Spoiler alert: Do not read until you have seen “Outlander” season 6, episode 6 titled “The World Turned Upside Down”.
Characters on “Outlander” are dead in all sorts of ways, with some being completely heartbreaking and some with excitement. Starz’s historical drama has just kicked off a new but effective cast with Jessica Reynolds’ Malva Christie, who was found dead by Claire (Caitríona Balfe) just outside her home on Fraser’s Ridge.
The circumstances surrounding Malva’s death are mysterious and will certainly cast a dark cloud over the Ridge. In Sunday’s episode, Malva revealed that she was pregnant, claiming that Jamie (Sam Heughan) was the father. Despite Jamie and Claire’s attempts to put an end to the scandalous allegation, a rumor-based revolt begins to build up around them at Ridge.
In an attempt to clear her mind of Malva’s claims and Ridge turning to her family, Claire puts herself into a deep sleep with ether. Just before she does, she looks outside and sees Malva walking towards the house. Claire locks the door to her operating room before taking the ether, and is soon haunted by pictures of Malva saying she and Jamie need to be together. When Claire wakes up, she finds Malva dead and her neck is cut across in the garden just outside her house.
Reynolds spoke Variety to tell about the shocking death of her character and what she enjoyed about playing the enthusiastic and enigmatic Malva.
What was your reaction when you learned how Malva would die this season? Did you know from the script, or were you aware of her death from the books?
When I first auditioned for Malva, I had these pages. I think when I first went to audition, it did not even say Sam and Claire, it had different names. I think they were trying to hide that it was “Outlander”, which was so funny. It was actually nice, the pretext that they wrote about what Malva was trying to do in the scene. So I already knew that this is a juicy character. One of the scenes was the indictment scene, which we just saw in episode 6. So I knew there were some dark things going down. It was only when I got the role and I started reading the book that I realized, like, my God, these are the worst circumstances for a character of any person I have ever encountered. I just thought I could not imagine anything worse happening to me. It’s a Greek tragedy.
Malva’s time was short-lived on “Outlander,” but she nonetheless made an impact. What do you think of her overall story for this season?
As you say, it was so short but so effective. It gave me the perfect amount of time to have that bow. Within each episode, we peel back a layer. When it starts, she’s curious, and she’s a big people-lover. I think she’s trying to be as genuine as possible. You know, there’s a lot of debate about whether everything she does is calculating and manipulative. I personally do not think so at all. I think she’s so young and she’s just doing what she thinks is best at the time. There’s actually like a specific point with Malva that she’s starting to really unfold and is beginning to unfold these horrible actions. It’s because of her circumstances. The way they wrote it was ingenious. It gave me such a clear structure of, okay, that’s what she’s going through, and that’s why she’s behaving this way.
Malva got pretty close to Claire this season – as Bree herself jokes in this episode, Malva has been “glued” to Claire ever since she started as her apprentice. What was your experience working with Caitríona?
I think the genius of Caitríona is that she is so present. I think that was what I learned most on the set. She is able to be funny Caitríona and so bam, switch to Claire. I think when you get into that set of such a great machine and with such ingenious actors and one like Caitríona, there was that admiration there like me, like Jess, the actor that Malva also has for Claire. It was a parallel and made it easy to play those kinds of scenes. I do not even think we had any conversations before. When I think about what we did in those scenes, that kind of chemistry, and what that dynamic was, then that was just natural.
In this episode, there are two heavy scenes that unfold between Claire and Malva. Only when Malva claims that Jamie is the father of her child and that the two had an affair while Claire was ill. The second, when Claire gives Malva a chance to tell her side of the story, and Malva further claims that Claire is a witch. Which of them was the most challenging for you?
The indictment scene was obviously large. It was my audition scene. I thought that’s what we’re building up to. It is also so crucial in the book. We spent a long day making that scene and it was like a six-pager, which is quite a long time for television. It was brilliant. I also have so much to say in it. There is a lot of text for me. It almost felt like theater that day because it was such a long thing and so many dynamics. There’s Sam and Cat and Mark [Lewis Jones] and Alex [Vlahos] bounce off of each other. It was great to do that. When I saw it, you could clearly see Malva making the plan that was laid out for her, this calculating thing, and she cries a little, and she gets upset. There is also this parallel, you see that she is doing well – I saw that at least – that she is so sad that she has to do it. As in tears, she’s sorry she’s doing this to Claire, but she has to. And it was really hard to film in the beginning because she goes crushed and there is that mix of manipulation but also fear. So much happens. So it was hard. But to be honest, by the end of the day, we were all in cahoots and laughing, and I thought I could not do this scene anymore.
How do you feel Malva’s death will affect everyone on Fraser’s Ridge, especially Claire?
It’s a really interesting thing about the Protestant community that comes over to Ridge and puts all this guilt and all this superstition and this witch ideology on Claire again, even though she overcame it in season 1. It’s going to affect her a lot. But then you have the personal aspect for Claire. She loved Malva. Maybe it’s her who’s thinking, why could she not have done more? I think it’s going to be tough. It’s interesting to see many of the fans say “Why can’t Claire see that she’s evil and she’s manipulative?” Malva has many sides to her, and in the end I think she is a victim. I think Claire also sees Malva as a victim when things were revealed. It’s also trauma after trauma for Claire, right? She deals with the rape from last season, and then Malva distracts her. She has many things to look forward to. And now it’s another blow. How much trauma can one take on?
And for Malva herself, it’s a sad ending for a character who had very promising. Her story speaks to many women from the time when curiosity and intellect were looked down upon.
Exactly. She could have gone both ways. I think it’s such an interesting point about someone who’s just interested and eager and everything is excluded. When you first see Malva, many people see her as so intense. She is intense and she is a bit injured, even from the start, before she gets pregnant. But for me, I see it as interest, as an eagerness to learn. You can decide if you think it is always real or not. I sincerely believe and see a young girl who wants a better life, wants to get free, who wants to escape and wants to reach anywhere near the heights that Claire reached. Unfortunately, that’s not the way she ends up.
What did you like best about joining the series and taking on this character?
These are the fans – and of course the production was incredible. And with a character like this, I feel like I was so blessed and lucky to play such an interesting person. I do not think it shows up often. “Outlander” is great for these complex, paradoxical, intense women. It is such an honor to do so, especially in a period piece. But second to that, the fans have just been so cool and so passionate. I understand the feeling of being a part of something, and the escapism one can get from television that one really loves. I love watching them hit on Malva and then feel a little sorry for her. It’s great to see them digest and interpret my work.
This interview has been edited and compressed.