In New England, where I live, we have a saying about someone (usually a sports figure) who can do no wrong in your eyes, and who you support no matter what. We call that person a “binky.” For example, Tom Brady is totally my binky.
Well, I can honestly tell you that Tobias Menzies is definitely my Outlander binky.
Most of our listeners from Outlander Cast are already well aware of my love for Menzies and his characters in Outlander – Frank and Black Jack Randall.
Despite my (self-admitted) overwhelmingly biased love of his acting and how well I think his characters in Outlander are written, I truly do believe Menzies plays an amazing antagonist in this show. In fact, I would argue that Black Jack is the perfect antagonist for Outlander and the show would be nowhere near as entertaining, or engaging, without him.
Better yet, Outlander would NOT be a success without Black Jack.
But before you click off this page and dismiss all of my credibility, please allow me to give you an honest and educated opinion on why the show needs BJR. And fittingly enough, why it’s also time for the show to move on from him after season 3…
Ok – you’ve made it. Thanks for sticking with me.
To begin, I’ve always felt the show was at its most electric when BJR or Frank were on screen. Need I remind you of the excellence on display in Claire’s interrogation scene from “The Garrison Commander”? Or when Frank finds out Claire’s baby isn’t his? How about every interaction between our beloved Jamie and Claire with BJR at Wentworth? You may not have liked the imagery (and I get it if you don’t), but every scene Menzies is in just happens to be some of the most riveting dramatic work Outlander has produced so far.
In the interest of transparency, I will admit:
1. I am just a show watcher. Never have read the books, and never will.
2. This analysis is relatively subjective – I have always been a fan of the bad guy, whether it’s Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs), Walter White (Breaking Bad), Michael Corelone (The Godfather), Loki (The Avengers), Darth Vader (Star Wars), Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver), Dexter, Negan (The Walking Dead) and so on and so on.
So, yes, both of these subjective preferences certainly color my joy in watching Black Jack Randall talk about how he made a “masterpiece” with Jamie at Fort William. (Yes, rough imagery again, but absolutely VISCERAL television.)
Recently, though, my subjectivity was proven a little more objective when I saw a mini documentary about The Joker as played by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. The film’s purpose was to make a case for why he was the perfect antagonist for Batman in Christopher Nolan’s iteration of the famed DC character. That SPECTACULAR video – which you can watch here – surmised that The Joker essentially turned Batman from being a guy in a rubber suit into a force of nature inhabiting The Dark Knight persona as we all know him.
It was at this point I had my “aha” moment when I realized why I loved the bad guy, and more importantly, why I have come to love BJR the character.
Suffice it to say, I realized that my “feeling” about him wasn’t just me being in love with the writing or the actor, or the fact BJR is totally my binky. Rather, there were legitimate story reasons for my preferences.
Before we go any further – no, I do not condone whipping someone nearly to death. No, Randall’s constant need to dominate and, in turn, rape people is not something I’m into either. The man commits horrible acts, and he is almost one hundred percent abhorrent. But, on the other hand, this is a fictional world, with fictional acts – and one has to interpret his actions as fictional and, thereby, analyze them through the lens of what his acts do to help dramatize the fictional world he inhabits.
In other words, how does Randall benefit the story being told?
If filtered through that guise, regardless of whatever horrible acts Randall does, what is his function as the antagonist of Outlander and does he enhance the overall story experience?
My contention is, yes… and it’s by a landslide.
So what was my “aha” moment? Why was I vindicated? Why is Diana Gabaldon’s character of Black Jack Randall the perfect antagonist for Ron Moore’s vision of Outlander? Well, with a little guidance from the aforementioned film, here is why:
Is it easy to argue, predicated upon the impact Randall has made on him, that our protagonist is James Fraser? Yes. But BJR becomes infinitely more interesting when you shift focus to Claire Fraser as being Randall’s foe, and the battle they share together. The stakes become far more personal because it’s not just about lust, or getting revenge for being embarrassed during a public beating as it would be between Jamie and Randall.
No, when the battle is between Claire and Black Jack, it becomes more about control and dominance – something we can all relate to. But let’s dive in a little further and see why this is the case, shall we?
1. BJR attacks Claire’s greatest weaknesses.
In his book, STORY, Robert McKee suggests, “a protagonist and his (or her) story can only be as intellectually and emotionally compelling as the forces of antagonism make them.” In other words, our protagonist, Claire, and her story, can only stand out as far as our antagonist, Black Jack, pushes her.
Logically then, the harder they fight, the more personal it becomes, which results in more drama, and so we feel more attachment to either side. More attachment means a more compelling struggle. If we have a highly compelling struggle, then we are privy to a highly entertaining show.
