By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – March 9, 2020)
EPISODE 10: MUST/CAN’T
What a fun, incredibly well executed limited series this turned out to be. I enjoyed The Outsider more than I did Price’s The Night Of, which was also strong, and it joins Watchmen as two exceptional one and done (well, we assume so, but could be wrong about this one) television experiences. Both are easily rewatchable, and I expect to gorge on both of them again. The crucial thing for a story such as this is…
…can it land the plane?
The answer for both is yes. No question about it. I appreciated the simplicity of this finale, and although we are left with a few questions, it definitely felt as if we got a beginning, a middle, and an end, and now I’m eager to read Stephen King’s book. One thing Richard Price mentioned in his takeaways from helming the series was that in the end, this didn’t follow the traditional King conclusion where the villain didn’t turn into some kind of huge supernatural monster, instead speaking through Claude Bolton’s body and voice and talking to our protagonists as a human with reason.
At first, I thought maybe El Cuco turned out to be a bit papery, meaning he didn’t have many teeth once it came time for the showdown. But, the series did such a nice job at laying the groundwork for him to be defeated, letting us know the how and the why before we were aware of what we were seeing. In similar fashion to the 1940s flashback, where the best part of episode nine was simply not knowing why we were watching this old story, we learn the importance of some of the tidbits we’d absorbed over the past two months.
When the former paid off, it did just as writer and director Dennis Lehane wanted. He said in his post-finale comments that he wanted “nine to reach out and grab them (the audience) by the throat and just hold them there.” That’s precisely what happened, especially with the climax of Jack Hoskins murdering Alec Pelley. Here, this malevolent entity with all this power to feed on and create misery and chaos, could be killed rather easily. It was afraid to fall, which Holly Gibney shows us with the handrails and the prints on the cave walls. Weeks ago, we hear her tell the team it was too weak to escape after its kill, needing more, and not in condition to be seen.
When El Cuco finally asks her why she so easily believed in him, we really don’t get the answer to that question until she tells Ralph, just before departing from his home, “An outsider knows an outsider.” She never quite fit in, although she was by no means a robot, shown by falling in love with Andy Catcavage and her raw, guttural reaction as she watched him die. She didn’t expect that relationship, but yet again, I wrote a few weeks ago about how refreshing it was that Andy didn’t turn out to be nefarious in motive. To the bitter end, he tried to defend, care for, and protect Holly, and was indeed helpful to everyone. He was treated with respect by Ralph, by Yunis, by Holly, not shunned, and he didn’t stumble and bumble around.
Here’s what that accomplished. Just as with Alec Pelley and even with Howie Saloman, all the characters on the team earned our HEART’S respect. Seale might be the lone exception, but the Bolton family’s tie to El Cuco made their troubles and certainly his obnoxiousness more believable. This was not an easy life, nor was it a particularly easy death, although at least it was quick. And it’s here we need to stop and applaud Paddy Considine, who portrayed Claude Bolton’s various machinations so very well throughout this series, especially in the past two episodes. There was a lot to chew on for an actor, and he did so exquisitely from start to finish
Ralph returning to El Cuco to cave in what was left of his skull with the rock did have me thinking he was about to be scratched or otherwise “infected” and when he stayed behind to talk to the local authorities, my conspiracy sense was stretched even further. But, Ralph Anderson wasn’t meant to be written like a standard character in this role. He was a flawed man, still mourning his son’s death, who came to believe in evil he couldn’t understand, trusting Holly, his wife, and far too many coincidences for them to have been coincidences.
The reason The Outsider works is because it hits us where we’re most vulnerable, positing the question that always plagues us about what’s unknown. Are there no such things as ghosts, or have we just not seen them ourselves? That’s why horror and suspense in the middle of the night click to us, because we’re always a little wary of our own limited information and intellect. This story allowed one character, Holly Gibney, to believe, and to then try to convince others that just because they thought it sounded crazy didn’t mean it wasn’t possible.
And, fittingly, when Ralph and those who survived the souvenir shop massacre spoke to local authorities, they avoided mentioning anything about the supernatural or shapeshifters or anything outlandish. Glory Maitland was asked to do the same thing, which she did, even though we end the season wondering if she ever came around to the reality we know in the show. I thought it was fitting because here we basically have Ralph Anderson becoming Holly, knowing everyone will be skeptical and won’t believe. Yunis has less trepidation when he calls District Attorney Hayes and tells him what’s really going on. He believed early on, and his mind doesn’t stop him from going a little further and thinking the human race could maybe, just maybe contemplate this thing.
What’s the meaning of the little snippet afterbirth scene in the midst of the credits? That’s left to interpretation, because Holly may have some PTSD as she was trapped in a car with Jack and he was the man who murdered Andy (or he was the vessel anyway). Maybe El Cuco is still out there in another form. Remember, he can’t answer her as to whether there are others, and that isn’t because he wants to hide it from her. He legitimately doesn’t know where he came from, doesn’t really know who he is, and doesn’t know whether he’s the only one. He knows how to survive, and chillingly also knows children “taste the sweetest.”
As unsettling as that phraseology is, it sounds so accurate, because if El Cuco feeds on misery and pain and tears and chaos, nothing quite hits like the death of a child for a parent or a family or even a community. The series ends with Frankie Peterson’s grave, just after Glory learns her husband is about to be publicly exonerated by Hayes and the investigation will continue. We know it’s an investigation that will not bear any further fruit, but so does Hayes. This is all to clear Terry Maitland, closing the circle from the first episode. That, along with watching El Cuco go through all the faces and identities he’d been, at least the ones we knew of, was telling us it was over.
However, there was a split second where Holly’s face seemed to be appearing in that rogue’s gallery, or maybe now it’s ME that’s seeing things.
Regardless, I thought this series was tremendous. It was outstanding entertainment, filled with suspense, and it earned all ten of its hours on screen. This was a gem of 2020 and will be one of the best shows of the year, even having started and ended so early in the calendar. The acting, the casting, the pacing, the flashbacks, the direction, the use of sound and ominous score, and the very believable way in which nearly everyone reacted to the story’s events all worked for me. This was better than True Detective‘s first season by an observable margin. The finale was far better, and Mendelsohn, Erivo, Considine…just to name a few, were fantastic.
And now… Westworld Season 3. Those reviews begin on Sunday night. Here we go.