Episode 3 of Outlander Season 3 may have taken away Tobias Menzies' Frank Randall, but it gave us back two pivotal characters in return: Murtagh (Duncan Lacroix), and Lord John William Grey, who has grown up into the dashing form of Australian actor David Berry.
SEE ALSO: 'Outlander' episode 3 makes one huge change from the books; showrunner Ron Moore explains why
Regaining Murtagh gives us an important tie to Jamie's past, but Lord John could offer a promising hint about Outlander's future.
We're reintroduced to John Grey as the unfortunate new governor of Ardsmuir Prison. For fans who need a refresher, the show reminds us that he previously had a life-changing encounter with Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan) before the clash at Prestonpans, when the young nobleman tried — and thankfully failed — to assassinate our heroic Highlander, before Jamie and Claire tricked John (at the time going by William) into revealing the whereabouts of the nearby English troops, thus giving the Scots the edge in the ensuing battle.
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Their friendship faces the immediate roadblock of Lord John being an English soldier who has already tried to kill Jamie once (awkward), and matters aren't helped when the governor — who subtly reveals that he's gay in a powerful moment of vulnerability between the two men — makes a romantic overture towards Jamie, instantly bringing back all the trauma Jamie suffered at the hands of another redcoat in a position of authority. Despite the agony of the moment, Heughan and Berry bring such humanity and pathos to their scenes together, it's impossible to look away.
As Roxane Gay notes in her recap of episode 3, 'the only shame of this storyline is that it is, as queer storylines often tend to be in popular culture, grounded in loss, sorrow, and unrequited feelings.'
This leaves open the possibility that the fight between Randall and Jamie will happen after they get to Scotland, though Randall will have to master the art of time travel in order to get this done. Either way, Menzies will still get a fair share of time in front of the camera in Season 2 as he will also be playing the part of Jack Randall’s distant 20th century relative, Frank Randall.
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But we can't really blame John for falling for 'king of men' Jamie Fraser. After all, there are plenty of women over the course of the series who suffer the same unreciprocated desire, and unlike Black Jack Randall, John understands the importance of consent (SPOILER ALERT: the books reveal that John was also raped while in the army).
After that momentary lapse in judgment, John consciously keeps his distance and attempts to earn back Jamie's fragile trust by offering him the closest thing to freedom he can manage: parole at a wealthy lord's estate.
Fans of Diana Gabaldon's novels know that Lord John plays an important role in the series going forward — both in Jamie and Claire's lives and as the protagonist in his own books and novellas — and his inclusion is particularly meaningful considering that the character is gay, 'in a time when to be homosexual was a capital offense,' as Gabaldon notes.
His inclusion allows the show to reframe its complicated relationship with homosexuality; the writers, actors and Gabaldon have all emphasized that Black Jack Randall's fascination with Jamie was driven by his sadistic tendencies, not his orientation (he also had no compunctions about torturing women, as Claire can attest) — but it's inevitable that Jamie would instinctively view any male attention as predatory in light of that experience.
Did Black Jack Randall Really Exist Lyrics
Unfortunately, the 'depraved homosexual' trope is one that pop culture has reinforced with disturbing frequency over the years, so it's refreshing that Gabaldon sought to subvert that stereotype by allowing John to be the hero of his own story, as well as an important (if tertiary) player in Jamie and Claire's.
But Outlander is Claire and Jamie's story, so the show can't (and shouldn't) devote much real-estate to John beyond his connection with our beloved central couple. Not to mention, John's interactions with Jamie — while respectfully platonic — will always be colored by his unrequited feelings moving forward; which is why we're rooting for Starz and Sony to follow Gabaldon's lead and develop a Lord John spinoff series, which would allow him to flourish into the fully-formed character he's become in the books.
Did Black Jack Randall Exist
SEE ALSO: 'Outlander' Season 3: Ten burning questions we have about Claire and Jamie's reunion
We recently asked Outlander showrunner Ron Moore if there were any plans for the character to anchor his own show, and he admitted, 'you're always thinking about such things, but there is nothing in really active development.'
