The Outsider: 1.02 Roanoke
Tragedy unexpectedly strikes again in this second episode of The Outsider. The mystery deepens and Detective Ralph Anderson tries to keep control of the rapidly disintegrating investigation. No longer convinced that Terry Maitland is the killer, but completely unable to explain the evidence against him, Anderson visits Maitland in jail. In these opening scenes they lay out all the evidence both for and against Maitland with Ralph bluntly asking him if he killed little Frankie Peterson.
It is testament to Jason Bateman’s performance that you soon begin to feel sorry for him even though you’ve seen him depicted as a child killer drenched in the blood of his young victim. You are also shown the other side of him as he attends a teaching conference at the same time as the murder. Your rational mind knows he couldn’t be in two places at once and this allows you to interpret this almost as a dual role. Bateman pulls off both facets of this character and, coupled with his role in Ozark, he is really becoming much more than just the comedy actor he used to be.
Bateman also returns to direct, in addition to his role as Maitland. Very similar in style to the opening episode, Roanoke is full of long takes with a single camera lingering and just capturing the events as they proceed. A lot of the shots are from a distance and feature the actors quite small in the frame. If definitely gives a feel that we are witnesses to what is unravelling in this small town and that we are no more able to intervene or prevent the tragedies unfolding than the participants. Also back are the overhead establishing shots depicting the town and its surrounding countryside. Colours are again muted, almost sepia in places, and reflect both the deliberate pace of the show and its downbeat subject matter.
Ben Mendelsohn’s portrayal of the beleaguered detective also continues to be compelling, as he is forced to take administrative leave but continues to investigate the seemingly impossible scenario. Ralph Anderson is not your usual action hero cop. World weary and beaten down by the things he is forced to do as a detective, Anderson is facing the strangest case he’s ever come across. Mendelsohn plays the part of an ordinary man experiencing things he can’t quite understand with aplomb. Understated but completely believable, it’s perfectly pitched for the source material.
The measured pacing of The Outsider is used to great effect when it is punctuated by the incredibly violent acts that occur. It makes them standout like the gunshots that fill the air as Frankie Peterson’s brother takes matters into his own hands and shoots up the assembly taking place outside the courthouse. The scene unfolds in slow-motion as he unloads on the police surrounding Terry Maitland and also the suspect himself. Ralph’s retaliation is shockingly depicted as he draws his own gun and graphically shoots the Peterson boy in the head. It is a bloody Stephen King moment, writ large on the screen in red. Another standout scene is when Fred Peterson, now grieving two sons, attempts to hang himself. Like the last episode’s scene of his wife smashing up the dining room, this too plays out in silence with just a haunting melody underscoring the violence happening on screen. It makes for brutal and hard to watch stuff.
I was surprised by how much actually happens in this episode. With the killings of Terry Maitland, Ollie Peterson and the attempted suicide of Fred Peterson, the slow pacing belies the actual content. The show may seem slow but it is full of interesting content and twists that keep the viewer engaged. Ralph’s investigation also gathers terrific steam in this episode and sees him tracking the journey of the van used in the murder across the USA.
My only worry is that there isn’t enough story to warrant a ten episode season. To me it seems that quite a lot of the book has already been covered in the first two episodes. I wonder if the writers have had to come up with additional material to pad out the running time and I worry slightly that we’ll end up with some filler episodes. My fears are somewhat alleviated because the first two episodes are so well made that it would appear that the show’s producers know what they are doing.
The Roanoke of the episode title refers to the mystery of the American colony that disappeared without trace in the late 16th century. It forms part of a conversation that Ralph Anderson has with the DA when they are discussing mysteries that have never been solved. It invokes feelings of ancient unexplained evil and alludes to more supernatural happenings to come. With the youngest Maitland girl experiencing nightmarish visions of an intruder and brief glimpses of the hooded figure around the town, the more traditional Stephen King elements have started to manifest themselves. The Outsider continues to intrigue and it feels like it’s only the lull before the storm.