[This is a review of the Outcast season 1 finale. There will be SPOILERS.]
Over the course of season 1, Outcast has played a little give and take when it comes to divulging information about what, exactly, is going on with Kyle Barnes, Reverend Anderson, and the mysterious Sidney. In the series premiere, the show didn’t shy away from playing the story as an outright possession drama, one with a few shiny visual tricks up its Exorcist-inspired sleeves. But as the season went on, the drama turned to an investigation of trauma and how often past sufferings can hang with someone for a lifetime and become a stigma that alters how they are defined by themselves and others. The series’ exploration of Kyle’s past trauma at the hands of his “possessed” mother, and later, the trauma endured by Megan, Kyle’s adoptive sister, became the through line for the series’ first season.
As that season draws to a close, there are still plenty of questions about what Sidney’s intentions are and whether or not he’s actually the devil, as Reverend Anderson claims he is. There have been hints dropped throughout the first nine episodes that something else is going on, something that has to do with Kyle’s status as the “outcast”, but so far the series hasn’t been too forthcoming in making such things clear. This is far and away the best example of the series sharing its storytelling impulses with the kinds of programming found on, say, Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu, but it’s also indicative of a show that might want to expand upon its own premise should season 2 come along. In that sense, Outcast‘s closest cousin might actually be AMC’s own violent comic book adaptation of Preacher.
After strong, propulsive premieres, both series took a sometimes-languid approach to unfolding their narratives over the course of 10 episodes. That’s not necessarily great storytelling, but it does open the door for explosive finales – which was definitely the case in Preacher. But with its ultra-grim outlook, Outcast doesn’t have the advantage of being tongue-in-cheek with its finale. Instead, the series seems to be pushing deeper into the idea of the lingering effects of trauma by having Megan presumably fall victim to whatever is possessing residents of this small community and murder her husband Mark – who had one of the better character arcs this season, having gone from being totally unlikable to one of the more sympathetic and interesting members of the cast. Mark was simple and basically black and white in terms of his morality, which made it much easier for him to act, and to propel the plot in ways that it desperately needed to be propelled at various points in the season. With Mark gone, one has to wonder who will fill his shoes, and whether or not his absence will allow the series to focus more on the task at hand or if it will languish in the hemming and hawing of characters unsure of their motivations and purpose.
Looking at the finale, the word “task” comes immediately to mind, as, in addition to bringing the season full circle and setting up the possibility of more to come, ‘This Little Light’ should have been tasked with filling the audience in on what exactly is going on, what’s really at stake, and why. And yet, despite several claims by Sidney that answers were coming, the finale really didn’t offer anything concrete. Yes, there’s more to go on with regard to what these beings are and why they’re making Kyle Barnes’ life a living hell, but to what end? While it’s potentially compelling to think that Outcast is telling a story that is more complex than a rote possession drama, season 1, and especially its finale, missed the mark in terms of recognizing anything more than the potential. There’s a larger story going on here, so why not begin the exploration now?
Audiences love a mystery, and Outcast certainly has one buried in there somewhere. The trouble is, the longer you keep a something hidden away, the larger the payoff has to be when you reveal it. Right now there’s nothing for the series to lose and everything for it to gain if it had just divulged the answers that Sidney promised and moved on from there. As it stands now, Outcast has the makings of what sounds like an interdimensional, intergalactic, or inter-something refugee drama, which affords Sidney and his kind an extra layer of characterization with minimal effort on the part of the show’s writers. If these beings taking over people of Rome, West Virginia are not merely malevolent creatures from hell but immigrants fleeing from a hostile environment, then the show has immediately become more interesting and it makes Kyle’s ability to expel them from their hosts something of a double-edged sword; one with strong allusions to the contemporary political climate and crisis in Syria.
As the series isn’t exactly politically motivated, it’s easy to understand why Outcast might be reluctant to refocus the core story on such things. But in order to do that, the show has to fill in the blanks elsewhere, and that means giving the audience answers to what Kyle and his similarly powered daughter actually are, and what their goal is beyond finding a place to hole up where people don’t know about their “superpowers.” The same goes for Reverend Anderson possibly having murdered Aaron when he torched the trailer (what is it with this show’s love of seeing trailers go up in flames?). There’s a mystery there, but the show seems more interested in maintaining it than moving beyond its relatively confining borders.
In all, Outcast managed to uphold a compelling mystery and high level of creepy tension throughout season 1. That, in addition to the performances of the cast, especially, Fugit, Glenister, Wrenn Schmidt, and the always-great Reg E. Cathey, gave plenty of reason to stick with the series for 10 episodes. But by promising answers and then forcing the audience to wait until season 2 (or beyond) to get them is the sort of trick that too many TV shows pull. Here’s hoping the continuing adventures of Kyle Barnes and Reverend Anderson move into a more propulsive season – one where answers fuel the story ahead, instead of string the audience along.
Screen Rant will have more information regarding Outcast season 2 as news is made available.
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