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 1.10 “Must/Can’t”: The group finds itself in a climactic showdown in their last-ditch, desperate attempt to root out El Coco.
Ugh, Terry, I’m tired. I’m sure Daylight Savings Time is affecting my cognitive abilities, but there’s undoubtedly some residual exhaustion hanging over me from this damn finale.
Truth be told, I don’t entirely know what I was expecting. The pre-title sequence, which picks up immediately in the aftermath of last week’s ambush by Jack (Marc Menchaca), is epic in all of the ways we anticipated. Nearly every member of the Red Shirt Calvary is dispatched, just as we predicted: Hunky Seale (Max Beesley) is immediately shot in the chest, Andy is incapacitated trying to go for help and then when Howard (Bill Camp) tries to rescue him, Jack blows up the Jeep on both of them. Yun Sablo (Yul Vazquez) is clipped in the shoulder, but he survives, as does Claude (Paddy Considine), who foolishly carts his dead brother’s body out of the line of fire so it doesn’t become a target range like poor Pelley.
It’s high octane and dizzying, but it’s also kinda predictable because there’s never a moment that Ralph (Ben Mendelsohn) or Holly (Cynthia Erivo) are in danger, despite the best efforts by director Andrew Bernstein to convince us that Holly might get shot after she refuses to step out of Jack’s sight line. (Nice try, The Outsider, but no one is falling for that).
Alas, outside of this opening scene, the rest of the finale (if it truly is a finale – more on that later) is…dare I say it? It’s boring, Terry!
I know that the confrontation between Ralph, Holly and the Outsider isn’t meant to evoke the same adrenaline rush as the opening, but does it have to be so damn stilted and bland? After nine episodes of build-up, Ralph keeps shushing Holly as though she’s a child asking overly inquisitive questions. Plus: there can’t be a physical altercation for fear of bringing down the stalactite ceiling. But even Holly’s line of enquiry is strangely muted and mundane. “Why children?” she insistently demands. Because they’re “the sweetest” is the answer, which sounds like it been pulled from literally any fairytale monster in history.
Simply put, Terry, I’m dissatisfied. Not only did the encounter fail to justify nine hours of build-up, but the creature itself proved to be completely unexciting or memorable. Pity poor Considine who probably signed onto this project thinking he was going to get something fun to do as the central villain. In reality all he gets to do is drool a little and occasionally rage (also: why could The Outsider yell when Jack was shooting and resisting, but when Holly barely raises her voice, half of the ceiling caves in? Can we get a measure of consistency here?)
When all is said and done, the creature is quickly and easily dispatched. Our heroes survive to live – and lie – another day. Jeannie (Mare Winningham) and Glory (Julianne Nicholson) each get a perfunctory scene to wrap up their non-stories. And then there’s some bullshit mid-credit sequence that does exactly what you feared last week by cracking open the door for a potential second season.
I’m pissed, Terry. This is total bullshit. It feels like a betrayal of our investment in the series! I know that you had reservations very early on, so I’m curious if what you worried has come to pass? Was there anything redeeming post-credits for you? And why does that stupid mid-credits sequence even matter unless we assume that El Cuco has somehow survived all of this?
Oof. Joe, this finale was a mess. I’m glad it’s over so I can talk about how it leaned into the problems of the book’s finale while also flubbing one of the more interesting aspects of King’s narrative.
Starting with the cold open: I was completely on board. Yes, it’s exactly who we thought it would be, but it’s also a bloodbath of epic proportions. In the book, it’s only Howie and Alec because Seale (RIP you beautiful redneck) and Andy don’t exist. So the body count is obviously higher and, yes, they’re all red shirts, but I thought the framing of the action to be so well done that I didn’t particularly care.
Now, the bit with Checkov’s Snake felt like the writers playing with King’s readers while also…doing exactly what happens in the book, only worse. One of the things King does well in his books is set up the pieces while allowing the fickle nature of fate to fuck things up. In The Outsider, the snake is kind of the MVP as it immediately bites Jack and El Cuco convinces him that, like the cancerous boils growing on his neck, he will save Jack from its venom. There’s no hero’s ending for Jack as he follows Ralph and Holly into the cave before Ralph kills him.
