The Need to Belong: More Outsiders in Outlander
Outsiders don’t fit in. That is their key characteristic. They fly solo through life. As humans, we conform to the expectations of the group(s) we belong to as this makes it easier to fit in and be accepted. But not everyone does so successfully. Like a dark thread in the weft of a plaid, outsiders pick their way through life – sometimes part of the pattern and sometimes not, but always distinguishable.
As a follow up to my first post about “Outsiders in Outlander,” it’s time to take a closer look at some of those dark threads and how they bring character, conflict and interest into the Outlander series. And since we’re talking about dark threads, I mine as well start with the darkest thread of all – Black Jack Randall, the key villain of Outlander and Dragonfly In Amber…
Oh how we all love to hate Black Jack. So what is his story? How did he end up a sociopathic sadist?
We have only minor clues to guide us. He may not have ended up like this if his life had been different given the way we see his love and devotion for his brother, Alex. Then again, he may have anyway if he suffered from an underlying personality disorder. We don’t know if he tortured pets as a child, was abused at boarding school or in the army or any number of “red flag” behaviors that typically befall sociopaths. Maybe he contracted syphilis and had to suffer it destroying his brain. The point is, we just don’t know. We don’t know what the triggers were, but we do know that he ends up a man who delights not only in the physical torture others, but also in the psychological torture. These are not the actions and reactions of a completely sane man.
Breaking his victim’s spirits gives Jack a high. What I find most disturbing about Black Jack is the intelligence he wields in his persecution of his victims. He is no mindless brute. He is completely aware of what he does, and plans and implements his tortures specifically for the victim under his hands. He understands the deepest fears of his victims and exploits them for his own pleasure. There is a cold deliberation that is absolutely chilling. He reminds me of Hitler’s propaganda minister, Dr Goebbels, and the way he went about the destruction of Jews in Europe. There is a similar complete lack of empathy for suffering or humanity allied to intelligence and insight.
His ability to play the insider enables him to get away with his crimes, but Black Jack is – at heart – a perpetual outsider. He knows how to find powerful patrons and friends who will shield him from the consequences of his actions. He makes sure he stays useful because then those in his circle allow him to continue his activities as long as they can remain secret. He employs charm to hide the monster inside. Tobias Menzies captures this duality and inhabits the dark and twisted soul of Black Jack to perfection. We are attracted while we are repelled, much like a cobra and a mouse.
It starts with his time during the World War II, serving with the ‘funny buggers.’ Anyone who serves in the Secret Services (known in the 18th century as Black Chambers) lives a hidden life that separates them from day to day life. He was responsible for sending men and women to their deaths and it weighs on him. Because so much of his work was top secret, he could not talk about it to anyone. He’s also an English gentleman of an era where men did not talk about nor show their emotions. Bottled up, reserved and intense, his only release is sex… and this is mostly denied to him by circumstances. He and Claire married in 1939 and almost immediately separated. They had only just reunited and were trying to find their way back to one another on their second honeymoon in Scotland when Claire disappears for another three years. There is no doubt that, for him, Claire is the love of his life but he has her for such a short time, mere months within the years.
Her disappearance is traumatic. When someone disappears with no explanation, the one left behind has to grapple with endless questions and uncertainty. Unlike death, there is no closure because hope always lingers that the one lost will be found or reappear. The Inverness police are sure that Claire has run off with another man, and Frank has to consider that such a betrayal is a real possibility. Then there is suicide – unlikely, but still a realistic probability that must be contemplated as does the idea that Claire might have been abducted against her will. Despite all of these plausible scenarios to explain her vanishing, he continues to believe that Claire loves him and would not have abandoned him by choice. He spends months using every source at his disposal to try and find Claire, all to no avail. In the end, he has to try and move on with his life.
Just as he manages to do this, Claire miraculously returns. However, it’s a poisoned miracle for Frank considering she comes back pregnant with another man’s child, obviously grieving his loss. The medical staff are convinced she is delusional and in shock. Their considered opinion after listening to her story of stones, the 1740s and Culloden is that she is not completely sane. So Frank has to deal with a crazy, pregnant wife returned from the dead who rejects him and is quite blunt that she no longer loves him. Tobias Menzies once again gave a superb performance in episode one of season 2. I certainly cried for both of them.
I believe one must have sympathy for Frank’s predicament and feelings. He lives outside the blessed circle of Claire’s love. He chooses to make do and accept he is second best – not an easy thing for a man of pride and honour – but he is willing to do so, motivated by love and honour in equal parts. The long-term stress this puts him under eventually causes the erosion of his love and devotion for Claire – something we will, undoubtedly, have an opportunity to see in season 3.
Dour, hard-to-win-over, cautious Murtagh is Jamie’s godfather and protector. By nature a loner, he is deeply loyal to those he loves, few though they may be. Murtagh is a man of few words but quick to action when required, especially if decisive action is required in the face of imminent danger. #EverybodyNeedsAMurtagh has become an Outlander fan cry – we would ALL love to have a guardian like him.
I have always found it interesting that we know very little of Murtagh and his past. He reminds me of an early Pictish warrior – it’s as if he comes from an older time with links to ancient ways. He is, essentially, solitary and introverted. Uprooted from his native soil, he is deeply uncomfortable in France and fails to thrive. He will survive, though – he’s too tough and ornery not too. But if anyone was happy when they landed back in Scotland, it was definitely Murtagh. He needs the bracing Scottish weather and stony mountains to come into his own again. Training the troops is archetypal Murtagh – the original Sergeant Major who terrifies all the rookies into submission and is able to get them to march in line and in time.
his life without being at his side. He will pay whatever cost is required without question. His loyalty is stronger than steel, his honour absolute, his determination adamant.
