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Outlander: Free Will

"God's judgment, do you think?"

Outlander is an odd mix of genres. This time it was horror, with what seemed at first to be a mash up of Misery and The Cabin in the Woods.

And what a creepfest it was. A dark, dusty cabin full of goats, with rot dripping from the ceiling and marks on the door counting the days of imprisonment. A paralyzed old man with torture wounds full of maggots and gangrene.

But the situation was not what it seemed. Fanny Beardsley was indeed torturing her husband, but one could argue that he deserved it. Beardsley beat his wives and killed four of them; he may have been about to kill Fanny, his fifth, when he was stopped by a stroke. And maybe Fanny should have just killed him already instead of taking vengeance for two years of misery, but she didn't. I wasn't surprised that she left everything, including her newborn baby, behind in the end. Maybe she went back to Baltimore.

For me, the real horror in this episode was the treatment of women and children in the eighteenth century. Fanny was married against her will and taken from her home. The orphaned twins Josiah and Keziah were indentured at the age of two for thirty freaking years and were beaten and starved while forced to live in a freezing barn. Keziah is deaf because his ears were boxed repeatedly during his young life.

Not that the eighteenth century was all that easy on men, either. Jamie was very aware that serving in the militia would be a hardship for his tenants, but sixteen to sixty, they had no choice. And even if the Regulator rebellion turns out to be a blip in revolutionary history, it won't make a difference to anyone who dies because of it – they'll be just as dead.

Deeply disturbed by what they found at the Beardsley cabin, Claire told Jamie that she thinks Brianna and her family should go back to their own time. Jamie doesn't really understand why they should, probably because the circumstances this time are different than the aftermath of the Scottish rebellion. Maybe Jamie really doesn't understand what life is like for a woman with no rights.

Even Beardsley got to choose between life and death, and it was interesting that he chose to die with his sins intact. But maybe Beardsley was simply facing facts. What sort of life could he possibly have had? If there had been anyone that loved him, maybe they would have cared for him – but who would ever voluntarily care for this cruel, evil man? There are no social services, no police, no hospitals, nowhere for Beardsley to go.

And that put the burden on Jamie, who was forced to kill Beardsley in cold blood. It didn't make it easier that Jamie's own father died of a stroke. Jamie made Claire swear that if something like this ever happened to him, that she would euthanize him, and she swore that she would do whatever was necessary. And may I say that this had better not be anything resembling foreshadowing, because the idea of Claire having to kill Jamie makes me ill.

There is a lot of bird symbolism as spirit in Outlander. When Jamie killed Beardsley, an immense flock of birds took off overhead. Beautiful, but ultimately sad. According to the producers, those were passenger pigeons, now extinct. And there was more obvious symbolism; Fanny knocked the crucifix off the wall when her water broke, and Jamie put the crucifix back up before he killed Beardsley.

Book versus series

This time, the series followed the book fairly closely. I think the book was actually a bit creepier and more gross and disgusting, and there was more emphasis on how physically and emotionally difficult the situation was – especially for Jamie. The situation with the twins was the same in the book. And Claire's continuing efforts to make penicillin was a plotline I really enjoyed in the book. Or books, since it went on for quite awhile.


— The title card vignette was out of focus, much like Beardsley's eyesight, but it appeared to be Marsali practicing sewing up wounds on that dead pig as Claire had instructed.

— Jamie asked Fergus to take an announcement about the militia to be printed, and Fergus grabbed a piece of paper with something already on it. Was that drafts of "Dr. Rawlings Recommends," or something else?

— Isn't the whiskey that Fergus and Jamie are making a little unaged to taste good just yet?

— Claire called Fergus and Marsali's eldest, Germain, "Mr. Trouble."

— Gold acting stars for Bronwyn James and Christopher Fairbank as the Beardsleys, and Paul Gorman, who played both Josiah and Keziah.

— The different colors of the molds were almost festive. And again, there was discussion that what Claire is doing could change history.

