from the first episode is being used to devastating effect here.

He said back in ‘Lallybroch’ that he could stand pain himself, but he wouldn’t be able to bear hers. That was another one of Chekhov’s rifles on the wall.

As in much pain as he was in, he screamed for Jack to stop strangling Claire. That was painful to watch, almost worst then when Jack used the hammer on his hand. Poor Jamie, he had no choice, he had to save her.

“Acting is not about dressing up. Acting is about stripping bare.”

― Glenda Jackson

I don’t know where Sam Heughan found whatever it was he found to play this scene as completely has he did, to make it so painful (yet mesmerizing) to watch, and he was totally stripped bare. He revealed some inner place of vulnerability that was so raw and visceral, I’m not sure I’d seen anything else quite like it. The only thing I could think of that came close was Jodie Foster’s rape scene in The Accused.

Stella Adler had said to act well, was to seem like you weren’t acting at all. I’m amazed, truly amazed at what Sam did here. It seemed so truly devastating to him, physically and emotionally, that it is no wonder he had problems decompressing afterwards. I’m glad that he seems to have worked past that.  I wouldn’t wish Black Jack inspired nightmares on anyone.

Jamie’s decision to sacrifice himself for Claire will have serious consequences and he knows it. Unlike the book, in the show Jamie has a fairly good idea of what is in store for him in offering himself up to Jack. He had already suffered an emotionally and physically devastating sexual assault when Jack forced Jamie to give him a hand job…

Yes, Jamie knows very well what would come after willingly submitting to Jack. In offering himself, knowing what he does (even if his imagination isn’t quite equal to guessing the depths of depravity Jack will sink to), Jamie’s sacrifice for Claire is probably the single bravest act in a TV show that I think I’ve ever seen.

Of course there have been people who have died as a result of some self-sacrifice, to save a loved one or even an entire city, but the fate that Jamie has to face is one (for him) that is worse than death.

Once Jack had Jamie’s submission, of course it wasn’t enough. He had to make Jamie suffer further pain and humiliation before he let Claire go. As Jamie prepared to suffer whatever it was Jack was going to do him, putting out his broken hand looked painful, but when Jack pulled his fingers down things just got worse.

Jack saying ‘I haven’t even begun’ was a massive understatement.

Yikes.

The horror on Jamie’s face as he heard that, then how he suffered more at the hands of Jack, was truly heartbreaking…

When Jack hammered the nail into Jamie’s palm, it looked positively agonizing. How does Sam know how to convey that so believably? I sincerely hope it isn’t through personal experience… Yet he still kicked it all up a few notches further when Jack came back and gave him a better idea of what he was in for.

That tear rolling down Sam’s cheek nearly broke me as Jamie contemplated the horrors he is about to endure.

Not just dressing up, but stripping bare, indeed.

Who do I write to just give Sam Heughan his Emmy now?

#EmmyForSam

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2 thoughts on “outlander 115 – wentworth prison – thoughts, feelings, and sam heughan

  1. Hey,
    just a quick stop to thank you for writing this. I’m really glad you did. Please, PLEASE don’t scare me again by saying that you won’t write these up. Your opinion is read by many of us and it is only a handful out there that’s good and always written well and with taste.

    I agree with your post here, 100%!

    Here is a portion of my thoughts on 115 from my blog couple of weeks ago:

    “For some reason everyone was buzzing about how Tobias Menzies had done such an amazing job and pulled off playing the creepiest of character ever [which in my opinion he did, no doubt], however, not much was said about Sam Heughan’s performance of a victim. I honestly couldn’t figure that one out. Bit by bit Sam’s fans caught on this trend and started commenting here and there and the conversation is happening out there about why is this.

    I debated if I should comment or not. This is a touchy subject and we all see things from our POV, meaning that there will be 1000’s of different views, and that is just fine. That said, I’m solely going on the facts available to me, which are the podcasts. And guess what? The fact is that Mr. Moore has yet to give even a little praise to his leading actor. I’m not making this up for the sake of “drama” or siding to one side over the other. This is a fact. You all can listen for yourselves. Now, that doesn’t mean that Mr. Moore is “jealous”, or “biased” or any such nonsense. I’m sorry, but I don’t buy it. He’s too professional for “games”. However, I do think that he’s taking his star for granted, and not even consciously. I honestly believe that he’s not even aware that he’s doing it. Personally, his podcasts are a wealth of information as much as boring at times because he tends to rant on and on about other non Outlander related things. I don’t care as long as I get a glimpse of my show bts.

    I saw the episode many times now and once with my DH who is not a book reader but he’s a fan of the show. Even he noticed that BJR’s storyline has been given more air time than necessary. Again, I’m not sure that Ron and co. are doing this on purpose. These people are professionals. However, they are artists and they “see” this show in a way that you and I probably don’t.

    I look at the show separately from the book, as a compliment to them and nothing else. The show will never replace the books. Nothing can.

    This next episode will be torture to watch, pun not intended, and I hope to God that the scenes of Jamie’s degradation are kept to absolute minimum. The scenes with Claire redeeming his soul should be what that episode is about. It points to reason that it will have to be Jamie’s POV because it will be told in flashbacks BY Jamie. This will be then ALL about Sam’s portrayal of pain and degradation and humiliation. Most of the scenes should be concentrated on him, right? Let’s see what happens.

    My last point is this. Let’s be humble and respectful of one another’s opinions. It’s our love of the books and the show that’s bringing us together from all walks of life and the world. How humbling and awesome is that?!”

    I’ve now seen 116 … It will take me awhile to process it, but my opinion about it and the first season is this: GROUNDBREAKING, RIVETING, and HONEST storytelling.

    Do NOT stop writing, hear?!

    Mel

    Like

    • Thank you for taking the time for such a long comment. You humble me, where’s a blushing emoticon when I need one?

      I appreciate your viewpoint, and I agree Ron probably doesn’t perceive that he’s giving less commentary on Sam, but I haven’t listened to the pod casts past the first one. Too annoying.

      Wish Smallville would have had that as a resource, although the show runners for that show were world class assholes.

      Ron’s are likely a godsend for certain fans, but I thought they were just boring.

      And I will likely keep writing, but the MS makes it harder I think to stay focused… Writing these isn’t as easy as I remember writing for Smallville was, but maybe those really stunk, although my varied background in theatre and TV/film production helped a lot.

      The crew thanked me sometimes for mentioning what they did (reviews usually ignore the design and photography, I never did). Also largely academic since I went to film school after transferring from a theatre program, but only pro job was as a Production Assistant at an ABC affiliate, which sucked since it paid so horribly. I made more in tech support, which I’m still doing…

      Anyway, see lack focus, always going off on weird tangents, but I really appreciate what you’ve said… I have things I still want to say about some of the other episodes, The Wedding & Both Sides Now, especially. Writing about the show will be something to keep me busy during Droughtlander part 2, if for no other reason.

      Like

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