Bonnie Prince Charlie – Prince Tearlach
His great potential died on Culloden Moor, just as the Clan system did. It became the inevitable climax of his mission to claim Scotland, England and Wales for the Stuarts. Charles believed that the people of Britain would welcome him – the rightful heir to the throne with open arms – take up arms and help him to overthrow the usurper Hanoverians. He did not understand that the Scottish Chiefs and their followers were not interested in winning England. He failed to understand that the common English people enjoyed a level of prosperity, religious and political freedom under King George that was never experienced under the Stuarts.
Tearlach’s Year had ended in blood and slaughter. The stories that rose around him in the years following built the mythology of the Bonnie Prince – the doomed, romantic hero. The reality is that he finally ended in Italy, where he had started, with nothing but shattered dreams and a taste for alcohol that destroyed him in the long term. He became the Beggar Prince, the Bonnie Prince having died at Culloden.
Fergus never knew his mother or father. Raised in Madame Elise’s brothel by the prostitutes who worked there, he was a street urchin and pickpocket. He knew what it meant to be an outsider from the get-go. He did what was necessary to survive and developed quick fingers and great charm as tools in his survival kit. He is comfortable with living on the shady side of the law – whether as a pickpocket, spy or smuggler.
When Jamie takes him on as an employee at age 10, Fergus is given an opportunity to belong to someone. He develops a profound loyalty to the man who will become his father in all but law and, as a result, Fergus shapes much of his morals and behaviour on Jamie’s example. Claire becomes his surrogate mother, although he always addresses her as ‘Milady’ and Jamie as ‘Milord’ – even as an adult. His desire to please them, and his desolation when Jamie is incarcerated in the Bastille, leaves to him blame himself for Jamie challenging Black Jack to the duel.
Ian Murray – Ian Mhor
Ian Murray experiences the difficulties of being an outsider when he returns from France having lost a leg. He considers that he has lost his role as a man, along with his leg – he can no longer fight and the daily business of life on a farm is difficult. His struggles to salvage and then retain his sense of himself as a man – “no small thing to be” when you factor in the love and stubbornness of Jenny, Jamie’s older sister.
The first real friend Claire makes is another outsider, Geillis Duncan, aka Gillian Edgars. Geillis is an uncomfortable woman, a rebel, a woman who refuses to accept boundaries and does what she wishes regardless of who is in her way. She is a witch in an era where witchcraft is shunned and feared – an era she deliberately chose to go to in pursuit of her passion for Scotland and its independence.
Geillis also continues to be a witch, regardless. She dances naked in the woods by moonlight where none can see her – an expression of her rebellious, yet secretive nature. She uses sex and men for her own ends, but despises them for their stupidity. Geillis has one real loyalty, and that is to Scotland and the Stuart cause. Her husbands are merely tools she uses to get more money for the Jacobites.
superstitions and magic mixed into its daily life than the Scottish highlands.” And that was in the 1940s, not the 1740s!
Mary Hawkins ends up an outsider as a result of her rape. A young woman from a good (even if impoverished) family, she becomes a pariah and outcast with little or no future… except to be sold to an old man who would accept her as ‘damaged goods’. Society’s rejection of her due to circumstances beyond her control leaves her at the mercy of her unscrupulous godfather, Lord Sandringham.
When Mary takes control of her life by escaping with Claire and Murtagh from Sandringham’s home, she breaks ties with society’s rules too. She grabs what happiness she can with Alex Randall despite the stigma she would experience if people knew they were not married. They live intensely for the few short months of Alex’s life, and when he dies she stops caring what happens to her next. Mary is utterly desolate. Any social standing she may have gained through her marriage to Black Jack Randall, short lived as it was, is lost despite bearing the Randall name legitimately through her marriage to Black Jack.
Mary and Claire’s stories run parallel in many ways. Claire is forced to leave Jamie and believes he is dead while carrying his child, just as Mary is carrying Alex’s child knowing he is dead. Both are linked by their marriages to Randalls, just generations apart.
Master Raymond – The Mysterious Outlander Outsider
Master Raymond, the Parisian apothecary, is by far the most mysterious of Outlander characters we meet. Magician, sorcerer, seller of poisons, abortifacients, snake oil potions and more mundane herbal cures… (breath)… fortune teller, demonist, cabalist, healer – he is all of these, in one guise or another.
His intentions towards Claire are not clear at first and yet, ultimately, are benign. He goes to the hospital, at great risk to himself, to heal Claire of the postpartum infection that would have killed her. It is interesting however, that Bouton, that canine seeker of infection, avoids Master Raymond, not unlike how a dog will avoid a wolf. Many readers and viewers are hoping that Master Raymond will reappear in the story at some point in the story. We have a soft spot for this eccentric character.
All throughout Outlander, we meet stories of outsiders – all with different reasons for why they can be identified as such. Neuroscientist Beau Lotto once said, “Sharing our understanding narratively allows others to know why we are the way we are. The world we perceive isn’t actually the world itself — it’s our own story of the world, based on our knowledge and what we’ve learned from others. That story contains things that actually happened, and it contains things we’ve just imagined, like mythology, religion, fairy tales, fiction and so on.”
Please let me know what you think.