Spoiler Warning: The following discusses detailed plot points from the Season 5 episode “Free Will.” If you haven’t had a chance to watch yet, go back through the stones and return once you have.
Welcome back, sassenachs! I don't know about you, but this week's episode felt a little bottle-y, didn't it? Don't get me wrong, I'll follow Jamie and Claire everywhere — or almost everywhere, but maybe not the place they stumbled into this time around, no matter how great goats are. But we'll get to that in a second.
Previously: Life on Fraser's Ridge seems mostly like a fun woodland paradise, but there have been enough bumps and hitches along the way to remind us that Claire's services as a physician are very sorely needed. The problem is that now she's already looking for ways to reinvent the wheel — or to introduce medical advancements before they're supposed to even exist — and as Brianna warns her, there's every chance it could have catastrophic effects on history. But as we know, Claire isn't easily deterred once she sets her mind to something! On the other side, Jamie's learning that his new Tryon-assigned babysitter Lieutenant Knox might be a little more extreme than he planned for, but he still tries to do his part to help the Regulators by freeing some of them in the dead of night. Hopefully, that won't come back to bite him at all. Speaking of things that should stay dead, though, Stephen Bonnet is alive and well and clearly existing to make all of us uncomfortable, and that's an understatement.
As soon as the word gets sent out, they're all off — Jamie, Claire, Roger ... well, Brianna's been tasked with staying behind in charge of the Ridge, although even she admits that the responsibility may not be much, considering she's a woman. It seems that Roger's not too enthused about being dragged into this trip either, since he hardly considers himself a military man, and we're reminded of that fact when he approaches a woman, Mistress Finley, with the task of conscripting her young sons into the militia. He makes the mistake of assuring this mother that her children will come home, which I'm sure won't present a problem for him later on this season. Just because there might not be a war doesn't mean there won't be a battle.
Everyone prepares to make camp, but early in the morning they're awoken by shouts of "Thief!" One of the men who'd been awake on watch hauls in a familiar face — or so they think. It's not Josiah Beardsley, a young man who's recently been helping out on the Ridge to hunt and trap game, but actually his twin brother, Keziah, and as the two are reunited for the first time, the truth of their history finally comes out. Both were orphaned young during a ship's voyage from England to the colonies, so the captain sold them into indenture to pay the debt of their family's passage. Since then, they've been serving a trader named Aaron Beardsley, who treats both of them horribly. Keziah, specifically, has gone deaf from ruptured eardrums resulting from his master's abuse. Josiah begs Jamie not to send them back, and Jamie agrees to purchase the twins' indenture himself.
When Jamie and Claire eventually reach the Beardsley home, well ... I'm just going to come out and say it: it feels like the setting of a horror movie. The house is falling apart, the barn isn't looking much better, and when Jamie knocks the first time no one answers the door — but he spots a face in the window who reveals herself to be Beardsley's wife. He's not home, she says, and she wouldn't know the first thing about where the twins' indenture papers are. Jamie kindly requests that she look for them anyway. When the Frasers go inside, the first thing that hits them is the smell — which they suspect is initially caused by the goats that are being given free rein to run around the house. By that point, the missus's story has changed yet again; Beardsley isn't just gone, he's dead.
But after the goats are shooed out of the house, Claire deduces that it wasn't the animals she was smelling, and a trip up the stairs confirms the true horror of it all: Mr. Beardsley himself, lying prone on the floor in his own filth, still alive. Claire diagnoses the man with a recent stroke (or "apoplexy," as it was known in that time), but he has other injuries that can't be explained by his condition. The soles of his feet have been burned repeatedly, and there are other various wounds that have been inflicted all over his body. It looks like the twins weren't the only ones who suffered from Beardsley's abusive wrath, and his wife was taking advantage of his vulnerable state to wound him in return. A confrontation with Mrs. Beardsley about her treatment of her husband results in another sudden surprise: her water breaking. She's about to go into labor.
Claire delivers the baby girl without issue, although one look at the child confirms that she isn't Beardsley's. For one, the father was very clearly Black, although we don't get very much information about who he might be from Mrs. Beardsley — who, while holding her newborn in her arms, finally introduces herself to Claire as Frances, or Fanny. The conversation also reveals that she's Beardsley's fifth wife, with all the others buried out in the woods under a rowan tree. Fanny knows beyond a shadow of any doubt that Beardsley is responsible for their deaths because they couldn't bear him any children, and he would have killed her too if not for his stroke.
In the morning, Fanny has disappeared without a trace, leaving her unnamed baby behind along with the twins' indenture papers. When Jamie realizes that Beardsley can understand what's happening around him — and can communicate by blinking once for yes, twice for no — he asks the man if he wants Claire to tend to his wounds. Two blinks. He asks if the man wants to be put out of his misery. One blink. He also asks Beardsley if he wants to pray to God for forgiveness for the abuse he committed in his lifetime. Two blinks. A gunshot rings out in the otherwise silence of the woods. When Jamie leaves the house, he mentions to Claire that his father had suffered an apoplexy too, wondering aloud if he had been in as much agony as Beardsley — but he also makes Claire promise that if a similar fate should befall him, she'll do what is necessary to ease his pain, too. On that somber note, the two set off with baby and goats in tow.
- When Claire took Marsali on as an apprentice, did she not expect that the other woman would eventually ... start to ask her questions about how she knows what she knows? The opening scene to this episode, in which Marsali basically trails along behind Claire asking about her "newfangled ideas," seems to imply that at some point, the truth may need to come out, although it's anyone's guess as to when that will be, considering everything else happening at the Ridge and beyond.
- Speaking of the other married Frasers, Fergus just so happens to grab a scrap piece of paper off the table that contains Claire's "helpful medicinal tips" (written under a pseudonym) in order to dictate Jamie's orders to assemble so he can take it to a printer for broad circulation. It's a blink-and-you-miss-it moment, but it might have some greater consequences later on.
- Speaking of greater consequences: Jamie finally breaks the news to Claire that Stephen Bonnet is still alive. Lord John Grey has sent over word that the man has been sighted in Wilmington, but as far as the Frasers know, their daughter remains unaware of that fact. What will go down when they find out that she's known this entire time?
- Quietly, privately, Claire also tells Jamie that she wants Roger and Brianna to go back to their own time. More and more, I'm reminded of what Richard Rankin said about how alike Roger and Claire are, and that's definitely reflected in this moment. Jamie understands Claire's concerns, but he also worries about Bree and Roger being without their family too. It seems like this is going to be one of the major conflicts in Season 5 for sure.
That’s it for this week, Outlander fans! Feel free to sound off in the comments about your favorite moments this episode, as well as your predictions for where the next episode will take us, or tweet at us over at @Syfyfangrrls. What will happen when Jamie's militia finally confronts the Regulators? Or when Brianna reveals all she knows about Bonnet? And will she and Roger decide to go back through the stones for a safer life in the future? See you next week!