We Are The Sum of Our Choices…a reflection on Outlander 5.03 “Free Will”

by Beth Wesson

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This week’s episode is called “Free Will”.  I’m really happy about that because it has given me a chance to share my favorite Christian Theology story! Never saw that coming!  I was told the story came from a book called “Great Church Fights”.  I never challenged that, but I thought if I was going to blog about it I had better do a little fact-checking. Yep, in 1972, Leslie B. Flynn wrote a book about church controversy and how to solve it.  I’m totally paraphrasing, but here goes…

A church was divided on the issues of free will and predestination.  It had gotten so bad that they were on the verge of the church splintering into two groups.  They were meeting in the basement of the church and everyone had picked a side.  The freewill people were on one side of the room and the predestination folks were on the other, all that is, except for one lone soul who stood in the middle. He was still undecided which group he should join.

Finally, he went to the predestination side of the basement.

“What are you doing here?”, the predestination folks asked.

“I came of my own free will!” the man said.

He was not welcomed, and group members pointed him toward the other group.

“What are you doing here?”, the free will people asked.

“I was sent”, said the man.

I remembered this story while reflecting on this episode “Free Will”, and like the great church fight, I’m sure there will be a split in the fandom over this episode.  I might be that poor fellow in the middle.  The book purists will love it.  Others might question how spending an entire episode in Beardsley’s House of Horrors advances the story.  As a book lover, I am of two minds about the issue.  Maybe I should just “pick a side or up and away” (thanks Murtagh).  But, of my own free will,  I’ve decided to write about…free will and how it affects this storyline and let the fans decide which side of the basement they will stand on.

Free Will vs Fate

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This whole episode could have been used as a lesson in a theology or philosophy class. As I understand it, the Christian theologists believe that God gives free will to man because he desires our love.  He wants us to choose to live for him  He has the power to force us to do as he bids, but to do so would negate choice and therefore real love.  We must be free to choose if we are to truly love.  The irony is that he already knows what we will choose, hence the belief in predestination.  Philosophers have spent centuries trying to answer the same question of whether we have free will or are just the puppets of fate/determinism.  Are we free to make our own choices or is every choice the result of cause and effect making us the product of our past experiences.

Free will is defined as “the power of acting without the constraint of necessity or fate; the ability to act at one’s own discretion.” It is extremely hard, in my humble opinion, to know where free will begins and ends.  I am of the mind that we are inextricably connected to our experiences and circumstances and that they invariably inform our choices.  We may sometimes move beyond what is expected, of what is the norm, and as a result, we perceive we are acting at our own discretion.  It is comforting to believe we have free will, however more times than not, we make a choice that is clearly within the boundaries of the life path we are on, the constraints of necessity or fate are always there. Then again, personally, I believe in miracles and grace…so…yeah, you can see why folks have been discussing this one for centuries.

Breaking Free of  Fate

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Everyone in this story is held in some kind of bondage to their nature or to necessity. Claire starts off the episode with a voiceover about growing mold. She is tempting fate because she cannot live with having knowledge that would save lives and then doing nothing. It is an odd bird this time travel thing.  She affects history every time she saves someone’s life and yet every time she consciously tries to change history she fails. But, she tries again. She is trying to create penicillin 157 years before its time and daring the fates to stop her. This made me smile. It would appear Claire has exercised her free will by forging ahead, consequences be damned.  But, does she really have a choice, she is Claire after all. This seems consistent with everything we know about her nature, she has no choice but to choose as she does. She is destined to try to help and heal, and we love her for it.  The episode did a wonderful job of showing us a kind Claire who cares deeply about everyone who crosses her path, be it a bondservant, abused wife, or the man who abused them all.

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art credit to Sylvia

Jamie has been walking between two fires for as long as I can remember.  He has been an outlaw trying to stay alive, an outlander at Castle Leoch, an outcast Jacobite leader trying to care for fellow prisoners, a man without a heart trying to live without a heart, a changed man asking to be loved for the man he was, and a laird trying to protect loved ones on opposite sides of a revolution.  Better than anyone, Jamie knows what it is like to be the plaything of fate. It feels like very few choices have been his to make. So much has been out of his control.

