Frank, Frank, Frank… Love him, hate him or just don’t care about him, people have verra strong opinions about Frank Randall. Is he the tragic hero in this tale, or just a condescending philanderer? I suppose the answer depends on how one feels about Frank and his role in this series.
Personally, I’m kind of in the middle; I neither hate nor love him. The problem, for me, is that he’s just not a compelling character. Any interest I may have had in Frank ended when Claire went through the stones. If you’ve read the books, you know his story mostly ended there. Yes, there are some glimpses into Claire’s life with Frank when she left Jamie and came back to the 20th century. There are also occasional memories about him imparted to the reader from Claire and Bree in later books. And there is the letter Frank writes to Reverend Wakefield about Jamie, which I will address later. But those passages take up very little of the overall story. Consequently, I have two main questions for the Powers that Be who bring us the show: 1. Why is Frank being given a much larger role than he has in the books, and, more importantly, 2. Why are they altering his character to make him more likeable in the show?
In my reading of the books, there is a lot more going against Frank than for him, but in fairness, I will say that I think Frank got a raw deal: he marries Claire, WWII intervenes a few months later and they are separated for years by their respective roles in the war effort. They both survive the war, come back together, practically strangers, and decide to go to Scotland on a second honeymoon so they can get to know each other again (or arguably, for the first time). They are there for a few days, and WHAM, Claire disappears into thin air.
Imagine being in that situation: someone you love has just vanished without a trace. No clues, no evidence of foul play, no closure. Just gone. What a horrible thing to endure – always wondering what happened to that person. Did he/she leave you, without even the courtesy of telling you why? Or was it more sinister? Was the person kidnapped? Murdered?
So, we have this poor man, whose wife has been inexplicably gone for nearly 3 years, trying to get on with his life when, suddenly, she reappears, telling a crazy tale of time travel. Oh, and she’s pregnant with another man’s child. Does she allege that she’s been held captive and was raped? No. The pregnancy is quite clearly voluntary and wanted(that’s GOTTA hurt). He takes her back (out of duty or love, I’m not sure), even though he is not buying her story, and says the they will raise the child as their own. Claire, reluctantly, agrees.
Given these circumstances, I am not unsympathetic to Frank. He didn’t do anything to cause this situation, and he stands by Claire when most men would not have done so. As Claire tells Roger in Voyager:
“He was a very decent man.”
So, we know from Claire herself that Frank was a good guy, and despite his other faults (and he has quite a few), I think, deep-down, he was. Frank is not my favorite character, but not because he was unfaithful to Claire. I don’t care for him because he’s often a pompous, condescending ass, and “frankly” (see what I did, there?) kind of boring. Before I continue, let me state that YES, Frank was unfaithful to Claire, despite people’s protestations to the contrary (including, unfathomably, Diana Gabaldon’s, who stated not long ago, that Frank’s infidelity was “ambiguous.” No, it wasn’t. It was quite unambiguous. While it is true that Claire never finds Frank and one of his mistresses in flagrante delicto, nor does he ever say “Hey Claire, guess what? I’ve been shagging everything in a skirt for the past twenty years!” the implication is pretty clearly written. I won’t repeat all of the evidence here, but if you want a prime example, read chapter 19, To Lay a Ghost, in Voyager, when Claire is thinking back on the argument she and Frank had right before he was killed in the automobile accident. He never once denies her accusations; he admits them. In response to her telling him that she knows he has been unfaithful he says:
“I thought I had been most discreet.”
Sounds like an admission to me! In many ways, one could argue that he was justified in seeking affection outside the marriage when he wasn’t getting any inside of it (although, personally, I think divorce is a better option than infidelity). But as I said, his infidelity is not the problem. Frank and Claire have a difficult marriage that is held together by the love they share for Brianna. In some ways they love each other, too, but not in the way that Jamie and Claire do, not even close.
The problem is Frank’s role in the story. Why make it more important than it was in the books? Now that we are in season three, and Claire has returned to the present, I suppose the producers must give time to what is happening in Claire’s life to juxtapose what is happening in Jamie’s to keep the story balanced. But does it need to be equal time? There is a lot more happening to Jamie during their twenty-year separation than to Claire. Why not spend a bit more of the first part of the new season focused on Jamie, rather than wasting valuable screen time, say, beating us over the head with the misogyny of 20th century America (seriously, one scene of that would have been more than sufficient; we got the message the first time), or watching Claire try to light the pilot on the stove? Jamie’s story during that time is much more involved–and spelled out in detail in the book–so why not use the time to stick closer to the story instead of speculating about the details Claire & Frank’s awkward marriage?
I do like the way they are moving back and forth between Jamie and Claire’s lives during their separation. What I object to is spending more time than necessary on Frank and deliberately making him more likeable in the show than in the books. This is not his story. He is a secondary character. I’ve said in previous posts how irritated I was that the writers and directors were altering Jamie, Claire and Frank’s personalities, especially in Season 2. Diana wrote these characters in a specific way; they don’t need to be changed.