So how does BJR fight Claire? How does he push her? How do they create a compelling struggle?
From the moment we see her in France in 1945, we recognize Claire as a strong, intellectually capable, fiercely independent, sexually driven, modern woman. She’s quick on her feet, self-reliant, and she loves the idea of control over her patients with the knowledge she can heal them. But most of all – she loves the idea of a home. She stares at that blue vase in the shop window yearning for the moment when she feels like she belongs. These are all admirable traits and we are proud of Claire for achieving them.
It is with great pleasure, however, that BJR takes these traits and turns them against Claire to make them her greatest weakness.
Just like us, when Randall sees Claire for the first time, he witnesses a woman that he has not quite seen before. He takes her confidence and self-reliance, and transforms them into insecurity and desperation because he, too, is a dominating force. She is physically weaker than he, so he forces himself on her both mentally and physically.
In “The Garrison Commander,” Randall allows Claire all of her inherent traits. He even goes as far as to apologize for his actions when they first met to set her at ease, giving the guise of control back to Claire. His trap was set when her independent streak pushes Dougal outside of the meeting, and when her confidence in healing is stoked by a conversation to convert BJR to the light. She thinks she’s using her wits to describe her long-lost husband, all while Randall crafts a portrait of the “beautiful liar” in her visage. Then, as he will do so for the remainder of their time together, he physically dominates her, allowing a stranger to even beat her to a pulp.
This reason alone is why Garrison Commander works so well, because all we know and like about Claire – wits, independence, control, even sexual confidence – are completely turned asunder, and set against her. Essentially, Randall’s prerogative, as well as delight, is to make Claire feel out of control and small. In just one single scene, we get to see almost everything we need to know about the two going forward in the story, without actually having to tell you.
They are opposites, whose very nature creates a fundamental and built-in conflict without the need of exposition. They exist and, thereby, oppose.
And while this is all well and good for a few scenes, the next bit BJR accomplishes is where things become truly interesting for he and Claire.
2. Randall forces Claire to make harder and harder choices.
To further build on her strengths turning against her, Claire, despite her independence and wit, is finally devalued to the point where Dougal must rescue her from Black Jack’s clutches. As bad as that may be for our heroine, and for our confidence in her ability to fend off her foes, it’s at this point Outlander finally kicks into high gear because Randall demands Claire be delivered to Fort William the next day.
From here on out, because of this interrogation and subsequent rescue, Claire and Randall become inexorably linked, and Claire knows she cannot escape him unless she has help. She wants to go to her original home in the forties, but it’s BJR that pushes her to make decisions that will affect the rest of her life in immeasurable ways.
Claire’s independence, her self-preservation, her confidence, all become her enemies – enemies that push her helplessly into the arms of a reluctant Scottish clan. And if she has any intent to stay alive in her harsh setting, she must succumb to those enemies and marry Jamie Fraser to stay alive.
While we all like to think that this decision is for the better, think of it in terms of Claire at that very moment in time – she has to abandon her actual husband, she has to go further away from what she believes to be her home in the forties, and she also has to succumb to the foreign world around her.
Everything she is, was, and what we believe her to be as viewers, is gone. By virtue of BJR’s threat, and each choice she makes therein, she separates herself from the character we originally met in post-war France. She loses herself. We lose our protagonist.
This is when the relationship between BJR and Claire becomes most interesting.
As McKee points out in STORY, “true character is revealed in the choices a human being makes under pressure – the greater the pressure, the deeper the revelation, the truer the choice to the character’s essential nature.” So Claire’s true nature is revealed by her choices that Jonathan Randall forces on her.
Here is why this choice is so vitally important – because BJR forces Jamie to choose and pits our lovers against each other’s self interests. He takes the intrinsic characteristics of our title couple we love, and turns them inside out – once again, making them weaknesses. He knows Jamie cannot sacrifice Claire, and Claire isn’t strong enough to force Jamie out of Wentworth alone.
In essence, Randall allows Claire to live because he takes away her love. He takes away Jamie and, consequently, in one final act of using her choices against her, Randall manipulates the most sensitive of all Claire’s weaknesses – he eradicates the home she finally uncovered in a time to which she doesn’t belong.
As fate has it, Jamie is rescued but, like her home, he is not the same. They have been ravaged by Randall, and Jamie is humiliated to the point of near suicide. In order to flee Randall’s grasp, and motivated to change their own fortune, Claire is forced out of Scotland into the clutches of an even more foreign environment, France.
