Episode 503: "Free Will" (SPOILERS!)

Here are my reactions to Episode 503 of the OUTLANDER TV series, titled "Free Will". For the most part I thought this episode was excellent, well-acted and suspenseful, and very faithful to the book.


There are SPOILERS below! If you don't want to know yet, stop reading now.









This episode begins in Claire's surgery, with Claire tending the collection of moldy bread that she hopes will one day grow penicillin while Marsali looks on.

As much as I enjoyed the majority of this episode, I really wish they'd chosen another way to begin it. I didn't care for this scene at all, because it reminds me far too vividly of parts of last week's episode that I disliked. For example, I don't find it believable that Marsali, with a toddler and an infant at home and a household to look after, would have the time to act as Claire's apprentice.

While Claire and Marsali talk, notice the man in the background, doing something to the wall, completely ignored by the two women. Is that Arch Bug, or some anonymous workman? We don't know. He might as well be part of the scenery.

"Penicillin was one of those newfangled things I hoped would have a place in the past, and I was daring history to try and stop me." I thought this line was way over the top.

Fortunately, this scene doesn't actually have anything to do with the story that follows, so I plan to ignore it completely on future viewings. The rest of the episode is MUCH better!

Usually I find the "title cards" that appear immediately after the opening credits to be interesting, intriguing, or both. I thought this one, shot deliberately out of focus, was just baffling. I couldn't see well enough to understand who we were looking at or what the person was doing. I really hope they don't do that again.

In the next scene, Jamie returns home from his trip to Hillsborough. I liked the way he hesitated at the top of the hill, looking wary. It fits this bit from the book:

His heart was beating fast. It was impossible for him ever to come home after an absence without a certain sense of apprehension. For years after the Rising, he had lived in a cave, approaching his own house only rarely, after dark and with great caution, never knowing what he might find there. More than one Highland man had come home to his place to find it burned and black, his family gone. Or worse, still there.

Well enough to tell himself not to imagine horrors; the difficulty was that he had no need of imagination--memory sufficed.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 18, "No Place Like Home". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
But all is well. He finds Claire asleep, and crosses himself with a murmured, "Deo Gratias".

"What are you thanking the Lord for?"
"For the sight of ye, Sassenach."

This bit isn't in the book, but I liked it.

Jamie fills Claire in on what happened in Hillsborough, including the death of the Regulator whom Lt. Knox killed.

"You can't feel responsible for the choices others make," Claire says. But the burden of responsibility is clearly weighing on him in this scene, and Sam does a good job of letting it show in his face, voice, and body language.

He tells Claire that he's been ordered to raise a militia.

"Whatever happens with the Regulators, there isn't anything written about it, as far as I know. So it can't amount to much."

Note to Claire: Don't make assumptions! <g>

In the next scene, Fergus comes to the Big House with Germain. Jamie asks Fergus to deliver an advertisement to "the printer in Woolam's Creek." That mythical town really does seem to have everything, doesn't it? Still, I'm sure the writers find it convenient to have a printer located relatively close to Fraser's Ridge.

Fergus goes to find a pen and paper. In Claire's surgery, he grabs something to write with, and takes a sheet of paper with writing on it from Claire's surgery, presumably because it's blank on the other side. Uh-oh! That's bound to be trouble in the future!

While most viewers are likely distracted by that thought, I'm wondering why Fergus didn't bother to bring back any ink to write with! He has his back turned to the camera while he's taking dictation from Jamie, or it would have been much more obvious.

Notice that Jamie is wearing his dirk. That's not something we've seen often on the show since they came to North Carolina.

As Fergus rides away, we're treated to a spectacular view of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance beyond Fraser's Ridge. I can't help going, "Ooooohh!" every time I see that.

In the next scene, we see all of the inhabitants of the Ridge busy with their various chores, from brickmaking to butchering meat. It's interesting to see the variety of activities taking place, but I would have liked some music playing during this scene. The quiet seems odd.

The men have assembled at the Ridge, preparing to leave for Hillsborough. Claire gives final instructions to Marsali about continuing her medical "studies" while Claire is away. She asks Bree to "help Marsali with her reading", which I thought was strange. It's not like either of these young mothers has a great deal of spare time, after all.

"Reminds me of the time I was saying goodbye to your father--" Claire means Frank, of course "--on the station platform when I was going off to war."  This is a reference to a scene from Episode 103, "The Way Out". I had nearly forgotten about that.

