The Outsider 1.10 Must/Can’t
The Outsider has been a slow burn, at times almost too slow. Some episodes have felt like they were dangerously close to being filler but then ultimately came good in the end. As the opening scenes of the final episode explode into action you realise it has all been building to this. Once the bullets start flying the intensity of Must/Can't does not let up until our heroes finally confront El Cuco in his ever changing flesh. In complete contrast to the sedentary pace of the what has preceded it the finale kicks into high gear immediately, continuing straight on from the closing frames of the previous episode. Instantly Alec's head explodes in a shower of gore. Then before you have time to catch your breath Jack Hoskins unleashes shot after shot of high velocity sniper rounds on Ralph and his team.
It's exciting and frenetic stuff as everyone scrambles for cover. Marc Menchaca is on top form as the by now completely unhinged Jack Hoskins, swigging from a bottle of Jack Daniels as he peppers the cars Ralph, Holly and everyone are sheltering behind. Every now and then he hesitates and we see El Cuco in its cave hideout nearby. It roars and the camera zooms in on the infection raging across Jack's neck, a visual representation of the control it holds over him and he redoubles his efforts. Salvation seems to arrive in the form of Howard, Claude and his brother Seale. Unfortunately this is short lived as Seale takes a bullet to the guts. The shows writers haven't finished yet though and, as I predicted several weeks ago, it never pays to be too nice in a show like this. Poor old lovable Andy who might just have had a happy future with Holly becomes Jack's next victim. Shot and left for dead in the truck Jack then proceeds to shoot out the fuel tank. The resulting explosion is the end for Andy and the unfotunate Howard who was coming to save him. In a ferocious few minutes Ralph's team has been decimated.
Help comes in the form of Holly, distraught at the death of Andy she simply stands her ground out in the open, confronting Jack. She pleads with him and incredibly she gets through. It may be the time they spent together on their ill fated car journey but finally Jack manages to break El Cuco's hold on him. Antagonising a snake to bite him is enough to wrest control back and he takes his own life, free at last. It is with all credit to Menchaca and the writers of The Outsider that even after all Jack has done they manage to elicit feelings of sympathy for him. Forced to commit atrocities against his will Jack is as much a victim of El Cuco as anyone.
With Jack gone it is time for Ralph and Holly to take on El Cuco in its underground lair. After the fast paced gun battle this confrontation does come across as a slight anticlimax. The creature is cunning and has lured the duo into a trap. The unstable cave system means that any loud noises could cause a collapse, firing a gun is a definite issue. So instead we get a battle of words and wits. Holly has many questions which are countered with even more questions by the creature that now almost completely resembles Claude Boulton, and indeed it is Claude who decides to cut all this short and risk everything with a blast of his shotgun.
As Holly engages El Cuco it becomes clear that the creature doesn’t have many answers. It doesn’t know what it is or where it came from. It’s almost as though it’s as much a force of nature as it is a person, an animal that is no more in control of its urges than any other predatory beast. Before however you start to feel a sympathy for it akin to that of Jack Hoskins its true nature is hammered home when Holly asks it why it takes children. “Because they taste the sweetest” is its vile reply.
Fittingly it is Ralph who gets the final word with El Cuco. The grief he has been carrying after the death of his son, a grief that could have been all consuming, is instead let go. After finishing the creature off with a well placed rock to the head Ralph has vanquished a foe which for such a long time he never even believed in. In a final conversation with his face there is a sense of moving on and a feeling that peace has at last come to the Anderson household.
For a show about built around death and the grieving process it is only fitting that the ending is bittersweet. Yes the monster has seemingly been defeated and Terry Maitland exonerated but the cost is high, a bloody body count and an ever increasing circle of sorrow that El Cuco would hunger for.
It seems that the show’s producers might have another idea for continuing the story of The Outsider as shown in a mid-credits scene featuring Holly. We see Holly washing at a basin when suddenly the mirror shows the reflection of Jack Hoskins standing behind her. She quickly checks the back of her neck for infection but all is normal. It is a standard jump scare and seems slightly out of place in a show that has been mostly devoid of them. The Outsider has built its scares slowly and with a sense of unease. This tacked on ending would be more at home on any run of the mill slasher movie.
We then see Holly sitting on the bed with her laptop, reading an article about Terry’s exoneration. The camera slowly pans around behind her seated form, showing us once again that her neck is clean. As the camera completes its circle of her body we then get the most subtle of glimpses that maybe everything is not quite finished yet. We see there is a scratch on Holly’s arm. The room is dimly lit and with Holly’s dark complexion it is easy to miss. The camera does not linger nor make any particular move to highlight it. It’s unclear if this is a scratch inflicted by El Cuco and thus meaning a Holly doppelganger could soon be at large. It could just be a wound picked up from the falling cave debris or even just from the gun battle. At no point do I recall Holly being in close proximity to the creature except as she stabs it when it is already lying prone and unmoving. It feels like the equivalent of having a title card up saying THE END then with a question mark slowly fading in, standard horror film fare but The Outsider has been far better than that.
For me the show is a one and done deal. The idea of Holly and Ralph teaming up to investigate other supernatural cases might have some merit, although you could argue that this has already been done in Holly’s other show Mr Mercedes. The idea of the same story basically being retold, with a slight variant however, seems redundant. Hopefully the producers will come up with some better ideas if they do decide to continue the story. The latest Stephen King book If It Bleeds is published in a couple of months made up of 4 novellas, one of which is actually a stand alone sequel to The Outsider. Maybe that tale will contain an idea worth a follow up series.
So The Outsider joins the ranks of the multitude of Stephen King adaptations and proudly stands head and shoulders above the majority of them. It is slow paced for sure but always beautiful to look at with a real sense of eeriness and dread. Ben Mendelsohn shows once again what a versatile and accomplished actor he is, as does Paddy Considine in his dual role as victim and monster. Cynthia Erivo is a revelation as Holly, depicting her neurodiversity with a subtlety, eschewing the easy temptation to play it too broad. A solid supporting cast and some impressive and unconventional direction come together to make this series definitely worth a watch.