I was so glad to see the return of the anchor that holds Jamie to his course in life, his faith .  For the most part, it has been sadly missing in this series.  The Jamie that stands by Claire’s bedside thanking the Lord for his blessings is the Jamie I know.  He has always been grateful for his blessings and thoughtfully prayed over the decisions in his life.  His choices are always colored by his Catholicism and his God.  He could of cursed God for all of his sufferings, but instead, he chooses to live his faith. Throughout the episode we see Jamie keeping his word and living his faith.  He is not perfect, he makes his share of mistakes, but he also chooses to live with honor and the kind of mercy that gave Beardsley a choice.

Jamie’s life would have been much easier if he had never met Claire.  He might have lived a more solitary and selfish life, join the watch and become a soldier for pay.  But, I want to exercise my free will and believe he was fated to love Claire and that that choice changed everything. I was tearful as I watched the reunion scene, they need each other, they are soulmates.

Fannie and the Beardsley twins are an uncomfortable example of how necessity affects free will.  Imagine living in servitude since you were a toddler and facing a future of completing a 30-year term of indenture to a man who beats and starves you.  Josiah took whatever opportunity there was to escape. His choice to leave gave them the possibility of a future, but what choice did Josiah really have? It was a matter of survival, necessity.

Fannie is a frighteningly accurate portrait of an abused woman.  She feels betrayed by her father, given to a man who beats and abuses her.  Imagine living with the knowledge that you are this man’s fifth wife and fearing that your grave will soon be under the Rowan tree with the others. It is no wonder that she finds herself capable of such cruelty.  Her free will had been beaten from her and her choice to give her rage permission to act its revenge, although horrifying, is at some level understandable. Her conversations with Claire revealed that she wasn’t always as she appears.  Her fears for her child’s future and her wish that the twins find some happiness showed us that despite the evidence, she is still a human who can feel pity and concern.  Her choice to leave her child was one of necessity and I felt her desperation as she left the trading post as the damaged goods Beardsley’s choices had created.

We Are the Sum of Our Choices

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The episode reminded us of some of life’s truths about choices.  Claire reminds us that we can’t be responsible for the choices others make, Bree and Roger that no matter how much we prepare, life can throw us curves, and Jamie that some choices require sacrifice. One other truth found in the episode is that in the end, whether governed by free will or necessity, we are the sum of our choices.  Mr. Beardsley is the visceral embodiment of that truth. The scenes in the trading post were beyond my expectations.  I knew what was coming and was still shocked. The slow reveal of what Fannie did to her husband built on the horror.  When the truth is clear, Claire states the obvious, “What you must have done to deserve this”.  The fact of the matter is Beardsley is reaping the repercussions of his selfish and evil choices.  When he most needs mercy there is no one in his world willing to dispense it.

The most chilling part of this episode for me was when Jamie offered the paralyzed man a quicker death, an escape from his torture.  “Let it be his choice, his will”, he tells Claire. He gives the man the choice of being treated by Claire or an assisted death. His only request of the man was so true to Jamie form.  Knowing Beardsley was a wicked man, he does not want to take his life and risk sending him to hell.  He asks if the man will not pray for forgiveness.  I found myself breathlessly waiting for the second blink.  This for me was the most disturbing of the choices we were shown, whether made of his free will or of necessity, he chose hell.  Maybe he chose to be defiant even unto death or maybe he felt he deserved eternal damnation.  We will never know, but he will forever stand in my mind as a wretched cautionary tale.




70 thoughts on “We Are The Sum of Our Choices…a reflection on Outlander 5.03 “Free Will”

  1. Donna ‘I Young

    What a great blog, and what a good episode! Yes, I too was wondering and waiting for that second blink. It was like following Diana’s written words come to life on screen. Hope to see more like this.
    Jamie and Claire are the best of people.

  2. Nancy

    I absolutely loved this episode. Your summary of free will and predestination was spot on Beth. I, like you, was so happy to see Jamie’s faith come back into play……. this is the Jamie I love and is so accurately portrayed . So refreshing to see book Jamie in this episode. Well done Sam and well done Beth on this summary.