But this is not the end of Randall’s influence. In fact, his reach becomes ever more apparent while the Frasers reside in France. Yes, Jamie is ruined physically and mentally which, of course, stresses our title couple’s relationship. But, yet again, Claire’s strength of wits obstruct her overall vision when she tries to out-think history by forcing Mary Hawkins away from Alex Randall only to serve her up to his brother, Jonathan Randall. Claire knowingly pushes a helpless little girl into her enemy’s arms. But as bad as that is, Claire’s choices become even more convoluted when Black Jack arrives at her doorstep.
Of course, one would think that Claire could allow Jamie to seek out his well-due revenge on Randall from Wentworth when they meet in France. But as if it were a cruel joke, Black Jack inadvertently strikes again because Claire cannot allow his lineage to be extinguished due to her love of Frank, the man to whom she was originally married and who also just happens (she thinks) to be related to BJR.
She chooses Frank over Jamie, her home.
She chooses Black Jack Randall over Jamie, her home.
She chooses herself over Jamie, her home.
Yes, our Claire we know and love has also knowingly chosen the very antithesis of what makes her herself – she chooses against home.
Jonathan Randall forces Claire to make these choices, and it shows who she really is on the inside.
Is Claire tough, resilient and independent? Or is she selfish and helpless? Does she have a home in Scotland, or does she belong in he forties? What does this say about a woman whose original trajectory as a character was was to find a home? What is her motivation in the show at this point? Or is she rudderless, going where the tidal forces of Black Jack and Jamie take her?
What’s worse about it all is that Randall also forces Jamie to choose him over Claire at the duel. In spite of his promise not to fight Black Jack, Jamie goes against his word to Claire further denigrating their trust in each other. Additionally, it prevents Jamie from being at her side during the tragic birth of Faith, and it starts eroding the satisfaction, as well as excitement, we have in a rescued Jamie. Not only does Claire question her relationship – now Randall has forced us to question it too.
Here’s another thought – do the choices Randall forces Claire to make, and resulting pressures she is subjected to, help contribute to the tragedy of Faith? There may not be a correlation, but there is enough there, I believe, to make one at least consider the possibility – especially due to the fragility of pregnancy and birth during the 18th century.
While I don’t think we can answer the aforementioned questions fully quite yet (based on what’s transpired in the television show), I do believe that these questions are what makes Claire’s conflict so compelling. This strong, independent character is now drifting without ANY of her traits, or husband, that made her the protagonist to begin with. Her choices make her strengths weaknesses.
We see Claire’s resolve in trying to rescue Jamie, but we also see the limit to her resolve in what it takes to rid herself completely of Black Jack Randall. Her true character, as dictated by the choices she’s made, namely preventing Jamie from killing Randall, are still very much up for debate – which makes her experience, pressure, revelation, and character so fascinating.
It is BJR’s conflict with Claire, not Jamie, that enriches the story.
Which brings me to my next point…
3. BJR and Claire actually compete for the same thing.
Randall is the perfect fit for Outlander because he and Claire are the perfect fit for each other. As John Truby states in his book, The Anatomy of Story, “it is only by competing for the same goal that the hero and the opponent are forced to come into direct conflict and to do so again and again throughout the story.” Whether it be in Scotland, England, or even France, they will always compete over Jamie.
But it’s not exactly what you think. Yes, Jamie is Claire’s husband and she wants him. She tries to protect him from Black Jack who lusts after the boy that got away all those years ago in Fort William.
For Claire, Jamie is far more than her partner in marriage – he is Claire’s purpose in life now. He is her love, her home. Jamie represents everything that Claire has longed for during the entirety of her life dating back to her time with her uncle in Egypt, all the way to being with Frank in Inverness –stability. Jamie challenges her, takes care of her and, most of all, loves her the way she needs.
For Black Jack, Jamie is the culmination of his domination. Jamie’s capitulation and near death are the tangible examples of how Black Jack chooses to operate his life. Why brand him? Why vow to kill him after he’s had his way? Why, in his own way, honor Jamie? Jamie signifies control to Black Jack Randall, and he will stop at nothing to have his control. What’s worse is that this control has allowed Randall to see Jamie in a way that Claire will NEVER see him. Let’s go back to the Joker in The Dark Knight for some context.
At about midway through The Dark Knight, Ledger’s Joker shares a scene with an officer, talking about his friends and why he chooses knives when he kills people. “Guns,” The Joker says, “are too quick. You can’t savor all the little emotions. You see, in their last moments, people show you who they really are. So, in a way, I knew your friends better than you ever did…would you like to know which of them were cowards?” As sad is it might be to admit, Randall sees Jamie in what they both think may be his last moments.
It’s at this point Jamie shows who he truly is – a man willing to do anything for Claire. But Claire never saw it, and can never see it. No matter what, Randall has seen something in Jamie that Claire never will. He has something on her that she cannot take away.
Black Jack Randall, because of this very reasoning, is the perfect antagonist for Outlander.
