“It’s here.” Holly Gibney says this at the end of The Outsider S1E8, “Foxhead,” in reference to El Cuco following Claude Bolton to Tennessee. But I’m viewing this statement as a commentary on the state of The Outsider, the show. After a few middling episodes in which not a ton was happening, Episode 8 turned up the heat. The transformation of El Cuco from Terry Maitland to Claude Bolton took some time. But now it’s here.
After learning last episode that Terry Maitland (or, more accurately, the monster posing as Terry Maitland) scratched Claude Bolton in the Peach Crease, Holly has convinced the group that they need to protect Claude. The plan: “isolate” Claude from society so that he can’t be accused of a crime. Claude’s forensics will be all over the next murder scene, and Holly wants to find Claude and be a witness as to his whereabouts whenever that next crime inevitably happens. The plan seems solid, but let’s remember that Terry Maitland had multiple witnesses to back up his alibi, and how’d that work out for him?
Holly believes that Ralph’s investigation forced El Cuco to change up its usual tactics. It had to run before it was ready, before it transformed into Claude. The hope is to keep the pressure on the monster, and to make it weaker and weaker until it gets careless.
Having quit his job in Cherokee City, Claude has traveled to Tennessee to visit his brother. So this is where Holly, Ralph, Andy, and Yunis head.
On the Road
Consistent with The Outsider‘s pacing thus far, the trip to Tennessee takes a bit. The travels allow some bonding and good-natured ribbing between Yunis and Andy. And finally—finally—we see bits and pieces of a real partnership forming between Ralph and Holly.
My only real gripe with The Outsider so far is how it has handled certain aspects of Ralph’s character. He has resisted at every turn believing in the unexplainable. He’s a cop who works in facts, as he has mentioned. Ralph brushes off Holly’s theories, despite being personally visited by his dead son. And his wife being visited by the same monster as Terry Maitland’s daughter. And seeing matching character sketches of the monster described by multiple different people.
I understand this is deliberate. Richard Price has tweaked Ralph’s character from the book slightly, giving him a backstory of tragedy and alcoholism. He is unable to deal with the curve balls of life sometimes. And this decision to believe in a monster is one of them.
Ralph shares an element of disbelief in the book as well. But where I think The Outsider has missed a big opportunity is its treatment of the relationship between Holly and Ralph. Holly is the most interesting character on this show, and I feel like the show could be better if the relationship between her and Ralph were stronger. Not only does Ralph not believe Holly, but he has simply been unpleasant to her.
The scene in The Outsider S1E8 with the two driving to Tennessee was one of my favorite character-driven scenes of the show so far. Ralph opens up to Holly about a story of his mother’s death, and how he heard a song on the day she died and then never again until the day his son was born. What does Holly make of that? “Sounds like a coincidence to me.” The two share a genuine laugh, and it’s great. The show needs more of this interaction, and it is probably a little late coming. The season is almost over, after all.
Holly admits to Ralph that “for some reason, I feel more grounded around you than I do with anyone else.” I’m not sure what Ralph has shown for her to come to this conclusion, but clearly there is a foundational understanding between the two.
Even after this conversation when they have arrived in Tennessee, when it appears Ralph is beginning to cross over to the side of the believers, Holly has to give Ralph a pep talk because he is sulking again: “Try harder. Come to it faster.” I think the relationship will get there eventually. It’s just taking its time.
Meanwhile, Jack is driving to Tennessee as well, with the backseat driver from hell. The scenes of Jack and El Cuco got me wondering: Does El Cuco only use these accomplices on an as-needed basis? As far as we know, it didn’t use one in the killing of Frankie Peterson, but he did use one while posing as Heath Hofstadter. Did he use Tracey Powell for a purpose similar to why he’s using Jack? Or was he simply feeding on more grief?
Eventually, Ralph and Co.—even Alec Pelley and Howie Salomon join the party!—reach Claude and camp out at his brother’s house. However, their plan may have hit a big snag.
The Davidson Family
Separate from our familiar main characters, The Outsider S1E8 introduces us to the Davidson family. They’re also driving to Tennessee, to visit Cavestock (I think they should have called Caveapalooza, personally), a festival in which many of the visitors eat carnival food, dance, and wear animal masks. The scenes involving Cavestock were The Outsider at its finest. The animal masks gave me a very True Detective type feel, with a building sense of dread.
It became fairly obvious the Davidson boy, Sam, would likely become a target of El Cuco. But it was still chilling when Claude/El Cuco, wearing a creepy fox mask, offered to show Sam a cave and some animals—with the return of the show’s unnerving musical strings. What I did not see coming is that the monster would be interrupted. A group of Good Samaritans stop the fox-masked man, and Mike Davidson tackles him to the ground and rips off the mask.
