By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – January 27, 2020)
EPISODE 4: QUE VIERE EL COCO
The Outsider is compelling. It’s a very good show. Usually when you read a sentence like that, there’s a “but” in the vicinity. Nope. I’m enjoying it. I thought it fitting to write bluntly and in quick strike fashion, matching Holly Gibney’s approach to her life, to every question, even to a very abrupt kiss to let a detective know she’s interested. She doesn’t believe in gray area in her life. It’s this or that, it’s yes or no, it’s explainable or it isn’t. But she won’t ever rule out the possibility of something she can’t explain existing. And that’s reason numero uno why this show is working where so many others fall short attempting stories like this one.
While the series is pure fiction and it’s heavy material to be sure, with child killings and the embodiment of the devil incarnate existing in various forms, some tangible, across the globe for generations, it’s also somehow plausible within its sphere. It isn’t the easiest watch, but I’m also not finding it hard to endure either. It’s filled with supreme intrigue, and I’m eager to read the book itself at some point in the future, just to see how faithful it is to the way Stephen King originally wrote it. What did Price and his team change?
Four episodes into the limited series, it’s been a gem of early 2020 in terms of being a story that unfolds and deepens, makes sense in its own universe, and not wasting many seconds of screen time. From the breakfast scene in the diner to its payoff 45 minutes later, everything seems to have a purpose, even when it doesn’t appear so as its happening. The sequence in the bar with the two men that turned out to be Maria Canales’ father and uncle had a point, but all we saw at first was the uncle hitting on the waitress in a relatively innocent fashion. We didn’t know it to be a flashback, but we’d find it out as Maria told Holly the story at Rikers Island.
Jack’s neck still looks decimated and he’s now fully under control of the entity with the drooping, disfigured face that the boy from the opener drew as he came clean about the man that scared him so much without ever saying a word in that parking lot. He’s focused to a degree where he doesn’t even sense other events happening around him with people he cares about, staring at arrest records and leaving a deer carcass in the woods, along with a bunch of camping equipment and lighting he bought and then just dumped out there. The question is who he’s leaving it for and why, but we’ll no doubt understand it when it becomes necessary.
This was not a Ralph heavy episode, as we spent more time with Holly’s side of the investigation, but our lead protagonist did uncover the scratch anomaly, which would explain much about how the “virus” or the sickness or the mind flaying is transferred from carrier to carrier. The show and the story are about the doppelgänger concept, taken to another level, trying to spin a tale about how two people, the SAME person, can be in two places at once, not know it, not be aware of what’s happening, and even be “clobbered with physical evidence,” as Gibney says, without being guilty of the most heinous of crimes.
The answer isn’t totally clear, but in some way, our hooded friend becomes a “copy” of the person after the scratch or some kind of wound, but it’s possible there’s other control of the host externally. How it moves from person to person is through the scratch, but how he picks his victims has yet to be explained. It’s possible it never will be, with the woman telling Holly the stories the parents should have told the children was it didn’t matter what they did in their lives, because evil picks whoever and whatever it wants.
How can you be simultaneously guilty and not guilty of a crime? That’s going to be the culmination of this story and it’s what we’re building to. Holly tells the woman from Rikers that left the note, which I at first thought might be her mother, that she believes in God because he’s the explanation for everything that happens to her that she will never understand, and that she believes in many devils out there, one of which the woman says in her culture was known as “El Coco” or “El Cuco.” It was the monster, the thing that would come and get you if you misbehaved or lived foolishly, and she mentioned that it was also known as “The Grief Eater,” because it fed like a sweet dessert on the misery and grief of those left behind after it did its initial damage.
We know that in the series, El Coco exists, and it’s the equivalent of evil, a mind flayer, a force of pure, heartless malevolence intent on inflicting dread, fear, and darkness. It took us four episodes to really get to this stage, which means much of the suspense of the first month are going to flip to the supernatural, horror side, but because of how the story has been told, it doesn’t seem as preposterous and it also feels approachable for us. True Detective always had that vibe in the first season, and the eerie quality of it clicked because there was a second side that was overwhelmingly human and real. The Outsider is similar, and as long as we don’t end up with an alien show (this is King we’re talking about here), I anticipate feeling like my time was well spent.
Ralph’s son died of cancer, which actually is something I need to correct, as I had thought he was murdered, but it’s just the loss of his child that colors the way he goes about his job. Still, he’s not a hard boiled detective, at least not to the tortured degree that has become a cliche. He could have been written that way, but he hasn’t been. Ralph is level-headed and even will listen to Holly, but it’s her character that’s making this stage of the story work. The reason why is simple. She is willing to accept the possibility of something weird, something supernatural, something unexplainable, from the jump. It doesn’t take time for her to realize what the viewer or the reader or the audience already did long before. She even listens to the bartender say, “Maybe he got something from the first guy.” After Holly first says, “You can’t catch murder,” she gives it more thought.
It’s why we can follow through those two characters and feel ways to relate to both, although each has a quirk or two, particularly Gibney, who definitely has the eccentric qualities that makes her so valuable and formidable in her job. When she does the research at the end of the episode, we see her go through what looks like almost a Demogorgon, then Pugot Mamu, Black Annis, a horrifying painting of Saturn devouring his own son, then the black and white shot of El Coco, who happens to be wearing a hood and towering over someone else. The hood matches and it also has a grim reaper effect, which fits even with the descriptions of the entity we already heard.
All these people it’s “chosen” have had almost the exact same things happen to them, although we’re still waiting for Jack to do what he’s been asked to do, which may include his friend at the precinct, if not children of his own, or Ralph as the victim this time. Plus, we have Sekaya H. Harris, the woman on the arrest record he’s obsessed with at work. Also, there’s Maria is convinced it’s God’s will, but she says no one can help her because the other guy, not the loving one…what he does cannot be undone. What role does the bartender play in this? Maybe that’s how it got to Jack, as we never really saw how he was attacked. We merely know he was.
Heath’s fate, how his mother killed herself, how everything went for both those families, gave a new layer to the crime and aftermath we had already seen, and then came Maria’s tale. All of this fits together nicely and makes it more interesting, because even though we sense we know how all this is happening, we also sense another twist or two coming. Right now, The Outsider is firing on all cylinders and each new episode comes not a moment too soon.
In fact, I’ve got a few more I need to watch and write on…because I don’t want to wait until the end of the week this time. What are your theories? Again, if you’ve read the book, don’t ruin it for those that haven’t, including of course me. I will be reading it once the series concludes. But this was a great hour… the episode flew by.
Actually I still have ONE more question. Peter Maitland’s conversation with Holly. There’s more to that, but what do you suppose is the importance of maximizing the TV volume? Maybe nothing, but also maybe something.
I love that we have this many questions.