Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies reflect on their Outlander tragedies

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Sep 25, 2017

The new episode "All Debts Paid" features Tobias Menzies's final scenes in the Outlander universe, in which Frank Randall is revealed to have died in a car accident in 1966. While there was closure (and more than a little satisfaction) in seeing Frank's nefarious ancestor, Black Jack Randall, meet his end via Jamie Fraser on the Culloden battlefield in "The Battle Joined," it was another thing altogether to see Frank Randall go.

While Frank was no saint, he was also the victim of some really weird circumstances (hello, time travel) that cost him Clarie's love, and also banished him to a 20-year relationship where he was always going to play second fiddle to Jamie Fraser's ghost. Menzies' soulful performance as Frank was so good that he even managed to get some diehard Jamie fans to feel a tiny bit of sympathy for the man. And so it was all the more sad to know that Claire's goodbye to him in that sterile hospital room was also the audience's goodbye to the actor.

A few weeks before the episode aired, SYFY WIRE was part of a select group of press who sat down with actors Caitriona Balfe and Tobias Menzies to reflect on their Outlander characters' tragic path from happily married to estranged over the course of three seasons.

Was it harder to say goodbye to Black Jack or Frank?

Menzies: Well, that's not my experience of character. They're all just bits of you, so they don't go anywhere. But will I miss playing them? Yes. It's been great, and I'll also miss the great friends I made on it. But it's been fun to go on and do other things. It's been a great adventure.

What was it like filming the scene where Claire says goodbye over Frank's dead body?

Balfe: First of all, during our very first take, I looked down and realized that sound had stuck a microphone to Tobias' bare chest. That was not very emotional. Does the dead guy need a microphone? (Laughs)

Menzies: Those sound guys will mic anything!

Balfe: That whole relationship was so rich, and it was such a complicated story from the very beginning. It was heartbreaking and tragic, the demise of the Claire and Frank marriage. But that scene, I think for Claire, it was a tough one, because at that point they were so emotionally far apart from each other. The intimacy had been gone for some many years. You don't realize how much you love somebody until they have been taken away from you. For Claire, they've been so used to living in this side-by-side world, but taking each other granted in a way. That moment is an apology.

Was it your last scene together?

Balfe: No, it wasn't actually the last scene we filmed. It was the one in the two beds.

Overall, their relationship got more real estate in the TV show than in the book, Voyager. Were you content with how much you were able to flesh them out in the three episodes this season?

Menzies: We had some great stuff, but I was worried we wouldn't have enough for a proper arc.

Balfe: In many ways, [their story] is the B story in the beginning of Season 3. And there are so many scenes that could have been in it which are in the books. We even had a couple of scenes that were cut before we filmed. But that's the fun of TV. You get the scripts and never know what's going to be inside. But I loved that the writers really allowed it to be very complex. We fought very hard for that in the beginning. You don't want to just play, "Oh, they hate each other. They're really unhappy. She loves somebody else. He's really disappointed." You wanted it to feel like there was hope there, especially in the beginning, and that maybe they could make it work. Also to imagine that two people who lived for 20 years together, there has to be moments of levity and understanding and connection. Maybe the love isn't as passionate as it once was, but that it's platonic and there's respect for one another. We didn't have a huge amount of time to tell their story. And it's bookended by two massive fights, so we were tried to instill these moments in the short time.

There were some great moments, like when Claire seduced Frank that gave some insight into their complicated dynamic.

Menzies: Yes, there wasn't always the dynamic of Frank chasing Claire, and Claire being chased. The fireside conversation was originally driven by him, but to have it be her that seduces him shows Claire actively trying to make the marriage work.

Tobias, now that your characters are retired from the narrative, what did your time on the show mean to you?

Menzies: It's changed my career a bit. Obviously getting the Golden Globe nomination is always a big thing. I also feel I've done some of my best screen work on this show. I felt maybe the most in control of my craft in combination with the writing. It came at the right time, and I felt ready to do this. I'm proud of what we've done with it, and it will hold an important place in my heart.

Caitriona, you started the series with Tobias. Is it odd to not have him around both personally and professionally?

Balfe: He's definitely missed. It is kind of strange, because it's always been the counterbalance to Claire and Jamie in both ways, for Claire more Frank, and for Jamie more Black Jack. I think the danger with a fantasy love story is if they're just always in love, how do you keep it interesting, and lend it some complexity? We'll see, I guess, is probably the best answer, but on a personal level, we've definitely missed him being around. I was saying the other day, when I started the show I was so new to it all. Tobias was always a great sounding board, and I definitely looked up to him, so it's sad not having him around.

Where can we see you next, Tobias?

Menzies: I shot another show since I finished on Outlander called The Terror for AMC. We were in Budapest for all of the winter on soundstages, and that's a thriller/horror series, so that comes out in early next year. And now I am unemployed. (Laughs)