We're so close to the end, Chickadees, that the storytelling is getting tight. A lot happens in these last two episodes, and yet at the same time not a whole lot happens. I know that's confusing, but in my defense, it's also true.
We left off last episode with the revelation that Jamie has been taken prisoner again and this time has been taking to Wentworth Prison, which is a whole lot harder to get into than Fort William. Claire was able to muster up a little support from Dougal's men - now she's got Murtagh, Willy, Angus, and Rupert by her side, for what good it'll do her. The five of them have to figure out how to sneak a Scotsman with a price on his head out of the most secure prisons in all Scotland. Ideally before he makes his way to the gallows.
This episode then starts with us staring death in the face. Jamie and the leader of the Watch guy are literally standing in the prison yard watching prisoner after prisoner ahead of them face the noose. While the men are still able to crack jokes as they go, chatting about whether or not you get an erection when you die, they're obviously terrified. With good reason, too! There's no pardon coming for these men, as one by one they are unceremoniously pushed off a platform and break their necks.
The leader of the Watch is the first to go, and he tries to make it grand by giving a speech about being a patriot and wishing he'd fought more for the true king, but death is very good about ending speeches. Then it's Jamie's turn. He's all the way up to the noose, standing with it around his neck, when out of nowhere comes his salvation. And oh does Jamie have mixed feelings about it.
That's right! Jamie's savior in that moment is none other than Captain Jack Randall, who seems genuinely terrified by the idea that he might be too late to stop Jamie's hanging. There's this fantastic moment where Randall and Jamie just look at each other, sizing the other up, as Randall is relieved and Jamie wonders if it's all worth the risk that Randall presents. The noose is already around his neck. Should he just jump and save himself the inevitable torture?
He waits too long, and Randall takes him prisoner. This is where our story basically splits into two narratives. On one hand we have Claire and her men figuring out how to break Jamie from prison. And on the other, unbeknownst to Claire, we have the battle of wits and also torture implements between Randall and Jamie going on in the dungeon. Instead of trying to weave back and forth, I'm going to give you the bare bones of what happens in each storyline:
On Claire's side, she decides her best offense is to go with what's literally always worked in the past. She's an Englishwoman who reeks of noble birth, and these men are pretty much programmed to obey what she says. She goes to the warden with a clever request. Pretending to be a friend of Jamie's family though not a close personal acquaintance, she convinces the warden that she's there out of "Christian duty", to relay a letter from Jamie to his family.
Even worse, the warden lets slip that Jamie was saved from the noose by Captain Randall who is "interrogating" him now. When Claire and Murtagh finally leave the prison, she has to lean on the wall to vomit.
Back at the inn, Rupert and Angus are having a grand old time, gaming it up and drinking with some local men while Claire, Murtagh, and Willy mope in a corner. Murtagh's about to give them a piece of his mind when the boys come back over themselves and explain that they just lost a truly spectacular amount of money to two of the jailers from Wentworth Prison. Clever! In idly chatting with the men, they discovered that the warden is absent for an hour every night so he can eat dinner and read the Bible. That gives Claire and Murtagh an hour to get into the prison, steal the warden's keys, and break Jamie out.
They enact it right away, obviously. That night, while the warden is off doing his thing, Claire and Murtagh weasel their way back into his office and ransack it for his keys. It's all going to plan until one of the guards thinks to come check on the "nice Englishwoman" waiting on the warden and finds Claire with her hands in the warden's desk. There's nothing for it but for Murtagh to knock the guy out and Claire to look for Jamie on her own. That way, if the English try to press charges, Claire can claim the man attacked her and she fled while Murtagh protected her virtue. She just happened to flee in the direction of the dungeon...
Okay, here we have to switch back. While Claire and company have been coming up with a plan to get Jamie out, Jamie has been facing his worst nightmares in the prison dungeon. He's not been saved from execution, just granted a stay, and this stay allows Captain Randall to basically play with Jamie for a while like a cat with a mouse.