As Roger and Bree say goodbye, we learn that Jamie has left Bree in charge, just as in the book.

"Welcome to my world," Roger says, "where no amount of studying can prepare you for what's to come." Good line.

Jamie and the others ride off at a surprisingly fast pace, forcing some of the men accompanying them to jog in order to keep up. That struck me as ridiculous, and probably a strain on the horses, too, especially considering that this is a journey that will take several days. But I liked the brief scene with the men wrestling the wagon across the stream.

As they make camp for the night, Jamie tells Claire in private that Stephen Bonnet is alive, but they think Bree doesn't know.

"When I thought Black Jack dead, it allowed me some peace."
"Peace from contemplating revenge," Claire corrects him.

Claire is right. Jamie's reaction in Episode 204 ("La Dame Blanche") on learning that BJR was alive was something like joy, at the news that he would be able to take his revenge on the man for what happened at Wentworth.

Much of the scene by the campfire that night comes almost verbatim from the book (THE FIERY CROSS chapter 26, "The Militia Rises"), the first of many such scenes in this episode, and I was glad to see it!

I was surprised to see John Quincy Myers here, but I suppose it makes sense, as he's certainly in the age group of men called up for the militia. Note that he says, "Coldest damn spring I can remember." In the book, it was December. They've moved the date out by a few months, then. Book-readers may recall that the battle of Alamance took place in May, 1771. So they're getting awfully close.

The bantering around the fire provides a welcome bit of humor. I was glad to see the Lindsay brothers included here, just as in the book. Most of the scene works very well, except for the bit where they call the clean-shaven Roger "furry as a bear." (Oops!)

Early the next morning, the camp is awakened by cries of "Stop! Thief!" from one of the sentries, as a teenage boy runs bare-legged through the trees.

At first Claire mistakes him for Josiah Beardsley, but soon Jamie returns with Josiah, and we learn thatt that this boy is in fact Josiah's twin, Keziah, who is deaf.

The actor who plays both of the twins, Paul Gorman, is excellent. Just as with Tobias Menzies as Frank/BJR, it must be quite a challenge for an actor to portray two physically similar but very different characters. I look forward to seeing more of him.

I was surprised by the way Jo explained Kezzie's deafness ("the master boxed his ears"), as I'd always thought it was the result of an illness. But in fact it's consistent with what the book says:
Not born deaf, from what Josiah had told him; his twin had lost his hearing as the result of an injury, occurring at the age of five or so. Keziah could therefore speak, but not hear any but the loudest of noises.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 27, "Death Comes Calling". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
Claire, hearing this, is understandably horrified. A five-year-old child, struck hard enough to rupture both eardrums?

There's only one small difference in Jo's backstory: he was branded for theft on his hand, not on his thumb, as in the book. It's a minor detail, though.

"I'll need to purchase your indenture," Jamie says, "so he has no claim on you." This isn't in the book, but it provides a logical reason for Jamie and Claire to visit the Beardsley place.

I loved the look of the Beardsley cabin. Inside and out, it's very much as I've always imagined from the book. Jon Gary Steele did a wonderful job with it!

Most of the dialogue in this part comes from FIERY CROSS chapter 27, "Death Comes Calling", and it feels as though they really are filming the book, which I find amazing to watch, even five seasons into the show. Needless to say, I loved all of these scenes.

Jamie tries knocking on the cabin door, but no one answers. Eventually he just opens the door and tries to come in anyway, but he's met by a heavyset woman who refuses to let him inside. When Jamie mentions Jo and Kezzie, the woman says, "Keep 'em. I've got no use for them," and slams the door in his face.

He tries one more time, with Claire beside him, and this time the woman lets them in while she looks for the twins' indenture papers. Notice the marks on the doorway as Claire enters, exactly as described in the book:
I turned back to the door, and noticed an odd series of notches cut into the wood of the jamb. Each one was small, but there were a great many, running the complete length of one doorpost, and halfway down the other. I looked closer; they were arranged in groups of seven, a scant width of unscarred wood between the groups, as a prisoner might count, keeping track of the weeks.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 27, "Death Comes Calling". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
I'm relieved to see that Claire reacted appropriately to the stench inside the Beardsley cabin, considering her (inexplicable and totally implausible) failure to react to the stink of a decomposing corpse in last week's episode.

