(Spoiler alert: Do not read on if you haven’t watched Sunday’s season premiere of “Outlander.”)
“Outlander” is a show that’s never been afraid to reinvent itself, Season 3 has brought some cosmic shifts to the Starz drama, including one surprising death in Sunday’s premiere.
The episode opens on Jamie lying on the battlefield after the the Jacobites’ defeat at the Battle of Culloden. He’s barely alive, concealed from British soldiers by a lifeless body laying on top of him — the body of Black Jack Randall.
That the show’s biggest villain dies so early on in the season may be surprising, but it’s not entirely unexpected; Claire long ago foretold that Black Jack would die in that battle. What is unexpected is that Black Jack’s final moments on the show come in a series of surreal, mostly wordless flashbacks all within the first half of the episode.
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“We kept it very similar to how it happens in the book,” executive producer Maril Davis said of the sequence in an interview with TheWrap. “But we took a little creative license.”
The third book in Diana Galbadon’s series of novels, “Voyager,” similarly opens with Jamie in the aftermath of the Battle of Culloden. Galbadon omits the battle entirely, and readers don’t find out until much later in the series how Black Jack was killed.
“We thought that was a little unsatisfying,” Davis said. “We thought this would be much more interesting for our audience, this kind of poetic dance between the two of them.”
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“It’s this almost beautiful moment between them — and I don’t usually use the word ‘beautiful’ to describe a battle, or something so gruesome,” she said. But a showdown between the two men has long been brewing, ever since Black Jack nearly whipped Jamie to death before the events of the series, and it’s something both the fans and the characters have been anticipating for years.
“Jamie is the one that got away for Jack. Both literally and figuratively … Black Jack likes to break people, and Jamie is probably the first man he’s raped to survive and escape,” Davis said. “Killing them gives him control and keeps his secret safe.”
Jamie doesn’t get a dramatic moment in which he triumphantly bests his nemesis. Instead, the two men battle it out to the brink of exhaustion — the last two men standing in the clash between Scotland and England. And then they both collapse, with one to survive while the other does not.
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The matter-of-factness of Black Jack’s death makes clear from the jump that no human antagonist matches up to the psychological trauma caused by Claire and Jamie being separated through time. Jamie spends the rest of the episode begging to die now that his people have lost the war and his wife has returned to the future, and Claire struggles to readjust to life in the 1940s with Frank.
“The show at it’s core is about Jamie and Claire and their relationship. That’s what people show up for,” Davis said, promising that the lovers will reunite later this season. “We didn’t want to rush getting them back together … We follow Jamie’s storyline, and the episode when they reunite just felt like the most natural point for that.”
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But for now, viewers will have to live with the show’s unsettling new rhythms, just as stars Caitriona Balfe and Sam Heughan had to deal with filming the show without their usual scene partner.
“They’ve grown up together on this show in so many ways,” Davis said. “I think it did get lonely for them.”