Executive producer Ronald D. Moore wasn’t kidding earlier in the year when he said that the end of this first season of Outlander would descend into darkness. Those who knew the original book would be prepared for the scenes that unfolded during the final two episodes, but even so, reading them being related to Claire by Jamie is one thing; seeing them brought to very vivid life on screen is another.
Tobias Menzies and Sam Heughan deserve high praise for fully committing to the scenes in the dungeon, as do writers Moore and Ira Steven Behr, and director Anna Foerster. They are very difficult to watch and capture that sense of intimacy that is often written about between torturer and tortured. The camera doesn’t shy away from the brutality of the physical rape (although oddly it seemed to cut away just before Jamie branded himself) or the mental games that Randall indulges in to break Jamie’s will.
Those scenes are intercut with Claire’s attempts to help Jamie subsequently, and the attitudes of the clansmen and the brothers at the monastery are suitably diverse. I was expecting to see Dougal appear at some point, but he was conspicuous by his absence – not even mentioned (unless it was in the scene entirely in Gaelic without subtitles) – and if, as seems to be suggested, Randall was killed during the escape, you’d have expected a much larger hue and cry to ensue. These elements don’t necessarily occur when you’re watching the episode – the powerful acting by Heughan, Menzies and Caitriona Balfe draws you in, and you’re almost dreading the next flashback – but as a season finale, it doesn’t wrap up as much as might be expected. (The comments about changing history in the final scenes also feel oddly out of place: there might as well have been a banner saying “Come back in the fall to watch Season 2” on the ship!)
Overall, Outlander has been one of the strongest genre shows this season, up there with Daredevil for its evocation of setting and characterisation, and while these episodes have made for uncomfortable viewing, they have undoubtedly been powerful television.
Verdict: A strong ending for an excellent first season. 9/10