  3. Nancy

    You’re a smart woman, Beth. Thanks for writing and sharing your insight. I loved this episode. I appreciated that this part of the book was included in a way that captured the creep factor, the horror, the reality and something somehow redeeming at the end. Not sure if that statement even makes sense. Yes, a whole episode was spent on this but, to me, it was an important one. Call it faith. ❤️

  4. Cheryl LaMaster

    Its good to hear another persons thoughtful analysis. My few thoughts that popped in my head while watching were a bit more rambling. First I couldn’t help thinking of the movie Misery. Creepy thought. And the Preston and Child book I’ve just finished called Crooked River.

    That the poor guy playing Mr. Beardsley must have felt like Sam did filming the farm house scenes after the battle of Culloden. How sore his body got laying flat on his back all the time they were filming. Neither of them really coherent and both ready to die.

    Surprised at the 30 year time frame for indenture. Ancestors were indentured for 10 years.

    I wasn’t either excited by the episode or disappointed. Guess I’m in the middle as well.

  5. I always look to your analysis for insights I may have missed and you never disappoint. Jamie praying over Claire while she slept, thanking God for her and acknowledging his blessings was a moment I have wanted to see: he is a faithful man who loves his God. The choice he gives Beardsley at the end was also so impactful. Thank you again for your willingness to share your perspective. Emily

  6. Janette Churchill

    Jamie’s spirituality and deep faith has been largely ignored to date so this episode was wonderful in showing how important it is to him. Thank God for the redemption of this episode. I absolutely hated the last one. I have read the books since 1994 and have read them all twice. I have had to keep reminding myself that I have a life and I can’t spend all of my time rereading the books or rewatching the series. Thank you for your amazing insight. I so look forward to reading your thoughts

  7. Cheryl Smith

    Beautifully written, Beth. And the episode, although not easy to watch, reflected Diana’s faith and incredible story. I stand in the middle of the free will debate. We have free will, but within the constraints of our heredity, the time in which we live, and our previous choices.

  8. Anne

    I re read Firey Cross a year ago in anticipation of this season of the show. At the time I was not sure if I wanted the show to include the Beardsley story line at all, thought maybe they should just leave it out entirely. Boy, was I wrong. This episode is way better than I thought it would be. I am glad it was included, it adds yet more depth to the whole outlander arc and to the characters. You eloquently described that added depth. YES, I am glad they gave that story line the time it needed to be done well. I am glad that it was included. Thank you for your thoughts, they solidified my own about the worth of this episode. It was also nice to see team Jamie and Claire working together,and the scenes with the baby and the two of them were reminders of what they missed out on in the past. An episode very worthy of the time it was given in my opinion.

  9. Lisa N.

    Well done, Beth. This episode is definitely for book lovers. Having read the books some years ago, I’d actually forgotten about this whole horror show. After reading your comments, I see the greater purpose in last night’s episode. Very compelling. Thanks for your insight (as always).

  10. What interested me most about this episode was the scene where Fergus is looking for a piece of paper on which to write down the wording of the notice Jamie wanted to publish in the local (?) paper about his militia recruitment drive. Fergus grabs a sheet that clearly has writing on one side, the other side is blank. Likely notes Claire has made about something… like how to make penicillin? The camera then pans to focus on Claire’s penicillin experiments in the background. I have to assume this means something that Claire has written down on that sheet of paper will either be published and cause problems going forward, or if not published, will be read by someone in town and cause problems? — either way, it will be important, otherwise why include that scene with the final shot on the mould jars?

    I also loved that they included the scene between Roger and Mrs. Findlay. Completely unnecessary, but so glad it was there.

    I hate the entire Beardsley farm thing from the novel, and when I read it, what I imagined was truly horrific so I wasn’t at all bothered by the episode — no way could they match what I’d imagined. Bits made no sense though, e.g. the smell of the place was gag-inducing when Jamie and Claire arrive, but they somehow managed to air it out enough that they could sleep there? It was well done on the whole, but I’m glad it’s over with.

  11. Joni

    It’s wonderful to have your thoughts and insights back, Beth. You’ve been missed!

