[Warning: The following contains spoilers for Sunday's Outlander Season 3 premiere, "A Battle Joined." Read at your own risk!]
Outlander's most dastardly villain is dead.
The Season 3 premiere of the Starz epic began with the Battle of Culloden, revealing how Jamie (Sam Heughan) survived the massacre, including long-awaited showdown with Black Jack Randall (Tobias Menzies). The two made eyes at each other from across the field and immediately acknowledged that only one or neither of them would leave the moor alive. They never exchange words throughout the entire duel that borders on a weird sort of dance. They end in a quasi-embrace, entangled in the grass, battered, injured and bruised — too exhausted to fight any longer. Jamie is the only one who eventually wakes up again.
The duel was a "fitting end" for Black Jack, Menzies said at the Television Critics Association summer press tour last month. The end of Black Jack Randall means a seismic shift in the epic tale of Jamie and Claire's (Caitriona Balfe) romance and a different era for the show as it tackles more metaphysical demons.
Black Jack's cruelty and sadistic obsession with Jamie has been a black cloud hanging over the Frasers' relationship since the very beginning of the series. In Season 1, Randall was a logistical villain. His demonic desire for Jamie and apt ability to use Claire as a pawn in his game pushed the couple closer together, but the tide shifted once Randall had Jamie captured at the end of the first season. Jamie's torture and rape in Wentworth Prison rendered the two hardest to watch episodes of Outlander and solidified Black Jack Randall as one of the most terrifying characters on television.
The brutal acts transformed Black Jack into an omnipresent force in Jamie and Claire's relationship in Season 2. Even though they were thousands of miles away from each other, the British officer's presence was irrefutable. Jamie's PTSD kept him guarded and away from Claire. The Scot's blinding need for revenge caused him to be imprisoned, separating the couple as Claire gave birth to and subsequently lost their first child, forcing her to go through the miscarriage alone. There's a direct correlation between Black Jack Randall, and Jamie and Claire's most painful memories, and he's been able to wreck havoc on their love story even when he's not physically there to torment them.
That changes now that he's dead. He's no longer a ghost lingering in the back of their minds. From a storytelling perspective, it's sad to see him go because he's one of the most compelling characters on the show. However, his death is a necessary means for Outlander to shift its focus to more intangible villains: grief and time.
This is not to say that Black Jack will be forgotten. His imprint will be a permanent one on their relationship. Jamie will forever carry the scars — both internal and external — of Black Jack's torture. In the 20th century, Claire may have had an easier time building a loving life with Frank if he didn't share the face of his demented ancestor. The impression of Black Jack will stay, but he's no longer the primary cause of Jamie and Claire's pain, which creates a different show from the previous two seasons.
Jamie and Claire are now separated by an entire ocean and more than 200 years. The first episode covered only the first days of their separation for Jamie and a few months for Claire. We know that it'll take two decades for Claire to discover that the love of her life survived the battle she assumed he died in. The first section of Season 3 will fill in the gaps of what happened to Jamie and Claire, respectively, in those years. It'll track their physical trials as well as their emotional ones as they try to figure out how to live a life without each other, and that monumental task requires an amount of strength they wouldn't have if they also had to combat Black Jack. Keeping Black Jack around as a legitimate physical threat as they battle with those demons would be a distraction from the power of their grief. He was a loose end that needed to be tied up.
The lack of a physical person to pinpoint their grief on makes it a more omnipresent oppression. If Black Jack was a dark cloud over their relationship, this separation is a monsoon — flooding them with despair and blinding them from the possibility of finding happiness. As horrifying as Black Jack's influence could be, there was solace in the fact that Jamie and Claire had each other. The separation allows the show to delve even deeper into Jamie and Claire on an emotional level. The start of the new season is a character study. The grief is not urgent but all-encompassing and thus allows the show to open up, take its time and explore who these characters are in their bones.
Who are Jamie and Claire without each other now? Who to do they become in the absence of their great love? These are deep and complicated questions to answer, and Season 3 will take the scenic route in solving those queries. There's less action but even more turmoil as the show shifts into a slower pace of story. It's a necessary move if Outlander wants to effectively show the audience the impact the years apart will have on this couple. Grief and time are not as terrifying as Black Jack Randall, but they are equally compelling and take a different emotional toll. They are not as visceral as Randall's torture, but they are still going to hurt in their own beautiful way.
This is an important transition for Outlander as the end of Culloden means a shift away from the foundation of the series. Ending Black Jack Randall was essential in moving the story forward and allowing the show to evolve into new, richer chapters. His death is the first step in preparing for a voyage away from the Highlands and into new uncharted territory. If the heartbreak of the Season 3 premiere is any indication, it feels like Outlander is ready for the trip.
Outlander Season 3 continues Sundays at 8/7c on Starz.