Season 5 episode 3
"Free Will" opens with the theme of determination.
That of Claire who challenges history in order to find, for her community, the formula of penicillin. That of Jamie who tries to prevent a war by gathering enough men to hope to make a deterrent show of force. In opposition, the determination of the Regulators who, although knowing they are weak in number, refuse to bow to the injunctions of the crown and are ready to fight on the ground. That of Roger, finally, determined to prove to his father-in-law that he is big enough to play his role as Captain and to do something other than sing.
All set off on a journey across the country, until Claire who wants to accompany them to treat the wounded in case of armed conflict. We are ready to join the frantic pace of the great story that we have been preparing for for quite some time now.
And yet, this is not the path we are going to follow. An unexpected fork leads us through the forest to a small shack that seems uninhabited, except for the smoke that escapes from the chimney and betrays the presence of its occupants.
It is a hut as there must be hundreds in this hinterland still half wild, and where settled along the rivers or in the shelter of a mountain, many European settlers, all in search of a new life and a new hope.
It was important to remember that not everyone had the chance to live like the Frasers, in a beautiful home within their large family. That not all benefited from such a loyal and protective leader, supported in part by the crown to which he swore allegiance.
How many of these settlers succumbed to the harshness of the forest? How many have suffered the throes of winter, the assaults of a few bellicose Indians, wild animals, misery and tyranny without any law reaching them in order to defend them? Like the Beardsley twins, sold as slaves for 30 years of their lives!
What happens in the intimacy of these isolated lives where the worst can happen without anyone knowing?
When Claire and Jamie arrive on the scene, there is an almost palpable heaviness that exhales to us, and when they separate to divide their exploration, we want to shout at them through the screen to stay together, or better yet, to return to the war that seems strangely less dangerous than what awaits them in this remote place.
In the stable, a poor horse, the cat and her little ones... the existence of these animals is also sacrificed. Who feeds them? Who takes care of them? Who could argue that this has the slightest importance?
Around the house, misery literally exudes. Yet we discover here and there tools, cart wheels, barrels. Life used to be going on, maybe even in some sort of material comfort! But everything seems to be at a standstill now. As Claire says when she joins Jamie:
"There's something really very strange coming out of this house, Jamie, we should go.
But it's too late. Fanny Beardsley's face appeared to her through the broken tile, like a devil coming out of her box. The husband died, she told her. They can keep the twins for nothing! Yet they absolutely need serfdom contracts to protect them forever. So they go back.
That's what being a leader is all about. Taking care of your own, even if it means facing hell.
And it is in the Devil's lair that they finally enter.
The contrast with the bright and stirring daily life of Fraser's Ridge jumps out at us! First of all the darkness, the clutter, the loneliness... Even the goats who took possession of the place, as if to mean that here, the life of humans is worth little more than that of beasts, and then the smell.
This scent, we feel it almost as it seems unbreathable. Moreover, the gesture of Claire who wears her damn to her face in order to protect herself, reminds us of her descent into the holds of the "Porpoise" where she had rescued the English sailors suffering from typhoid fever. It is the smell of death.
Mrs. Beardsley is first introduced to us in her darkest side. It is not possible for us to know his story, yet we suspect the harshness of his life. Under her countless shapeless shawls, she is just a lonely soul living in this damp and dark cave. Moreover, when Jamie asks her the famous contracts, she does not even know where to look, as if this place were foreign to her.
This is followed by a scene a little offbeat, even "easy", which the writers of the series had not accustomed us to, with the appearance of the goat Billy. Suspense useless if we want my opinion, but hey, this is the opportunity for Jamie to get out of the house and for Claire to discover the reasons for the pestilential smell to which, however, Fanny Beardsley seems to be insensitive.
In the attic, a man on the ground, bathed in his droppings. He seems mummified at first, but eventually he moves and moans slightly. So Mr. Beardsley is still alive! Finally, can we call it living?
We thought we could imagine the harshness of a reclusive existence, but what we see, what we are described, is much more gloomy.
Very quickly, it becomes clear that this man, or at least what remains of him, was struck down by an apoplexy and then kept alive in order to be tortured. Could it finally be that this woman is the monster who lives in this house? Is what we took for loneliness, misery, pain, in truth the embodiment of destructive madness?
Fortunately, we are not allowed to get lost on this false track for long and despite the bad air of the bougresse and its brutal and imperturbable facade, it is quickly implied that she was above all the victim. He was chasing her to beat her. It collapsed. Then... The story remains to be told.
After this little incartade in the open air, we are again plunged into the darkness of the Beardsleys' cabin where Claire is busy with what she knows how to do best: care and observe. She discovers the extent of the abuse suffered. Bedsores, a burnt foot, then healed, then burned again, maggots scattering in his open wounds. Faced with Jamie's incomprehension, she has this sentence that echoes what we already felt:
"God knows what you did to deserve this.
