This may be one of the nastiest pieces of television I’ve watched in a long time, but you can’t turn your head from the screen, even in the darkest moments. It would be difficult enough just seeing Tobias Menzies’ incredible performance as he describes the flogging of Jamie – but scripter Ira Steven Behr makes sure that we see everything that he’s talking about.
Full marks to Kristyan Mallett and the effects department for the prosthetic that Sam Heughan wears in the flogging scene: between that, Heughan and Menzies’ acting, and Brian Kelly’s direction, you believe that you’ve seen more than you actually do – although what we see of Randall losing control is bad enough.
From the moment that Menzies’ Randall reappears in Claire’s life, you know that she’s in trouble, as he leads her into speaking what’s effectively treason, and the flashback (throwforward – whatever you want to call it) to Claire and her husband during the War almost feels wrong, even if it does serve to remind us why Claire hopes to find a spark of goodness within the 18th Century Randall. The final moments between Randall and Claire are as shocking as anything that has come before, and you’re almost cheering when Dougal finally makes his move.
The episode benefits for the most part from a lack of need for voiceover, and Caitriona Balfe gives her most powerful performance yet in the series. There’s also a refreshing lack of incidental music for a lot of the time – I love Bear McCreary’s work on the show, but there are times that silence is an important part of the make up of a soundscape, and I’m glad that was recognised for this episode.
Verdict: A powerful piece of television I won’t forget for a long time. 9/10