Television

Outlander episode 503

Cold open: Claire watering her moldy bread. She adopts the Socratic method to avoid Marsali’s questions about how she got this idea in the first place. All this food is under glass, but I seem to remember that in the book she wanted the food open to the air to catch mold spores on the wind. I admit this is prettier than that would be.

The title card after the music is out of focus — is Marsali practicing stitching on a bird or piece of meat, perhaps?

Jamie returns home after his adventures with Rationalizing Lieutenant. Looks like Claire is sleeping in her surgery or in the kitchen of the house. Hmm . . . is that because Jamie’s not home, to show she is working constantly, or because the house is supposed to be unfinished? (Maybe their bedroom is not done?) Jamie does a sign of the cross with some extra steps in it and my Catholic husband asks, “What is that?”
“Maybe it’s a fancy old-fashioned sign of the cross?” I guess.
He scoffs in doubt at this suggestion.

Personally, when my husband wakes me up out of a dead sleep, I do not sigh his name, immediately sit up wide awake, and kiss him sexily. I usually crack an eye half-open, mumble, “Love you, Babe,” and roll over. But then, I’m no Claire, and he’s never been gone on a militia trip to hunt his godfather, so who can say?

Jamie is processing Rationalizing Lieutenant’s murderous ways. “You can’t feel responsible for the choices others make,” Claire tells him. Excuse me, have you met your husband? Assuming responsibility for other people is the #1 thing he knows how to do. Besides, Jamie covered for Knox. That has to sting.

Jamie’s back, but not for long. He’s here to raise a militia. Claire says as far as she knows, there wasn’t anything written about the Regulators in history, so it can’t be that big of a deal. Jamie correctly points out that there’s already one man dead (not to mention the individuals tarred and feathered), so what history may not deem important later still matters a great deal in the moment. Claire is English; she wasn’t taught history in American schools as a child and would only have had a tourist’s exposure to the Boston events of the war when she lived there as an adult. What she should be saying here is, “Let’s ask Brianna if she knows anything, since she went to school in Boston and used to be a history major.” But no.

Claire says she’s coming with him and Jamie doesn’t seem surprised, exactly, but he tries to argue with her a little bit. He should know better by now, and in the book he does. In the book, he tells Roger that if there’s a war, Claire will ride with them. There’s no question.

Next morning: Jamie asks Fergus to take an advertisement to Woolam’s Creek. Fergus walks into the house, picks up a piece of paper that has clearly recently been used for something, and takes it. I understand that paper is supposed to be scarce (though they haven’t really addressed that in the show) and people would often reuse any blank space, but he doesn’t know if those notes are important to someone else. He barely looks at it. Fergus takes dictation on the clean side of the paper and rides off to the printer in Woolam’s Creek. If the other side of that paper has Claire’s autopsy notes on it, they are all in trouble.

Brief acknowledgement that Fergus has been making the whiskey, which is nice — but is he? In the book it was Marsali who did the heavy labor of whiskey-making, along with caring for her children and everything else, and here she’s busy being Claire’s apprentice.

Bree’s hair is down and wild, just like her younger mother’s back in Scotland. They have no respect for conventions of the time. Claire’s hair is barely pulled back.

Bree looks worried about Roger as she kisses him goodbye and I would be, too. He is not prepared for this adventure.

In the woods, Jamie shares news from John’s letter with Claire: Stephen Bonnet is alive. “Bree doesn’t know, does she?” “No.” Oh, yes she does.

Early-morning thief appears to be Josiah in his nightshirt, but they quickly learn it is Josiah’s twin brother, Keziah, who is deaf. Josiah and Keziah are indentured servants to a man whose abuse caused Keziah’s deafness when he was five years old. They were sold as indentured servants at the age of two for a term of 30 years. It’s horrifying. And Jamie, taking responsibility for people as he does, decides that the way to solve this is to purchase their indenture.

Roger will lead the men to Brownsville while Jamie and Claire visit Mr. Beardsley to purchase the indentures. My husband observes that it doesn’t make sense for Jamie to bring Claire along if he knows it will be dangerous, but he doesn’t understand that (a) Claire and Jamie should be joined at the hip, and (b) we need Claire for the straight-from-the-book adventure to come.

At the Beardsleys’, Claire checks the barn while Jamie approaches the house. The creepy-looking barn interior and the exterior of the house could both be straight from a haunted house with a western flair. Halloween hayride.

Angry-looking Mrs. Beardsley says her husband is dead and Jamie can keep the bondservants because she has no use for them. When Jamie tells this to Claire, she’s like, “well, free is good,” but no, it’s weird, and Jamie points out that if they don’t get the papers, Mrs. Beardsley could change her mind and come to claim the boys in the future.

