On Culloden Moor where we lay our scene…
The long awaited Battle Of Culloden was the first page of Outlander’s massive third season and it did not disappoint. The sequence was one for the ages, an unforgettable triumph in television, firing on all cylinders. From the masterful cinematography to Sam Heughan’s heart wrenching performance, Outlander’s depiction of the infamous Scottish bloodbath was downright flawless.
Shown through a series of puzzle-piece flashbacks, “The Battle Joined” presented an unsettling, yet utterly breathtaking look at the most harrowing day of Jamie Fraser’s life. As he laid dying on the ground of Culloden Moor, his first memory was the moment right after Claire transported through the stones – a detail that I always wondered about and how it would look. Without hesitation Jamie returns to his army, and with that, we the audience, were thrown into the battle alongside him. The entire composition of the battle; the constant firing and dropping of cannon balls, the sprays of dirt, the sound of crunching bones, swords and shields clanging, screams, bullets, fully immersed us in warfare. For a show often considered merely as a “romance series” and a show only women watch, this sequence, much like our very own Claire does, surmounted the labels proving there is far more power, strength, and tenacity than meets the eye. I would go as far as to say that the level of intensity and overall artistry of Outlander’s Battle of Culloden stacks up against any Game Of Thrones bastardous or fiery war.
But insanity and intensity aside, Jamie and Blackjack Randall’s final fight was one of the most brilliant and infinitely layered fight scenes I have ever seen (in television AND film). Where do I even begin? There is so much to unpack and overanalyze. I’ll start by saying this: what I love most about this scene is that it is one step from being a sex scene. I know some might be disgusted by this thought, as Randall raped and tortured Jamie, and Jamie himself is repulsed by Randall, but there is this undefinable yet palpable connection between these two men. The complicated nature of their relationship gives rise to a multitude of viewpoints of the fight which is exactly why I believe this scene to be a masterclass of storytelling.
From my perspective that this fight was ripe with sexual tension, when Jamie and Blackjack spot each other on the battlefield it felt like star-crossed lovers catching each other’s eyes from across a crowded room.
Side bar: I feel the need to disclose that I do not condone the actions of Randall nor am I rooting for a relationship between a rapist and his victim- this is just my analysis.
Instead of running into each other’s arms for a kiss, they want to violently murder each other. Well at least Jamie wants to, but more on that later. From the start Jamie and Randall have played a game of cat and mouse. Even with the horrific events at Wentworth Prison, when reunited post-trauma at Versailles, the battle of wits and testosterone continued.
Randall is obsessed with Jamie to the point where he might truly love him, in his own sadistic kind of way. On Jamie’s end, Randall is a menace, a repulsive representation of everything he hates (Frank being one of them). But Blackjack is also the very reason Jamie found strength. Yes, Blackjack caused him the pain in the first place, but the anger fueled Jamie, sustained him, evolved him into a better man. It’s an utter mess, a vicious cycle where Randall is both the curse and the gift. Once again, this relationship is complicated.
But back to the battlefield. The moment after they spot each other, so began an epic Greek tragedy condensed into a 10 minute hand-to-hand combat scene. This battle of wills was toplined by Sam Heughan and Tobias Menzie’s who provided such stunning performances I found myself holding my breath out of sheer astonishment.
Jamie Fraser has wanted to kill Jonathan Wolverton Randall for quite some time. While Claire never divulged to Jamie the date of Randall’s death (do correct me if I’m wrong about this fact), in that moment on the battlefield, he knew this was it, the day of reckoning had finally arrived. There was a clear sense of enjoyment from Jamie’s side. Even as he was surrounded by the literal collapse of his entire highland culture, Jamie’s only purpose in that moment was to finally (finally!) kill this scum of the Earth. As I said though, this scene was imbued with passion. As a consequence of the long and submissive relationship Jamie has with Blackjack, I do believe Jamie has unresolved and unidentified feelings for him.
On the other hand, there is Randall’s point of view. Jonathan Randall has a truly f*cked-up way of looking at the world. What began as admiration for Jamie’s mental fortitude and physical strength (during the infamous flogging) devolved into a deranged obsession leading up to what he viewed as his own personal success with Jamie’s submission. At Culloden, Blackjack’s initial reaction was surely of the realization that Claire’s deathly whisper had come to fruition. After that, and on par with his truly f*cked-up nature, Blackjack enjoyed this one-on-one time with Jamie. This body grinding, blood spilling fight was the type of sadomasochism Randall thrives on.
After a solid 20 minutes (based on the status of the battleground) of pure fighting, Jamie and Randall were not going to stop until one of them died. But the moment they reached each other, actually falling into each other’s chests out of exhaustion, was brimming with emotion. What was it? Was it this complicated love affair? Was it Jamie just overcome by the relief that he can finally murder his nightmare? Was it a mutual feeling of closure? Or that the apotheosis of their relationship was happening and they were ready and willing to end it? Maybe they were really just tuckered out and needed a breath? There are so many ways to interpret it, which is the beauty of good storytelling- it’s not all easily spelled out and definitive, there’s room for interpretation and perspective.
As Jamie plunged his sword into Randall, the two were equally relieved. Randall, on the one hand, was ready to die. And Jamie…Jamie was ready to die too [she says holding back tears]. His one true, world breaking, soul charging love was gone along with his unborn daughter, what was there to live for? As Jamie fell to the ground below Randall’s body, he was at peace with bleeding to death on the battlefield beside his fallen clans.