— Jamie and Claire will have to take the baby and the goats with them to Brownsville. But what about the kittens? Please don't leave the kittens!


Brianna: "I feel like Scarlett O'Hara. All the men leaving the plantations."

Joan Findlay: "Poor men must bleed for rich man's gold. And always will, eh?"

Claire: (to Beardsley) "What you must have done to deserve this."

Claire: "You're a mother now."
Fanny: "Having a baby doesn't make me a mother, any more than sleeping in a stable makes someone a horse."

Fanny: "It's Frances. My mother used to call me Fanny. It's supposed to mean 'free.' And your name is Sassenach?"
Claire: "Only to my husband. You can call me Claire."

Claire: "What kind of world is this to bring a baby into?"
Jamie: "The only world."
Claire: "No, it isn't."

Jamie: "I would do it for a dog, Claire. Could I do less for him?"

A well-written, well-acted episode, but distasteful. How would you rate it?

Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.


  1. Mixed feelings about this one. The first part was a bit static. Lots of scenes of people just standing around talking spiced by tender goodbyes. Plus I was settling in for more of Claire training Marsali to practice medicine, a subplot that totally fascinates me. Alas, didn’t happen.

    But once Claire stated that she was going to battle with Jamie and the show got on the road it got much better. It was nice that most of the episode was just interaction between Jamie and Claire. Started noticing how as individuals and as a couple they have matured over the years. I’m as comfortable in their relationship as they are now.

    One thing that struck me was how, as the episode went on, all of the principal characters became physically separated. Both Roger and Briana have been put out on limbs. Even Claire and Jamie were apart for a while at Horror Cabin. As a seasoned 80’s horror movie fan I dutifully shouted "No, no! Don’t go in there!" at the appropriate moments, but just like in those movies they went in anyway.

    Haven’t read the books past the first one, but I’m bracing for what seems like the inevitable appearance of one Mr. Bonnet at American Lallybroch. And Bree may have to deal with it alone. At least she’ll have Marsali. Her skill at butchering pigs may come in handy. So two to three and a half butchered swine I guess.

  2. I was a bit frustrated at this one. There is lots going on that I would rather spend time on and I was irritated that an episode was spent on yet another plot thread. Granted, it was creepy and gross and gave the writers a chance to explore some things, but I believe these same issues could have been addressed following the plots and people we already know.

  3. I agree that this episode felt like an unnecessary pause.

    But I'm mostly disappointed because of the kittens.

    I know we don't do spoilers in the comments, but is it a spoiler if I say I was promised--by Billie herself!--that there would be a kitten this season?

    And then there were kittens. But they're just all alone in the barn sitting on a pair of pants.

    Those are not the kittens I was promised.

  4. Here are my notes on the blu-ray podcast for the episode, "Free Will" (5x3). Just like the previous one, commentary was by Toni Graphia and Luke Schelhaas, two executive producers. Schelhaas wrote the episode.

    They liked showing that people were still working on construction of the Big House and that Jamie and Claire are sleeping in the kitchen. The long road up to the Big House was planned so that they could have great looking entrances and exits. They talked about all the new characters this season hanging around the Ridge and in Jamie's militia, including new kids, and admitted they couldn't remember the name of Marsali's baby daughter.

    This episode is about choices, which is why it's called "Free Will." Graphia said that the book "The Fiery Cross" has an eclectic mix of stories in it and this one has a gothic horror feel, a different tone than most Outlander episodes. Schelhaas said that was why he specifically wanted to write this one.

    They thought Bronwyn James and Christopher Fairbank as the Beardsleys did a terrific job with two very difficult parts. Director Jamie Payne did so well with this one, his first for Outlander, that they brought him back later in the season. The twin reveal was right out of the book. Paul Gorman, the new actor who plays the twins, was a student at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, where Sam Heughan went.

    Production notes: the flies were all fake, added in post, but the maggots on the prosthetic wound were real. The cabin was actually Brianna and Roger's cabin, repurposed.


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