Each week Joe (@bstolemyremote) and Terry (@gaylydreadful) discuss the most recent episode of HBO’s The Outsider, alternating between our respective sites — queerhorrormovies.com and gaylydreadful.com.
Episode 1.04: “Que Viene el Coco”: While retracing the Maitlands’ recent family vacation, Holly (Cynthia Erivo) pursues a possible connection to an eerily similar case and gains valuable insight from local former detective Andy Katcavage (Derek Cecil); Glory (Julianne Nicholson) faces increased scrutiny in her daily life.
Well Terry, in last week’s recap/review, I said that I wanted two things:
- More Holly and more Ralph (Ben Mendelsohn)
- Someone to catch onto the existence of the Hood Dude
Apparently all I have to do is put it on (virtual) paper and el Coco shall grant my wish, because lo and behold, the fourth episode of The Outsider delivered on both counts!
I won’t lie: last week felt like we were stretching to try and fill out space because ‘Dark Uncle’ just didn’t have that much going on. By comparison ‘Que Viene el Coco’ is crammed full of intriguing moments and scenes that pay-off elements from previous episodes. This is really the first episode since the pilot that I felt the show really move the ball forward in terms of storytelling.
Last week Holly stumbled upon a connection between Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman), Terry’’s dementia-ridden father, Peter, and Heath (Martin Bats Bradford), the hospital orderly in jail for killing twin girls. Heath killed himself before episode’s end, and here Holly spends the majority of the episode tracking down his activities. We learn that he has a near identical alibi as Terry did: in Heath’s case, he had the week of the murders off and was visiting his mother. And yet, Heath’s co-worker/friend vividly remembers seeing him at the hospital the day of the murder and other witnesses place Heath coming out of Peter Maitland’s room, which is where he collides with Terry, giving him the scratch on his hand that Jessa mentioned back in episode 2.
Thanks to an offhand comment by Heath’s co-worker, Holly investigates further, connecting Heath’s recent trip to NY with another child murder. The difference is that Maria Cannales (Diany Rodriguez), a waitress accused of killing a boy she claims to have never met, is still alive (unlike Heath or Terry).
It’s here that Holly connects two significant details: the murders are physically connected as each new “killer” has had brief physical contact with the former (Maria slept with Heath, who then scratched Terry) and can be traced back to a mythological creature known to many different cultures under different names (the Bogeyman, El Coco, Black Annis, Grief Eater, etc). The other intriguing detail, which harkens back to the first two episodes, is that the demon’s murder of a child is merely the appetizer; it lingers to feed on the suffering of the family, which explains why the family members of the involved parties always wind up killing each other (see: the Petersons, as well as Heath and Maria’s families).
So now we know who our villain is, Terry! What I liked about this reveal is that it provides some really vital connective tissue, but it doesn’t wrap everything up with a tidy bow. We know more now, but the motivations of this creature (how does it select its victims? Why does it go where it does?) and how Human Accomplice Jack (Marc Menchaca) factors in remain unknown. The Outsider continues to impress with its slow, deliberate pacing and these latest revelations should help satiate folks who are hungry for answers, while still stringing them along for subsequent episodes.
Terry, now that the demon reveal is out in the open, how does this compare to the book? Are you still enjoying the way that The Outsider intercuts seemingly unconnected scenes (often of violence such as the scenes of Maria’s family being shot in a bar) throughout episodes and then circles back to explain their connection later? And what, if anything, can you tell me about Jack’s shopping haul that he dumps in the middle of the woods?
This episode continued with the remixing from the novel, Joe, in ways both unimportant and interesting. First, this series continues the trend of renaming characters; here, namely Heath whose last name in the novel is Holmes. This is a rather unimportant footnote, but in the series, it’s been changed to Heath Hofstetter which feels like an intentional easter egg for fans of IT, which had a character named Patrick Hofstetter.
On the more important side, we get a lot more of Holly’s investigation, which I’m sincerely thankful for. It’s been a minute since I’ve read the book but in my recollection, her meager investigation dealt with Heath before she calls a meeting with the principal cast (including the DA who played a slightly larger role in the novel than here) and explains her theories on El Cuco (or Coco, depending on who you ask).
We get some of the same story beats, but they come from different characters, including the El Cuco nursery rhyme that Sablo (Yul Vazquez) remembers his grandmother singing to him as a child. It’s a pretty messed up rhyme, with lines like “Sleep, child, sleep, El Cuco’s on the ceiling, he’s come to eat you.” In the novel’s rendition of the myth, as well, El Cuco would drink the children’s blood and rub their fat on him to keep him young. So, you know, just a wonderful bedtime story. Interestingly enough, the image of a carved pumpkin (e.g., jack-o’-lantern) is historically called a coco in Portugal and is thought to be representative of Coco/El Cuco.
ANYways, all this to say that the show continues to change things from the novel in mostly interesting ways. I enjoyed seeing Holly’s trip to New York City and Rikers Island and the series appropriately gives her more to do in this early part than be a pure information dump. She’s methodical in both the book and this adaptation, but I enjoy how writer Richard Price represents that work.
A couple things didn’t really work for me, though. I found it too convenient that Holly would be sitting at a table behind a woman (Susanna Guzman) who knew the El Cuco story and who gives her, in typical PI/noir fashion, a note with a scribbled address. That felt a bit too on-the-nose and convenient, especially considering Holly has already brought up the possibility of the unexplainable with her “If I feel like using the conditional “if,” then “if”’s the word, mockingbird” in episode 3 and could have easily dug into this “unexplainable” situation by herself.
