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 1.08: Sensing something ominous afoot, Claude (Paddy Considine) reconnects with his brother Seale (Max Beesley) in Tennessee, while Holly (Cynthia Erivo), Ralph (Ben Mendelsohn), Yunis (Yul Vasquez), and Andy (Derek Cecil) follow him in hopes of isolating the evil force and thwarting its next kill; a visiting family avoids danger.
Well Terry, that was A LOT of exposition so that Ralph could finally come around to the fact that El Cucuy is real, wasn’t it?
I should clarify that I’m not really being sarcastic because for the third week in a row, we’ve got an episode of The Outsider that drags its feet. In this case, we’ve literally moved the characters from one point to another (say it with me: road trip!), though unlike previous slow episodes, the amount of character development here hardly justifies the time. It’s nice to see Yun play a prank on Andy or watch Ralph and Holly share a laugh about the coincidence of hearing a song fifteen years apart, but with only two episodes left in this limited series (as HBO keeps promoting), I DON’T CARE. I honestly just want something to happen.
I was especially sad when the credits rolled at the end of “Foxhead” because I saw that this was directed by J.D. Dillard – he of the masterful genre entry Sweetheart. That film is a perfect complement to The Outsider: it’s basically a character study of a woman trapped on an island with a monster, but it’s cerebral and intimate and a great acting showcase for Kiersey Clemons. Putting Dillard’s talent to work on a similarly character-driven project about a small group of folks hunting a monster is a no-brainer…unless you give him an episode that LITERALLY strands its characters in cars for roughly 50% of the runtime. I mean, I liked the tail end of the conversation between Holly and Ralph before they arrive at Cecil that looks like it’s shot from the trunk of the car, but “Foxhead” doesn’t allow Dillard to do anything interesting (visually) outside of the gripping child abduction scene that occurs at the Cavestock festival.
To suggest that this is a placeholder episode is something of an understatement. “Foxhead” is basically just a speed bump en route to the finale, when things will finally begin to really take off.
On the plus side, at least we shouldn’t have to deal with Ralph being a doubting Thomas anymore. Yes, it still takes not one, but TWO more conversations from Jeannie (Mare Winningham) and Holly, plus video of the attack that shows a mostly Claude-ified Outsider being unmasked to finally do the trick, but Ralph is finally ready to hop aboard the supernatural train! All we had to do was sit through a lot of nonsense.
Now I’m not as much of a Stephen King guy as you, Terry, but this episode felt like a quintessential pre-climax “rally the troops” (as Jeremy Bobb’s Pelley says) King bit. I was getting a lot of IT vibes from the gathering of all of the main players, particularly when Pelley and Howard (Bill Camp) show up like the Red Shirt calvary the morning before the shit hits the fan. If I have to offer a bright light in this otherwise dull episode, I really liked Pelley’s confession in Howard’s office that his initial refusal to accompany the first wave is a physical (copper-tasting) triggering effect that he hasn’t felt since his time in Iraq. That was a character beat that really stuck out to me and made me realize how much I’ll miss him when he is inevitably killed in the next few episodes.
Terry, I’ll turn it over to you: were you bored to tears by this episode? What do you think of Claude’s hot head, drug-dealing brother, Seale? Did that terrifying Cavestock scene work for you? And what’s the over/under on Pelley and Andy dying now?
While HBO isn’t sending out screeners for the rest of this season (and this episode has me worried why that is), they have sent out plot synopses and I knew going in that this would invariably be the “gather the troops” and then “rally the troops” moment.
But. My. God. Joe.
I knew that J.D. Dillard was directing an episode this season from twitter and I was incredibly excited to see his contribution for the same reasons you mentioned above. It felt like a perfect set-up, particularly as we have a creature that’s barely seen and a woman on an island (here, mental island) of her own. I thought they’d bring him on to do some fun creature work…but I hate to see his talents wasted. This episode was boring. And we got little from it.
That said, I did enjoy the brief segments with the Claudified Outsider. I turned on my subtitles and enjoyed the various ways El Cuco would “roar” or “groan” or “retch” or “tear” or “feast” as he was eating people. There was a lot and it was enjoyable. I particularly enjoyed it when It screamed at Jack and threw a chunk of meat at him in anger. We learned that cancerous individuals are not very filling.
As for Claude’s hot (head) drug-dealing brother, Seale…Joe, his redneck tanktop-wearing buff look was working for me. I don’t know what this says about me, but I was here for some Seale. Kiss from a Rose, indeed. I’ll be honest, though, while I’m not completely sold on this sibling sitch, I have to admit that so far that it’s a step up from the book where we have Claude and his mother Lovie and we get protracted scene after scene after scene of our heroes trying to convince both of them about El Coco. And then the protracted history of the hundreds of caves peppering their (Texan in the book) lands.
I loved the way Cavestock was staged. The way the family believably split off to do their own things within range of each other. The man in the wolf mask locking onto poor little Sam and then dumb little Sam deciding to wander away with a man in a creepy mask…I’m so glad it was his sister that came to his rescue. But the whole scene actually had me on edge.
