If the purpose of TV is to make you feel something, let the record show: There is no greater show than Outlander. And no bigger episode than the season-one finale, airing this Saturday on Starz.
You want to talk about feels? How about feels so intense and all-encompassing, you forget to breathe? You forget it's fiction? You forget to move because you are so paralyzed by rage, disgust, horror, and ultimately, love?
These feelings come courtesy of some very brave work by stars Sam Heughan, Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies, who have tackled what is perhaps TV's darkest material of all time: The darkest material from Diana Gabaldon's Outlander book series, which focuses on the rape and torture of Jamie (Sam Heughan) by Jack (Tobias Menzies).
"Jack, I would argue, is a study in sadism," Menzies explains. "He's interested in people's boundaries, their pain thresholds, what they can handle. It's a rather sickening investigation."
That's…putting it lightly.
Menzies, whom TV fans also know from Rome and Game of Thrones, has played a dual role on Outlander as Claire's (Balfe) husband Frank Randall in the 1940's at the beginning of the series, and then Black Jack Randall after she traveled back to 1740's and fell in love with Jamie (Heughan). And now, the man who brings so much devastation and pain to the show.
Tobias, Sam and Cait's performances in this Saturday's season finale will floor you many of you fans—each are fearless in their own way, not holding anything back. And for Tobias, it's the culmination of months getting to know this horrible, twisted man, and how he can be capable of such depths of depravity. (Note: We fans will NEVER understand.)
"In the portrayal of Jack," Menzies says, "I had to understand the context out of which his behavior comes. It's absolutely having to do with what his men have suffered, what he has suffered and what he's seen. He's seen too much."
And yet, Jack Randall has more in common with Frank Randall than you might think. "I remember the first conversation I had about with [executive producer] Ron [Moore]," Menzies tells us. "He kept saying that he was struck by the fact that these were two men both shaped by war, one by the second World War and one by this insurgency war of the Jacobite rebellion. There are also meeting points. Now, they obviously reacted in very different ways and ended up in different places, but to find some ancestral similarities as well as how they differ was a part of the conversation."
The task of bringing one's mind into such dark places can, of course, take its own toll in real life. "It would be a lie to say that I go home and shake it off," Menzies admits. "But it's what excites me as an actor when I see it and when I manage to do it myself, when there's lots of shades within the colors of the characters. It's true to life, isn't it? Nothing is one thing or the other. Jack is one of life's interesting contradictions. He does have some personal insight, he gets people and how they work but he chooses to abuse those rather than comfort them or reassure them. Diana wrote a lot of strong characters, but Jack is certainly up there."
As for what his parents might think upon seeing what awful things he does in this Saturday's season finale, Menzies was playfully taken aback when we asked him. "Weirdly, I hadn't really thought about that," he admitted with a laugh. "I feel a bit odd. My tummy's doing a funny thing thinking of my mum watching it, so I think I might have to warn her. I'm glad we had this conversation."
Charming in real life. Utterly despicable on screen. Tobias Menzies, that's some good acting.
(We'll still NEVER FORGIVE YOU, though.) #SaveJamie
—Additional reporting by Chris Harnick and Sydney Bucksbaum