"Why do you keep the goats indoors?"
"It's too cold for 'em in the barn."
"Too cold for goats, but not for the bond-servant?" Claire asks, appalled.

I liked that.

Suddenly there's a loud banging noise, and they shoo the goats out of the cabin while Jamie goes to investigate. It turns out to be a large male goat. Mrs. Beardsley calls him Billy, rather unimaginatively <g>, rather than Hiram as in the book.

Claire is increasingly bothered by the smell in the cabin, which seems to be coming from the loft upstairs. When she goes to investigate, Mrs. Beardsley is alarmed, shouting, "Don't go up there!"

The smell is much worse up in the loft, and soon Claire sees why: a man is motionless on the floor, lying in his own filth -- but alive, barely. This, too, is exactly as described in the book.

Jamie joins her in the loft, and Claire says the man likely suffered a stroke, or apoplexy as it was known in the 18th century.

Claire confronts Mrs. Beardsley, who tells them what happened in an oddly emotionless voice.

"He chased me. Struck me. He was in a rage, as ever, of course."
"A month ago. Come up here to get away from him, and then he followed me, and he fell, and lay writhing. I couldn't move him."

In the next scene, we're back in the woods with Roger and the militiamen. Roger is speaking to Joan Findlay, a woman with two teenage sons who are old enough to serve in the militia.

This scene is well done, with most of the dialogue taken from the book (FIERY CROSS chapter 9, "Germ of Dissent"). The woman who plays Joan Findlay looks and sounds very much like my mental image of her. I enjoyed this scene, though I was disappointed that they left out Iain Mhor, Joan's brother, who (like me) was born with cerebral palsy.

"I'll make sure they come home," Roger promises, knowing he can't be sure of any such thing, and Joan agrees.

Back at the Beardsley cabin, Claire is examining Mr. Beardsley, laid out on the kitchen table. The sores on his legs are filled with maggots (ewww!!), and I found myself hoping that Claire will keep some of them, for future use.

To their horror, they discover that Mrs. Beardsley has been torturing her husband, keeping him cold and starving, and burning his feet over and over. I liked the way the camera focuses in on Beardsley's face when Jamie says, "Blink once for yes."

Claire tells Jamie that Beardsley's foot is gangrenous and needs to be amputated. Obviously they can't leave him here in the cabin, and taking him with them to Brownsville would be very difficult in his condition. So, what to do?  They're interrupted by Mrs. Beardsley, who is attempting to strangle her husband. Jamie manages with difficulty to subdue her, finally throwing her against a wall.

She gasps, and liquid spatters on the floor -- and it's then that Claire realizes that the woman is pregnant, and her water has just broken.

This is a change from the book, where Mrs. Beardsley gives birth alone, at night, on the road, but I liked it. Having Fanny give birth in the cabin, with Claire as midwife, gives us a little time to get to know her, and humanizes her a bit.

They quickly discover that the infant's father must have been black. "She isn't yours!" Fanny shouts at her husband, laughing in a maniacal fashion that I found truly unnerving, all the while cradling her baby.

Fanny's backstory is exactly as described in FIERY CROSS chapter 29, "One-Third of a Goat", except that here we get to hear Fanny tell it to Claire herself.

Fanny says that Beardsley had four wives before her. "He killed them all, you know. None of us could give him a baby." That last sentence isn't in the book, but I think it's a plausible explanation.

Her attitude toward Jo and Kezzie softens a bit, as she thinks of them as fellow victims, abused by Beardsley just as she had been. "They deserve some happiness, I suppose."

A little later, Jamie and Claire have a moment alone. "Jamie, I want Brianna and Roger to go back to their own time, as soon as they know if Jemmy can travel."

No! Just NO. I really don't like this! I wish Claire would stop saying it. It's starting to get on my nerves.

The next morning, Fanny is gone, leaving the baby. Claire picks up the infant and finds the missing indenture papers.

Jamie makes it clear he wants to shoot Aaron Beardsley, to put him out of his misery, but that it must be Beardsley's choice.

I thought they did a wonderful job of portraying Aaron Beardsley's final moments, complete with those slow blinks, made with such obvious effort, in response to Jamie's questions.

"By all accounts ye are a wicked man. I have no wish to send a soul to hell. Will ye pray for forgiveness?"
Two blinks, meaning NO.
"Then may God forgive us both," Jamie says, crossing himself.