The struggle between control, dominance, love, and recognition from Jamie pushes the story FORWARD. Without BJR, Claire never has to be rescued by the MacKenzies, never has to marry Jamie, never has to rescue Jamie, never has to go to France, never feels the need to change history so the Scots win the battle of Culloden, never kills Dougal, and never has to go BACK to the forties with an unborn child.
But would any of this work with another antagonist or protagonist? Could you, perhaps, trade Jason Isaacs’ Colonel Tavington in The Patriot for BJR? Hell no, because Tavington was a careerist who only cared about himself. He had no time for dominating other men. Could you trade Claire for, let’s say, Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens? The obvious answer is no.
The two work for each other because the stakes are personally tailored for each other.
This is also why the second season is, inherently, a less effective season than the first. In season 1, we are forced to bear witness to what it takes to survive a man like Black Jack Randall. We witness love, hate, disgust and disappointment. All human and raw emotions to which we can all relate. And when the finale airs, it’s not about a huge battle – it’s driving force is to rescue one man. One life. One love.
Whereas in the second season, Claire and Jamie are pitted against cartoonish villains like the Duke of Sandringham and the Comte. The Duke was a means to an end, and the Comte had no personal conflict with Claire – he was just mad that she ruined a shipment of his goods. What were the choices they made Claire undergo? How did they effectively change her? There’s no challenge there. There was also another odd villain. Time. Yes, there was a literal race against time itself.
In season 2, Jamie and Claire struggle to change the future – something we know as an audience cannot happen. Otherwise, the future from which Claire came cannot exist and, thus, we wouldn’t have a story.
Season 2 of Outlander had faults, whether it was paced oddly, or it set up its many characters with very little payoff. But season two’s most egregious offense? It was impersonal. We simply CANNOT relate to someone trying to kill us with poison because of a bad shipment of goods… or a goofy British Duke… or trying to literally change the course of time. It is impossible. So we’re not invested.
As we learned earlier, “the more personal it becomes, [this] results in more drama, and so we feel more attachment to either side. More attachment means a more compelling struggle. If we have a highly compelling struggle, then we are privy to a highly entertaining show.” So if we’re not invested, there’s no drama. If there’s no drama, there’s no show.
Season 2, however, did have its moments. What were those? When was season 2 most compelling? You got it – when the stakes and mettle of Jamie and Claire’s relationship were tested to its highest limits by the mere (admittedly shoe-horned) presence of one Jonathan Wolverton Randall.
But now we are brought back to our original question – what is the function of Black Jack Randall within the context of this story?
Everything he does – whether it’s raping women, raping men, forcing Claire to get married, pushing her to leave Scotland, or to come back to Scotland, nudging her to change history – forces Claire to see herself for who she really is, what she is capable of doing and what she is not capable of doing.
Whether we like it or not, BJR sets Claire on a course to fall in love with James Fraser and change the very fabric of her life. As such, we see her grow from being the fierce, independent woman who needs no man in her life, to a woman who finds her home, who cherishes her love, who becomes a mother and allows herself to be greater than just HERSELF. Eventually.
And through all these actions and choices that are made because of Black Jack Randall, we see a specific effect on Claire and the momentum of the story. We see Claire lose herself and we lose our antagonist but in the end, we see her become something else entirely. She begins one way, and ends in another.
We see Claire Randall transform into Claire Fraser.
This is a character arc.
And this why the show would not be successful without Black Jack. Because our protagonist, Claire, the one we love and for whom we watch this show, isn’t our protagonist without him. Without Black Jack, there is no arc and, thus, no story.
Which leads me to my last point…
4. Black Jack Randall has to go after season 3.
I worry about the rest of Outlander. I worry that the stakes will never be as personal as they were in the first two seasons.
The only option I see to keep the level of engagement and compelling drama is that Diana Gabaldon, Ron Moore and his staff of writers find a way to pit Jamie against Claire or vice versa.
But you cannot keep bringing back BJR to create that tension every season, because then it becomes forced. It was already somewhat forced by plot as it relates to season 2 when Claire and co. just happen upon Alex Randall, who just happens to be sick, and just happens to be visited by BJR.
Which proposes a huge conundrum – contrive less convincing ways to keep bringing back Randall, or let him go and be a little less personal. I’m afraid there isn’t a real answer here. We’ve seen what happens when the plot thickens too much (as it happened in season 2) but we’ve also seen what happens when you force personal stakes through coincidence.
The battle for Jamie Fraser – the inner divide that I believe truly fuels the drama of Outlander – must come to an end soon. Jamie must fight and kill Randall in order to be redeemed in his own eyes. Jamie cannot move forward with Claire if Randall still looms, even in his subconscious. Again, without Randall, there is no momentum.
