REVIEW: The Outsider (S1 E3&4/10)

SPOILERS

The Outsider had continued to impress these past few weeks, as it seeks to lure us ever further into its murky web of dark intrigue. Ostensibly a glacially-paced police procedural on the surface, it’s been wisely coy with how it works in the core chills from Stephen King’s source material, whilst successfully building an overwhelming aura of creeping dread that permeates the narrative like a deadly virus – resulting in something that has become eminently watchable.

If it’s initial two episodes were wrapped up in Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) trying to untangle the frankly bizarre circumstances around Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman) and his subsequent death, then these following episodes were given over to his proxy investigator Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo in incredible form). Fans of King and Mr Mercedes will recognise the character from the STARZ series as played by Justine Lupe, but here Erivo delivers arguably the more nuanced performance as the savant-like private detective with almost mystical abilities, and is a pleasure to watch in the role.

With the Maitland case winding down and the majority of the victim’s family now dead through suicide or illness, Anderson joins forces with Glory Maitland’s attorney Howard Salomon in a bid to clear Terry’s name (and by extraction, assuage Ralph’s own guilt). The core mystery around how Terry came to be in two places at the same time stems back to a family vacation in Dayton, Ohio where the van used in the subsequent child murder was originally found. Salomon recommends Gibney as the best tracker in the country for this kind of work, and so we follow her path re-tracing Terry’s steps on that fateful holiday which seems to be the origin point for all this madness.

It’s not long before Gibney is able to place Terry in his father’s retirement home the day he had an accident with nurse Heath Hofstadter (Martin Bats Bradford doing great work in the few scenes he has these two episodes to round out his character), who it later transpires was arrested for a double child murder in remarkably similar circumstances to Terry – with a wealth of evidence placing him at the scene despite being miles away visiting his mother on the day in question. Unfortunately for Holly, Heath isn’t available for interview – having killed himself in a bid to prevent being murdered by his fellow inmates. This seems to be a dead-end until she is able to trace Heath’s movements back to a prior holiday in New York, where he had been in contact (or so he thought…) with a young woman called Maria Caneles – who wouldn’t you know it, is currently serving a life term for killing a child despite video evidence of her being miles away at the time of the murder.

The Outsider has gone to great lengths to obfuscate the obvious supernatural element to the show, and whilst we get a little exposition around the nature of what our characters are facing toward the end of episode four, the show-runners have been very sensible to keep it’s “big bad” at bay, using our imaginations to fill in the blanks as any good horror or suspense film should. Whilst it’s becoming more apparent there are dark forces here at play beyond our investigators’ understanding, the heavy lifting around this is largely done with the actors themselves in portraying the chain of “dopplegangers” with a chilling effectiveness (Diany Rodriguez as Maria is especially captivating here displaying a sort of alien indifference as Heath clumsily romances her over breakfast). It brings to mind the grim paranoia of Philip Kaufman’s remake of Invasion Of The Body Snatchers, with that deeply unsettling feeling of loved ones behaving in a sinister fashion for unknowable ends.

The show is a very slow burn, which might turn some viewers off – but that languid pace fits its core material perfectly. This isn’t the kind of criminal case which will end with any kind of traditional sense of justice – and whilst it’s narrative is currently taking us around the country as the pieces of its puzzle slowly cohere, it’s clear that the story is bent on returning to end with Glory and her children, and maybe some form of redemption for Ralph along the way. This seems to be signposted both in the fairy tale aspect of “The Grief Eater” returning to “digest” the remaining tragedy of his victims’ families, as well as Ralph’s fellow detective Jack Hoskins preparing for something deep in the woods at the behest of an invisible malevolence. What shape these stories might take is what holds your attention – and with six episodes left on the slate, hopefully The Outsider can stick the landing.

Andy D

The Outsider is currently showing on Sky Atlantic

READ MORE: OUR REVIEW OF EPISODES ONE AND TWO

 

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