Warning: This post contains spoilers for the “All Debts Paid” episode of Outlander.
With every ending, there is a beginning. That axiom is as true on Outlander as it is in real life. On the same night that the Starz series bid farewell to Claire’s “other” husband, Frank Randall, it brought Jamie’s godfather and trusted right-hand man, Murtagh Fraser, back into the fold. It’s a welcome stay of execution for the fan-favorite character, who perishes at the Battle of Culloden in Diana Gabaldon’s book series, but, in the world of the show, appears imprisoned alongside Jamie (Sam Heughan) in Ardsmuir Prison in Season 3’s third episode, “All Debts Paid.” The resurrection delighted Outlander fans, who immediately took to Twitter to express their enthusiasm.
— Emy Riechter (@riechter_emy) September 24, 2017
— Ashley Hicks (@MrsAHicks13) September 24, 2017
For the record, Murtagh’s alter ego, Duncan Lacroix, is also thrilled to still be a part of the Outlander family. “It’s been over a year since I shot those scenes, and I was sworn to secrecy on pain of death,” the actor tells Yahoo Entertainment with a good-natured chuckle. Lacroix also faces potential execution should he spill any details about what Murtagh’s return means for the fate of Duncan Innes, a significant character from the books who readers initially meet in Ardsmuir alongside Jamie. (“If I told you, it would cost us both of our lives,” Lacroix warns when we pose the Duncan question.) Normally, this kind of deviation from the source material might upset fans, but Lacroix has his own theories about why the majority appear happy to have Murtagh back. “If there’s one character fans would want to be in the show, I think it’s Murtagh,” he says. “He’s the link between the audience and this grand love affair.”
Sadly, our reunion with Murtagh proves to be a temporary one. By episode’s end, he’s been shipped off to the colonies, while Jamie continues his Scottish adventures alone. But the scenes we do get to observe between godfather and godson reverberate with feeling, largely because of the changed dynamic between them. Having been Jamie’s protector for years, a weakened Murtagh now finds himself the protected within the walls of Ardsmuir. “It’s a big role reversal,” Lacroix says. “Murtagh has always looked after Jamie, and Jamie’s the one now taking care of him. It’s a nice twist of the characters, because you see Jamie becoming more and more the man of the books: the King of Men.”
Around Ardsmuir, at least, Jamie goes by the considerably less-royal moniker Mac Dubh, who nevertheless represents an upgrade from his dirty Dunbonnet persona in last week’s episode. Where the Dunbonnet lived by himself and for himself in the woods, Mac Dubh looks after all the men unlucky enough to be locked away in this decrepit, decaying prison. How awful are conditions at Ardsmuir? So awful that Jamie argues against a plan to import a few cats to quell the rising rat population because those rodents make tastier meals than what the prison guards typically dish out. Lacroix credits Outlander production designer Jon Gary Steele with building sets that made the actors feel they were enduring a lengthy jail sentence. “It wasn’t hard to imagine being in prison, except when we had to take out a wall to put a camera there! That broke the magic a little bit,” Lacroix says.
Seeing Murtagh in his weakened state is emotional enough, and that sense of sadness only increases when he and Jamie discuss the “white witch” who, according to the ravings of an old man, may have something to do with Prince Charles’s still-missing gold. For these two, the mention of a “white witch” conjures up the image of only one person: the long-lost Claire Fraser. “I wish we could know what became of her once you sent her through the stones,” Murtagh says wistfully. “I think of her every now and then, and the wee bairn she was carrying.” For Lacroix, those lines speak directly to one of the predominant themes at the heart of Outlander, the sense of a passing era. “It’s about people out of their own time, and in the aftermath of the Jacobites losing, Scotland itself is displaced,” he says. “So there’s this sense of overwhelming loss; it’s an emotional scene, and I was already feeling emotional.”
That emotion didn’t dissipate when Lacroix filmed his farewell scene with Heughan, which, appropriately enough, was the final thing he shot on Outlander… for the time being, at least. “That was a difficult scene, I must admit,” he says. “Sometimes you have to fake it, but not that time. We did about two or three takes, and it was my last day for a long, long while. Sam and I never plan too much beforehand; it’s a natural instinct when we work together.” Lacroix also gets emotional thinking about how Murtagh will handle his colonial exile, so far removed from the man — and world — he loves. “The better parts of him as a man are pulled out by Jamie. Alone, he’ll be a colder Murtagh and also more ruthless,” he says. “He’s a stump of a man who has this almost poetical romantic side to him, and I’m always trying to weave those elements into the fabric of the character. We’ll see what happens to him! I have to wait for the scripts to come through.”
Outlander airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz.
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