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 1.06 “The One About The Yiddish Vampire”: Holly presents her theory about the connection between two other child murders and the Frankie Peterson case; while Ralph remains skeptical, Yunis suggests they start looking into Claude, the last person to have contact with Terry.
Well Terry, I’ve emerged from my flu coma and, in hindsight, perhaps I was a little too harsh on last week’s episode. I’m by no means completely changing my mind, but thinking about how “Tear-Drinker” sets up this week’s entry, I can see the two episodes operating very nicely as a complementary pair.
I should also confess that I am resisting – with every FIBRE of my being – avoiding talking about the final moments of this episode right off the top. Instead, I shall channel The Outsider’s energy and deliberately measured pacing to set things up appropriately.
“The One About The Yiddish Vampire” feels like the last brief gasp before everything in The Outsider changes. It’s more than a mere placeholder episode, however, because this is the one that brings our disparate band of heroes together under one roof to catch them all up on just what the hell has been happening for the first half of the season. And sure, there’s still some wheel spinning, like Holly (Cynthia Erivo) nearly causing a bus crash because she has a nightmare of Tracey Powell, and Ralph (Ben Mendelsohn) having to admit to his therapist that he skipped their last meeting, but by the time that Jack (Marc Menchaca) picks Holly up at the bus depot and tries to squeeze her for info about what she’ll drop on the group, the episode is already ramping up.
Now Holly has made it pretty clear the last few episodes that she’s cautious about revealing her findings to the folks funding her investigation. It’s a bit of a strange disconnect for audiences because we, of course, are right there with her; even as she’s laying out the pattern of behaviour that connects Terry to Heath to Maria, and going into the various cultural names for el Coco, it sounds both well-laid out and rational and completely insane and ridiculous. But we’ve tagged along for this ride, seen the boils on necks, watched whole families die in aftershocks, so we know that what Holly is saying is the truth, despite how outlandish it plays out.
Initially it seems like she might be believed, even as Howard (Bill Camp) calls her results crap, Glory (Julianne Nicholson) insists that she wants to hear it out. “Perhaps she’ll listen”, I thought. And then, just as suddenly, Glory just lets loose, delivering a profanity-laden outburst at Holly’s expense that is DEEPLY uncomfortable to watch before storming out. It’s rough. It’s exactly what Holly was anticipating, but considering how bizarre it all sounds when you say it out loud, it’s not terribly surprising.
What is surprising, rather, is how the questions and the doubt start to work their way in. Yunis (Yul Vazquez) catches truth in Holly’s cultural descriptors and even investigator Alec (Jeremy Bobb) seems unwilling to write it off completely like Howard.
There’s Jeannie (Ware Cunningham), who just last episode was directly touched by something that she can’t quite place, but can’t let go of either. She’s the easiest convert, which will inevitably help to sway doubting Ralph, though even when confronted with evidence of The Outsider’s legitimacy in his own home courtesy of Holly’s ingenious DIY black light, he’s still not ready to accept anything other than evidence and reason.
And then there’s Jack. He of the continuing “no good, very bad day” scenario. Terry, Jack’s having a rough one in this episode in ways that feel VERY traditionally Stephen King. What did you make of his mama/self-inflicted violent tirade? Were you captivated by the manifestations of “STOP HER” in their various forms? What should we make of Claude Bolton (Paddy Considine)’s slow burning storyline at the Peach Crease? And did you squeal like me when Holly glances at Jack’s neck in the final scene?
Before I even watched episode six, you messaged me in surprise that Karyn Kusama directed this episode and I just couldn’t wait to get home and dig in, Joe. And maybe it’s because I knew in advance she directed it, but it felt like the slowburn, methodical storytelling she brought to The Invitation. Joe, this was my absolute favorite episode of the season because it pulled off events from the book in such a glorious way while simultaneously and fundamentally changing the narrative progression.
My mind is racing in a million different directions so let me try to portion it out. Yes, the scene with Jack’s mom felt incredibly Stephen King-esqe. It immediately brought to mind It: Chapter 2’s old lady sequence and even though it didn’t involve any cringe-worthy CG, it made me laugh and roll my eyes in the same way, as Mama Hoskins leapt at Jack. Interestingly enough, I do not believe this was in the book. It’s been a long time since I’ve fully read it, but I don’t remember Jack having as much of a presence up to this point. He certainly hadn’t infiltrated the group and was more of a direct assistant to The Outsider.
I love how insidious the character is in the series. His presence alone is threatening and every time he is alone with Holly, I found myself anxious. I also enjoy how much more pronounced The Outsider’s abilities are here, from causing Holly to dream in an attempt to almost literally derail her to his ability to make Jack see things that aren’t there, like the progressively more insistent “STOP HER.”