Finally, the last shot of Jonathan Randall and Jamie Fraser together the night after battle was so visually gratifying I was moved by it. The two laid nestled, facing each other, with Jamie quite literally staring death in the eye. In any other setting this framing and position of bodies would have conjured up feelings of pure romanticism. And in some twisted way it did feel like Romeo and Juliet dying beside each other. But analysis aside, this moment was the final page of Jamie Fraser’s first chapter. With Claire gone and the death of his long standing enemy, Jamie was entering into a new and unforeseen part of his life. The look into Randall’s eyes was the realization of this conclusion and glimpse into his dark, lonely future.
***Not to mention the cross fade that followed was exquisite! A literal and figurative transition from a Dragonfly in Amber to a new chapter (Voyager)! Endless admiration and appreciation for the hard work of the entire Outlander crew – the time and thought put into making this show the best it can be does not go unnoticed. Sláinte!
Heughan and Menzies gave these scenes their all, and then some. Their sharp, vivid, and enthralling performances in this premiere could be their one-way ticket to the Emmy’s stage- that is if voters will stop sleeping on this masterpiece. Outside of this incredible display of war, passion, life, death, and resurrection, “The Battle Joined” provided a strong foundation for yet another powerful season. As they each came face to face with the reality of their irreversible separation, the distance between Jamie and Claire was stretched and stretched leaving all loyal Outlander fans as heart broken as our time-torn lovers.
Spot On! I loved the final moments between Jamie & BJR.
I think it is quite obvious (and the directors and actors have also confirmed) this final “passionate” confrontation between Jamie and Randall is choreographed to be almost a “dance to the death.” The scene is thick with tension as the pair pant, sweat, bleed, and hack each other to death, and the sexual undertones chillingly remind the audience that this is the climax to the twisted and horrifying relationship between Jamie and Black Jack Randall.
I agree with many of the points made in this analysis, especially the analysis of Randall’s obsession with Jamie and how he views this last fight between them. The encounter, no doubt, fueled the sick pleasure of his sadism. Randall knows he is destined to die on this day, but I imagine he could not dream up a more “fitting” or more pleasureful (in Randall’s twisted mind) way to go than dying on top of Jamie’s bleeding body.
However, I caution show viewers not to “over-romanticize” this confrontation. Without a doubt, Randall sees beauty in this final experience with Jamie. However, for Jamie, this is yet another harrowing and traumatizing encounter with the man who has haunted him since Wentworth. For Randall, this might be a “beautiful” and “triumphant” end, but, for Jamie, it is the exact opposite. That is an extremely important point I think this review misses.
As noted in the analysis above, Jamie finds a “reason to live” when he learns Randall is still alive. Jamie is traumatized, tormented, and tortured by what happened at Wentworth prison, to the point that he initially desires to take his own life (season 1, episode 16) and, even after he finds the strength and will to go on through his love in Claire, suffers from PTSD and extreme mental turmoil. “He’s alive in my head,” he says to Claire, “I canna get him out” (season 2, episode 2).
Upon learning Randall is alive, Jamie fantasizes that killing Randall will free him from this torture and from Randall’s very memory. He convinces himself that his revenge will be triumphant, fulfilling, and liberating. What the flashbacks of Culloden show us–as Jamie lies dying beneath Randall’s corpse–is killing Randall did none of the things Jamie imagined it would. Rather than free him of this man who flogged, tortured, and raped him, Jamie is further traumatized, confused, mentally and emotionally scarred by this final encounter.
The entire thing is so ironic. Yes, Jamie kills Randall, but really Randall “wins” the battle that has been raging between them ever since their first meeting when Randall beat Jamie at Lallybroch. As Jamie lies dying under Randall’s body, I think it becomes clear: Jamie finally killed Randall but he is no better off because of it. He feels no sense of victory or freedom. Rather, just like after the horrors he endured at Wentworth, he craves an end to the suffering, death.
The scene is shot to reflect Wentworth prison (the shot of Jamie and Randall lying beside each other on the battlefield chillingly resembles the opening shot of season 1 episode 16, which depicts the two men lying beside each other after Jamie has been tortured and raped by Randall all night in prison). For the second time, Jamie has endured a physically and mentally agonizing night of being unable to resist (this time because he is wounded and bleeding to death) while his rapist lies on top of him. Once again, Randall has “overpowered” him. There is even a shot when a weak and delirious Jamie tries to push Randall’s body off of him but isn’t quite strong enough.
All in all, I agree with many of the points made in this analysis but caution against over-romanticizing the relationship and the final confrontation between Jamie and Randall. It may be a glorious and pleasureful end for Randall, but, for Jamie, it is harrowing and traumatizing. I also think the big point being made in these scenes is that Jamie’s “revenge” does not free him as he fantasized it would, but instead leaves him with more scars.
(P.S. Not that it really matters, but Claire does tell Jamie Randall is destined to die at Culloden. She tells him this when Jamie asks Claire why she would encourage Mary to marry a monster like Randall. Claire’s answer: Randall is destined to die tomorrow, and, therefore, Mary will have the benefits and protection of being his widow but will not have to suffer a marriage with Randall. Still, Jamie does not know until that moment when their eyes meet, that he will be the one to end Randall’s life.)