So far, Starz has done quite well for itself as a broadcaster for television, though it’s quality does tend to differ, however, one of their shining beacons is Diane Gabaldon’s adapted for television show, ‘Outlander’ starring Caitroina Balfe, Sam Hueghan, Graham McTavish and Tobias Menzies. In an era of which Game Of Thrones is the de riguer of historical fantasy, I find Outlander to be a refreshing change of pace from the land of Khaleesis and winters. Don’t get me wrong, I too watch and am intrigued by the show for the most part, I prefer ‘Outlander’ to its bombastic Westerosi cousin for several reasons, some of which may be apparent to some of you in the know. However, never fear, this article will not be a complex and furious comparison between the two shows but about one of the most arguably frightening, cruel and far too close to home villains seen on the small screen in some time- Captain Wolverton Jonathan Randall of His Majesty’s Eight Dragoons, or as he is known to those who fear and oppose him, Black Jack Randall played with genuinely disturbing realism by Tobias Menzies.
GOD BLOODY LORD AND POTATO SALAD.
Dare I type this words to the eyes who may read this article but I feel that the current Motherfucker Du Jour Ramsay Bolton of ‘Game of Thrones’ is a pup compared to Black Jack. If there are two sorts of leaders – one who commands the respect of their men, and one who leads by instilling fear in hearts and minds – Jack Randall is surely the latter. By all appearances a handsome second son of a nobleman, his carefully constructed public persona completes the picture of a successful officer in the British Army, while it also disguises his darker desires and methodology. Randall is by all accounts the consummate sadist who seeks sexual pleasure not only by causing physical harm to his victims, but by inflicting the maximum emotional and spiritual anguish in the process. In other words, he doesn’t care if his prey are male or female- what he truly wants from them is their agony. Throughout the entire series Jack makes it a point to be contradictory to his words and actions- he can speak softly and with great calm while physically assaulting those unlucky enough to be in his sights, those such people being Claire Beuchamp and Jamie Fraser, both of whom which he becomes obsessed with the aim to ruin them both utterly. Despite possessing the ability to obey orders given to him by his commanders, Jack manages to find loopholes in order to sate his thirst for control and satisfaction- burning petitions, manipulating laws of the land to sometimes just flat-out LYING. Jack isn’t working under some delusion that what he is doing is right, nor does he suffer from narcissistic personality disorder; he KNOWS it’s wrong and that is precisely the reason why he does it- he is perfectly aware of how horrible his actions are and the pleasure he gains from doing them.
So allow me to ask you for a moment, what makes a true sadist? To me, sadism, like the notion of evil itself is holistic, it involves and interbreeds with everything. To me, a true sadist isn’t defined by what they do to the body, but what they do to the mind, though yes, the physical is still an enormous factor. The real terror doesn’t come from just the action, but the anticipation of it, when will it happen, where will it happen and why. With Black Jack, it’s not really the when and the where, it’s the how- to him, when he assaults somebody, sexual or otherwise, it is a prime example of sexual violence. When he hooks his claws into Jamie and Claire, he doesn’t want them to GIVE themselves to him willingly because he finds them sexually appealing, he is looking to turn them into mere husks of humanity, to suck the life out of them and make them lament every moment. What makes this so disturbing is that he typically doesn’t bloviate, instead he purrs to them in a hushed, civilized and dare I say a sensuous manner. His acts of physical violence are indeed brutal and sickening, but when his voice is in opposition to what his body is doing, that is when he is at his most terrifying.
Consistently through the first (so far!) season of the show, Randalls’ predations gradually reveal themselves in intensity like a rotten onion being stripped of its layers. Episode by episode, we begin to understand just how deep Randalls’ sickness goes and just when you think he cannot get any conceivably worse, he does and you are almost wishing what he had been seen doing previously was the extent. I would be loathe to give away the extremity of Randalls’ darkness in relation to the show, but I assure you, one of the best descriptions of him were spoken by the man himself- “ I dwell in darkness, madam, and darkness is where I belong.” Several occasions throughout the show, Randall refers to the inevitable and intangible notion of that he did not come from the womb of woman, but he was born from the fundamental human fear of what lies beyond the candle on a dark night. This concept may sound incredibly corny in the form of words, but when Black Jack demonstrates this through words and actions, it becomes prevalent that the show in a sense is almost making the character out to be Other rather than Human. Again, that sounds ridiculous, but paired with the writing of the character and Menzies’ voracious performance, you believe this is not a man, but a demon. Dare I say it, he makes Col. William Tavington look positively lovely in comparison. Yes, I said that, yes it somewhat hurt, but honesty is the best policy!
So what can we say that Jack has? Personally I believe the man is clearly sociopathic, but a high-functioning one. He is able to assume a far more pleasant identity when he is dealing with those who are unfamiliar with his ways and he has exemplary people-reading skills. He is a learned man who can read, spell and take in complicated information and he knows how to use the knowledge he has absorbed for his own means. While not loved by his superiors and peers, they recognise Randalls’ abilities as a soldier and unless he does something to directly undermine the crown (ie. treason), there is not much they can do. Additionally, although Jack is part of the British Army, he hardly respects it or the people who formulate it, but he manages to conceal his more vicious outbursts in the form of brief but no less potent threats. We have not found out much about his past such as where he came from, but he is somebody who was exposed to the aphrodisiac of power from an early age and no doubt he has worked most of his life to attain the ultimate result. His quest is never-ending and he is not one to give up so easily. The more you try to push him away, the more he wants to latch onto you and suck the very will to live from your soul.
So what else is there left to be said, you say? Not a damn thing. ‘Outlander’ is a fantastic television series, and although it may not be as popular as ‘Game of Thrones’, don’t miscount this show as an inferior product, but something very different. Fantastic writing, beautifully shot, well-acted and all round deserving of the praises it has been bestowed, but make no mistake, Black Jack Randall will chill you to the bone that so few other bad guys on television have managed to do.