This week’s installment of Starz’s OUTLANDER is called “The Garrison Commander.” Picking up where last week leaves off, Claire (Caitriona Balfe) is escorted back to the Red Coat base, finally no longer subject to the Scots’ whims. But among her ‘own people,’ she finds things do not go as smoothly as she hoped, and she’s soon caught in the middle of the warring sides. Picking which one to back is not an easy decision, contrary to what Claire may think.
“The Garrison Commander” starts with Claire forced to answer a question. Is she with Dougal (Graham McTavish) by choice? We know she isn’t, but admitting that would lead to certain death for Dougal, a man Claire has just made peace with. For this reason, it’s to no one’s surprise that she doesn’t say she’s a prisoner, though her vague answer doesn’t exactly clear Dougal of wrongdoing, either. It just allows him to escape being arrested for now.
At first, Claire is relieved to be with the English. After all, those are the countrymen she is descended from, and assumes they will allow her to travel home. This does appear to be the case] until she lets her political opinions slip out, defending the Scots with whom she’s been living. This makes sense for her character, as she has sympathy and affection for those that have been kind to her, and she understands their case. But it makes her seem treasonous to the English, which helps with the necessary plot device of lengthening her stay in the past, hurting her character’s goals.
Thus, Claire is as much a prisoner among the English as she is with Clan MacKenzie. Be careful what you wish for, because the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, to borrow two trite but true phrases. There is to be no quick return home for her, and she needs to decide who will help her best.
The English do present opportunity, but unfortunately Claire is left in the hands of Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies). Had she stayed with the other officers, wary as they may be of her, their properly-taught etiquette would likely have them escort her back. Instead, Black Jack is a merciless monster who questions Claire roughly to find out her true loyalties.
OUTLANDER does a neat trick for an extended sequence in “The Garrison Commander” as Black Jack supposedly reveals his side of the story of Jamie’s (Sam Heughan) beating. He makes Claire feel sympathy for him, and by extension, while the viewers, especially Claire-Jamie shippers, may not forgive his actions, one might not think Black Jack completely lacks a heart. Yet, his pretense of regret is an act, one meant to encourage Claire to let her guard down, and is quickly cast aside when it doesn’t work. Black Jack is as villainous as ever, which actually works for the character, revealing cleverness, if not complexity.
Once more, this is an example of how the series is very firmly told through Claire’s point of view. We only know what she knows, and we really only see what she sees. It’s an interesting and surprisingly rare thing, to tie an entire show’s perspective to one character, but it also makes for intriguing television, where perception may not match reality. I like this element of OUTLANDER and hope it stays so consistent throughout the course of its run.
It’s Dougal that saves Claire from Black Jack and offers her a way to stay with the Scots, who may restrict her freedom, but do not bodily mistreat her the way Black Jack does in the stomach-turning kicking scene. This involves marrying Jamie, which would make Claire Scottish in the view of English law. Should she go through with it? “The Garrison Commander,” as in the end of last week’s episode, doesn’t answer the hanging question.
There is a big segment of the audience that will welcome a Claire / Jamie marriage, even if it is done for political, rather than romantic, reasons. Jamie is kind and open to the idea, but Claire is nowhere near ready to take him to bed, let alone give him her heart. I like that OUTLANDER makes their marriage a plot device rather than the culmination of feeling because it not only goes away from the traditional path of love, but provides further complications to their being together, the exact opposite of what we think of marriage in the modern day. OUTLANDER remains well-written, and I think the marriage will happen, opening up the door to new possibilities and dynamics.
“The Garrison Commander” isn’t fast-moving; only a few things happen in the hour. Yet, it is compelling all the same, and the characters are very authentic. I am fascinated by the semi-modern versus archaic attitudes, as well as the way it all seamlessly flows together. This is another excellent installment of a terrific series.
OUTLANDER airs Saturdays at 9 p.m. ET on Starz.
CHIEF TELEVISION CRITIC | Creator of and writer for It's All Been Done Radio Hour live show and podcast. A voracious reader wanting to tell stories of his own, Jerome began writing around the age of 8 and hasn’t stopped, both original works and television reviews. Lives in central Ohio. Favorite current shows include The Walking Dead, Jessica Jones, Flaked, Outlander, and Archer.