[This story contains spoilers for the Dec. 16 episode of Outlander, “Down the Rabbit Hole.”]
Outlander said two tragic goodbyes in this week’s episode.
The first was to Roger’s (Richard Rankin) glorious beard as he traveled through time to follow Brianna (Sophie Skelton). The second was, once again, to Frank Randall (Tobias Menzies), Claire’s (Caitriona Balfe) late first husband and Bree’s father.
Sunday’s flashback-laden hour, “Down the Rabbit Hole,” followed two timelines as Bree and Roger both went through the stones and journeyed to America to try and meet up with Claire and Jamie (Sam Heughan). They both suffered through brutal situations as they realized the full, harsh extent of what living in the 1700s meant. But the episode also featured flashback after flashback as Bree remembered what being raised by Frank was like as she trekked toward meeting her birth father, Jamie, for the first time. Her journey took her to meet Laoghaire (Nell Hudson) by random chance, and then to Lallybroch to meet Uncle Ian (Steven Cree) before ultimately buying passage to America on a ship.
Roger, on the other hand, didn’t have quite as smooth a time for his first foray in the past. First, he had to shave his beard to fit in with the more traditional times (RIP). Then he joined up with sociopath Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers), of all people. He had to deal with a smallpox-infested ship, and even had to put his own life on the line to save his ancestors from getting thrown overboard by Bonnet. He could not have been any more unlucky, which was the exact opposite of Bree’s situation (although her excruciating journey was by no means easy). But losing that beard is maybe the biggest shock to both the character, actor and to fans.
“We were like, ‘Oh my god, there’s a face under there!'” executive producer Maril Davis tells The Hollywood Reporter with a laugh about seeing Rankin clean-shaven for the first time. “But unfortunately the head of our hair and makeup department has told us since she started working with us that beards were not common back in this time. I thought, well John Quincy Myers [Kyle Rees] had a beard! We’re always fighting for beards, but she’s always telling us that it’s not historically accurate. This time, we bowed to pressure.”
And according to Davis, making Roger shed his facial hair made sense for the character as he prepared to follow Bree through the stones. “Roger is a historian, so he’d probably know this,” she adds. “He’s not a mountain man like Myers, so the beard had to go.”
She pauses before adding, “It might be back though! Poor Roger’s beard. I’m surprised there’s not a Twitter account already. I’m sure there will be now.”
As for bringing the late Frank Randall back for this week’s hour, it was more than just an excuse for Menzies, whose character(s) died last season, to return to set. Davis explains that all those flashbacks represented an important mental and emotional journey for Bree. But she knows that some people won’t be happy to see the character again.
“We have a lot of fans who hate Frank,” Davis says with a laugh. “But when we approached this episode, we talked about what Brianna must be feeling as she goes back. She is feeling complicit because she was brought up by another man for the first 20 years of her life, and that’s who she considers her father. She’s going to potentially meet her other, real birth father, and the complicit feelings and the loyalty and feeling torn about would Frank approve of her going back to meet him and build a relationship with him is what she’s wrestling with.”
That’s why just one flashback wouldn’t suffice; the episode needed to show multiple, pivotal moments in Frank and Bree’s relationship to finally tell his side of the story.
“We love this idea that we get to see a little more of the lead-up to Frank’s death, what happened the night he died and how tragic and heartbreaking it is when Brianna says, ‘If only I stayed in that car with you, you’d still be here,'” Davis says. “What a horrible weight for a child to have to carry.”
But that big, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it reveal that Frank actually found a copy of Claire and Jamie’s obituary before he died was a twist that both book readers and show viewers alike did not see coming.
“That’s something we put in later, and it was [producer] Matt Roberts’ suggestion,” Davis says. “We were like, ‘Can we even do that?’ We reached out to [author] Diana [Gabaldon] to make sure it was OK, and I think she signed off. We were like, ‘What if we put that obituary there, what would that say? Is that the reason why Frank finally decides to get a divorce?’ If he realized that Claire at some point leaves him to go back to Jamie, did she take Brianna? He has no idea. He just knows she goes back.”
The creative potential in introducing just one little slip of paper on Frank’s desk was something the producers couldn’t pass up.
“Is that the breaking point for him?” Davis wonders. “We didn’t plan to do this from the beginning, which I wish we had, but [that moment] was put in later, and Brianna doesn’t even realize what that is until so many years later.”
Davis laughs at the idea that the knowledge of Claire leaving Frank and going back in time to Jamie sheds new light on Frank and might convert some fans who don’t like the character.
“I doubt it,” she says. “But that is what makes him so fun. Frank is an essential character because it proves Claire’s love for Jamie.” Pushed to elaborate, Davis explains that at least in the television adaptation, the character of Frank helps viewers understand just how much Claire loves Jamie.
“If we had stayed a little bit closer to the books and made him more of a womanizer — there were [also] some racist undertones to Book Frank — you don’t question why Claire leaves Frank and can never love him the way she loves Jamie,” Davis says. “But when he’s a little more well-rounded, a little more likable, it says more about Claire’s love for Jamie that she can’t love Frank no matter what he was. Even if he’s a nice guy and wanting to try again and raise a child that’s not his, she still can’t give Jamie up.”
Outlander airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on Starz.