***Spoiler Warning: Spoilers for Outlander through Season 5, Episode 3, and Book Spoilers through Diana Gabaldon’s The Fiery Cross follow. Spoilers***
And now for something completely different …
Episode three may have started out like many an Outlander outing, but by the time “Free Will” closed out with a billion or so birds spooked from the trees by an explosive gunshot, it felt more like the ending of a Poe tale (quoth the abused wife, “Nevermore”) than a time-traveling romance. With the majority of the hour set in a dark woodland cabin, director Jamie Payne (Luther, The Alienist) did an excellent job of amping up the creepy foreboding as horrific goings-on revealed themselves to Claire, Jamie, and the audience, alike.
Following a quick opening lesson on types and colors of mold, it looks like Marsali’s on her own with the penicillin lab — minus some likely essential notes a thoughtless Fergus took to the printer. Though Claire internally debates over trying not to affect history, her protective nature won’t allow the good doctor to stand back as people die from preventable causes.
We all echo Jamie’s “Deō grātiās” as he reunites with a passionate Claire and hesitantly updates her on Knox and the Regulators, and the plan to gather a militia for the return to Hillsborough. Claire being Claire, she lays down the law that she’ll accompany him and reassures that “whatever happens can’t amount to much” — there’s little about it in future history books. Instructions left and the odd goodbyes (what was that, Jamie and Bree?)
made, Colonel Fraser and Company depart the ridge in search of recruits. At first night’s camp, a tale of woe from the brothers “Beardsley” — Josiah and Keziah aka Kezzie — lead Claire and Jamie away from the pack. With instructions for Captain Roger to carry on, the Frasers head to that Cabin in the Woods (heh), full of heretofore untold terrors (and goats and kittens), but not before Jamie confesses Stephen Bonnet’s unexpectedly alive status to Claire.
Buying back the Beardsley brothers’ indenture papers means an investigation and meetings of the most unpleasant kind. Kudos to Balfe and Heughan for so expressively translating Claire and Jamie reacting to the progressively putrid and pernicious discoveries — we could almost smell the animals, Aaron’s (Christopher Fairbank) decay, and feel their horror at both Frances “Fanny” (Bronwyn James) retributive torture and her husband’s state (and later, at revelations of what Beardsley had done to his wives). After Jamie hinders one last attempt to take out her husband, Franny’s water abruptly heralds a new babe’s arrival. To her delight and as the last dig at Aaron, it’s clear he hasn’t fathered the child.
Alas, the Beardsleys leave the Frasers stuck with all their baggage (so to speak) when “free” Franny flees alone and due to circumstance, Jamie must play both chaplain and executioner. Haunted by thoughts of his own dying father, a husband begs his wife to show him the same kindness should a similar fate befall him. In between their conversations of family and safety, the Frasers ponder life’s philosophical choices, leaving a wrap-up of particulars and details for another day.
I must repeat myself — Sam Heughan and Caitriona Balfe continue to absolutely slay with their performances. What with Claire’s emotions when Jamie returned and her reactions in the Beardsley house, and his steadfastness/earnestness over Bree and Roger staying and doing the right thing by that despicable old man, this pair has become an absolute powerhouse. What could come off as cheesy in others’ hands is lent gravity by the way these actors handle themselves.
I must also note both Beardsley actors’ excellence as well. Bronwyn James was alternately (slightly) sympathetic, terrifying and creepy. Christopher Fairbank — well, how on earth did he manage to capture Aaron’s emotions while acting a stroke victim — was nothing short of amazing, even though I pretty much wanted to kill the character myself. A for James, when she laughed and yelled out, “Hear that, you old bastard. She isn’t yours!” I think a chill ran down my back. Well done!
Hey, look how good Sophie Skelton is getting at putting emotion into her scenes with Richard Rankin! This kiss really works.
Less so (imo) were her goodbyes to Ma and Da. There was some warmth between Claire and Bree, but I don’t understand the odd non-goodbye with Jamie (not the actors’ faults). Why didn’t Jamie and Bree get a proper parting?
This hour was an excellent take on the whole Beardsley thing, well-compressed and overall, well-written and directed. I especially liked the last quarter between Jamie and Claire — and the birds!
Speaking of, when I first saw the birds (hard not to think of Game of Thrones), my first thought was: “Whoa, that’s way too many birds!”. And pardon my ignorance, because, during the after-episode breakdown, the writers explained that at that time in the United States, there were billions of passenger pigeons. The more you know …
My ears perk every time I hear someone during the show mention either Frank or Jack Randall, and after Jamie’s “Aye, when I thought Black Jack dead, it allowed me some peace“, I’m on high alert for a Tobias Menzies appearance this season (okay, always).
Speaking of captains, “There’s that pioneering spirit we’re looking for” cracked me up. But with Roger’s utter lack of military and leadership experience, Jamie is putting an awful lot into his new son-in-law’s hands. Set up for failure, perhaps?
Those maggots in the wound and Aaron’s feet (BLECH) nearly made me hurl, so uh, Great job by the production/effects team this episode!
This was a good representation of a traumatized, abused woman — reciting the exact time since she’d been taken her from her home: two years, three months, five days — and Fanny finally being able to share what she’s been through, the fourth wife (who hadn’t borne Aaron a child, so he just killed them off and buried them). It’s easy to understand why she couldn’t handle the thought of being a mother or taking care of someone else.
I know Jamie has some archaic beliefs, but what a funny little reactive expression to hearing your wife say, sure, I’ll knock you off if you become irrevocably incapacitated.
It’s interesting that Jamie sometimes forgets his isn’t the only world, probably partially on accident and subconsciously, on purpose. Imagine having a partner who comes from another time and manages to fairly seamlessly fit herself into your world. It’s fathomable that he could forget she wasn’t always in his time. That said, I don’t love (and despite her demure reaction at that moment, Claire probably doesn’t either) how Jamie wants her to “Put these thoughts away …” Remember back when Jamie spanked his wife? Yeah, I almost forgot, too, but I’ll bet Claire hasn’t. I think she was fine letting the moment pass, but trust, Claire isn’t going to stop talking about sending people back to a “safer” time, regardless of them being away from family.