Outlander returns with “America the Beautiful,” which picks up four months after the Frasers were shipwrecked in the American colonies. They’ve been making their way north since then, intending to gain passage back to Scotland after visiting Jamie’s aunt in North Carolina. Of course, nothing is ever easy for these folks.
The episode opens with Jamie (Sam Heughan) visiting Hayes (James Allenby-Kirk), one of his stalwarts from Ardsmuir prison, in the cell where he’s awaiting execution. Hayes killed the husband of the woman he was laying with, and although it was self-defense, he’s been sentenced to hang. Jamie has concocted a scheme to save him, but Hayes refuses it, asking only for a drink and to see a friendly face in the crowd when he dies.
Claire (Caitriona Balfe), Young Ian (John Bell), Fergus (César Domboy) and Marsali (Lauren Lyle) are all there when it’s time for Hayes to go. They look on as he falls through the trapdoor with the noose around his neck. Lesley (Keith Fleming), the other of the Ardsmuir faithful, is so distraught when his friend falls that he rushes through the crowd, attempting to get to him. In the resulting chaos, the other condemned men make a break for it, and one of them disappears.
After the hanging, Lesley tries to arrange burial for Hayes in a churchyard, but the reverend wants too large a bribe. Jamie decides they’ll sneak in and bury him there after dark, which they do.
While Jamie and Young Ian are digging a grave, Young Ian has a crippling flashback to what he saw and experienced when he was a prisoner of Geilis in Jamaica. Jamie comforts him, convincing him that speaking out loud about what happened to him is the only way to exorcise that kind of demon. Young Ian does, asking his uncle if he’s ever had sex when he didn’t want to, and Jamie admits that he has without giving any details. They bond, and Young Ian’s load is lightened.
Jamie decides the grave is deep enough for the burial, so they return to the wagon where Lesley and Claire are waiting with the body. When they make to retrieve it, they’re surprised to find a stow-away, Stephen Bonnet (Ed Speleers). He is the one fugitive who successfully escaped, and now he wants them to help him get the rest of the way to safety. In the name of their fallen friend, they agree.
Claire and Jamie deliver Bonnet beyond the reach of the Red Coats, and then they camp out in the woods and have some tame (for this show) lovemaking by a campfire. In the morning, they look out across a vista of endless trees and Claire tells Jamie a little about what America will become. He asks how that vision will affect the natives, and Claire has to admit that they’ll be killed or forced onto reservations in a way that resembles what happened to the Highlanders.
They return to civilization in time to dress for a dinner at Mr. Lillington’s (Geoffrey Newland) home. They’ve salvaged some gems from the shipwreck and hope to sell a large ruby to one of the event’s guests to finance their trip back to Scotland. While Claire is successfully pulling that off over dinner, Jamie is pulled aside by the Governor (Tim Downie) of North Carolina, who offers him a land grant in exchange for Jamie attracting some settlers. Jamie says he’ll think about it.
Later, Jamie and Claire figure out that what the Governor really wants is a trained soldier who owes him loyalty and will help him with the rowdies who live in the woods and don’t like to pay taxes. Claire warns Jamie that if they accept the land grant, they’ll be marked as Loyalists and likely wind up fighting for the Crown in the Revolutionary War, which is only eight years away. In that event, they’ll probably have their land seized when England loses the war.
Although it looks like there are good reasons not to accept the land grant, the seed of an idea has been sown. With enough money in their pockets from the sale of the ruby to see their whole group safely back to Scotland (and then some), Claire and Jamie decide instead that they’ll stay in America and build a life here.
They break the news to the group over lunch. Young Ian wants to stay with them, but Jamie refuses to further offend his sister by allowing that. Fergus and Marsali announce that they’re expecting their first child, so they’ll stay in Wilmington for the foreseeable future. Lesley says he’ll stay with MacDubh. Jamie gives Fergus a pouch of money that represents a portion of the sale of the ruby and some alimony for Laoghaire.
Jamie, Claire, Young Ian and Lesley hire a river barge to take them to Jamie’s Aunt Jocasta Cameron at her estate called River Run. Claire makes some passive aggressive comments about the captain’s slave, and she gets put in her place when Captain Freeman (Grant Stott) corrects her, explaining that Eutroclus (Leon Herbert) has been a free man earning a wage since the former slave saved him from a fire on their boat.
Although they’re not that far from River Run, they’re apparently far enough away that they need to moor the barge at night. The captain and Eutroclus camp on shore, and the rest sleep on the boat with Young Ian’s new half-wolf dog, Rollo.
In the night Rollo springs up, growling, and charges an intruder, knocking him overboard. It turns out he’s one of many, and that Steven Bonnet has reconnected with his band of river pirates and tracked them there. He thanks them for saving his life by robbing them, having his men beat Jamie senseless and slitting Lesley’s throat in front of Claire before he steals her wedding ring. If you’ve read the books, you know that’s unfortunately not the last we’ll see of him…