“Outlander” fans that have been lamenting the show’s divergences from the novels were undoubtedly satisfied when the series took a detour from the Regulators and the American War in “Free Will” and marched straight into the story of one Fanny Beardsley instead. What no one was bargaining for, however, was the strong elements of horror that punctuated the episode.
The installment kicked off with Jamie (Sam Heughan) returning to Fraser’s Ridge to enlist his right-hand man, Roger (Richard Rankin), and ride off with his men and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) to recruit more soldiers and (eventually) meet the Regulators and try to broker some kind of peace in the Carolinas. In those early scenes it seemed like the episode would focus on how out-of-his-element Roger was around the campfire while giving fans some more grass-filled sexual romps between Jamie and Claire, but the narrative turned when the tonsillitis-suffering boy-hunter Josiah Beardsley came back into the picture with his deaf twin Keziah (Paul Gorman pulls doubly duty for both roles).
Having made a deal with Jamie to live on his settlement and hunt, Josiah had gone back to gather his brother and escape their owner, Aaron Beardsley (Christopher Fairbank). But when Jamie learned of their plight he and Claire went to purchase the boys’ papers from the Beardsley Trading Post owner, and that’s when the real fun began.
From the moment Claire and Jamie walked upon the “Cabin in the Woods” there were strong horror images, from the shattered windows and eerie silence to the goats, cats, and other animals that creepily appeared as they searched for any signs of human life. In the end it was Jamie who found it, when Aaron’s wife Fanny (Bronwyn James ) invoked Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” and moodily popped up at the corner of a window without warning.
Inside the cottage there were more horrors, like the putrid smell and a Kathy Bates/“Misery”-inspired torture scene upstairs, where Claire discovered a barely alive Aaron via the old “not quite dead” horror trope. Aaron had suffered a stroke and had been laying in his own filth for quite some time, tortured by his wife whom he’d beaten over and over. Fanny had been cutting his legs and letting the wounds fester, burning his feet, and only keeping him nourished enough so that he would not die. It was a punishment she felt fitting for the man she believed would kill her, as he had his previous wives. (Although those ghastly wives did not appear from beyond the grave there was definitely a sense they could at any minute.)
Despite the guy’s state and past deeds, Claire, always the healer, wanted to cut his leg off and mend him, though he could no longer talk or basically function on his own. It once again raises the debate of the current medical system and whether there’s any merit in euthanasia — something the series has indirectly addressed before. However, there was no time to delve in all of that since Fanny had other ideas and she tried to strangle her husband when the Frasers’ backs were turned.
When Jamie tried to pull her off and she knocked him in the face, it all resulted with Fanny up against the wall and in labor, much to everyone’s surprise. When Claire delivered a baby girl the new mother rejoiced for one small minute, but then she fled into the night leaving the Frasers with a very ill man and a newborn to deal with. (Because they obviously don’t have enough problems on their hands with the upcoming war.)
Pile-on or not, the newborn babe gives Claire and Jamie a chance to be (surrogate) new parents together in a way they never were with Brianna (Sophie Skelton), and maybe even reveal new sides of each other they haven’t previously discovered. It’s easy to keep the romance alive when the adrenaline from near-death situations are always high and there are no “wee ones” to invoke sleepless nights, endless laundry, and diaper changes, although given how quickly this show moves through time it’s more likely the duo will drop the babe off in town where she can be cared for properly (and nourished with something other than goat’s milk).
And as for Aaron? His status brought up all sorts of emotions for Jamie, whose own father died following a stroke. The suffering the man was going through was too much for him to take because it made him question his own father’s final days, and so with Aaron’s blessing he put a bullet through his head to end it once and for all. Naturally, a million black birds flew overhead in the trees as soon as the gun went off, bringing the horror show to an official end. There is a war to get back to, after all.
“Outlander” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on Starz.