We can really imagine that. And even more so when Fanny tries to strangle him with a makeshift rope, because there would be no question of him being saved!
"Why did you wait until there were witnesses to kill him?"
To which she responds,
"I didn't want him to die, I wanted him to die.
It's hard for Jamie to imagine that. Yet he knew the will to take revenge on a monster. He himself suffered the outrages, he himself encountered rape and torture. However, that's not what he wanted for Randall.
But that's the difference of course. Jamie is a man, a laird, educated and surrounded by a clan, a loving woman, his godfather. He can rebuild himself and resume the course of his life, no matter how strong the trauma.
But what about this young woman, sold to her husband who, we learn with amazement, has already had 4 wives, all buried in the garden and having probably succumbed to the blows of this man now himself defeated.
Who will help Fanny free herself from her executioner and then rebuild herself?
Who will do him justice? If not, herself by delaying the deliverance of a death far too sweet, and who would rob her of the feeling of being reimbursed for her own suffering?
But there is still the husband.
Since their immersion in this dark house, Jamie has remained in retreat.
Alongside his wife of course, supporting and assisting her as usual, he is well aware that, in this field, there is not much he can do while Claire is in his place, as a woman and doctor. But when Fanny is no longer there and the baby is warm, swaddled everything against Claire, it is up to him to act.
Far from any sentence, without anger, without the will to take himself for the judge and the executioner, but conversely, in a gesture full of humanity, he exposes to Beardsley an inventory for the least glacial and offers him the choice: to live disabled, or die with dignity.
"I'll do it for a dog, Claire, should I do less for him?" He said to his wife who took an oath to care for and save lives.
This gesture is a grace. This same grace that he makes Claire swear to grant him if by misfortune, he too had to succumb to apoplexy, like his father before him.
This dark episode ends with a magnificent image of a sky filled with birds, until it is covered and then disappears. Just like those lives that fade in the hollow of a wild and depopulated nature.
As if to allow us to take a gull of fresh air, the scenario takes us back for a few minutes to the troupe now led by Roger, still in search of sharecroppers, held by order of the governor, to join the colonial militia.
They talk to Mrs. Finley, who works the land with her two sons and other farmers, in what is imagined to be a community gathered in a village.
Mrs. Finley is a thin woman, but full of resources and vitality. She does not have time to dwell on her condition, however, we learn that her husband is dead and that she would have a lot to say about the governance of this territory:
"The poor must shed their blood to protect the gold of the rich," she said without being more moved than that. Isn't that precisely what the regulators are saying? The ones that this militia will have to face?
However, it recovered quite quickly.
"Their father went to heaven to collect his bounty, otherwise he would have joined you.
Like many of them, and despite the misery and work, she knows that she owes the crown her land and her few possessions. This first generation of settlers takes nothing for granted. Even though they came to settle on the new continent to escape the war in Europe, they know that they are only here to help the British occupy the territory. In a way, they too are in a state of servitude.
Moreover, when she talks about her boys, she expresses herself about them as if they were merchandise.
"If I agree to lend you my sons, you will send them both back to me safe and sound.
And what is even more striking is the smile of the two threads in question.
War is therefore better, for these two young men, than the life of the fields. Of course, they don't know what war is. On the other hand, they already know what misery and toil are.
And then she loses the waters and we realize that under her curves and the accumulation of shapeless clothes, she was hiding a pregnancy that had reached its term.
If Claire and Jamie had not been present, she would have given birth alone, on the filthy floor of her masure. The pinnacle of horror! Finally, for us, warm spectators of our medicalized society, but it is easy to imagine that it was common for these settlers of a century in full construction.
Everything is different from there. Claire let go of her stern tone to be nothing more than support. It is no longer death that inhabits the hut, but life.
This little one who points her nose changes the game. It evokes an escape from Fanny's past where love had the right to exist, and perhaps, a goal for the future. Especially since the child is not that of his torturer.
"You hear old garbage, it's not from you!!
At night, Fanny can finally tell her story. His family lives in Baltimore (in the state of Maryland, about a hundred kilometers away), it was sold by his father. She has been living here for 2 years, 3 months and 5 days, after the 4 dead and buried wives, some of whom visit her in the form of ghosts.
The way we look at her is different, she is no longer dressed in fear and anger. She is no more than a destitute young woman who reveals her torment.
And then she is lucid, how not to be after what she has suffered?
"It will take more than love to live in this world," she said of her little daughter.
"You have this property," Claire points out.
"For me, it's only the Devil's house.
Who could contradict it?
And that's when – just then – Claire thinks of asking him for her first name. That is to say if before that, it seemed to count for nothing!
"My mother called me Fanny, it means "free" it seems.
She becomes so, since she decides to leave and leave her daughter in the care of the Frasers, not without having previously slipped into her small bed, the serfdom contracts and a deed of ownership. Her baby's legacy.
We do not know what will happen to her. We just hope that she can join the father of the child. A good man, she said.