God counts to 3 (like I do with my children), 3 times, with these plagues.
The first plague insulted Hapi (the Nile god), the second insulted Heqt, the fifth insulted Apis, Mnevis, Hathor, Khnum (animal-headed deities). God is making a statement: I am the God here.
The subject of free will comes up in reference to the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, but it was in accordance with Pharaoh’s real will. His changes of heart were never for positive reasons, and he always went back on his word…back to his real will. God just …affirmed that.