You mentioned the measured pacing of this episode and I completely agree. It’s a long one, clocking in just under an hour, and it just chugs along, like the bus heading from Ohio. Slow and steady, but I found the tension to be constantly creeping. I particularly enjoyed the staging of Holly’s The Case of the Irrationally Rational Monster, as it’s framed with Holly at one side, behind a table with the facts laid out in front of her and behind. The opposite side of the frame: the jurors, sitting in various stages of confusion, agitation and annoyance, who will decide whether she’s bonkers or not. Cynthia Erivo freaking nails this moment. At once petrified and effusive in laying out her case. It felt like I was back in school, watching the awkward and shy person getting up in front of class to give their presentation on fairies, AD&D Monstrous Manual in tow, knowing that the class is going to laugh at them. Ok, I might be projecting with that last part.
But gurl I was anxious!
I think the one reason I was so forgiving of last week’s “Tear-Drinker” was because I knew this conversation was coming and would completely change the thrust of the narrative. In King’s novel, all of this backstory is missing or completely condensed and so when Holly is laying things out (complete with an old Mexican movie called Mexican Wrestling Women Meet the Monster; or, in Spanish, Rosita Luchadora e Amigas Conocen El Cuco) we’re in almost the same situation as the rest of the group. And by putting Holly and us through the visual medium of seeing the events directly, it completely took away needless talking. Can you imagine this scene if Holly had to just regurgitate everything? This episode also made me more forgiving, in hindsight, to Ghost Derrick who, I assume, was actually one of The Outsider’s psychic attempts to stop the investigation.
And when those little mental pushes didn’t work…well, we get to the end of the episode. I think the only way I can answer your question, Joe, about my reaction to Holly realizing she was in the car with a Renfield is with the following gif:
See? I followed your measured pacing, too. And I turn to you, Joe. Squealing aside, what did you think about this ending? I didn’t get a chance to talk about Bolton, but were you as happy as I was that Yun is tailing him? And in an episode with fantastic performances (including Ben Mendelsohn’s incredibly understated depiction of skepticism) can we talk about Julianne Nicholson’s gut-wrenching, Toni Collette inspired–performance and gasp when she talks about Terry?
Ugh, the moment that Glory starts to question whether her dead husband wasn’t everything she believed him to be is heart-breaking, Terry! I’ve been married for a long time, and it’s completely true that just when you think you know everything about the other person, they’ll completely surprise you with something completely new and unexpected. But for her to give up faith in her husband and partner and wonder if she just missed the signs? Rough!
(Of course, for what it’s worth, the vast majority of killers who do have wives or girlfriends often find themselves grappling with the insane fact that they didn’t know what their partner was up to; or that they were so blindly by affection that they couldn’t see it. And that would be terrifying).
Let’s be honest: Nicholson and Winningham are doing A+ level work on this series, but because their roles don’t have the showy “prestige”, they’re both unlikely to get any kind of recognition. The same could be said for Lauren Ambrose from our Servant stint: women whose characters function primarily in the domestic sphere simply don’t earn accolades the way someone like Mendelsohn (or even Erivo, who has the quote/unquote showiest role on the show) likely could.
But onto the main event: Terry, my mind could barely process what to feel in these last few minutes. I desperately wanted to believe that Holly was too smart to be outwitted by such a dull bulb like Jack when he asked her to accompany him out of town and not tell anyone! She rented her own car (to maintain control rather than cede it to him), and seemingly had suspicions right off the top when she asked him to remove his bruise-covering make-up (to remove his “mask” so to speak). But I wasn’t 100% certain she was onto him until those wet wipes dropped and then I knew that she not only suspected, but was testing her theory. Then the sight of the boils on Jack’s neck – SO much more pronounced than they’d ever been before – and Holly’s attempt to turn the car back around. I cheered, Terry! But then he laid his hand over hers on the steering wheel and my heart sank. It’s such a small, simply visual signifier, but the implications are immediately clear, followed by one of the show’s signature overhead shots as the car changes lanes to continue on its potentially murderous path. UGH!
Your turn, Terry: how did you react? As for Bolton, I simply think it means Yun might be killed shortly, but maybe you think otherwise? And what did you make the black light scene and its implication that The Outsider can’t physically manifest in between murders?
We are in uncharted waters, Joe. I mentioned above that the series has changed the narrative and the ending of this episode really drove that point home. This encounter never happened in the book and the only time Jack became a truly threatening presence was near the finale. So I have no idea how safe Holly is…but she has been so methodical and prepared up till now that I have to believe she has a plan.
We have four episodes left and I’m a little confused where it’s heading, now that all the players seem to know about each other, albeit with differing levels of begrudging acceptance. I’ll not comment on Yun’s survival odds but I liked that he seemed to be the most onboard of the menfolk and the show is actually doing something about it.
I’m wondering if the black light picked up a kind of ectoplasm The Outsider left over from projecting himself. And based on how much effort The Outsider is putting into mentally roadblocking the heroes, I’d hazard a guess that he’s very, very vulnerable right now. It might be the best time to strike. Holly just needs to outsmart the big oaf and convince her friends.
Next week: we’re back at Gayly Dreadful for 1.07, the upcoming ominously named episode, “In the Pines, in the Pines” we might not have to wait long.