'Outlander' Season 5 Episode 3 Review: Claire and Jamie stumble upon horrific colonial America Bluebeard tale
Fanny Beardsley believes she can see the ghosts of Mr. Beardsley's four wives who he murdered and buried on the property, under a rowan tree
Claire (Caitriona Balfe) and Jamie Frazer (Sam Heughan) found themselves on the isolated Beardsley property out in the Carolina wilderness, where they are currently camping out while on their recruitment drive for Jamie's militia unit. As the larger politics bubbled in the background, we were treated to a capsule horror episode that recasts the dark fairytale of Bluebeard and his many (dead) wives in Colonial America.
The story of Bluebeard, in case your memory needs refreshing, is a French folktale about Bluebeard, the rich nobleman whose wives kept mysteriously disappearing. A young woman from a poor family is forced to marry Bluebeard to help her family financially with her bride price. She then goes to live with him in his rich and luxurious palace in the countryside, away from her family.
Bluebeard tells her he is going away for a few days and gives her the keys to the castle. She is allowed to open any room in the castle save one -- a locked room at the top of the castle with a red door. She invites her sister, friends and cousins over for a party. However, the distraction of the party isn't enough to stop her from thinking of the locked red door. She is overcome with a desire to see what the forbidden room holds. So, she sneaks away to open it, telling herself she'll take just a little peek.
The room is flooded with blood and she finds the murdered corpses of Bluebeard's former wives hanging on hooks from the walls. Horrified, she drops the key to the door in the blood, but then picks it up and flees the room, locking it behind her. She tries to wash the blood from the key, but the key is magical and the blood cannot be removed.
Fearing for her life, she reveals her husband's secret to her visiting sister, and they plan to flee. However, Bluebeard returns unexpectedly and finds the bloody key. In a blind rage, he threatens to kill his wife on the spot, but she asks for one last prayer with her sister. Then, after they have finished, Bluebeard is about to deliver the fatal blow. But the girls' brother arrives and kills Bluebeard.
You also have the tale of the early Breton king Conomor the Accursed and his wife,Tryphine. After Conomor married Tryphine, she is warned by the ghosts of his previous wives that he murdered them when they became pregnant. She flees once pregnant, but he catches and beheads her. St. Gildas performs a miracle and restores her to life, and the walls of Conomor's castle collapse, killing the serial wife-murdering king.
Mr. Beardsley, the abusive master of the two indentured boys Josiah and Keziah (played by Paul Gorman), is Bluebeard in Episode 3 -- but with a twist. His fifth wife, Fanny Beardsley, fantastically portrayed by Bronwyn James, tells Claire and Jamie her tale after Claire finds the nearly-dead, emaciated Beardsley lying in his own filth in the upstairs room.
After cleaning his bed sores filled with maggots, and realizing he has had a severe apoplectic stroke that has left him paralyzed, Claire also finds signs of severe abuse on his body. The soles of his feet have been burnt repeatedly each time they healed; there are knife cuts across the drained skin of his thighs; and he has been fed a starvation diet -- just enough to keep him alive for the torture.
Claire and Jamie are horrified to see what Fanny has done to Mr. Beardsley but realize it is a form of revenge. Fanny believes she can see the ghosts of Mr. Beardsley's four wives who he murdered and buried on the property, under a rowan tree. She also believes that one of the ghosts made Mr. Beardsley fall, enabling her to exact revenge for the severe abuse she and the other wives had suffered in his hands.
Fanny, who is pregnant, then goes into labor. She is terrified of giving birth to Mr. Beardsley's child but the baby girl born is a mixed-race child. She screams triumphantly at Mr. Beardsley, who is lying mute but sentient and aware, that the child is not his.
She tells Claire that the father is a "good man" but was no longer around. At night, Fanny leaves the indenture papers of the twin boys and the deed to the house in the baby's crib and disappears into the night.
Jamie awakes to the baby crying and realizes Fanny is gone for good, entrusting the baby to them. Jamie puts Beardsley out of his misery, who was dying in increments with a gangrenous foot and permanent paralysis. He does so after Mr. Beardsley, too remorseless till the end to pray for God's forgiveness, asks for a mercy killing by blinking his eyes to convey his consent.
When the gunshot goes off, a flock of blackbirds takes flight, darkening the skies ominously. But, the silver lining to all the horror of this episode is the brand new addition to the Frazer clan, Fanny's little baby girl that Claire looks happy to adopt and raise as her own.
'Outlander' airs each Sunday at 8:00 pm ET/PT. Episodes are available on STARZ, the STARZ app, and STARZ On Demand.