Credit: Mark Mainz/Starz
Outlander Season 4 2018

Oh look, it’s an episode of Outlander that’s actually full of emotion, drama, and pathos. It’s still pretty short on much forward-moving plot. But for now, we’ll take what we can get.

We pick up where we left off last week with Claire attempting to grow penicillin. She teaches Marsali what type of mold to look out for, and explains in voice-over that she’s trying to bring the future forward and hoped penicillin would have a place in the past. But so far, her experiments aren’t panning out.

Jamie returns home, thanking the lord for the sight of a sleeping Claire. But he’s not home for long – he has to gather a militia, as many men as he can muster, and return to Hillsborough with them in town asap. They’re hoping it won’t come to a battle, but just function as an intimidating show of force. Either way, Claire decides she’s coming with Jamie – they’ll likely have need of a physician’s help anyway.

So without delay, preparations are underway. Jamie is sending Fergus off to print a dozen broadsheets to pass out to help with recruitment. Before long, they’re all saying goodbye to those they’re leaving behind on the Ridge. The plan is to travel to Brownsville first. Claire gives Marsali advice on keeping her studies up while she’s away. Bree hugs Claire, insisting there won’t be a war (um, weren’t you a history major Bree?). Then she kisses Roger goodbye, joking she feels like Scarlett O’Hara with all the men leaving the plantation, which feels, ooo, just a smidge tone deaf. And I say that as someone who names Gone with the Wind her favorite movie.

Once on the road, Jamie decides it’s a good time to drop some bad news on Claire. He tells her Stephen Bonnet is alive and there have been confirmed sightings of him in Wilmington. They wrongly think Bree doesn’t know, hoping she’ll have a similar peace in believing he’s dead that Jamie has thinking of Black Jack Randall.

While making camp in the woods, the men chase down a thief who stole food from their stores. They think it’s Josiah Beardsley, but he doesn’t have the thief brand on his right hand. Suddenly, Josiah is there – turns out he’s a twin and the boy they were chasing is his deaf brother, Keziah. As part of his bargain with Josiah, Jamie demands the truth.

Josiah tells their sad tale – they were indentured to a man who lives not far from here. He ran away almost a year ago, but it wasn’t safe for his brother to come along since he can’t hear to fend for himself. He promised to go back for him once he had enough money and a safe place to live, and last night, he did, finding his brother half starving. The two sign, as Kezzy asks for more food.

Claire wants to know if Keziah has always been deaf, and Jo explains it happened when they were five and a master boxed their ears. Kezzy can, however, read lips. She uses a mirror to look in his ears and is shocked to find his ruptured ear drums have never healed. Jo tells the rest of their story, how they came across on a ship when they were two and the rest of their family perished. Then, Mr. Beardsley bought them as indentured servants, and he was cruel, beating and starving them, which is how Jo ended up branded a thief after stealing cheese to eat. Jamie resolves to go and buy their indentures so they can be truly free, but Jo warns him Beardsley is an Indian trader and a hothead, so to be careful.

As Jamie and Claire travel to the Beardsleys, Claire speculates that Keziah was the cheese thief and Josiah took the blame for him. Jamie wants Claire to cut the brand off Jo’s hand to give him a true fresh start.

When they get to the house, it appears deserted, but there’s smoke in the chimney, so someone must be home. Claire goes to investigate the barn, while Jamie approaches the house. A goat startles him, but then he sees a woman in the broken window. She tries to scare him off, saying her husband is dead and yelling at him to go away.

Jamie persists, saying he wants the boys’ indenture papers and he needs them as a fail-safe. Both Claire and Jamie feel something is off about the place – and yeah, it's like the first act of a horror movie. There’s tally marks on the doorframe, tracking something? The place smells badly enough to make Claire cover her mouth with a kerchief. And a goat behind a bolted door gives them a scare. Run y’all – and whatever you do, don’t go upstairs.

Of course, no one ever listens to that advice. Claire insists to Mrs. Beardsley that the smell is not the goats, as she notices some black sludge leaking through the ceiling. Claire goes upstairs (why girl?) and encounters a truly horrific scene: the room is filled with flies and a barely alive Mr. Beardsley lays on the floor in his own filth. Claire calls Jamie up to her as she surveys the scene, guessing that Beardsley suffered a stroke/apoplexy. Mrs. Beardsley has been feeding the man just enough to keep him alive in a state of misery.

