Saturday, May 16, 2015

REVIEW: 'Outlander' - Black Jack Wields Control and Power Over Jamie and Claire in 'Wentworth Prison'

Starz's Outlander - Episode 1.15 "Wentworth Prison"

Jamie awaits his death sentence at Wentworth Prison, while Claire and the Highlanders search for a rescue plan. When Jamie is visited by Black Jack, he realizes there is a fate worse than death.

There is a certain amount of personal devastation to the amount of torture and pain Jamie has endured throughout this first season. He has been flogged multiple times. He's been shot at. He's been beaten. And now, things take a turn for the even more twisted and depraved. It is devastating to watch as Jamie keeps being placed in these intense circumstances. He does not fear pain or death but he is still haunted by the man who has caused him so much of this pain. Black Jack really is a twisted man with a personal fixation on Jamie. He wants nothing more than to behold the pain he has previously inflicted on Jamie while creating even more and then some of an even more intimate nature. It's a routine that never feels monotonous because of the increasing severity of the torture. It is twisted to see Black Jack bring a hammer down on Jamie's hand multiple times - and later even pound a nail completely in. It's destruction and pain on a level that the show hasn't done yet. There was a brutality in the earlier depiction of the flogging between the two characters. And yet, this pain is of the moment where the uncertainty and severity of the injuries is much higher than it was in the past.

To an extent, Jamie has accepted that his life would end with death by hanging. He's not afraid of that fate. He's only upset that he could not create a life of peace, love and happiness for Claire. He hates that he has been caught by the redcoats. When he is on that stage ready for the end, it is painful but it's also quick and simple compared to what happens next. Black Jack only intervened for personal reasons. He has a great love for Jamie. He needs Jamie's personal suffering as his own entertainment. He relishes the fact that this man is able to withstand all of this pain and torture. It's a twisted admiration that brings Black Jack to life. Killing Jamie by hanging would take him away too soon. There's nothing Black Jack can do to stop Jamie's execution. But he can still create it so that he gets a few more hours of enjoyment from him.

It's a powerful dance back-and-forth between Jamie and Black Jack throughout this hour. Black Jack wants Jamie to admit that he haunts him every single day. That all the pain and torture of the past still lingers in Jamie's memory and that Black Jack's face is one constantly on Jamie's mind. It's in that statement that Black Jack holds all the control. Jamie is chained to the wall. He's desperate to get free but is unable to do so. He tries with all his might to break the chains to no avail. Black Jack is the only person capable of providing some sense of closure. And yet, that comes at a great personal cost. Black Jack is a despicable man. Jamie does not want to willingly do anything for him. Black Jack is desperate for that attention. Jamie is aware of that. He plagues Black Jack's memory as much as Black Jack does his. That is a very powerful and declarative statement to make. Of course, it's true. Black Jack needs Jamie to submit to his desires. However, Jamie choices to fight back no matter what the cost. He would rather have his hand beaten than admit to Black Jack all the misery he has created for him.

All of that changes, of course, when Claire enters the scene. She spent the entire last episode searching for Jamie after he had been captured. Hope had arisen that he escaped - only for things to be crushingly brought back to reality soon after. She needs to break Jamie out of Wentworth Prison. That is her sole mission and agency right now. She needs to be reunited with her husband. The odds are stacked against her. She only has a small collection of Highlanders who are willing to help her break into one of the strongest prisons of the country. It's a very daunting task. And yet, she is successful. She manipulates the warden and the fellow soldiers. She is able to maneuver throughout the building because of her charms and her primal desire to safe Jamie. She's not operating with some well thought out plan. She's simply doing her best to avoid detection and find Jamie. Against all the odds, she finds him as well as establishes an escape route. Black Jack and his man exit the cell for a moment. Long enough for distant hope to form that Claire may be able to pull all of this off - largely by herself.

However, that too is not what occurs. She is unable to free Jamie from his chains. Black Jack returns and is able to cause even more pain on Jamie by hurting Claire. She is a fighter but she cannot take on these two men by herself. Now, she is a prisoner too. That truly causes Jamie more pain than anything else. He does not want her to get hurt because of him. And yet, that's the exact predicament they find themselves in. Black Jack is still the man who holds all the control. He exudes it and towers over them. They are flailing and clinging to life. He is the one who is calm and collected. He knows how much suffering he has created for these two. He also knows that he can exploit their marriage in order to get what he truly wants. It's devastating to see Jamie bend to Black Jack's will. He's doing all of it in order to protect Claire. He is willing to sacrifice himself (and his body) in order to earn Claire's escape from this prison. That is a brutal sequence.

Every single action that Jamie and Claire do is out of resistance to Black Jail and his tormented desires. But when Jamie proposes this deal, they are almost without words and go along peacefully. Jamie holds out his injured hand for Black Jack to drive the nail through without any kind of ulterior motive or struggle. Claire holds him tight while he experiences the pain of the nail and then Black Jack's intimate advances. They are left powerless in this situation. All they can do is watch in horror. They both experience pain throughout this ordeal - whether it's physical or in seeing the person they love in pain. It is one of the most personally devastating episodes of the show so far.

And yet, the episode does end with Claire running off into the woods to seek the support of her Highlander friends - who may have an idea of how to break Jamie out of this prison. It's a cliffhanger mystery that has to deal with cattle. It will be answered in the next episode - which also happens to be the season finale. But with the Highlanders crafting this plan, will they be able to save Jamie before Black Jack is able to have his way with him? He has already remarked at the beauty of the scars on Jamie's back. It's creepy and haunting the way that he gets so close to the skin. But those are just for a few moments. Much more is about to happen between the two of them. Claire feels the need to rescue Jamie before all of that occurs. But will she get there in time?

Some more thoughts:
  • "Wentworth Prison" was written by Ira Steven Behr and directed by Anna Foerster.
  • In almost all of her interactions with Black Jack, Claire has no power. And yet, she is still able to land a crushing blow by using his perception of her as a witch in order to exact revenge and punishment by telling him the exact day that he will die. It's not much. It won't stop what will happen next for Jamie. But it's still a seed of fear planted in Black Jack's mind that will haunt him long after Jamie and Claire are gone.
  • It's interesting that Willie was the Highlander who was most willing to join Claire's cause and break Jamie out of prison but he's the one on the team who does the least in this episode. Even Anghus and Rupert are able to gather intel for Claire.
  • Jamie had a small sliver of hope still alive that the Duke of Sandringham's petition for a pardon would save his life. And yet, that quickly goes up in smokes as Black Jack has intercepted the letter and burned it right in front of him.
  • Taran MacQuarrie used his last few moments of life praising the country and the ideals that he holds dear while Jamie fills his with silence.
  • Also, the show really did an excellent job creating the sound of necks breaking as the men are being hanged. That sound was spine-tingling.