[SPOILERS for the HBO series “The Outsider,” though I have not read the book. In case it needs to be said, I’m never going to put spoilers in the first paragraph of any of my reviews, since they show up in text previews, and that would be really unfair.]
At first, I was eagerly awaiting the moment the characters confirm they’re dealing with the supernatural. It’s usually toward the beginning. Someone you love comes back to life as a zombie. A grisly man informs a small nerd that he’s a wizard. That moment hasn’t come yet. I’m a bit behind, somewhere around Episode 4 (I could pull up Hulu to check, but my publisher informs me that uncertainty is relatable), so maybe it has already happened. But so far, no character has explicitly acknowledged that they’re dealing with a monster who may not be strictly classified as human.
And I think this is the way it would go in the real world. I’m not sure I would have the courage to admit my own suspicions if I came across what I suspected to be a supernatural element. If I imagine myself as a detective working a case (as I so often do), if I began to suspect that the killer may be utilizing some sort of otherworldly ability, I would keep my mouth shut about it for as long as possible. Nobody wants to be the first person to say, “Yeah, I think they’re probably literal vampires,” even though that happens ALL the time in these sorts of murder mystery dramas. I’m just not sure any of these seasoned detectives would decide to override their own desires to not be viewed by others as completely bonkers. So even if I thought I was dealing with the supernatural, my first instinct would be to shut the hell up and assume I’m probably wrong, continuing to look for a natural explanation. The Outsider is a show where the characters hold out for a little longer before abandoning the scientific methods and accept that they are living out a Stephen King novel.
To me, this is most clearly exemplified in the private detective character Holly Gibney (played by Cynthia Erivo). She seems the most open to an unusual or unnatural explanation, and every time she appears to be considering the supernatural, my first instinct as a couch-scientist is to feel that she’s making too far an intellectual leap in her conclusions. Even though she’s factually correct, and I know that, and you know that. (I just have to hope that my pseudo-skepticism isn’t due to bits of unaddressed, underlying racism or sexism. I don’t believe so, but I have to at least consider that if I’m going to be honest with myself. And you.)
The awkward part is that the audience knows full well they’re watching a TV series based on a Stephen King novel. For some books/movies/shows, the story really begins once everyone is on the same page about the supernatural elements they’re dealing with (except for that one skeptic who refuses to accept it; there’s always one). This continuing anticipation of waiting for the characters to realize what we already know really threw me off at first. Combine that with the fact that Jason Bateman is already dead in the second episode [HEY I explicitly warned you about spoilers], and I just wasn’t sure I would be interested in continuing to watch. But here I am, still eager to sit down every week (or two) and watch the next episode (or two).
And now, I’ve found myself trying to figure out every aspect of what I have nicknamed The Organism. To me, the fun is now in answering these questions at the soonest point in the series as possible given all the clues and foreshadowing. Why does The Organism feed on children, specifically? Why does it appear to have some sort of communicative relationship with children it chooses not to kill? Why does it seem to have some sort of connection to the Maitland family? (Does it even? Maybe that’s just a coincidence.) Are its activities an attempt to replicate itself, reminiscent of a human’s innate desire to reproduce/procreate?
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“If I say his name they will send me right from here to a mental hospital. What he does can never be undone.” That line really sent chills down my spine. It clearly has a name, and a history, whatever it is. If I remember correctly, this was a line from a prisoner who’s experienced both sides of The Organism’s conspiracy.
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A sign above a sketchy building said:
ATTORNEYS AT LAW “No Fee Unless We Win!” Auto Accidents • Personal Injury • Wrongful Death • Medical Malpractice • Lead Poisoning • Slip & Fall
I’m never sure whether I’m reading subtext correctly, but it really looked like the type of place you go to hire a hitman who’s going to carry out one of those activities, rather than represent you as a defendant.