One need only look at two other popular book series-to-film franchises: Game of Thrones and Harry Potter. I am a huge fan of both of these series and the thing I like so much about the film versions is that the essence of the main characters has not been changed from books to screen. Good, evil or some combination of the two, they are the same characters I loved in the books. I can only imagine how daunting a task it is to adapt a large book series to the small (or large) screen. Scenes must be cut, minor characters removed, or merged with other characters (which I hope they did with Murtagh. THAT’S a change I could get behind!), storylines altered or removed, etc., to bring the story to life on screen. The same is true of Outlander, and I completely respect that. What should not happen is for the personalities of the major characters to change, because that alters the essential essence of the story itself.
Here is an example from the first episode of this season, “The Battle Joined”. Mostly, I thought it was excellent, except for the very end. Even though we know next to nothing of Bree’s birth from the books, the way that it was interpreted in the show was not consistent with the character’s “book personalities.” It made no sense to have Frank carry in newborn Bree, give her to Claire, who takes one look at her (completely ignoring her beautiful red hair, and therefore her connection to Jamie), and tells Frank how sorry she is for being so horrid to him and that now they can begin a happy life anew. What???
They chose to hearken back to Claire’s distress at losing Faith during the beginning of that scene, when she wakes and asks if her baby is dead. What would have been truer to the story, in my opinion, would have been to focus on her loss of Jamie, given baby Bree’s resemblance to him (don’t tell me that the first thing she would have seen would have been that gorgeous hair!).
There is no reason they couldn’t have done this: open the scene with Claire holding Bree, stroking her red hair, and feeling the absence of Jamie. Show her expressing her deep love for her child and her deep sorrow at knowing Jamie will never hold her. Maybe even have her imagining that Jamie is there with her, looking at Bree over her shoulder. That’s what I think book Claire would have done. Frank might be standing near the door watching her. He comes in, a brief, unspoken tension between them, and then he asks her to hold Bree. When Claire sees Frank holding this baby, Jamie’s baby, and falling in love with her anyway, THAT would have broken down the wall between them. That would have achieved the same purpose of the scene, i.e. to bring Claire & Frank closer together, while staying true to the personalities of these characters and the larger story.
Frank’s Letter to Rev. Wakefield “Prepping” of Brianna for the Past
In Episode 2, “Surrender”, we saw Frank beginning to write a letter to Reverend Wakefield to see if he could find information about Jamie Fraser. Book readers will know, somewhat, what this is about. (SPOILER ALERT from the book) Frank eventually finds out that Jamie Fraser was an actual person and that he did not die at Culloden, which he doesn’t tell Claire or Bree (another thing which does not endear him to me). Instead he has a “marriage stone” (a headstone without birth and death dates) for Jamie (that says “James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser, Beloved husband of Claire”) put in the kirkyard of St. Kilda’s church in Scotland near Jack Randall’s grave. He does this because he is fairly certain that one day Claire will take Bree to Scotland. He believes that Bree will look for Frank’s ancestors, Jack’s headstone, and then she and Claire will see Jamie’s. This is how Claire ends up telling Bree about Jamie in the book. He later writes a letter explain his actions to Reverend Wakefield. Roger finds this letter and tells Jamie about it (oh, and by the way, he kind of admits to his adultery in this letter as well). We don’t know exactly how much Frank knew, or when, but somehow he comes to believe Claire’s story, because as Bree is growing up, he “preps” her for life in the eighteenth century (teaching her to shoot, hunt, make fire, ride a horse, etc).
This part of the story is a wee bit murky. Having a headstone put in a graveyard in Scotland near Jack Randall’s grave on the off-chance that Bree would research her genealogy and that she and Claire would find them is quite a long shot. We do know that the reason he does all of this is so that they both will know about Jamie, and Claire will find out he didn’t die at Culloden, without him (Frank) having to tell her. I always found this to be a pretty selfish, cowardly thing to do to Claire. I understand that he was afraid she would leave him, but he was reasonably sure she wouldn’t leave Bree (or try to take her away). But he wanted to leave her and was well-aware of the love she had for Jamie, so why not tell her? He took the choice away from her.
The other part of this, that we don’t know, is why he believed Brianna would go back to the past at some point. 1. Why would he think she would believe the story? 2. Even if she did, why would he think that she could travel back, just because her mother could? 3. I assume that Frank didn’t think he would die at the age he did, and he never told them what he knew while he was alive because he didn’t want to lose Bree (he even threatened, right before he died, to take Bree away from Claire and move back to England (in the semester before she graduated from high school, by the way, another selfish act). So, if he believed he would live to a ripe-old age, and he had no intention of sharing the grave information while he was alive, what was the point of all these machinations? Even if he knew, somehow, that Bree could travel to the past, does anyone really believe he would have told her sooner, and risk losing her, maybe forever? I suppose Diana may explain all of this in her last book, but for me, even if she turns Frank into the secret hero of this entire story (like Snape in Harry Potter), I will still think it was pretty awful of him not to tell them.
So there you have it, my thoughts on Frank Randall. Thankfully, he won’t be around much longer. Winter is coming and those cold Boston streets are covered in black ice.