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.