In planning a season of television in the age of Netflix and chill, I wonder what the writers of this season’s Outlander were thinking. Why do I ask such a question? The first two episodes are what I call setup, very entertaining set up with some great, thrilling moments, and lots of tension. The Fiery Cross gave us a wedding, and the news Bonnet lives. Between Two Fires made clear that at some point, Murtagh and Jamie will face off in a battle, maybe to the death. But in Free Will, well, now, there’s an episode that had me wondering if I was watching Starz’s Outlander or HBO’s The Outsider (based on Stephen King’s book). I was frightened, mildly nauseous, but in the end, pleasantly surprised. So, why the reference to Netflix and chill? I need to see the entire season NOW!
But enough teasing. Let’s dive into the recap. But be prepared — there are some genuinely shocking, creepy moments in this episode, and you may need to cover your eyes now and then.
Summary provided by Starz: The growing Regulator threat forces Jamie, Claire, and Roger to embark on a mission to raise a militia. When one of their settlers reveals he’s a bondservant and asks for help freeing himself and his brother from their abusive master, Jamie and Claire are forced to make a difficult decision.
We begin by checking in on Claire’s moldy bread as Marsali looks on. Remember Claire’s tempting fate by creating penicillin. Claire then gives us a quick voiceover, which provides us with a sense of how much time has passed. By the end of the opening segment, Claire is examining the mold under a microscope. But then a hard “damn” comes out of her mouth, and we know her quest for penicillin isn’t going as well as she’d hoped.
Jamie returns home to Fraser’s Ridge and judging by Claire’s breathy reaction to seeing him; it’s been some time since they’ve been together. Jamie catches Claire up on what happened while he was with Knox. Eventually, however, he gets around to sharing the bad news – he must gather a militia to fight the Regulators, which means he must go back on the road. Claire won’t allow him to leave without her. He and his men will need a physician.
The next day, Fergus stops by, and Jamie asks him to write a notice to give to the printer to post. It seems like a throwaway scene, but the purpose is to see where Claire’s instructions to Marsali about the penicillin end up (with Fergus since he grabs some paper from Claire’s desk to write the post). When we get back to the moldy bread, I have a feeling Marsali will be winging it.
A day or so later, Jamie is ready to gather his militia. The first recruits, of course, are the men of Fraser’s Ridge. The families gather to say their goodbyes before the journey commences, and Brianna and Roger share a loving farewell. And by the way, Jamie has left Brianna in charge of Fraser’s Ridge while he, Claire, and Roger are on their journey.
That night the group sets up camp. Jamie takes Claire aside and lets her know that Bonnet is alive and in Wilmington, smuggling again. Claire immediately asks if Brianna knows. Jamie (unaware that Brianna overheard him in episode 501) tells Claire Brianna doesn’t know.
Jamie and his soldiers gather around the campfire, with Claire. The scene is reminiscent of one in the first season when the Highlanders were camped before Claire and Jamie’s wedding.
In the middle of the night, Josiah, the hunter with the bad tonsils, returns, and he’s got a twin brother. They are indentured servants and must be free of their cruel owner to live a free life. Jamie and Claire set off to purchase the boys from Mr. Beardsley because that’s what Claire and Jamie do—take in people who need their help.
Before taking off on this new journey, Jamie instructs his captain, Roger, to continue to recruit men to serve in the militia. From the intensity of Roger’s gaze, we know he plans to do the very best job he can to impress his father-in-law. (Note: I’m already worried about how this will turn out).
As Jamie and Claire head for the Beardsley house, Jamie asks Claire to remove the mark from Josiah’s hand – the brand burned into his flesh to show that he is a thief. Jamie wants Josiah to join the community of Fraser’s Ridge, but that can’t happen if Josiah has the brand of a thief on his hand. Claire agrees to remove it.
Claire and Jamie arrive at the Beardsley dwelling. It is in shambles. I mean a dirty, broke down, wreck of a structure. We almost hope no one is home, but of course, there’s a woman inside, and when Claire and Jamie force their way into the house (they need the papers to ensure Josiah and his brother will genuinely be free), we can tell from Claire’s expression that the house reeks of the vilest smells ever.
This episode also likes to include a few scares and moments meant to startle, but this is all a lead-in to the big nasty, the real horror which lies upstairs and comes later. After a solid scare provided by a goat named Billy, Claire is growing teary-eyed from the wretched odor. Of course, even when asked, Mrs. Beardsley doesn’t smell a thing. This means our nosy Claire must search the house for the source of the stench, which she points out isn’t the goat.
She travels up the stairs to find a body covered in flies and open sores. It looks dead, should be dead, but of course, it moves, sucking in a horrid sounding breath (scaring Claire, who stifles a yelp, and me). The man is Mr. Beardsley, who must’ve suffered a stroke (apoplexy to folks in the 1700s), but he is lying in his own filth.
It seems Mrs. Beardsley has been keeping him alive, feeding him just enough to ensure that he suffers.
Meanwhile, Roger is on the recruiting trail. He promises a mother that he’ll return with her sons. And again, I am worried about these two boys and Roger Mack.
We return to Beardsley’s shack, where Claire is cleaning the old man’s wounds (I won’t go into further detail, but it’s graphic). Mrs. Beardsley was torturing the man (and again, the details are gruesome), but her husband had abused her. She is Beardsley’s fifth wife. The other four he killed and buried in the woods.
With Claire looking as if she’s about to save Beardsley’s life, Mrs. Beardsley tries to strangle him with a rope. During the struggle that follows, Mrs. Beardsley’s water breaks (yes, she’s pregnant) and Claire and Jamie deliver her beautiful baby girl—a mixed-race child, the father is black. Mrs. Beardsley is delighted that the child isn’t Mr. Beardsley’s baby and taunts the old man, who lies grunting, stretched out on the kitchen table.
Claire and Mrs. Beardsley have a heartfelt conversation about being a mother and the options for Mrs. Beardsley to raise her child. The two women seem to bond, and everyone settles in for a night’s sleep.
But first, Claire tells Jamie that Brianna and Roger should return to the future. However, Jamie sides with Brianna. He wants them to stay with their family, which means staying with him and Claire. They don’t fight about this yet. But there are seven episodes left, plenty of time for this to develop into a real rift. This night, however, the Frasers fall asleep.
But there’s some movement in the house (and can I say, Claire and Jamie, are sound sleepers to a fault, and the next morning, Mrs. Beardsley is gone. She’s left her baby girl and the indentured papers, freeing Josiah and his brother (and a deed for the house, too).
Then Jamie makes a decision about Beardsley, and Claire surprisingly agrees. Jamie offers the man a choice. He had a stroke and can’t move anything other than his eyelids—therefore, he can blink. Beardsley lets Jamie know with two blinks that he agrees with Jamie’s suggestion, which is to put Beardsley out of his misery. Jamie shoots him in the head.
Then, after the deed is done, we are reminded that Jamie’s father died of apoplexy, but Jamie thought his father died quickly, not in stages. He asks Claire to promise that if he faces the fate of his father, she will do what needs to be done—and show him the same mercy Jamie gave Beardsley.
The episode ends with a flock of birds rising from the trees into the sky.
Until next week and episode 504, The Company We Keep.