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‘The Outsider’: A magnificently eerie take on grief and loss

‘The Outsider’: A magnificently eerie take on grief and loss

‘The Outsider’: A magnificently eerie take on grief and loss
March 10
16:00 2020

Warning: Light spoilers ahead

Sunday saw the finale for HBO’s “The Outsider” and revealed the fate of the green hoodie-clad monster that has permeated my nightmares for the last nine weeks. I’ll save the spoilers for the last few paragraphs, so for those who want to go into the show blind, it’s safe to read ahead for now.

The series — which is adapted from Stephen King’s novel of the same name — follows the life of Georgia detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) and his team after the death of a young boy. The case was open-and-shut fairly quickly, with DNA evidence and surveillance footage clearly implicating Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman) as the killer. But as more is revealed, it becomes clear that objects are not always as they appear, and some characters believe supernatural forces may be at play. “The Outsider” is a remarkably well-done series about grief, trauma and our perception of reality.

The series sports an ensemble cast led by Mendelsohn and the idiosyncratic Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo). Together, the pair falls on complete opposite ends of the spectrum, with Ralph representing logic, reason and an unwillingness to see things at more than face value while Holly possesses borderline supernatural abilities and has expanded her understanding of what reality might entail.

“I have no tolerance for the unexplainable,” Ralph tells Holly at their first meeting.

“Well then, sir,” she responds, “You’ll have no tolerance for me.”

This exchange guides these character’s stories for the bulk of the season — while Ralph scrambles to assign a sensible rationale to contradictory evidence, Holly embraces the unknown and considers what is seemingly impossible. Both actors do a phenomenal job navigating this duality and I do not doubt they’ll earn well-deserved Emmy nominations. Erivo plays a character so quirky it could be easily overdone, but instead she gives a nuanced performance that grounds the character. Mendelsohn offers a gripping performance of a man coming to terms with his own understanding of the world and heavily greiving the loss of his son. One of the final scenes in the finale where Ralph half-laughs, half-sobs at his son’s grave hits you in the gut.

Another standout is Julianne Nicholson’s portrayal of Gloria Maitland. She’s a tenacious, no-nonsense character dealing with unimaginable grief after her husband is charged with murder and the city essentially turns against her. Nicholson fully invites us in to the spectrum of emotions that accompany trauma — disbelief, rage and extraordinary pain — and despite being torn up by her anguish she stays strong for her daughters.

As I said, “The Outsider” presents an ensemble of incredible talent, so I’d be remiss not to mention Marc Manchaca (Jack Hoskins), Mare Winningham (Jeannie Anderson), Paddy Considine (Claude Bolton), Bill Camp (Howie Solomon), Yul Vasquez (Yunis Sablo), Derek Cecil (Andy Katcavage) and Jeremy Bobb (Alec Pelley).

The compelling acting is accompanied by a stellar production from creator Richard Price. This show is absolutely agonizing to watch in the best way possible. It’s a slow burn reminiscent of 2018’s “Sharp Objects” with moody writing that cuts into each character’s pain. What makes the series chilling to watch is how it couples this sorrow with crippling fear. The score is dark and dramatic, though more understated than other thriller/drama music. There’s a simple four-chord violin sequence that echos throughout the series and knots your stomach. A person in a green hoodie should in no way be a scary sight, but the show saturates this mundane image with a particular discomfort. The nightmares I mentioned earlier? Watch episode five, where Jeannie gets up in the middle of the night for a glass of water, and you’ll know the terror I’m referring to.

The most unsettling element of “The Outsider” is the cinematography. God, these people know how to make you paranoid. The green hoodie shots really only happen a few times in the first two episodes before returning in episode five, but those few seconds of screen time make you analyze every subsequent scene differently. Camera angles constantly give you the feeling our characters are being watched: Wall mirrors are strategically placed in shots. Scenes inside a house always have windows visible. The show uses long shots even in close quarters, like when Ralph is talking to his therapist in the living room, but the scene is shot from the end of a hallway that makes him visible only through a door frame. With every episode I would hold my breath, waiting for the outsider to appear in the mirror or be watching through the window or from the end of the hall. It feeds on their grief while Price feeds on our paranoia.

The least enjoyable episode was the finale (here’s where the spoilers start), and I say least enjoyable because it was still enjoyable. Many were disappointed with how quick El Cuco’s ending was and how little was revealed about him in the cave. I disagree with this critique, though. If the show is ultimately about reality exceeding beyond our comprehension, it wouldn’t make sense for us to come out of the finale with all the answers. I was pleased with the closure we found in Terry’s exonaration and in the final scene with the Andersons at their son’s grave. My main complaint is how quickly and neatly the surviving characters wrapped up their lie about what happened at the caves. Jack killing under the instructions of some unknown accomplice just seemed a little to vague for the DA to instantly reopen the case and clear Terry’s name.

While there’s no official confirmation of a second season, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was still more to come from “The Outsider.” I’m typically not a fan of continuing shows solely because of popular demand, especially ones based on books where the source material has already been exhausted. But in this case, I could see a second season being successful, especially since King is working on a sequel to the book set to release in May. The post-credits scene and Holly and Ralph’s final interaction seem to hint that the supernatural world doesn’t end with El Cuco, either. When Ralph asks Holly what else is out there, she shrugs with a smile.

If anyone can find out, it’s her. After all, “An outsider knows an outsider.”

Final rating: 4.25/5

Featured Image: Courtesy HBO

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Haley Arnold

Haley Arnold

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