But there is also only so much story to be told between Randall and the Frasers. Unlike the Joker and The Dark Knight, and it cannot go on forever. The Frasers and, most importantly, we the viewers must have closure on what happened in Wentworth. And that closure, to take advantage of its most dramatic impact, without stretching the story unnecessarily, must happen in season 3.
It kills me to say it, but it’s true.
A few thoughts:
Perhaps you're using the royal "we" when discussing your opinion of season 2, but if not, you'd probably be better served by saying "*I* wasn't satisfied…" Because all I could think as I read it was "who's WE?" because I was very satisfied.
2. I can understand not reading the book(s) before watching the series, as it provides an interesting perspective on the show, but to proclaim you "never will" read the books is puzzling to say the least. Why? You don't like to read? That's the impression I get.
3. As someone who's read all of DG's works, multiple times, my favorite book is Voyager, hands down. BJR is indeed a great character, but I have to tell you – as the series continues, he recedes further and further into the distance. Life goes on, and the story of Jamie and Claire is a wild, long, twisted tale full of memorable and disparate characters.
And as Voyager and subsequent books prove to is, the classic protagonist/antagonist structure isn't always necessary. There are many more ways to spin a tale, and the Outlander series doesn't often fall into a neat narrative slot. Like life itself, it's often messy, chaotic and full of characters that come and go, with motives and outcomes that often don't reveal themselves for the span of several books.
typo -"prove to *us*"
Hi Charlotte – you made a valid point. I think I was referring to the royal "we." It is unfair to corral everyone into my line of thought. My apologies.
As for NEVER reading the books – probably another poor choice of phrasing. I will never read the books while the show exists. AS you know, I want the show to speak for itself. Once it ends, I will read the books.
Being worried about the antagonist in future seasons is certainly a little hyperbolic. I am sure that there must be another few great characters to come down the road. I mean, there has to be, right? There are a total of 8 or 9 books. But, my assertion of being worried about those antagonists not being as "personal" is a fairly reasonable one.
The stakes between BJR, Jamie, and Claire, were just so particular and intimate that I can't see how they can recreate that magic. But I would be the first person to admit how happy I would be if they could.
Hi Claudia! Thanks for reading! I understand your concerns. IN fact, please see my response to Charlotte down below.
I was reading your column eagerly and agreeing right along with you until the words"i have never read the books"Sorry but that phrase totally discounts any opinion you may see fit to expound on .The series is Rons interpretation of Dianas work , hardly the same thing . Its like smelling the meal but not eating it . Totally your lose as it is right there for your pleasure , yet you refuse to partake.You my dear should seek help with your literary anorexia.JMHO
Not having read the books, you can't imagine the the series ( meaning Gabaldon's plotting) can't bring in any other possible antagonist. In fact, Voyager introduces two very formidable antagonists as well as a crucial quest. The difference is that Jamie and Claire are more united and in a partnership in meeting these antagonists.
They won't recreate that particular magic, Blake. They'd be foolish to try. Gabaldon certainly doesn't. As I said, it's different. It has to be, or the audience would get bored, IMHO.
I don't think it's a spoiler to let you know that one of the key themes of Voyager is loss and redemption/recovery. Every character in the book is touched by this. "Voyager" is an apt title as every character – from Jamie, Claire and Bree, to Young Ian, Fergus, Marsali, Mr. Willoughby, John Grey – has his/her own voyage. It's not what you may have come to expect from the first two seasons. Throw your expectations out the window and expect only one thing – to be surprised.
I'm glad to hear you eventually read the books. They are a treat on their own.
I'm glad to hear that you will eventually read the books. They are a jo
Yeesh sorry about the typos. Need an editing option. 😉
Hi Blake, thanks for a well thought out and articulate essay. I found the theme of your essay – the dynamic between Claire and BJR – to be interesting and for the most part I agree with you that it in large part shapes the story. However, I feel the Claire/BJR tension is less important to the development of the story than the love between Jamie and Claire.
I don't think your opinion is less valid because you didn't read the books because the TV show should and does stand on its own. However, for book readers, as I am one, I think there is a deeper understanding that the story is a love story more so than a good guy / bad guy struggle. I agree that BJR is an outstanding antagonist – someone who checks all the boxes and certainly adds a very compelling and vital part to the story line. But, without the primacy of the Jamie and Claire love story – Outlander would be reduced to Joker versus Batman, with is a good story, but it isn't Outlander.
Jeez – I think I almost got through it without a typo … but alas the last sentence should conclude with which is a good story, but it isn't Outlander.
In the books there is another villain that replaces BJR. This particular "villain" affects Jamie, Claire, Brianna and Rodger. For those who haven't read the books, just wait and see. The Outlander series does not disappoint.
