Spoilers ahead from the most recent episode of Outlander.
Should we congratulate the not-so-happy couple? The shotgun wedding between Black Jack Randall and Mary Hawkins could not have been more remote or wretched, but how could it be otherwise, when you have two people who do not love each other getting married next to a deathbed? But as is so often the case on Outlander, it’s Claire’s meddling in the past that ensures the future — in this case, Frank’s existence.
It’s not, however, what she intended. Since the series premiere, we’ve been told that Black Jack Randall is Frank’s ancestor, by none other than historian-extraordinaire Frank himself. And if anything, the two men’s remarkable resemblance to one another seemed to be visual confirmation (no doubt aided by the fact that they were played by the same actor, the amazing Tobias Menzies). So of course Claire tries to keep Black Jack alive, believing that Jack needs to father a child — who will become Frank’s line — that year. “It’s so complicated!” actress Caitriona Balfe laughed. “She’s asking Jamie to spare the life of the man who brutally raped and tortured him, to save to the life of her future ex-husband.”
“It’s Claire’s obsession,” Menzies added. “She’s worried about messing with the timeline of the family that she married into. It’s such a particular neurosis to have.”
As we learn in this episode, Mary Hawkins did indeed conceive a child with a Randall, and even married a Randall, but it’s not Black Jack’s baby, as everyone from the future assumed — it’s his brother Alex’s. Yet if it were not for her acquaintance with Claire, Mary may not have had the baby in the first place. It’s because of Claire that Mary was raped (as collateral damage for an attack meant for Claire), that her arranged marriage was set aside, that her godfather was murdered, and that she was able to be in this space and time with Alex, some five months later. Or that she would even have the gumption to be a woman “living in sin” with her lover, let alone pregnant. “It’s so scandalous!” said actress Rosie Day, who plays Mary.
“Claire is the epitome of the butterfly effect,” explained co-executive producer Maril Davis. “Without realizing it, she is changing lives. Certainly what Mary does, and how her story ends up with Alex, would never have happened without Claire. Mary would never have taken those rebellious steps to go out on her own and pursue Alex, had Claire Fraser not been a huge part of her life.”
This marriage between these two characters happens in Diana Gabaldon’s book series, but for the television adaptation, the writers and producers tweaked the events leading up to it to show how Mary’s character could zoom from timid to empowered in 60 seconds. “We see her in Paris, she’s in love with Alex. We see her at Sandringham’s house, and she helps Claire. And then the next time we see her in the books, she’s shacked up with Alex,” said writer Anne Kenney. “How does that work? She’s having sex, she’s pregnant, and it was just, ‘Wow. What happened?’” So the team decided Mary should take a more active role in her own fate, starting by taking revenge on Danton, who engineered her rape, “so it wasn’t a jump from point A to point B.”
Not only did Mary become more active in the story, so did Claire, especially when she runs into Black Jack Randall and engineers a trade — she’ll help treat Mary’s lover, Black Jack’s brother, Alex, in exchange for military secrets. In the books, however, this is Jack’s idea, and he volunteers to betray his own battalion. “I didn’t quite believe that Jack Randall would do that,” showrunner Ron D. Moore said. “It had to be her idea.”
“I found it hard to believe that she would do this unless she was getting something out of it, that she’s driving the bargain,” Balfe added. “And the information she’s getting is to save the life of Jamie, to save the life of the clan.” Plus, once Claire realizes that Alex is the father of Mary’s child, she’s also willing to make concessions to Black Jack, “really for Mary and Alex’s benefit.”
Then Alex makes his dying wish — that his brother marry his beloved to help give her the financial support he cannot, and raise his unborn child. It’s not a request anyone welcomes, and it falls on Claire to convince the reluctant parties, now that she realizes this is how Frank’s line would seemingly be traced back to Black Jack. “It was tough filming some of those scenes,” Balfe said. “There’s always a line of, Would she get that close to a man she hates that much? Would she be empathetic? At each point, we would have a discussion about how far or how close she would be, physically.” The added, unspoken wrinkle, Balfe said, was that Claire’s constant struggle to separate Frank from Black Jack based on their resemblance is tempered during Jack’s contrite moments. “This is a window into the shred of humanity that Claire was always trying to search out,” she said. “It’s jarring for her to see him like this, because this is what she thought she could find in him, because of his resemblance to Frank.” And now, as she realizes that actually, Alex is Frank’s ancestor, not Jack, that’s when she finds Jack’s humanity.
Well, to a point. Black Jack objects to the marriage not because he doesn’t love Mary, or because he doesn’t want to help his brother, but because he’s worried about his own nature. “The way we’ve shot it, the threat to Mary is significant,” Menzies said. “He’s almost begging Claire not to put Mary in harm’s way. You get a sense of the lack of control in him, and the sadness that he can’t control it: Ask me anything, but not that. It’s the one good part of his life coming up against the worst part of him.”
Claire isn’t really suggesting that Mary be his wife, though: She’s suggesting Mary be his widow. She refers to the curse she mentioned to Black Jack back in season one, noting the day he will die (which is fast-approaching). Whatever Mary must endure, it wouldn’t be for long, and then she would have his name and pension.
Eventually, Black Jack agrees. Menzies and Day shot their wedding ceremony “about 20 times,” Day said, “so they’re very, very married!” At least in name. “When he walks out the door, I don’t know what happens,” Menzies said. “Does he honor the marriage? They certainly don’t go on a honeymoon!”
“The whole thing makes my mind hurt,” Davis said. “Perhaps it speaks to how everything was going to happen anyway, despite Claire’s best efforts. I’m not sure if we can change history, but maybe we can nudge it.”