In one of the scenes of “The Outsider”, one of the titular characters “Terry Maitland” (played by Jason Bateman) is seen with blood in his mouth and coming out of the woods. He is spotted by one of his students and it turns out that Maitland is a well known baseball coach in a local school. He is then implicated in a gruesome murder of one of his students. This chameleon like character who is loved by many but seems to be somebody who is not in control of his mind is a classic example of how Stephen King weaves his narrative. As this show happens to be in Cherokee City, Georgia, which is also King’s signature strategy of using small town America for some brutal crime (Eg. “IT”), the viewer gets a familiar feeling of what Stephen King’s stories have in store. But it’s not that black and white!
The Outsider is a TV show produced by HBO and is based on the bestselling book of the same name by Stephen King. The show has 10 episodes in its first season and 4 have been released. They are now available for streaming on “Hotstar” in India.
The show stars a couple of top rate actors like Jason Bateman, Ben Mendelsohn, Bill Camp and the superb Cynthia Erivo with a host of supporting actors. The show has been created by Andrew Bernstien. In this post I will review the content of the first 4 episodes of the show. The 4th episode was aired on 26th January, 2020.
The Plot of “The Outsider”
“The Outsider” centres its story around the town of Cherokee City, Georgia in the US and all the characters living in it. A gruesome murder of a teen boy named Frank Peterson strikes fear in the town and the boy’s baseball coach Terry Maitland is implicated and quite few people testify for his guilt by virtue of spotting him near the site of the murder. He gets arrested and is humiliated. But Maitland gives a video evidence of him being in another city for an event. The case is being investigated by Detective Ralph Anderson and his team. Several other abnormal events and murders take place in the city and some related murders in New York as well. As the case suggests an extra-terrestrial angle to the double appearance of Maitland, the team led by Anderson hires private investigator Holly Gibney to look into the possibility of a ‘doppleganger’ involved in the case.
The New ‘Whodunit’ Genre
One of the best parts of the story telling in “The Outsider” is the time it takes to establish the presence of a sinister force at play. No character, no incident gives you the slightest idea of a supernatural connection in the first episode. No grizzly animals, no spirits, no monsters are used. From a Stephen King perspective, it’s a bit of a departure as he just keeps the “evil under wraps” for a long time. The story dives into the personal catharsis and sadness of each affected individual and builds a case for sadness as a ‘source of oxygen’ for the killer in question. In fact, ‘The Outsider’ at times looks like an emotional drama in the first episode. As you sift further into Episode 2 and 3, you get clues of something far more sinister than what it seems on the surface. But the revealing of the killer is slow and painful. The show actually builds its narrative on the delay of the reveal. While guessing who did it, the show takes a look at the personal issues and dark sides of the investigating team. This is a refreshingly new way to look at thrillers and horror ideas.
The Character of Holly Gibney
The induction of Cynthia Erivo as Holly Gibney ( a private investigator who is an expert in tracing the origin of crime) is an absolute knockout. Holly is a character loved a lot by fans of Stephen King as she appears in multiple books such as The Bill Hodges Trilogy. For a long time, viewers feel frustrated as the real murderer gives tidbits of hints but no character deep dives in ‘it’. Holly brings a sense of freshness to the show by being an impulsive and often scared investigator. Her humanity in identifying horrific incidents is fascinating. Her knowledge of various cultures, traditions and history puts her at a vantage point in investigating murder cases. But her big contradiction is the fact that she is not a very social person as such but her job entails her to meet creepy, curious and devastated people. In the book, Holly is played by a white character. But Jason Bateman and the team behind the show, wanted Cynthia Erivo in it. I think it worked wonders for the script as she speeds up the narrative which seemed a bit slow in the beginning.
What Can Be Expected in the coming episodes?
“The Outsider” is a psychological horror drama but it feels like it has a lot of similarities to “IT”, another famous book and film written by King. One gets a sense that there will be a big reveal of the ‘monster being’ and we might see the introduction of new characters as well. As of now each and every major character is under ‘threat’.
Jason Bateman shines as Terry Maitland. Ben Mendelsohn gives a nuanced performance as well. But Cynthia Erivo as Holly Gibney steals the show !
“The Outsider” is a gripping horror show as it hinges on powerful storytelling, the content of Stephen King and superlative performances of its main characters. I would give this show a 7 out of 10 (for the first 4 episodes).