By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – February 24, 2020)
I know you were probably wondering where last week’s piece was, and with good reason, as it’s certainly a fair question. Here’s the answer. HBO stopped giving out episodes early following the first six, which then meant critics couldn’t see the installments in advance and had to watch live. I was in Florida with my wife last weekend for the holiday and didn’t see the episode until a few days after it aired. Thus, I chose to wait and put the two reviews together into one article here. You’ll see the same thing with Better Call Saul later tonight, though I have several episodes in hand now.
It was a good decision for me, not just for efficiency and workload, but because these two episodes felt like they’d have been better as a two hour block. If there’s one thing that’s absolutely true about The Outsider, it’s that we could have shaved off an episode (maybe two), and not had quite as much stage setting content. Each week, a new character begins to believe in Holly Gibney’s theory, finally leading to Ralph nodding as she says to him, “It’s here,” at the end of last night’s show.
Again, we’re privy to info no one else is because Richard Price shows us Holly’s investigation, particularly when she was apart from anyone else on the team. It’s gradually sinking in to all of them that something unexplainable is happening, and once Ralph sees the photo of “Claude” at the carnival sans mask, it’s pretty difficult for him to fight against Gibney’s idea. Yunis told him last week that the difference between the two of them was Ralph needing a cut and dry explanation for what was going on, while Yunis just wanted to find a way to stop it.
Ralph wants it to end, but he needs it to make sense on a human plane, which we know is impossible, because we’re dealing with something otherworldly, one that doesn’t fit into easy classifications. One of the more telling moments of at least the introduction to clarity for him is when he asks Holly what the entity is after, attempting to get her to tell him what its human instincts are, and she can’t answer. She explains it as an organism fighting for survival and desires, but it doesn’t fit into a neat little box the way criminals do. “It’s not a criminal,” she tells him, which just leaves his mind unable to process what’s right in front of our faces.
Before we go into this week’s details, let’s just talk about how awesome Holly and Jack’s car ride, her escape, and just that entire tension-filled journey was. That was just riveting stuff, because we cut away from it only a few times to breathe, but at times we truly feared for Holly’s safety and at other times we also felt real sympathy for Jack as he tried to get answers about his predicament. It was great TV. Marc and Cynthia nailed these roles and their expressions and every movement felt in line with what they should have been doing at every second.
Introducing Seale into the equation wasn’t necessary other than giving our ragtag crew of police, former detectives, and Holly a home base. The whole marijuana deal and whatever nastiness Claude Bolton’s brother is involved in doesn’t interest me in the least, feels tacked on, and just doesn’t mean much to the larger story. It’s an unnecessary side plot to show Seale isn’t a great guy and could be a problem, but the setting in Tennessee does give us the carnival setting that leads to the near abduction and the entity needing to feed in a pretty disgusting way inside the cave.
When you see Jeannie beg Ralph not to go, Holly’s exasperation at him last week for not telling her about the Terry Maitland encounter with Claude, and even Yunil’s comments to him, here’s how you should consider reading it. These people are saying what you can’t as a viewer. You’re thinking all these things, where he’s a danger to himself and to all of them and why not seriously entertain the possibility of El Cuco or something malevolent that surpasses human understanding, but a character on screen can’t hear you on your couch. All of these encounters between Ralph and others are surrogates for the audience.
One of the best sequences of these two episodes might have been one of the more subtle moments (at least compared to the suspenseful Holly-Jack ride and the like), as Alec describes to Howie Saloman exactly why he didn’t go on the trip to Tennessee, because it reminded him of the foot patrols from his military days, with the taste of copper and “pennies” in his mouth. In short, he’s terrified of what he feels might be out there and his time in the military left scars. But, as we know, the two guys do end up showing up near the end of the episode, because Alec feels intense guilt for being cowardly and leaving Holly in harm’s way, not protecting her.
This was the purpose of these two episodes. Ultimately, we needed to get everybody that matters from an investigation standpoint, outside of Jeannie Anderson and Glory Maitland, in one spot away from home where it turns into an it vs. them scenario. We have Ralph, Yunis, Alec, Howie, Claude, Seale, Andy, and Holly, plus Jack out there somewhere, all far from home and all in danger. It’s building to the battle Ralph tells his wife isn’t going to happen. Plus, we got to meet this family that was nearly ripped apart, which was two ordinary parents (or grandparents) and two kids, one a bit of a “nerd” and the other a boy crazy girl. This was normalcy in this small town, and these were perfect targets for our hungry force of everything that’s wrong.
One interesting piece from last week’s installment was Jack attempting to fight against the entity’s control, getting info from Holly and saying “Why me,” even though he was also gaining intel for the being at the same time. He hates what he’s doing and he wants a way out, but can’t find one. He can’t pull the trigger with the gun in his mouth and after the murder of the fisherman, he pulls the car over and stares at the photo cube hanging from the victim’s rear view, disgusted.
But, then comes the hand from the backseat.
He wants out so badly, but he’s trapped, he’s caught, and all the damage he took throughout his life, some self-inflicted, where he refused to accept a psych evaluation that would have given him a much better job, has led him to be the perfect pawn in this evil scheme. You’d love to see some redemption for him, where he’s freed from control before he’s killed, but that seems altogether unlikely to say the least. Marc Menchaca is doing some stellar work in this role, which is not an easy one to play and usually requires him going through mental anguish and torture without another actor in the shot with him.
We’ve watched all the various pieces on Price’s (or King’s) chessboard put in proper spots as we move towards that final confrontation, the showdown between good and evil. Funny aside, two Thursdays ago in the Nashville airport a man walked up to me in the food court, asked me if I was Jason Martin of The Zone and Fox, then started asking me if I thought Holly Gibney was going to die in this story. I hadn’t really even thought of that possibility before the query, because usually the answer is a definite no.
For this kind of character, she survives, unless her tragic end becomes the catalyst for Ralph’s awakening and subsequent crusade. He’s awake now (we think), so I still assume she’ll survive, but not without running into much more trouble than we’ve seen thus far. El Cuco has tried to take her out and knows how dangerous she is, but at this stage it’s too late, because her theories have taken hold and much of the rest of the key players have either fully embraced them or believe them wholeheartedly. His goal is to be in the shadows and cause misery without ever being exposed.
Now comes the question we’ll be watching unfold over the next two weeks, or assuredly in the finale a week from Sunday. What happens to this entity and how does it react once its identity isn’t just accepted by one? What is the move once it’s in the light of day and no longer off the grid? The series has been great, it really has, and I feel we’ll enjoy how it plays out. It’s been an easy way to get us to some of the heavy hitters joining the fray now, including Westworld‘s third season, which will follow it up on Sunday nights after The Outsider finishes up. I’m really hoping it sticks this landing, but it’s been refreshing to watch it not fall on its face after a good start. It’s even more interesting now than it was when it began.