    Watching this episode reminded me of how I’ve felt after watching Lost or This Is Us. Jaw on the floor. From previews I knew this story was going to be told to some extent but, like others, thought it would be shortened or could have been left out completely in favor of other story lines. But WOW. Glad they spent the time on this. The writing and acting for me were masterful. Characters and situations which were unsympathetic in the beginning came to at least be understood. Mr. Beardsley and the closeups on his eyes….breathless. Jamie, the honorable man we know him to be. Well done, Outlander. This promises to be an extraordinary season!

  12. jbeetem03b667e53a

    Thank you Beth! I was also glad to see Jamie’s faith show up in this episode, as that part of him has been obscured in the show. Thought maybe the only reference to religion would be Jamie’s grumbling about it being a Protestant minister at Bree’s wedding. This story within a story is such a dark, creepy part, but I loved how Luke Schellhaus (?) stuck to the book. He even referenced the ghostly part of the former wives being buried under the Rowan tree, without dwelling on it. The dark, cramped set, the decay of the cabin, Fanny Beardsley – all combined for an interesting episode. Thanks for your thoughtful comments, as always.

  13. Sandra

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts about this episode. I am always impressed by your insights and comments about the deeper meaning of each Outlander episode.

  14. Floria Taylor

    After I watched the last episode of season 3 I decided to cancel my Starz subscription. I could no longer watch the books be butchered down to such poor representation. Finding your Blog was it’s only saving grace. Your Blog, your insights have made me watch everything over and over. It’s like you are my eye glasses. You help me see better. Thank you for helping me see things differently. I guess I would say I am in the middle also.

  15. Ursula Heinz

    Another excellent review, Beth. I enjoy reading your analysis after watching the episode because it adds another dimension to the story for me. You manage to bring up angles that I hadn’t thought of, or hadn’t managed to identify as clearly. As a book lover, I liked the fact that this story line was kept true to the book and, as always, very well enacted. I can see how many non-book-readers will question why this had to be included but, for me, it was ok. I enjoyed it. I trust that, if the show runners opted for including it, then they must have a reason for doing it, and we may see this surfacing later on… Wait and see. Thanks for your insight!

  16. MaryJo

    Thank you for sharing your well versed comments, analysis and personal insights on this episode and the message if “free will.” You aptly expressed the essence of the story line and compared and contrasted the main characters dilemma between good and evil, faith and honor and scientific knowledge with pre-determined outcomes. I look forward to reading more from you on this great series.

  17. Mc

    Thank you Beth for organizing my thoughts and another perspective. It definitely felt like a different show especially with Jamie. He is being portrayed as he is in the book which I find much more attractive than last season. He’s no longer Claire’s fan and is now her protector as in the book. They are there for each other in a way that feels natural. I don’t think they would have had Claire yelling Jamie’s name when she found Beardsly last season. That and other moments were something I noticed right away as being different. Not sure how I feel about the whole episode devoted to it though. Jamie looks great coming in the house taking his gun out, leading the way. Thank goodness he’s back.

  18. Lorrie Abdo

    What about the entire premise of the outlander story? Geillis and Otter Tooth had a destination in mind when they traveled. As did Bree and Roger. Free Will and Predestination simultaneously, cosmically, remarkably. Claire, on the other hand, just grabbed the stones and off she went (first time at least). Is there some giant puppet master in this time traveling adventure that knows that claire belongs with Jamie (other than the author)? And why would that be? Wonderful review adding so much to think about to the already very potent episode. Thanks.

  19. Roberta Rohwer

    After this episode I found myself anxious to read your BLOG for clarification… I tried to look away from the despair at the Beardsley’s and could not. I knew what was coming… but I still was amazed at how strange I felt. Thank you for allowing me to “see” what needed to be seen with clarity. I so appreciate your insight.

  20. Diane Goochee

    Interesting to me is the Catholic faith would call this murder which is a mortal sin. Jamie wasn’t defending himself. I just wonder how Jamie weighs this going forward in the TV series. A mercy killing doesn’t absolve him of this sin.