Can we pause, for a moment, though, to discuss just how nihilistic our heroes’ plans are? They are huddled around Claude in order to protect him from being fingered as the murderer…which means they are literally just waiting for El Coco to strike, murder and rape a child. That’s…kinda grim. Holly literally says at one point that now they just wait. Wait for that call. That news. That grim reveal of a dead kid.
As for our trio of Red Shirts…I’m not sure if I should play the odds. It’s very possible that things are different and the addition of new character Andy rearranges the odds. But I do think Andy and either Howard or Pelley is going to bite the bullet. The one thing I do know is that the show is setting up a wild west shootout and there will be blood.
But what about you, Joe? You ready to start kissing characters goodbye? Are you as disappointed as I am that the narrative seems to have sidelined two of our more interesting female characters (Jeannie and Glory) for a mostly male-dominated finale? And am I crazy, or did we see young Sam’s dad’s knuckle bleeding. Has The Outsider already chosen his next form?
Oh, I absolutely have it in my notes that someone was scratched, which is accompanied by the word “sequel?” because I can totally see HBO riding the Stephen King gravy train as long as they can if these last few episodes don’t completely fuck up people’s enthusiasm for this show (which, let’s be honest, was pretty positive up until episode 7). Whether it was Sam’s father or not, I can’t say because that Hallmark movie/rom com festival of fairy lights, food trucks and animal masks seemed to be exclusively attended by larger white men with beards. Note to HBO’s casting department: you can include a few more POC than poor Cynthia Erivo on this show.
I’ll confess that your description of endless scenes of trying to convince Claude and his mother in the book sounds excruciating. We’ve more or less hit the point in the narrative where King’s source material starts to sag, so I’m happy not to have to revisit the conversation about who doe and doesn’t believe (Ralph has been enough and by keeping it primarily focused on a single character, it makes for a more compelling arc).
With that said, I’m not quite sure what the late addition of Seale brings to the table. It’s obviously still early days for the character, but he, too, seems like some inevitable white trash fodder for the Outsider to consume in the next two hours. As for what your attraction to him infers? Well…that’s between you and your therapist, Terry.
I’m glad you raised Jeannie and Glory, because I literally had the same crashing realization when Pelley and Howard show up at the Boltons. Wild west is right: in this fight the women stay home and the men go off to do the fighting. I’m sure we’ll get some kind of coda in the final episode where Glory gets to cry over her exonerated husband and Jeannie will reunite with Ralph (or cry over his grave if he perishes, because I can see that, too), but it’s a frustrating development considering how much effort (and the calibre of acting) spent on these characters in the first half of the series.
As it stands, I haven’t loved these last few hours of wheel spinning; even if the ennui has been punctuated by some genuinely great moments of tension and horror, I’m happy that we’re finally heading into some genuine action. I’ll be most unhappy if (when?) something happens to Andy, Pelley and Yun, who has that great brief scene with Holly in the church. Those four are my favourites, so I’d love not to lose them, though I think I’ll be batting 50% in the very near future.
Tell me Terry, are you disappointed that we never really got to see the Outsider’s in-between phase before he settled into Claude’s visage? Did you groan (like me) at Ralph’s exposition dump to Holly about Jack (Marc Menchaca) failing his sharpshooter exam? What are your book vs TV show predictions of things that may differ moving forward? And, given the sleeping arrangements at the Bolton house, where would you rather rest your weary head: the car, the porch, or the couch?
I’ll answer your easiest question up front, Joe. Isn’t Seale’s bed big enough for two?
On a more serious note, as I mentioned last week, I want to see the shark and, yes, I’m disappointed we never got a shock look at him mid-transformation. I sighed when it was revealed that he’s a perfectly formed Claude. Really did enjoy the terrifying noises it made, though. I just wanted The Outsider to go a bit harder on the monster. The first half of the season set up tantalizing moments of gooey creepiness and I feel that it…well…didn’t whiff the reveal, but only because it didn’t even show up for the monster game.
Did we really need Jack’s mental problems to add to the story? It felt like writer/showrunner Richard Price didn’t know how to add to the road trip and thought that this was the way to do it. But we’ve known about Jack’s problems from the beginning and harping on him failing a psych test–outside of establishing him as an expert shot–felt needless. And icky.
I still think that the show is going to hit the major beats of the book, but will remix who does what to whom. I’d like to guess on the deaths compared to the book, but don’t want to spoil things if it does go full King, so I’ll say no more!
Joe, I don’t want a sequel. But I have this feeling the show could spiral past the book. I can see it focusing on a Holly investigative show, maybe with Ralph or Pelley as her Scully partner. In the previous books, she and another detective (featured in the Mr. Mercedes book trilogy and Audience Network show) have their own PI firm. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the show’s end is structured to offer that as a possibility.
Of course, all of this depends on who lives or dies. With two episodes left, we don’t have much time to wait.
Next week: we’re back over at gaylydreadful.com for the penultimate episode, “Tigers and Bears”