Over the past few months, The Outsider has quietly become one of the most critically acclaimed dramas of the year so far; a rare anomaly in the rather lacklustre history of adaptations from its original author’s work.
Some have even likened it in style to being a missing season of True Detective, obsessed as it has been with the glacially-paced reveal of a dark intent deep within America’s heartland. But for all the kudos and acclaim, the show had one final trick to perform – to bring it’s story to a satisfactory close with the weight of expectation riding up against it. Thrillingly – and frustratingly – the wheels nearly came clean off but we concluded our journey in spectacular fashion.
Suddenly, after weeks of circling the origins of their unusual suspect, Ralph’s team finally reach the epicenter of it’s own home as it returns to a place that has dark memories for both itself and the Bolton brothers. This was the first of a few leaps of faith that the writers asked us to undertake in these closing episodes, with this instance being that the Bolton’s family history was so inexplicably linked to the Grief Eater’s own – something shown to us in a series of (initially confusing) flashbacks to Depression-Era Tennessee and the fate of two small children in the caves system that provided a home to our villain.
The exact whereabouts of the “Bear Cave” was a little overworked in the penultimate episode until Seale Bolton was able to recount his family’s grim tale that finally assembled the side story of a town’s menfolk being consumed in a cave collapse. Arguably the inclusion of this element was really padding to have all our players pitch up at the same location ahead of what we anticipated would be a final showdown. Part of the problem in that was Claude was now as finely attuned to his doppelgänger as he ever would be, and therein shared a direct link to the plans of his protection posse. All it took was Seale to unknowingly reveal the plot to his brother and suddenly – boom – we were into the endgame.
I made mention in the last review that the sign of a good show is that you’re never truly comfortable that all your principal cast will survive to the end, and boy, did The Outsider deliver on that principle. Yet here, another leap of faith: both in that Ralph’s team of seasoned legal professionals would not request back up from local law enforcement to tackle a suspect with such an extensive rap sheet but also – and more fundamentally annoying it must be said – that Holly’s much-mentioned pre-cognitive abilities around imminent death did not spark up as they entered the lion’s den. Either way, the set up was flawless, as Jack played out one final atrocity for his master, tearfully massacring the majority of the cast until – perhaps predictably – only our two principal players remained standing.
To say the eventual confrontation of the show’s monster was largely a disappointment by comparison is perhaps the wrong way to look at it – more that the thing that had become Claude Bolton was as mundane an entity as its victim – something the Grief Eater did by design to blend in with society. In being a host, that only really lives to feed, there wasn’t much philosophical reasoning to be had. This was shown beautifully in the differing reactions of Ralph and Holly – one a visceral desire to just end this now, and another trying to understand why. Fittingly, it was the real Claude who got to destroy his tormentor (another leap of faith here – would they not share pain in the merging of their bodies?), and Ralph who got to face his own demons – literally – in the shifting masks of the monster before putting a rock through its skull (another question here, how did the Grief Eater shift into faces that it hadn’t drawn blood from – more on that later).
There was definitely a feeling of desperation in drawing threads together almost too quickly in this aftermath, ironic given the languid tone of the show beforehand. It was almost like there was such a firm resolve from the show-runners to hold onto that (very capably handled) reveal right until the last twenty minutes of the final episode, that resulted in a very rushed – and wholly nonsensical – debrief as a result. Wherein, Ralph is able to explain away the deaths of several people to the hands of a mystery assailant based off an anonymous tip – as well as have his wife coerce Glory into a conspiracy she had adamantly been against throughout the show – to wrap multiple murders in one breath AND re-open the case around Frankie Petersen’s death in the same turn, thereby acquitting Terry Maitland of any wrongdoing and bringing us back to the beginning in a full circle.
It was audacious, and awkward, and left an indelible mark against the show’s largely flawless run so far. Many shows suffer from the same fate in their finales, but The Outsider went a step further and doubled down with a largely unseen mid-credits scene that revealed Holly had been scratched and thus our time with the Grief Eater wasn’t over, nor was HBO’s desire to squeeze out a second season. The fact that she never had physical contact with the monster is a point we’ll have to gloss over, something I’m sure will be rewritten for any new series, but it felt like a cheap conclusion to an excellent show. That aside, I would love to see Cynthia Erivo reprise her role as Holly Gibney, and as the series title was neatly revealed to be more about her than the Grief Eater, perhaps the show will evolve into something of a successful vehicle for her.
The Outsider may have been a little flat-footed in it’s closing half-hour, but overall as a show, it should be rightfully regarded as a masterclass in how to maintain suspense over many hours – and how to handle supernatural themes in a realistic way that isn’t a detriment to the plot.
It’s a show well worth your time.
READ MORE: OUR REVIEW OF EPISODES ONE AND TWO
READ MORE: OUR REVIEW OF EPISODES THREE AND FOUR
READ MORE: OUR REVIEW OF EPISODES OF FIVE AND SIX
READ MORE: OUR REVIEW OF EPISODES SEVEN AND EIGHT