Why Black Jack’s Return on Outlander Is Different From the Book

He’s baaaack. Photo: Neil Davidson/Sony Pictures Television Inc

Spoilers ahead for Saturday night’s episode of Outlander.

Black Jack is back, if a little worse for wear. We knew he had survived the stampede at Wentworth Prison, but now that he’s in France at the court of Versailles, along with Jamie and Claire, it’s only a matter of time before things explode.

The scene of Black Jack’s return, however, is a major departure from the Outlander book series, by Diana Gabaldon, in a number of ways. When Claire comes face-to-face with Black Jack in Dragonfly in Amber, she’s running down a hall in someone else’s home — she runs smack dab into him, and they have to grab each other to maintain balance. She has a split second where she thinks Black Jack is his brother, Alexander, because the resemblance is so striking. (“The mouth was very much like Alex’s … but those cold eyes could belong to only one man.”) When she realizes who it is, she swears, “Jesus H. f**king Christ!”

Part of book-Claire’s shock comes from the fact that she, unlike show-Claire, was unprepared for this “untimely resurrection” — she had not heard any news of Black Jack’s survival. (Nor he of hers — he expected her to be dead as well, having left her with the wolves.) The reunion is tense — he grips her arm, the two try to interrogate each other, and when Jamie arrives, everything goes cold. He gives Claire his hand and leads her away, and when Black Jack dares to say his name, “hoarse with shock … halfway between disbelief and pleading,” Jamie tells Black Jack to never speak to him again, “beyond the requirements of formality … until you beg for your life at the point of my sword.” He puts Claire in a carriage, sends her home, and returns to challenge Black Jack to a duel.

On the show, we get a more gentle reunion, necessitated by location and the characters’ proximity to the king. Gabaldon agreed that it was “less dramatic,” but chalked it up to the television series’ need to “use locations efficiently” and the limited production time.

“In the book, lots of interesting things happen, small vignettes,” showrunner Ron D. Moore explained. “But we knew that the format wasn’t going to work dramatically for the TV show. As we started to line up the pieces, we tried to figure out what was the most effective way to reveal that Jack was still alive, when does Jamie find out, and when does he finally run into him.”

So instead of one scene where these three things happen, they broke it up into three separate scenes, “a triple reveal,” as Gabaldon called it. First, Claire discovers that Black Jack is alive when she runs into his younger brother at a party in episode two. Then, she debates whether to share this information with Jamie in episode three. She finally tells him in episode four, which plays a part in their intimate reconnection. Everyone is braced for impact in this “smoother dramatic segue,” Gabaldon said.

Since the situations and context had changed, there was also no longer a need for Alexander and Black Jack to be look-alikes. Casting another actor in the role meant Claire couldn’t mistake one for the other. “There’s no reasonable way that anyone would mistake the actor playing Alexander Randall for Tobias Menzies [as Black Jack],” Gabaldon said.

Black Jack himself has changed as well. Initially, some of the scripts for season two had Black Jack being “quite confident, dare I say cocky at times,” Menzies said. “We ended up shifting that to make him slightly less confident, so that we meet someone who’s out of his comfort zone.” He’s clearly not fully recovered physically from the stampede at Wentworth Prison. And to top it off, “he’s obviously in a foreign land, in a country that the British are at war with,” Menzies pointed out. “So he’s not in control of the situation.”

This is what leads us to the greatest change of all, and one that viewers might find the most delicious — his humiliation at the hands of the king, who unknowingly acts as intermediary for the reunion and requires Black Jack to beg. “It really lands,” Menzies said. “He’s not able to defend himself against that.” Black Jack, getting a moment of comeuppance — what could be better?

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