For once, Claire heeds her senses before rushing in. This place is strange, Jamie, let’s leave. But he thinks he can take care of business quickly. They go back to the surly and mostly-silent Mrs. Beardsley, who lets them in the house. The poorly-lit, packed-full-of-stuff house that has the hashmarks of a prison cell on an interior doorjam. “This is some Hills Have Eyes shit, right here,” my husband says. Deeper in the house it smells foul and there are goats roaming about.

“Why do you keep the goats indoors?” Claire asks.
“It’s too cold for ‘em in the barn.”
“Too cold for the goats, but not for the bond servant?”
“You want them papers or not?”
“Aye,” Jamie says, with a pointed look to Claire, “Aye we do.” Keep your eyes on the prize, Claire, and don’t antagonize the woman.

Ominous banging on a locked door causes Jamie to take out his pistol. It’s a trapped billy goat.

Claire notices something disgusting dripping from the ceiling. It looks like it could be blood, but everything’s dark in the low light. Claire, because she’s Claire, goes upstairs to investigate. By herself and in spite of Mrs. Beardsley’s protests.

The smell is worse up here because the smell is Mr. Beardsley, covered in flies and motionless, but still alive. He suffered a stroke while chasing Mrs. Beardsley a month ago. She left him where he fell, but has been keeping him alive by feeding him small amounts of food.

Meanwhile, on the way to Brownsville . . .

Mistress Findlay’s teenage sons appear to be shoveling mud or dung from one smoldering hut to another. We’ve gone from The Hills Have Eyes to Monty Python. (“Dennis, there’s some lovely filth over here.”) Roger foolishly promises her that he’ll bring her sons home safely. He is a naive man. Her sons sign the book and go to war.

Back to the Beardsley cabin of horrors . . .

Claire is picking maggots out of Mr. Beardsley’s bedsores. She and Jamie discuss the evidence on his body of Mrs. Beardsley’s torture. She has been wounding and burning him. She burned the soles of his feet over and over. Jamie asks the man, “Did your wife do this to you?” He blinks once for yes. Claire backs up a truck full of judgement and says coldly, “What you must have done to deserve this.” Beardsley does not blink. Whatever he’s been thinking about during this miserable month, it isn’t regret for his former ways.

Mrs. Beardsley is rustling about, ostensibly looking for the indenture papers. She finds a length of rope or twine.

Claire tells Jamie that Beardsley’s foot is gangrenous. She’ll have to amputate or he will die. I’m not clear on his prognosis even without that problem. Could she save him? To what end? I know that Claire can’t help but try to heal anyone in need of it, but she said herself she couldn’t heal him from the stroke. If she tends his wounds, but he is only able to lie there, helpless, what next? They can’t leave him with his wife again. They can’t stop everything to care for him for an extended period of time. There is no good outcome here. Jamie says there isn’t time to amputate his foot and let it heal. Claire thinks they could take him to Brownsville and find someone to care for him.

Their conversation is interrupted by Mrs. Beardsley choking Mr. Beardsley with the twine she found. Jamie pulls her off of them and they argue. He says (sensibly), “Ye could ha’ killed him at your leisure. Why in God’s name would ye wait until ye had witnesses?” Because she wanted him to die slowly. They struggle and she is knocked against a wall. The sound of her water breaking is a sudden “splat” that is much more Hollywood than real life. The puddle on the floor is also not how it happens, in my experience. But this is TV. Now we understand Mrs. Beardsley is about to give birth.

Claire helps deliver the baby because that’s what she does. She tries to heal the tortured abuser and then she helps his abused torturer through labor.

The baby has dark skin and this makes Mrs. Beardsley happy, because she and Mr. Beardsley do not. “You heard that, you old bastard,” she yells at her immobile husband, “she isn’t yours!” Her delight in denying him this child is unnerving. It’s something she can lord over him now, but what if he had never had a stroke? She must have spent all these months wondering and waiting — if the baby looked like her husband, that would be one kind of horror; if the baby did not, an entirely different one.

The Frasers spend the night in this cabin and wow, I don’t know that I could sleep there, but of course Claire has patients to care for and they haven’t many options at the moment. We hear Mrs. Beardsley’s story. She’s from Baltimore, and she’s been married to Mr. Beardsley for “two years, three months, and five days.” She is the fifth Mrs. Beardsley, as far as she knows, and the others are all dead by his hand and buried under the rowan tree. Those aren’t her markings on the doorway, they are Mary Ann’s, his fourth wife. Mary Ann’s ghost speaks to her sometimes. Mr. Beardsley beat her, Josiah, and Keziah, terribly. She’d give Claire the papers if she could find them, because the boys “deserve some happiness, I suppose.” Do they? How well did Mrs. Beardsley take care of them when they were home?