This isn't in the book, but I liked it.

Jamie and Claire's conversation afterward, about the way Brian Fraser died, is taken straight from the book, near the end of Chapter 27. I've always loved that scene, and it's such a treat to see it brought to life on TV.

When Jamie finally fires his pistol and puts an end to Beardsley's suffering, a giant flock of startled birds takes flight. Only this is not an ordinary flock of birds. It's absolutely immense, bigger than any I've ever seen or heard of, and it dawned on me that these must be the passenger pigeons Claire and Bree encountered in the book:
Rushing out of the house, I thought at first that a storm had come suddenly upon us. The sky was dark, the air filled with thunder, and a strange, dim light flickered over everything. But there was no moisture in the air, and a peculiar smell filled my nose--not rain. Definitely not rain.

“Birds, my god, it’s birds!” I barely heard Brianna behind me, among the chorus of amazement all around. Everyone stood in the street, looking up. Several children, frightened by the noise and darkness, started to cry.

It was unnerving. I had never seen anything like it--nor had most of the Cherokee, judging from their reaction. It felt as though the ground was shaking; the air was certainly shaking, vibrating to the clap of wings like a drum being slapped with frantic hands. I could feel the pulse of it on my skin, and the cloth of my kerchief tugged, wanting to rise on the wind.

(From THE FIERY CROSS by Diana Gabaldon, chapter 82, "A Darkening Sky". Copyright© 2001 by Diana Gabaldon. All rights reserved.)
And as the episode ends, the flock of passenger pigeons grows so thick that it blots out the sky. A very impressive sight, and a somber one, especially when you recall that they've been extinct in our own time for more than a century.

On the whole I thought most of this episode was excellent, really well done, and I'm delighted that they stayed close to the book for so much of it.
I hope you enjoyed this recap. Look here for my recaps of all of the OUTLANDER episodes so far, and please come back next week to see my recap of Episode 504.

Looking for a place to discuss All Things OUTLANDER? Check out TheLitForum.com, formerly the Compuserve Books and Writers Community. You have to sign up in order to read or post on the forum, but it's free.


Mary Tormey said...

I Karen I liked it too AND they stuck with the book and did a great joband had enough suspense to keep you watching and I'mm getting tired too of hearing saying that Roger and Bree must go back to the future its getting too old and tiring , but am glad Starz reshows each episode so that fans like me can see it over and over and over again . will be watching all week and next Sunday . please post more soon. Happy Week. Loving Outlander , Sincerely

Rebecca said...

Hi Karen! I'm a faithful book reader too and thoroughly enjoy your recaps. I did want to mention that even in the books, Marsali and Brianna do have a lot of help with the kiddos - specifically Lizzy and Mrs. Bug come to mind. I feel like they really did have a "village" to help out with everything so I could see them having some time to work on reading or learning new skills. Just my opinion!

I do totally agree with you about TV Claire continually saying that Brianna and Roger need to go back - we've gotten the point already!

Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts - you are my favorite recap to read because I know you love the books as I do!

Unknown said...

Totally agree! Last week was so bad, but this one almost makes up for it. Marsali is a poor choice for any extra duties. I don't recall a time we have ever seen her, now or in the future, when she wasn't swamped with babies and running her husband's business.

Unknown said...

I am curious - do yall watch Inside the World of Outlander for understanding? It seems there is a demand for a "book movie" as opposed to an Outlander "adaption." BCLQ

Jenny said...

I thought it was strange that Fergus went along, I though the show even made it clear in a previous episode that losing his hand exempted him and Jamie placed him in charge of other things( ex. Making and selling whisky) on the Ridge. As a old southern girl, I was shocked that they had Marsali butchering a hog in the spring....lots of spoiled meat. That said I liked the episode enough to watch several times.

Jenny said...

I thought it was strange that Fergus went along, I though the show even made it clear in a previous episode that losing his hand exempted him and Jamie placed him in charge of other things( ex. Making and selling whisky) on the Ridge. As a old southern girl, I was shocked that they had Marsali butchering a hog in the spring....lots of spoiled meat. That said I liked the episode enough to watch several times.

chriscarol said...

I think it very interesting that Fergus goes to get the pen and paper and picks the pen up and then pokes it to his leg like you would a ball point pen.

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