MY Outlander Review – All Debts Paid

One fantastic actor makes a surprise appearance while another stalwart makes his final exit. Episode 3 proves to be another fine episode in what is shaping up to be an engrossing season. CONTAINS SPOILERS.

All Debts Paid opens with what seems a happy domestic scene chez the Randalls in 1950s Boston but it soon transpires that Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Frank (Tobias Menzies) have an understanding that they are free to see other people. Given that Claire has been unable to forget about Jamie (Sam Heughan) and, let’s face it, who can blame her, Frank has understandably found himself someone to have a dalliance with. Frank being Frank, it’s in the form of a woman with a Ph.D. in historical linguistics, named Sandy (Sarah MacRae). Meanwhile Claire, like many a person before or since, may be happy in principle with the idea of them both leading separate lives but seems rather miffed when Frank puts it into practice.

Two years on and Claire is celebrating graduating as a doctor. Again, everything seems fine chez the Randalls but then Frank’s expert in historical linguistics makes an entrance and throws the proverbial cat among the pigeons. Although it seems Frank simply got his timings wrong, you can’t help feeling that deep-down Frank wanted payback and to spoil Claire’s big day.

Meanwhile in 1750s Scotland Jamie is in prison yet again and with a new name – MacDubh. I swear Jamie has more names than your average fraudster. Let alone that his actual name is plentiful enough – James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Frazer; in Episode 1 he was Red Jamie, Episode 2 he was the Dunbonnet and in Episode 3 he is MacDubh. I can’t wait to hear what alias he’ll go under in Episode 4. Maybe he’ll revert back to McTavish?

Ardsmuir Prison proves to be a hellhole although it does afford us the unexpected pleasure of catching up with Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix). In a move away from the book the producers have kept Murtagh alive, and you’d have to be some purist of Gabaldon’s novels to disagree with such a move. Lacroix is fantastic as Murtagh who played a much bigger role in the TV version than he does in Dragonfly in Amber (the book on which Season 2 is based), partly as a handy dramatic device for a medium which can’t possibly be as introspective as a novel can.

Sadly, we don’t see much of him but his appearance allowed for the one big laugh-out-loud moment of the whole episode when he becomes impatient with Jamie telling him the latest news. Murtagh is soon packed off to the colonies but please to goodness, we’ll get to see him again soon.

The new prison governor in the shape of Major John Grey (David Berry) also makes an appearance. Grey is the very man who tried to kill Jamie before Prestonpans, and whom Jamie nevertheless allowed to live, thereby inadvertently leading to Jamie’s life being saved after Culloden by Grey’s older brother Hal (Sam Hoare) as payment of the debt of honour the Grey family felt was owed towards Jamie.

Grey soon learns that Jamie is the de facto leader of the Jacobite prisoners (of course he is), feared by the guards to such an extent that he is the only prisoner still in chains, yet courted by the departing governor (Jay Villiers) who informs Grey he’d be well-advised to do the same.

As for Jamie, things start looking up for him when Grey offers to remove his chains should he agree to interpret for him the babblings of a dying stranger, Duncan Kerr (Murray McArthur), found wandering nearby, talking about some supposed lost Jacobite gold.

To be honest I got a bit lost on the gold sub-plot (this is despite watching the episode 3 times). If I’ve understood correctly, Jamie escapes soon afterwards to see if the hidden gold is somehow connected to Claire (in his ramblings Kerr also mentions a white witch), finds neither Claire nor the gold but a blue jewel which he later hands over to Grey. What is more unexpected is that Jamie still has a death wish, and seemingly hands himself in to Grey primarily in order that Grey can fulfil his promise at their first meeting to kill him, which Grey refuses to do.

We soon find out why that was never on the cards when Grey makes a move on Jamie. Having been in a similar situation before as a prisoner with Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies), Jamie makes it clear that if Grey doesn’t stop, he will kill him. No fool, Grey stops. However, unlike with Black Jack, it is clear that Grey has genuine feelings for Jamie. This is soon borne out when Grey does not have him shipped out to the colonies with the other prisoners but sends him to work at the Helwater Estate for Lord Dunsany. It’s the nearest to freedom that Grey can give a convicted traitor such as Jamie.

Meanwhile in Boston, now that Brianna is 18, Frank is wasting no time and wants a divorce from Claire, planning to finally marry his linguistics expert, and move back to the UK and take Brianna with him, sufficiently convinced that Brianna, a daddy’s girl, will go with him.  To say Claire is none too pleased with his grand plan is putting it mildly. It’s hard to feel sorry for Claire or find fault with Frank. You can’t say he didn’t try and like most people Claire, a woman who is used to men being in love with her, does seem to want to have her cake and eat it.

After all, Jamie and Frank are in a way two sides of the same coin. Both men loved Claire deeply. But whereas Jamie gets to prove his love in a more heroic way, Frank has taken on the more mundane role of proving his love by trying to rebuild a life with Claire and bring up a child as his own, fathered by the very man who has come between him and the woman he loved.  It might not be dashing or seem heroic but to commit yourself to doing that for 18 years day in day out takes some doing. It can’t be any surprise that the realisation that his wife will never forget Jamie gradually erodes the feelings he once had for her.

This brings me to the acting. One of the essentials of any great film or TV series is casting. Just ask the makers of James Bond when they assumed anyone could play the part once Sean Connery had left. (As we all know they were proved wrong).

Caitriona Balfe is one of the best screen actors out there. Period. Sam Heughan, who seemed slightly uncomfortable as an intriguer at the French court, a possible reflection of his character Jamie’s unease, has been in brilliant form so far this season. Totally menacing as the Jacobite prisoner, he’s like a coiled python, ready to strike if necessary. As the Dunbonnet, his acting was masterly, from the way he moved, to how he talked and reacted to everything and everyone around him.

As for Tobias Menzies, he’s proved what a keenly intelligent actor he is. It would have been so easy to turn Black Jack Randall into a pantomime villain. Instead Black Jack was an intelligent and calculating man who knew exactly what he was doing and did it anyway, making the evil he encapsulated all the more horrifying.  Likewise, it would have been so easy to see Frank as some kind of doormat but Menzies avoided any semblance of falling into that trap in another finely judged performance.

So, yet another enthralling episode and now that Frank is out of the way, the grand reunion is looking closer. I for one will be most definitely tuning in next week.

Special thanks to @SarSketches for her illustration accompanying this post.

For further Outlander articles and posts, check out the following links or you can always listen to mine & Jen Brister’s podcasts on the subject!

Outlander’s Jamie Fraser: a new kind of romantic hero?

Outlanderish sex: Why going back in time makes for better nookie

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