You mention Ralph shushing Holly and that was a moment that pissed me off as well because this adaptation denies Holly the killing blow. I’m guessing the reason is to give Ralph the therapeutic climax, but in the book, Holly is the hero. Not a side character. I, too, wanted to throttle Ralph for telling her to be quiet. We’ve had nine episodes of buildup; nine episodes of questions and Ralph, the ever doubting “cowpoke” doesn’t care about the why or the how. There’s probably a critique here of straight white authority figures, if the narrative were even a little interested in exploring themes.
Otherwise, the thing that this adaptation skimped on was the creature. In the book, after Holly dispatches it, it disintegrates and worm-like creatures pour out of its body. It’s a creepy and disgusting image that I would have loved to see on screen, let alone the fact the creature was still a mix of Terry and Claude at this point.
I guess I’m most irritated that the show skipped past what made the book so interesting to get to the supernatural. I had my reservations, but I had hoped that showrunner Richard Price had plans. Instead it feels as if they wanted to get to the Psycho moment by killing off the supposed main character too early so as to hook viewers in the first airing in order to avoid losing them. I will eternally wonder what a season would look like if Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman)’s death had been a midpoint turn. Or if the show were six-ish episodes in length.
The rest of the episode elongated the epilogue to boring lengths. I didn’t get to discuss the mid-credits scene, so I’ll throw it back to you, Joe. Did it annoy you as it did me? And in the cave were you as confused as I was when Holly asked “who’s Terry?” And why did the previous episode include DA Hayes (Michael Esper) looking into a new killing if it wasn’t addressed here?
Alas both the DA stuff from last episode, as well as the mid-credits scene – wherein Holly hallucinates seeing Jack behind her in the bathroom Candyman-style, but doesn’t see a suuuuuuper obvious cut on her arm – are there in case HBO pulls the trigger on a second season. Judging from the online vitriol, not just for the final but also for the back half of the season, I doubt they’ll wind up pursuing it.
In hindsight, this is pretty clearly a case of lack of content: as you suggest above, Terry, I am frustrated by that Price seemingly didn’t have a concrete plan for filling out ten episodes worth of plot and didn’t have the gumption to admit it probably should have run shorter. It’s not a great outcome considering how strongly the series began, but all audiences are apt to remember is how badly it whimpered to an end.
I won’t lie, despite not having read the book, my reservations about the show – and its longevity – were flagged when I saw Price’s name attached, because this is exactly how I felt about The Night Of, which started so dazzlingly and then descended into several episodes of rote prison beatings. Sure, it all looks great, but curse these HBO prestige shows for thinking that great production design, great actors and great direction is enough. If you woof the plot, it doesn’t matter how strong your show looks!
So I jumped over the part where Holly said “Who’s Terry?” because I only remembered it when you flagged it. What is that all about? It almost seems like a script revision that accidentally made the cut, unless we’re meant to assume that it has something to do with the scratch and El Cuco affecting her? I’ve seen a lot of speculation online about when she might have been scratched, or if that’s just from when the roof fell on her and Ralph had to pick her up.
But Terry, I’ve noticed that we’re basically dancing around most of the episode. How did you feel about the group’s decision to pretend nothing supernatural happened? Did anything about Jeannie or Glory, our two unheralded MVPs, work for you? And what’s your overall rating for the season? I’m coming in at a B-.
I think we’ve been dancing around most of the episode because the rest – which is ostensibly three epilogues – feels forced and boring. I don’t know, Joe, the show started so strong and then really floundered. I’m glad you brought up The Night Of because I really dug the first episode and then I kind of trailed off. It probably was what you mention that did it for me there.
As for our unsung heroes, I honestly would have rather Glory go rogue and announce the supernatural element instead of having a saccharine moment with her kids where her last line is that “no, he wasn’t mean to me.” My face during these treacly moments amounted to one of 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon epic eye-rolls. I would have preferred to see something more thematically substantial concerning the fact they went through hell, but can’t tell anyone about it. There’s something heart-breaking and tragic about this secret terror that these characters will have to live with. And we don’t see any of that trauma.
Overall, Joe I think the first half of the season would have been a solid A. The last half, probably a C-. I think a B- covers the entire season for me, as well. Ironically, I thought The Outsider was at its best when it wasn’t beholden to the book, something that I find true about all successful King adaptations. So if the show does somehow continue, I hope they focus on the characters and build an interesting story, rather than try to stick to a book.
That said, we are getting a story set in the same universe, centered around Holly and Ralph, in King’s upcoming collection of novellas If It Bleeds. So…I guess we’ll see.