In addition to being a rare homosexual character in a major literary series who drives his own narrative — especially remarkable given the repressive time period he inhabits — John's journey is endlessly fascinating to readers and the author because, as Gabaldon explains, 'Lord John has more than most to lose by discovery. He belongs to a noble family, he’s an officer in His Majesty’s Army, and loves both his family and his regiment; to have his private life discovered would damage—if not destroy—both. Consequently, he lives constantly with conflict, which makes him both deeply entertaining and easy to write about.'
Another mark in the spinoff's favor? Outlander's executive producers definitely seem to be fans of Berry's work so far. 'He's just a really good actor,' says Matt Roberts, who wrote episode 303. 'We had to have somebody that could play against both Sam and Caitriona and stand up to them, and we knew right off the bat… that’s the guy.'
Lord John is a compelling and complex character regardless of his sexuality — especially when embodied with such nuance by Berry — but a show centered around him would be a particularly welcome addition to the pop culture landscape, since TV still has a long way to go in its portrayal of homosexual heroes.
While GLAAD reports that the 2016-17 TV season had the highest percentage of LGBTQ series regular characters ever recorded on broadcast (4.8 percent, which amounts to 43 out of 895 series regulars), many of those characters are members of an ensemble rather than the show's primary protagonist.
Comedies have historically been more welcoming to LGBTQ leads, but dramas still lag behind — American TV has yet to produce an LGBTQ action hero half as compelling as Torchwood's Captain Jack Harkness — although the CW has come closest with Clarke on The 100 and Legends of Tomorrow's Sara Lance.
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But even when dramas do feature a gay, lesbian or bisexual hero, it doesn't always insulate them from problematic narratives, as demonstrated by the fan backlash against The 100 after the show unceremoniously killed off Lexa, Clarke's love interest, in Season 3. (GLAAD notes that at least 12 lesbian and bisexual female characters were killed on broadcast shows during 2016 — a staggering number given how few LGBTQ characters exist in the first place.)
A Lord John spinoff series obviously couldn't fix all of TV's shortcomings when it comes to LGBTQ representation (GLAAD's report also notes that 72% of LGBTQ characters on cable and 71% on streaming are white, so Lord John's no help there), but it could certainly explore a type of story that's rarely portrayed — allowing a gay character to anchor an action-adventure or fantasy series in a way that TV shows and mainstream Hollywood blockbusters are still hesitant to allow.
Plus, by exploring the daily reality of being a homosexual man in the 18th century, with all its inherent secrecy and danger, the show would have an organic way to widen John's world and introduce other LGBTQ characters who might otherwise be pushed to the margins in a period drama.
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And leaving aside the hero's orientation, Gabaldon's Lord John stories are just a rollicking good read — blending historical mystery with romance, politics and family drama to create narratives every bit as compelling as Outlander's, which makes them ripe for adaptation.
The Lord John novels take place in the same period currently being explored on this season of Outlander, while Jamie is paroled at Helwater, but given the timeline-jumping nature of the show, fans are no strangers to following storylines taking place in two different eras.
And while we wouldn't want anything to affect the quality of Outlander — which sometimes happens when creative teams split their attention between multiple projects — a Lord John spinoff seems like a smart bet from a business and creative standpoint: the character already has an inbuilt fanbase and a charismatic leading man attached; networks are always looking for franchise potential for their properties, which concurrently adds more value to the flagship show; Outlander has already provided a kind of backdoor pilot by introducing Lord John in Season 3; and an LGBTQ hero fits Starz's mandate to cater to underserved audiences who are hungry to see characters like them represented on screen.
Seems like a win-win to us — but even if a Lord John spinoff doesn't materialize, we're looking forward to the distinctive voice he'll bring to Outlander for many seasons to come.