Claire tries to ask about the baby’s father, but only gets that he was “a good man” who doesn’t live nearby. Claire says they will take Mr. Beardsley with them to town and he won’t be able to hurt her anymore. She points out that she has the property and can use it to care for her baby. Mrs. Beardsley shakes her head. “Having a baby doesn’t make me a mother, any more than sleeping in a stable makes someone a horse.” Interesting choice of words, since she apparently kept people with her horses.

Claire finally asks Mrs. Beardsley’s name. It’s Frances, but her mother called her Fanny, which means “free.”

Claire lays the baby down in a bassinet next to sleeping Mrs. Beardsley. That baby is not wrapped properly at all; Claire knows better than that.

Claire and Jamie talk. She thinks they need to stay there at least another day or two and still thinks she can somehow make a difference for Mr. Beardsley. We know she’s stubborn, but this seems separated from reality. Then they have an interesting conversation:

Claire, “What kind of world is this to bring a baby into?”
Jamie, “The only world.”
Claire, “No, it isn’t.” Then we get to the meat of it: “Jamie, I want Brianna and Roger to go back to their own time . . . It’s safer for them there . . . Roger feels the same way . . .”
Jamie, “Of course he does.” (Of course he does: hot running water, sanitation, grocery stores.) Then, “Well, perhaps it would be safer in their own time, but they would be without their family. Without their blood.” That settles it for Jamie. Family is everything and he’s never been to a grocery store.

And now they are going to lay down and try to sleep in the haunted hayride torture cabin. No way.

But they do manage to sleep, and Fanny Beardsley escapes in the night, leaving her baby behind.

The baby is lying on the deed to the house and the boys’ indenture papers. “She means for us to keep her,” Claire says.

They’re getting ready to leave because they need to find a nursing mother for the baby (in the meantime, they have goats’ milk). They still haven’t made a decision about Mr. Beardsley. Is he coming with them? Jamie tells Claire to take the baby and go outside. She understands what he intends to do and objects to it. Jamie says, “I would do it for a dog, Claire. Could I do less for him?” He is right. He reassures Claire that he’ll give Beardsley a choice and call for her if needed.

Jamie rights the fallen crucifix before having a grim interview with Mr. Beardsley.
Your wife is gone, the child is not yours. Yes
My wife is a healer, says you suffered an apoplexy and cannot be cured. Your foot is putrid and if not removed, you will die. Do you understand? Yes
Will you have her take your foot and tend to your wounds? No
Do you ask me to take your life? Yes
By all accounts you are a wicked man. I have no wish to send a soul to hell. Will you pray for forgiveness? No
“Then may God forgive us both.” And here he does a proper sign of the cross (according to my husband) and shoots the man.

Gunshot startles an enormous cloud of birds.

Outside, Jamie reminds us that his father, Brian, died of an apoplexy and says he hadn’t realized it could paralyze a man like that. He wonders if his father suffered before he died. “Jenny would have told you,” Claire says. Jamie asks her to swear that if it happens to him like it did his father, Claire will put him out of his misery. She says, “I’ll do what must be done,” which sounds like an answer calculated to sound like “yes” to Jamie while also allowing Claire room for whatever Herculean healing efforts she feels compelled to perform.

Super gigantic cloud of birds ends the episode. It doesn’t look anything like it, but calls to mind the birds in the season one episode where Claire and Geillis were in the thieves’ hole. In the Starz after show, they say that these birds are supposed to be passenger pigeons, which at the time were all over the US, but are gone now. CGI-ing in now-extinct animals from the period is a cool detail.

I have so many questions about Fanny Beardsley. Was she cruel to Josiah and Keziah because Mr. Beardsley was cruel to her, and that’s often what happens — those with more power take it out on those with less? Or because she was a cruel person to begin with? Or because they were servants and that’s how it was at the time? At first, I wondered if she made Keziah sleep in the barn only so that he would not discover her injured and imprisoned husband, but then I realized that Josiah knew to look for him there. That was where they slept. But not the goats — she cared for the goats enough to bring them inside.

Once Mr. Beardsley fell, why didn’t she leave? She answers that when she wrestles with Jamie — she didn’t want him to die quickly, she wanted him to die slowly. But that’s some serious commitment. She’s there with him, in the rot, in the filth and smell, day after day. She’s delighting in torturing him again and again. Were her two years of mistreatment at his hands enough to change her so much that she could only give it back when the opportunity arose? Or was she predisposed to cruelty?

Also, she was pregnant, and in that time, she may not have had a good way to know how far along she was. She may have not wanted to travel with the baby so close to coming. But she could have killed him outright, or left him to die and then asked Keziah to help get him down from the loft. So many other options.

Fanny’s name may mean free, but she couldn’t free herself when her captor collapsed. Did she need the Frasers’ arrival to disrupt her pattern of revenge? Did she not feel able to leave until the baby was born? Unanswered questions from a house of misery.

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