Well look at this, Outlander fans. It seems that perhaps the powers that be heard our complaints about the dearth of Jamie and Claire at certain points last season. Save for a scene in which Claire explains types of mold to Marsali and a quick peek at Roger and Fergus signing up men to join Jamie’s militia, this episode is all Jamie and Claire. Now, before you start getting prematurely hot and bothered (I see you, I know you), please know up front that “Free Will” is one of the least sexy and strangest episodes of Outlander I’ve ever peeped my eyes on. And guys, the latter is saying a lot, since this is literally a show about a woman who fell through rocks and travelled through time and space.
It’s not like there aren’t some swoon-worthy moments. Jamie comes home from the Hillsborough debacle, tasked with gathering up his men to form a militia for potential war with the Regulators, to find Claire asleep in bed. The Frasers are very happy to see each other and Jamie downloads all of the kooky dramz that went down — remember when Knox just straight-up murdered a guy? — and explains what he’s back here to do. Claire tries to comfort him by reminding him that it’s likely nothing comes of this conflict because the Regulators aren’t really a big deal in her time and I guess she’s memorized, like, every single history book ever created or something. They’re hoping that if they get a big enough army together, it will be so intimidating that the Regulators will back off without a deadly confrontation. Regardless, Claire informs Jamie that she’s going with him. “You need my help,” she says. “I always have and I always will,” he responds. And then I black out because holy hell that was hot.
After Jamie has Fergus run off to the printer to make up 18th-century fliers about enlisting — Fergus unknowingly writes Jamie’s decree on the back of one of Claire’s “Dr. Rawlings’s Recommends” papers, which will probably be important later — the gang heads off into the woods, leaving Bree and her sprawling red curls in charge of Fraser’s Ridge, and honestly, her hair looks so good I totally get why she doesn’t want to return to the 1960s. Speaking of Bree, now that Jamie and Claire are off on their own, Jamie tells his wife about Bonnet being in Wilmington. She’s understandably upset, but her silver lining is that Bree doesn’t know. Of course, we know Bree knows and now she’s all on her own at Fraser’s Ridge and this whole situation is going to get worse before it gets better. But, we have no time for such drama: It’s time to talk about the Beardsleys.
In the woods, things get real weird, real fast, as is the Law of The Woods. Remember that hunter with tonsillitis named Josiah who made Lizzie need to dump a bucket of cold water on her head after just looking at him? Okay, so the gang catches someone stealing the food from their camp who looks exactly like Josiah, but he’s deaf. Jamie finds the actual Josiah out in the woods too, and he explains: This is his identical twin brother Kezzie. After their entire family died on the boat ride over here, they were both sold into indentured servitude for 30 years to an abusive trader named Mr. Beardsley. This guy is the World’s Worst, and Josiah, who escaped a year ago, just went back to free his brother. Jamie — human, ginger, angel — promises not to send the brothers back, but he will need to buy their indentured servant papers so that Beardsley can’t lay claim on them in the future. Josiah is like, “thank you and good luck with that.”
While the rest of the group continues on toward Hillsborough, Jamie and Claire head over to the Beardsley house for what can only be described as Outlander Makes a Horror Movie. But seriously: We’ve got a run-down house in the middle of the woods, we’ve got leaves blowing in the wind, we’ve got a creepy woman in the window, we’ve got jump scares, we’ve got goats in cabinets, we’ve got bodies upstairs, and we’ve got people making really, really stupid decisions. See? Horror movie.
When Jamie meets Mrs. Fanny Beardsley she tells him her husband is dead, he can have the twins, and slams the door in his face. Claire’s like, “whew, easiest adventure the two of us have ever been on!” But Jamie’s like, “no, let’s make this harder than it has to be.” He wants those papers to ensure Josiah and Kezzie’s freedom, you see. This man! So noble! So dumb sometimes! The second time around, Fanny lets them in. This is a true house of horrors, guys. It’s disgusting, and the smell alone has Jamie and Claire choking. Fanny has no idea where the papers are and eventually Jamie is just like pointing to places where papers could be and asking her to look. It goes on for way too long and she’s being very strange about the whole thing. And then Claire spots a stain on the ceiling, realizes the smell is not coming from those aforementioned goats — it’s coming from whatever is causing that stain. You guys, like a co-ed in a horror movie, Claire GOES UPSTAIRS.
And then we find Mr. Beardsley. The man… has seen better days. And by that I mean he looks like an actual corpse. He’s alive, barely. Claire deduces he had a stroke, or an apoplexy as they called it back then, and has been up here rotting for a month or so. Even worse: She sees a bowl of food by his decrepit side. It’s clear that Fanny has been keeping him alive JUST TO TORTURE HIM. At one point Claire utters the sentence: “At least the maggots have kept his wounds clean.” It’s so Claire Fraser it hurts.
Here’s the deal: Beardsley legit murdered his first four wives and was beating Fanny, his fifth, when he fell over and had his stroke. She’s been torturing him for how he treated her ever since. None of this is cool, but even Jamie and Claire are like, okay, in theory, we get that. When Fanny sees Claire trying to help Beardsely — Claire took an oath to heal, remember? — the woman flips and tries to strangle him to death. She gets in a tussle with Jamie, and hi, hello, could you have guessed this? SHE GOES INTO LABOR.
So now Claire has to deliver a baby. Remember when they could’ve just left without the papers? Things were so simple then. Instead, we now have to watch a birth scene and yes, get a very graphic sound effect signaling the afterbirth spilling out of this woman. I did not need that sound in my brain, but I guess this is payment for that sex montage we were gifted in the premiere. It’s clear from the baby girl’s skin color that Beardsley is not the father and Fanny is beyond happy. Of course, it means this child was “born of her sin,” but the baby’s father is a good man who she loves. That’s not nothing, Claire tells her. Still, Fanny knows this child will need more than love to survive in this world.
Now, if this entire excursion feels a little extraneous to you, you are not alone. This is a lot of time to spend away from the main action driving this season thus far, but it does provide a catalyst for Claire and Jamie to have two big conversations. The first one comes after the baby is born, and Claire hears about the horrors Fanny has had to endure. “What kind of world is this to bring a baby into?” Claire asks Jamie. And then she finally tells him that she thinks Bree, Roger, and Jemmy need to go back to their own time, where it’s safer. Jamie knows it might be safer, but then they’d be without their family. They can’t go. Listen, Jamie might be looking all nice and hunky standing by that fire and tenderly touching Claire’s face, but that’s not a real argument and I doubt Claire will drop this one.
The next morning, Claire and Jamie awake to find that Fanny has fled in the night and left her baby daughter there with them, along with the deed to the house and the trading business, as well as Josiah and Kezzie’s papers. They’ll have to take the baby into town to find a nursing mother and someone who can take her, but first they have to deal with Mr. Beardsley.
The man is horrible, but they don’t want to leave him there to suffer — “I’d do it for a dog,” Jamie says, ordering Claire to take the baby outside the house. Beardsley also wants to be put out of his misery. Jamie prays for their souls, and then outside, Claire hears a shot ring out. Jamie did what needed to be done. Beardsley’s fate leads these two to their second important heart-to-heart: Jamie’s father died of apoplexy, and he always thought it was a quick, painless death. Now he wonders if Jenny lied to him about the details of their father’s passing. He’s also worried that the same thing might befall him one day. He makes Claire promise that she’ll put him out of his misery. Tearfully, she responds, “I will do what must be done.” I mean, of course we know Jamie isn’t going to die any time soon — there are so many books left! — but nonetheless, it all feels very ominous. Claire and Jamie can’t get away from that wretched house fast enough.