Thanks Blake so well put together post,must agree T.Menzies acting is brilliant,but don't worry there are many more antagonist in the future,no not as dark as BJR,but who needs more rapes I certainly don't,but villains there will be,and there will be some real darkness yet.
Really should read the books,as I have read them all twice and can judge the show a bit better,RDM does a great job,but some loving for Jamie&Claire got lost,hope it'll be back in season 3.
I found this to be a fascinating read. Your analysis of the show as a non-book-reader gives you a really ‘clean’ view I think. I watched Season 1 before reading the books and then got hooked on the books and read them all before season 2 hit our screens. I found that with season 1 I just absorbed the whole thing as it was comin’ at me, and the story and characters unfolded to me episode after episode. I was filled with suspense. But with season 2, already knowing the story line, I was filled with anticipations and expectations … which often led to disappointment. Sometimes I wish I could go back and have your kind of open view of the TV show.
I think your analysis of the antagonism between Claire and Black Jack actually does hold true for the books too. Us book readers know that there is another bad guy looming on the horizon, but his antagonistic dynamic mostly involves Brianna. Can’t wait to see how you dissect that one!
Diana Gabaldon discusses some of this. Succinctly: great love comes from great sacrifice. BJR forces both Jamie and Claire to make sacrifices. These sacrifices almost kill our title characters, if not physically, then their souls. But Jamie and Claire come through with a weightier love for each other than they could have imagined before their trials.
Their strengths (loyalty, faith, goodness) are their weaknesses that turn back into strengths.
Very interesting, Blake!
I have not thought about BJR that much, but I agree with most of what you wrote….except that I do NOT worry about future seasons. Oh, you know nothing Jon Snow, eh….Blake 🙂 It's certainly not happy ever after for Claire and Jamie. Plenty of drama to come for them and their kins!
I also have to say, that I really appreciate your "show only" input!
Thank you so much for reading! Is there a part you find yourself most gravitating towards?
THanks for your thoughts. I totally agree that the story is ultimately in the hands of Jamie and Claire's love. I would never try to argue that BJR is the main character. BUT – I think that without him, J and C's relationship does not exist. More importantly, to what extent does BJR push J and C? What does he force them to do, or, conversely, not do? That's what makes the story compelling.
THe idea of including ALL of the Frasers and Rodger sounds like a tantalizing one. I do worry that it sounds a little like a broad base villain, but I am certainly intrigued to see what they bring. DO you like the future villain better? Or do you think BJR is a better fit?
Thanks for reading, as always! I love how active you are on these comments! AS for reading the books – I don't think I'm going to read them until the show is over. I only started watching for two reasons:
1. My wife really loves the books and wanted me to do it
2. Ron Moore. I've loved him from his days dating back to Star Trek, through Battlestar Galactica (obviously) and I think he is a supreme talent.
That said, I want Ron Moore's version of OUtlander first. I want to watch it without any preconceptions, or expectations. Once it's done, then I'll read Diana's version.
Thanks for reading Andree! I really appreciate your kind words and I am totally on board with your ideas of expectations and watching the show. I want the show to speak for itself.
Yep. I was surprised, but the books are excellent and there are more details than in movie!
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Yes. You lost me after admitting to not have read the books. DG is the creator of BJR and therefore the character's full development is sourced in the pages of the books. You miss out on detail and depth of character by not reading. I don't understand wht you "never will" read thw books?
This is now my second post of yours I've read and I must say, so far so good. I do agree that there must be opposition in life, real life or fiction, and that we are tried in those times and events that oppose us. In short yin and yang make the world a more interesting and satisfying place. They most certainly do in Outlander and I appreciate your pov as a haven't-read-the-books show watcher.
Ron Moore is a genius but his accomplishment with Outlander is due to Diana's brilliant story line. I say that because there is very little of the "true story" that's been changed. Though I certainly am not happy that Jamie and Claire didn't carve their initials on their hands as that was a harsh and beautiful goodbye in the book. I say this because of your decision to not read Diana's work until you've seen Ron's interpretation. But oh, what you're missing! As I'm sure you know the book is always better. Always. We're invited into the hearts, minds, and even souls of the characters and are privy to the reasons behind their choices. The show, Ron, the writers and the cast, do an excellent job of pulling us in without that insight.