  21. Thanks Beth, great blog as always 😀
    After my disappointment over last weeks episode I’m heartened by this one. I’m a bookie at heart and was so happy they kept this episode close to the book. Diana did such an amazing job describing the horrors of the Bearsley household in the book that I didn’t find the TV adaptation either gory or scary. They did a perfect adaptation in humble opinion. The house dark, filthy and ramshackled and Fannie giving birth in the house was more believable than her giving birth in the forest and J&C not hearing a peep. As for Mr Beardsley he was a disgusting excuse for a human being and bad as it was, he deserved all Fannie did to him. Poetic justice not just for Fannie but for all the other’s he hurt.
    It was heartening to see Jamie leaning on his faith and giving Beardsley a choice of living or dying. Jamie was right he wouldn’t see a dog suffer let alone a man.
    I’ve noticed a difference in the way Sam and Cait play their parts. Claire isn’t as pushy and Jamie is more assertive – loving that part. Hated seeing him always playing second fiddle to Claire.
    Free will is an interesting concept, most of us think we have it but on close inspection we really don’t. Unless we are a completely “free spirits” doing what we want, when we want, we are all like Jamie & Claire, constrained by the life path we are on doing what we hope is the right thing.
    I’m feeling more positive about Series 5

    • Mc

      Kate, I too noticed a definite change in the way JC play their parts. Jamie is aloud to be Jamie. Claire is more feminine and less aggressive. I knew things had changed when she yelled JAMIE at the Beardsleys . This is the Jamie I love. Respect, support, and protection at the same time. Makes me think of the words he spoke on their wedding night.

  22. Jane Reader

    I enjoyed your blog immensely, thank you, I haven’t watched the episode yet but from what I have heard the episode is heading back to the Jamie and Claire we love from the books. I must admit I was surprised that it held so much when I saw who the writer was, after the 502 effort. Perhaps they put him with TG to help tone her down, if this is an example of his writing then I hope he writes more. He appears to have understood the Jamie and Claire relationship/symbiosis better than most. I will have to publicly apologise to the writer for thinking he had no idea of Jamie/Claire connection.

  23. This is a beautiful reflection on the underlying themes of this episode. Am I the only person who didn’t love this episode? Oh, there were moments between Jaime and Claire that were lovely and tender, and I do think Jaime is doing some incredible work this season, especially with the nuances of emotions that flit across his face. I could watch his face endlessly. But I had to fast forward whenever Mr. Beardsley was on screen, it was just too much for me. And having not read the books first (I notice all the book lovers adore this episode), I was screaming at Claire, “What are you doing? Are you insane?!” when she grabbed the candelabra and went upstairs. I just was very creeped out much of the time. I did watch the episode a second time when I saw how many people absolutely loved it, and I did see a little more to praise. I am adore Marsali’s character this season, and Roger has been redeemed for me at last (hated what the writers did to him in season 4). He and Bree still don’t have much chemistry, and I think it might be that Bree isn’t bringing it, but I don’t want to criticize her. Sophie Skelton seems to be a gentle, generous, but slightly unsure soul who wears her heart on her sleeve, and I feel protective of her and want her to do well. I think she’s great in all but the scenes that demand chemistry with Roger, really. It could just be her youth, and unfair comparisons to how Claire plays such scenes. All that said, I continue to be a fan of this season. Even though I was personally grossed out by some of this episode, I still think this is so far the strongest season since the first one. Thanks, as always for your reflections.

    • OMG…I felt like I just discussed the episode over coffee with you!!! Have we met? Feels like we might think with one brain! LOL. You touched on about everything folks are talking about! I have read the books, obviously, and I knew what was coming so that made it somewhat bearable, but gotta admit this was pretty hard to watch. I am of two minds about the episode for sure. It was a great stand alone episode with great themes, lots of screen time for two main characters, great acting, but….jury is still out on if it was worth the time spent on it. I’ll be patient because usually my questions are answered by the writers and producers’ long game. Thanks for commenting!

  24. I’m so behind on watching; I just watched this episode yesterday. But I loved it. The Beardsley house wasn’t too creepy, compared to the book. Such great character development. And were those passenger pigeons taking off at the end?

    I liked Claire much more in this episode than the last one. I can understand making penicillin out of time. But the autopsy? Just endangering everyone in her family. She already knows what killed the man: mercury.

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