It has been a minute since Outcast was on television in the United States. The season 1 finale aired on Cinemax in August of 2016, and though season 2 would be available in the U.K. a year later, the series took an extended hiatus from HBO’s sister channel until now. The reasons behind the wait aside, one of the biggest questions regarding the show’s return is where the series stands in the minds of audiences. Worse than being forgotten is your return potentially being met with apathy. Nearly two years is a long time to wait for the second installment of a series whose first season wasn’t exactly burning through plot, though it did leave its story off in an interesting place, so perhaps the Outcast faithful will greet the series’ return with open arms.
But what Outcast may have lacked in propulsive storytelling it largely made up for in atmosphere; an oppressively heavy and ominous atmosphere that, combined with the idea of demons launching an assault on humanity via a small town in West Virginia, offered a compelling enough hook to keep the series going. As such, Outcast got by largely on an ever-present unsettling feeling as it slowly unveiled the mystery of Kyle Barnes’ (Patrick Fugit) abilities and his connection to the evil that’s been a part of his life since childhood.
That mystery is at the heart of what makes Outcast interesting, but it’s also something of a double-edged sword. The show’s unwillingness to conclusively answer the question of what makes Kyle special, and what the demons, headed up by an unnerving Brent Spiner with a white shock of hair, as the demon ringleader Sidney, ultimately want leaves the narrative treading water for an extended period of time. And while there is always another “are they or aren’t they possessed?” question around the corner, with regard to any number of individuals running around Rome, or gruesome examples of the kinds of things that can happen to a person’s body when the entity steering the ship is really a pile of free-floating demonic goo, at a certain point, if you’ve seen one horrific possession and subsequent exorcism by Kyle’s magic hands you’ve seen them all.
Though the series concerns demonic possession and a man seemingly bestowed with the power to stop the hellish entities in their tracks, Outcast is, more often than not, a story about trauma and the lingering effects that horrific experiences (prolonged or otherwise) can have on a person. Each character is dealing with the effects of such trauma in their own right, putting them on dramatically different paths as season 2 begins. As opposed to season 1, however, the trauma faced by the likes of Reverend Anderson or Megan is born of the harm they did to others. Although their reasons for doing what they did are different, and in Megan’s case she was literally not herself, the show’s interest in how they are changed by their experiences makes for some interesting viewing. Schmidt is particularly captivating in the first few hours as Megan comes to terms with her husband’s death and the effect her role in it has on her child and their relationship moving forward.
While Megan’s struggles, or Reverend Anderson’s search for penance, for believing he killed his girlfriend’s son, are interesting places for these characters to begin, Outcast has a tendency to overstay its welcome with regard to the very same narrative threads, further delaying the characters’ inclusion in more propulsive storytelling elements. Although it’s clear the series is headed toward a showdown between Kyle and his ragtag team, and the army Sidney (Spiner) is building, the delay in getting there can be frustratingly slow at times.
There are surprises ahead for Kyle and his relationship to the evil wreaking havoc on Rome, and they open the series and its mythology up for an more expansive storyline. At this point, though, after a two year wait, it's worth wondering if expanding the mythology is the right choice when the series really just needs to get where it's going. Still, while some frustrating storytelling choices remain in place from the first season, it’s nice to see that the show’s unsettling tone and atmosphere are back in full force. It’s hard to tell if that’s enough to make the wait for season 2 worthwhile or not, but Outcast is certainly ready to give it a shot.
Outcast continues next Friday with ‘The Day After That’ @10pm on Cinemax.