I digress…yin and yang. BJR is a disgusting degenerate who turns my stomach. I love him! Menezies is genius personified in this roll. I completely disagree that his appearance in Season 2 was contrived, which is much more evident in the book. He continues to be a menace for a bit, so you have something to look forward to for a little while anyway. And I disagree that there was not a worthy and compelling enemy in S2. What about, oh, all of England and the attempt to take Scotland and quash the Highlanders and their civilization? And I do think the Comte, though foppish, was also a worthy opponent that strung us along and in the end drove Claire to murder (or what we're lead to believe is murder) with her choice to point to him as guilty of sorcery. There's also the wrenching and life changing experience of losing a child which in Jamie and Claire's case is personal to each of them internally as well as personal and threatening to them as our power couple.
Just my take. Variety is the spice of life. And storytelling. And blog posts.
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Thanks Blake for a great movie summary I really liked your BJR reflection on the 'Dark Knight'. Unintentionally I became drawn into this story by Diana Gabaldon, so wonderfully told and performed, directed and crewed.It made me feel angry and sad for all traditional peoples who have been adversely affected by oppressive colonising forces. Language Culture and tradition forever changed. I pray tomorrow for all indigenous cultures accross the globe as we have our Australian 'Sorry day' for our First Nation people and the effect that colonisation has had on their language culture and tradition. May we begin to learn respect and acknowledge the wisdom all first Nation peoples have, in their connection to country and ancestors past and present. I am an outlander (sassenak) in Australia.
Points well presented; points taken. In a word, Tobias is terrific. Visually compelling with those chiseled cheekbones, and giving us a visceral performance as BJR. Such a contrast to sensitive, scholarly Frank. Awesome acting, TM. You, Blake, are the perfect analyst/commentator for the visual series presentation to date. Even though it's rumored that you're 'ready to read', please don't 'read ahead.' Trust Diana to continue to challenge her characters and spellbind her readers. Thanks to both you and Mary for this forum.
Thank you so much, Blake, for this well-written and convincing argumentation. At the hand of the great villain as their antagonist, the two protagonists are pushed to the core of who they are, they are then forced to make hard choices to abandon their virtues and ethics, and eventually, they change. It's what makes the story compelling. Two more issues that have not been dealt with at length in your analysis puzzle me greatly. 1) What does the physical resemblance between Frank and Jack mean for Claire? How does it cloud her judgement, motivate her actions? After Faith's stillbirth she does feel remorse for making Jamie swear not to kill BJR, so she might have had an insight in the darkness of her motivations. How does the resemblance affect her relationship with Frank when she returns? At the onset we are told her relationship with Frank was rather imperfect, that they would find each other in sex if nowhere else. Why then is she so determined to do whatever it takes to keep BJR alive and have him marry Mary Hawkins? And 2) the plotting to kill Bonnie Prince Charles. It is one thing to hand the Comte a bottle of poison that will kill him when you are urged by a mad and powerful king who wants to see blood flow. After all, she is there to beg the king to release her husband, and she does not want to betray her friend Master Raymond. She is cornered and she sees no alternative but to hand her enemy the poison. Later, when Colum MacKenzie asks her to give him something to hasten his inevitable demise, she looks upon it as an act of mercy, even though she must have known that Jamie (and the other characters) would regard this as a mortal sin. The story takes a turn when she persuades Jamie to kill Prince Charles in cold blood. Rationally, the argument is thrown at us that it would save the lives of thousands of people. But that does not change the fact that she would actively have to kill the man, and make Jamie an accomplice in the process. She becomes a plotting murderess. And in the ensuing scene she rolls up her sleeves and gets her hands really dirty when she drives the sword in Dougal's heart. These actions are hardly the result of BJR's doing, are they? Or would you argue otherwise?
Blake, I'm writing on my wife's account. She is also a huge Outlander fan and like your wife she has encouraged me to read the books and watch the shows. Your analysis of the characters is impressive. I don't think Dianna Gabeldon put as much thought into the psychological interplay of the characters as have you. That's no insult to her writing, but I just think she is a gifted story telller who uses actual history and science to fill in the background of her characters' romantic entanglements. When you read the books, you will see what the fuss is about. She paints a clear picture for the reader that transports the reader in space and time.
However, as a man I could not bear to read later books because ANY man that had endured the public beating and resulting physical disfigurement that Jamie had experienced would have killed Randall at the first opportunity that presented itself. That would have been at Jamie's rescue of Claire at the prison or fort after Clair escaped Dugal's party and was captured by British soldiers. Every time I encountered Randal's character after that point I was thrown out of the story by the sheer unbelievable presence of Randal. If art truly imitated life, one of the the characters would have been dead. But the villain shows up again and again to do horrendous things while taunting Jamie and Claire. Unbelievable. Dianna got most everything right except her glaring lack of understanding of the male mind. Wars, professional sports, and violent crimes exist because of the male desire for dominance, territory, and sexual conquest. Jamie had been tortured and disfigured by Randall so one would expect a fight to the death between the two dominant males at the next opportunity. Randall is a great villain, but Dianna keeps him alive far too long for it to be believable to male readers.