They confront Mrs. Beardsley, and she explains that her husband chased her in a rage and struck her. She ran upstairs to get away from him, and when he followed he, he fell and lay writhing on the floor. She was unable to move him.

Meanwhile, back with Jamie’s men, Roger is trying to muster more troops. A woman, Mistress Findlay, grumbles about poor men bleeding for rich man’s gold – so, not much has changed huh? Her husband is dead, but Roger promises she’ll get 40 shillings for each of her sons, plus 2 shillings a day salary. Not to mention, he promises he’ll return them home safe. Oh Roger, how have you not learned to not make promises you can’t possibly keep?

At the Beardsleys, Claire has moved the husband downstairs to examine him. He’s in a ghastly state, maggots crawling through his wounds and he's covered in bed sores. Jamie doesn’t understand why his wife didn’t just let him die, but Claire has found evidence of torture – huge gouges in his legs, splinters and cuts. Not to mention, his feet have been burned over and over. The woman lets them heal and then does it again. They work out a method of communicating with the man that involves blinking, but Claire can’t help but wonder what he did to deserve this kind of torture.

Surveying the scene, Claire needs to amputate his gangrenous leg. She wants to bring the man to Brownsville, but they need to do the surgery first and wait for it to heal. They’re interrupted by Mrs. Beardsley who tries to strangle her husband with a rope. She wants him to die, not be saved by Claire. As they struggle, her water breaks because surprise! – she’s pregnant.

Claire helps her deliver a healthy baby, a girl, who is – ready for surprise number two – also half-black. So, yes, obviously, the baby isn’t Mr. Beardsley's child, which his wife crows proudly about for him to hear. She tells Claire about her background, how Mr. Beardsley took her from her family in Baltimore two years ago. She’s the fifth wife; the other four are buried under the rowan tree in the woods. She sees their ghosts -- Mr. Beardsley killed them all and would’ve killed her too. He beat them all, including Josiah and Keziah, terribly. Claire tries to reassure her that she can start afresh with her love for her baby, but Mrs. Beardsley, who reveals her name is Fanny, seems less than convinced about her prospects.

Later that night, Claire and Jamie have a heart-to-heart about if Claire should stay with Mr. Beardsley. She ponders what a dreadful world this is to bring a baby into, leading her to confess to Jamie she wants Roger, Bree, and Jemmy to all travel back to the future where they’ll be safer. Jamie argues, insisting they’d be safer, but without their family.

As they sleep, Mrs. Beardsley steals away in the night, and they wake to find her disappeared and the baby crying. She left the deed for the house, the indenture papers, and the baby behind, meaning for them to care for it. But now it leaves the question of what to do with Mr. Beardsley? Jamie suggests the same solution and mercy he’d offer a dog.

He sends Claire outside, returning to the blinking method of communication. He explains the man’s situation and asks if Beardsley wants him to take his life. Beardsley blinks yes. But Beardsley refuses to pray for forgiveness, not acknowledging what Jamie calls his wickedness. So Jamie instead prays for him and then dispatches with Beardsley by shooting him in the head.

As he and Claire leave these horrors behind, Jamie wonders if his father’s apoplexy made him suffer like this. Claire promises Jenny would’ve told him the truth if it were so. Finally, he makes Claire swear to grant him the same mercy he gave Beardsley if he should ever be in such a state – and she pledges she’ll do what must be done.

So, that’s that. A heavy episode, quite the diversion into domestic violence, torture, and euthanasia, but at least Claire and Jamie finally had some emotional one-on-one time they’ve been lacking so far this season. As a book reader, I can tell you this never ends up adding much to the overall plot, but such is Outlander life sometimes.

Sound off in the comments below. For more Outlander listen to Outlander…On Demand! We’ll continue to do our weekly recap show for Sirius XM. And you don’t have to tune in live to catch it! Outlander…On Demandcan be found on the website or the app every Monday morning. Just search the name of the show.

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Outlander Season 4 2018

Diana Gabaldon's genre-bending time-travel novels come to life in the Starz series.

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