Now, while we weren’t specifically shown that Mike was scratched by El Cuco, I think it’s pretty safe to assume that he was. Which would complicate Ralph and Co.’s plan considerably. Will the monster transform before it is able to kill again? Will they have to “isolate” Mike now too? Will Mike be allowed to head back home before they discover he was scratched? Or maybe it’s all a big red herring, and Mike wasn’t scratched at all.
And how will the Cecil, Tennessee police react to Claude’s alibi and Ralph vouching for his whereabouts? They have his picture with tons of witnesses that point to him attending Cavestock. I’m very interested to see where this portion of the storyline heads.
- In my previous articles I’ve compared some of the differences between The Outsider the TV show and the novel by Stephen King. However, at this point, the stories have diverged so much that it would be pointless to continue the comparison. I will say that I am enjoying most of the changes, especially the new elements that weren’t in the book. The one change I’m not crazy about is that Claude goes to stay with his brother Seale, whereas in the book this role was played by his aging mother, Lovie. This was an endearing character, and while I don’t hate Seale as Claude’s drug-dealing, puzzle-doing, hot-headed brother, the show missed an opportunity to add another strong female character to the mix.
- No update as to what the hell the end of Episode 7 was all about, with Holly appearing to wake from a bad dream. I like Andrew’s idea that this was some sort of foreshadowing, and if that’s the case, things do not look good for Holly Gibney. But why did Holly “wake up” basically looking directly into a wall? And what is the significance of the flailing insect that was shown right before this Episode 7 scene, as well as at the beginning of the episode? Episode 8 didn’t provide any answers, that I could tell.
- I’m coming back around to thinking Andy doesn’t have ulterior motives in this case, and that he truly cares about Holly. This is what I originally thought, but then he seemed a bit suspicious to me in Episode 5. Now I’m thinking he was simply taking an interest in the case and wanted to learn more about it to help Holly. I like Andy, so I’m hoping we’re not being tricked here.
- Is there something more than meets the eye regarding Claude’s brother, other than running around slinging drugs? What was the deal with him flashing a photograph of a sleeping Ralph? A simple joke, or is there more to it?
Two episodes of The Outsider remain. The tension in this show has been simmering for a while now, building a unique mood and sense of something terrible about to happen. I’m glad that I have no idea how everything will resolve. I have a feeling some members of Ralph’s squad will fall victim to the massive amounts of firearms Jack grabbed from his closet. But who all will survive? What will Holly’s fate be? After some methodical pacing in The Outsider, these final two episodes appear primed for action. As Holly said, “It’s here.”
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Enjoyed reading! Thank you Bryan O’Donnel!
Got around to watching that episode last night. Why does Ralph have such disbelief in Holly’s description el cuco given everything Ralph has seen? It does not make sense. Why does Ralph disbelieve? Ralph lost his son. His son died. He has never recovered from this. I think it makes Ralph at some level does not care. A futility of losing a son is incomprehensible unless of course one has loss a child. Instead of post-traumatic stress, Ralph has post-traumatic futility, meaninglessness? A mind has been broken: can it be put back together? I think that it is not a question as to whether Ralph believes Holly el cuco, but does Ralph care? After losing his son, does Ralph care about anything? He loves wife, and cares for her, but majority of time Ralph seems to not care–because Ralph has truly broken his mind, his heart, but not his soul which is why he has not committed suicide slowly with alcohol, or quickly with a gun. I think Ralph believes what is happening, but–almost does not care(because loss of his son)–and this translates on the screen as Ralph does not believe as as Ralph questions Holly and el cuco that has overwhelming evidence of existence.
The other reason Ralph may be disbelieving could be a self-defense mechanism of species. “Fight”, “flight”, or “fright”. Certain species, and humans are a species, are programmed to fight. Others of the same species are programmed “flight’ to runaway. Others of the same species are programmed “fright” which causes stillness and not moving. Such diversification of response cause a higher likelihood of a species surviving. Even with overwhelming evidence of el cuco–or some facsimile of el cuco, I think Ralph’s over criticism of Holly and el cuco is like one of these species traits “fight”, “flight”, “fright”. His over critical view of Holly–may illuminate in the future observations that would not be seen otherwise. One could argue, as Ralph’s wife did, that Ralph could cause harm to what everyone was trying to achieve–the destruction of el cuco, or at least humanity recognizing el cuco exists. I think that as there are traits such as “fight” , “flight”, and “fright” there are multitude of many more that humans use contributing to an aggregate role of not just survival of individual(s), but survival of species.
It is interesting a group tries to destroy another species “el cuco”, as the same group is trying to survive as a species themselves (whether they know they are doing this or not).
Winston Churchill said “History is written by the victors”
What could be added to this quote possibly is
“History is written by the victors–as is what is moral.”
I am an omnivore. I eat plants and I eat animals. To be an omnivore is moral.
Great read Bryan. Thought provoking. More to percolate!