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I hope it's not too late to post on your great blog and podcast regarding Black Jack Randall as a villain.
I know it's not really popular out there with Outlander fans to say that you haven't read the books, but like you I am just a show watcher too.
I agree with your thoughts and observations on Black Jack as a great antagonist and that Claire–more than Jamie–is his foe.
In the Garrison Commander we see a bit how Claire is recalling Frank–a man she loves when she looks at Black Jack.
Her emotions are turbulent on this–on the one hand she knows Black Jack as a bastard–but then she sees Frank in him, a man we know is essentially good man.
I agree that Black Jack uses Claire's fatal flaws against her.
To me, these are:
1 Her utter arrogance. Claire seems to believe she is the smartest person in the room. And she treats everyone else as if they are dummies.
She does this with Frank Jack, Dougal, the other Scots and even Jamie!
In Claire's mind no body else's opinion is valid but hers.
She stubbornly clings to these ideas even to her detriment (Going to France in S2, her ideas about Mary and Mary's baby, and Murtaugh had the idea about killing the Bonny Prince FIRST in episode 2)
2 Other characters treat Claire this way, much to their own detriment. For example Gellis. If Gallis had asked just ones in the Witch Trial episode what year Claire was from she would have maybe considered that 1968 was a different time from 1968. She might not have made the decisions she did.
3 Claire does not recall the details in what she tells,stories or facts. So she often screws up her stories in what she says. It is no wonder that both Jack and Dougal and Colum are suspicious of her.
4.she does not take the temperature of the room or take in account the feelings of the people in it.
And she never listens to others.
As such, she plows ahead and makes everything worse.
For somebody supposedly so intelligent, she makes some very stupid mistakes.
If she didn't feel compelled to "poke the bear" that she knew Jack to be, if she had been clever, she might have had a different outcome.
I will go as so far as to say, that it was because of Claire's arrogance and flaws that she felt like she had to antagonize Jack so much that she completely signed Jamie's death warrant that day long before Jack got him in Wentworth Prison.
First of all, in the Garrison Commander, Claire threw Jamie under the bus. Because of her big mouth, Jack knew that Jamie not only told her everything, he knew Jamie was a wanted man, and where exactly he was.
All Jack had to do was trail Claire and that would lead him straight to Jamie.
Like hunting fish in a barrel for him.
From that meeting with Claire, Jamie's torture and rape from Black Jack was a given.
I believe that Claire should take at least some responsibility for this.
As such, with the Claire/Jack dynamic, Jamie is the pawn between them.
It seems that Jack is as drawn to Claire as Frank is, she touches something within him but he needs to pervert those feelings.
Jack is that damaged.
It is frightening to think about just what horrors Mary was in for on her wedding night. Jack had not only been corralled into a corner by Claire and Alex with his marriage to Mary, but Alex had died on him that same night.
Just some thoughts on my part.
Thanks so much,
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I would respond with only one word: RUBBISH, an enormous pile of rubbish. The only thing that rings true is that without BJR there wasn't going to be this great story. Because without dark there's no light and without villains there are no heroes. Thank you.
I really enjoyed reading this piece, Blake.
Fascinating analysis of Claire and BJR. I think you are right in saying that BJR forces Claire and Jamie to choose. In that sense, I feel that Diana created BJR just to make sure that Jamie and Claire's relationship was strong and solid, to last through a separation of 20 years.
After all, without BJR, neither Jamie nor Claire would have really chosen each other. He forces them to go to places within themselves that most of us never see. He strips their essences to the bone, to nothing, and forces them to rebuild themselves.
This is such a clever way of creating a love story. OMG, Diana is even more of a genius than I thought.
You are right in saying that future protagonists won't be the same as BJR – who could actually ever compare to Tobias? I mean, seriously – but that isn't reallly necessary to the same degree in the later books. After all, BJR's presence at the start of this epic story has served it's purpose- creating a love story and a marriage that is so strong that it will survive impossible lengths of time where the 2 main characters are apart.
Thank you for this very interesting point of view, I really enjoyed it.
I LOveED his character because he made it interesting plus Black Jack Randall and Frank were and in a way still are my most loved Outlander characters because their scenes were to me the best and most enthralling ones. I know this as when Black Jack or Frank are on screen I cannot unfocus myself from the screen like I usually can, the actions and the deeply personal rivalry that his character as BJR brings is like a magnet to me and then how as Frank its like he can play the most romantic, and caring husband (who personally is more appealing than Jamie for me), so after he died in start of season 3 at Culloden I actually cried because he was the best villain on the series to me. He brought the show to life, be it as BJR or Frank either way he made the show enthralling for me!