He beats Jamie. He insults Jamie. He toys with Jamie's feelings and mind and everything. But most of all he offers Jamie a choice. If he surrenders to Randall and lets Randall do whatever he wants to Jamie's body, then Randall will kill Jamie cleanly before he has to go to be hanged in the morning. If he doesn't surrender, then Randall will still do whatever he wants to Jamie, and then Jamie will be hanged in the morning. It's a pretty shitty choice, all ways around.
Like before, this scene doesn't really paint Randall as gay or even bisexual - he's attracted to Jamie not because Jamie is scorchingly hot or anything as pedestrian as that. Instead, Randall's obsession with Jamie seems to be put down to his defiance. It's because Jamie is so damn stubborn and infuriating that Randall just wants to break his will to pieces. Randall is a sadist in the truest form of the word - he derives sexual pleasure from inflicting pain.
The creepiest part of this scene is when Randall has his goon break all the fingers in Jamie's hand and then uses that mangled hand to masturbate himself. Even Randall's goon looks like he's going to be sick. Jamie, however, is unbowed. He's thought over Randall's proposal, and he still can't do it. Jamie can't surrender.
It's in this state of affairs that Claire finds her husband. Randall had gone out for a minute and Claire rushed in, trying to free Jamie, but she wasn't quick enough. Randall and his goon came back too early and now both the Frasers are trapped in a cell with Captain Jack Randall.
It's dire, people.
Having Claire there turns out to be just what Jamie needed in order to break. With the prospect not only of his own bloody death and his own torture to look forward to, now Jamie can also listen to the sound of his wife getting raped next door. Jamie comes unhinged, killing Randall's thug and nearly getting free. Finally he has a deal.
Jamie will surrender to Randall on the single condition that Claire gets to escape the prison. He won't tell anyone what she did and she will be completely safe out of the prison walls. After forcing Jamie to prove his surrender by letting Randall put a nail through his palm while Claire sobs into his shoulder, Randall agrees.
So Claire is unceremoniously dumped out the garbage chute, landing in a pile of corpses before crawling her way to freedom. Jamie is left alone with Randall and we can only assume that what happens is horrible. I'm sure we'll find out more next week. I figure it's going to be like the part where Randall gets aroused from looking at the horrible scars he put on Jamie's back, only much much worse.
Claire, meanwhile, has reconnected with her boys and is ready to regroup. She's not giving up hope. I'm beginning to suspect that Claire Fraser is incapable of giving up hope. She goes to the man whose house they're holed up in and calls on him in any way she can to save Jamie. The man is sympathetic but not moved until Claire offers to pay him with her wedding pearls.
Since Scotland is apparently tiny and Jamie's mother was apparently the hottest babe in the whole country, it turns out that Claire's wedding pearls were actually a gift to Ellen Fraser from this man. He agrees to help save Jamie and we're all left wondering exactly how hot Jamie's mother must have been. I mean, this is like the fourth time this has happened.
He wants to help, but he still doesn't know how. It's not until the man's cowhand comes back with only half the cows he was supposed to care for that Murtagh gets an idea. We close out on his announcement that he knows how to save Jamie. Which is good because if I hadn't read the book I don't think I would have any idea.
This episode was in a lot of ways one of the darkest we're apt to get in this show. A lot of the time we deal with trauma and horrible pasts, but this was the rare episode where the bad thing was happening right in front of our eyes and there was nothing Claire could do to stop it. Even when we consider what's going to happen next episode - which I already know because I read the book - it's less harrowing because we know already how it ends. This episode is terrifying because we don't know if Jamie will actually be all right. We don't know if any of them will.
It's also interesting to me how much this season has been about Claire proving to Jamie how much she loves him, with the previous season establishing what he's willing to give up for her. By this point in the story, Claire has reached her apex. She's found the lengths she's willing to go for her love, and she's growing more and more comfortable with that. What I like about this character arc is how it empowers Claire to be an equal in her marriage. Because Claire is the one saving Jamie now, she becomes his partner. They're in this together, whatever this is.
I like that a lot.
So, chins up! Next episode is the season finale, and I'm sure we've got lots more twists to go before Claire sets off for the next season.