I’m also not really a fan of the way the last two episodes crisscross stories with very short scenes. For example, the way Jack Hoskin’s hunting session stops with the deer being shot before going to a sequence of Glory for mere seconds before going back to Jack dragging the corpse. It’s choppy, jarring and completely takes me out of the story instead of deepening the mystery. And to answer your question, I’m in the dark regarding Hoskins’ shopping spree dumping ground, except that maybe he’s creating a lair for The Outsider (who obviously was munching on the deer).
Interestingly enough, by the end of this episode we are around 65-70% of the way through the book (give or take). And we still have six more episodes. So I imagine as the story continues we’re going to see the story spiral out more from the source material…unless the pace just suddenly drops.
But what about you, Joe? I’ve mentioned my dislike for the sometimes choppy editing/sequence of events but does it bother you or am I just not focusing enough? Back in our first recap, that you were initially perplexed by the detour to visit Merlin, the delinquent who stole the van. So did his reappearance work for you? Did you enjoy Holly’s “date”? And are you worried for Claude Bolton (Paddy Considine) and his possibly scratched hand?
I’ll confess that I’m 50/50 on the choppy editing/sequencing. Sometimes it does work (as with the short scenes of the father of the boy Maria supposedly killed driving to the bar to commit murder), but at times it also seems like The Outsider is employing this technique solely to disrupt its own storytelling. I mentioned last week that I appreciate how much Price and his crew expect their audience to pay attention, but the example you reference just annoyed me. I understand that part of the intent is to remind viewers that these other storylines are unfolding at the same time (so even as Holly and Ralph investigate, Jack is up to no good under their nose), but just as often it’s disorienting in ways that don’t complement the viewing experience.
Which brings us to Merlin. As someone who is taking this in episode by episode without benefit of the source material, I appreciate that some of these characters have larger parts to play in the narrative. This episode, in particular, felt like a combination of “expository answers” that propel the story forward and then stuff like this (a lot of Ralph’s work feels…slight in this episode). The reappearance of Merlin to confirm that he saw the “man” who took the white van is a way to bring Ralph more into the El Cuco fold (Holly has the legend, Ralph has the visual), but…woof…this felt shoe horned in the same way that Holly’s mysterious Rikers lady appeared at the exact right moment to tell her everything she needed to know! It’s a touch heavy handed, so while I appreciate the answers, I didn’t love some of the hoops we had to jump through to get here.
MUCH more enjoyable was Holly’s date with Andy, which not only moved the story along, but was kinda adorable? I’m a sucker for mildly awkward love stories, and seeing Andy’s oh-so-obvious sexual interest in Holly intersect with her clipped, but direct mannerisms was a lot of fun. I particularly liked the subversion of disaster when he proposes dinner and she refuses because she’s not hungry, which turns into drinks and a sudden kiss on the sidewalk. They’re sweet, Terry, and that’s a nice component that helps introduce some levity to the show’s heavy The Night Of doom and gloom vibes.
Finally, I’ll confess that I’d completely forgotten about Claude (Considine)’s scratch until you reminded me! Obviously now that we know the fate the befell Terry following his encounter with Heath, we should be very worried about Claude. I’ll admit, though, that if it gives Considine more to do on the show, then I’m all for it. Thus far I’ve been a bit aghast about the severe underusage of an actor of his calibre, so it seems increasingly likely that he’ll have a bigger role to play coming up.
Terry, what do you think of Holly’s backstory, including her MRI flashbacks in the cab ride to the airport? Considering the way Holly is pepper-sprayed and the reporter-as-tutor at Glory’s house are treated, does The Outsider have a problem with the media? And should we be mildly concerned about the show introducing a very South American mythological creature into a series populated almost exclusively by white characters?
I’m curious how the show is going to handle the Latinx folklore of El Cuco here because you’re absolutely right, Joe. I was severely cognizant of the fact that we have a very white cast tackling a non-white monster. In the book, our entry point is Sablo, who brings with him the cultural aspect and plays a larger part in the beginning story than he seems to be here.
I’m also curious if the TV series will spiral out from El Cuco. I’m hopeful it will. When Holly was first introduced last episode, she brought up the doppelgänger and its counterparts in different regions of the world (i.e., Ka, Fetch, Dark Uncle) and El Cuco has similar counterparts around the world like the Bogeyman, Sackman, Baba Yaga (which I believe is actually a witch?) etc. I don’t think it’ll be as big of a problem if they tackle it from a holistic approach. I guess we’ll see.
As for Holly’s backstory, I’m not completely sure it’s needed…unless it’s another remix and has something to do with this particular adaptation. I believe in the books she simply has OCD, sensory processing disorder and is somewhere on the Autism spectrum. So unless there’s something to be gained from her past, it feels a bit icky to me; as if her condition is a mystifying thing rather than something people contend with on a daily basis.
Finally, I didn’t even think about media’s presence in The Outsider until you mentioned it, Joe. Outside of Howie’s plan to use the media to put Terry’s defense out into the world (a plan that backfired, in a way, because of the media sensation that developed around the courthouse) everyone refers to the media as vultures; from the nurse to the crowds outside Glory’s house to this fake tutor applicant. It definitely feels like a police procedural trope, yeah?
But back to this demon parading among our heroes. If this creature is a Grief Eater, we will probably learn more about it based on the title of next week’s episode “Tear-Drinker.” Tune in to Gayly Dreadful next week to find out!