HBO’s The Outsider, based on Stephen King’s novel, concluded its 10-episode run last week in an unexpected fashion. With it being adapted from a single novel and the final episode adapting the closing chapters of the book, it seemed safe to say that The Outsider was a miniseries, a one-and-done season of television, but the ending appeared to imply that the show could return to our screens for a second season. This shift in categorisation from ‘limited series’ to ‘ongoing series’ is nothing new for HBO. They had hoped for a second season of the incredible Watchmen series but later recategorised it as a limited series when Damon Lindelof stated he didn’t want the show to continue. The opposite is true for Big Little Lies, a show with only one planned season that fully adapted the novel on which it was based but then, because of its success, returned for a notably weaker second season. One of my favourite TV series of all time, The Leftovers, adapted the Tom Perrotta novel of the same name and then returned for two more seasons of original storytelling that were far superior to the first. So, with HBO’s track record and the post-credits tease in the final episode, plus the fact that The Outsider’s finale shockingly had better ratings than both Watchmen and the third season of True Detective, a second season seems likely. But, should the show get a second season? What story is left to tell?
While there is some clear set-up for a second season at the very end of The Outsider’s first, there’s are some things left unresolved and unsaid from the ten episodes that could be further examined if the show was to return. The series is all about grief. Well, at least the first seven episodes are. The monster – El Cuco – only kills children as an appetizer; it’s the misery and grief expelled from both the victim’s family and the falsely accused’s family that it truly feeds on and relishes. We see this brilliantly portrayed in the first two episodes as the Peterson family experience unimaginable bereavement and die, one by one, as the series’ villain watches on. We’re told that this also happens to the family of the purported perpetrator too, almost adding a ticking clock to the series that Glory Maitland and her two daughters will follow a similar fate, but they never do. The pay off never comes to the endless hours in the middle of the season dedicated to seeing these characters struggle with grief. The Maitland family, as with many of the characters the show had built up over the first seven episodes, almost disappear as the show shifts focus to a new location.
El Cuco flees and our lead characters follow, leaving behind characters and stories with little resolution. The exploration of grief and the after effects of such a heinous crime are all but abandoned as the series shifts in its final act to a more standard hunt for the killer before he commits his next crime. I think the final three episodes are well executed for the most part, particularly the shootout that opens the final episode – other than deus ex rattlesnake putting an end to Jack’s enslavement to the beast and the fact that Andy, after being shot in the head and exploded in a car, somehow gets an open casket funeral – but in leaving Cherokee City, they left many characters and stories without much of an ending. Remember Hettienne Park’s character Tamika? She disappeared entirely, despite time being used to familiarise the audience with her and her newborn, with Jack’s reaction to it seemingly setting it up to be El Cuco’s next victim. But none of this came to pass. Was it all just an elaborate red herring? It’s left unresolved, especially so if El Cuco is still out there (more on that later), but is a second season worth having just to resolve threads that should have been tied up in the first?
Glory on the other hand does get at least some resolution, with Terry being exonerated for his crimes in the finale, but considering the amount of time we spent with her earlier in the season, it’s incredibly rushed. I think the confrontation in the caves, or at least the shootout with Jack, should have taken place in the penultimate episode, leaving the finale with sufficient time to close out character narratives and themes. The series also desperately needed to be eight episodes long, like a season of True Detective, rather than the interminably stretched middle of the season we received. The first act of the story (the opening two episodes) was fantastic and the third act (the closing three episodes) was strong but the middle five wavered in quality quite drastically with plenty on unnecessary filler. Ralph spent episode-after-episode stuck in his house with nothing to do while Holly slowly uncovered the truth about El Cuco. If the series does return for a second instalment then I hope it’s with a shorter and better-paced season.
While the season ends with an awkward tease for a second season in regards to plot, I’m not sure where you can go with these characters next. The finale culled a lot of the supporting cast and Ralph seems to have ended his character journey quite nicely. He’s a character wrecked by grief and has to accept his son’s death so El Cuco – a creature that feeds and controls through grief and pain – can’t hurt him and Ralph can therefore defeat it. Which he does, after encountering the ‘ghosts’ of his son and the Peterson boy he had to shoot earlier in the season. He’s accepted the past and can move on into hopefully a happier future. In a nice twist of fate, Ralph also ends the season lying to the police to hide the truth after beginning the season desperate to find the truth, believing that Terry is lying. So, after transitioning from skeptic to believer, I don’t know if Ralph needs a second season. Holly Gibney however is a much more interesting character and I’d be open to seeing more of her, especially with her appearing in multiple Stephen King novels. Maybe Ralph and Holly become the most miserable versions of Mulder and Scully imaginable and hunt down new supernatural creatures each season, all of whom are ‘outsiders’.
Stephen King is notoriously bad at endings, something he even says himself in a meta way during his cameo appearance in IT: Chapter 2. To counter this, it seems that when adapting The Outsider Richard Price didn’t want to commit to actually writing a definitive ending, so if the finale was disappointing, he could pick up the show for a second season. Price has done this with two teases for future stories, the first being the scene we get with the DA in the penultimate episode. In said scene, the District Attorney receives news that there’s been another child murder, eerily similar to the Maitland case. I’m somewhat confused about whether this is a tease or not. Could it be a regular murder, one they use to exonerate Terry in the finale? Ralph’s plan of what to say to the police about the real murderer in the Peterson case is gone over so quickly in the finale it’s hard to make sense of it. Could our El Cuco could have murdered the child on a trip out of his cave? Or is it implying that there is a second El Cuco monster out there? A second season with a second El Cuco could maybe make up for some of the mistakes the first season makes with the villain. Other than growl and grunt, the monster does nothing in the final couple of episodes and is disappointingly unthreatening. He’s essentially Pennywise crossed with BOB from Twin Peaks; a terrifying combination is executed correctly.
At the end of the first season, we see that Holly believes that she has a kind of demented kinship with El Cuco because they’re both outsiders. She hugs Ralph and mourns Andy, maybe indicating that she’s no longer an outsider, but then the post-credits scene reveals that she could be the Outsider. Or that the Outsider/El Cuco is becoming her. As she’s listening to “Washington Square” by The Village Stompers, the same song Ralph mentions was on the radio during a potentially supernatural encounter with his dead mother in the past, we see a scratch on her arm. Is it just a random scratch or could it be the mark of El Cuco? Has the beast survived its myriad of wounds and is transforming into her? Or could it have scratched her and then died, maybe passing on its nature like a virus and Holly is going to become the creature she fought against, adding new mythology to El Cuco? Or is the scene not supposed to be taken literally? Maybe the scratch represents her nature as an outsider, as she stated to Ralph earlier, and the scratch is a thematic representation of something rather than an actual plot point. Either way, I found the scene to be an awkward tease for a second season and fundamentally unnecessary.
Ultimately, the small setups for a sequel season stick out like a sore thumb. If you cut out the post-credit scene and explain away the sequence with the DA receiving details of a possible other El Cuco in the finale, then I think The Outsider would have ended well. It’s definitely not a perfect conclusion, there were things not fully explored and payoffs that never came, but is it really worth another season to try and correct these things? I don’t want a second season but I also don’t want the story to be left open-ended, as it sadly currently is. I’d prefer the teases for season 2 to have been cut but because they didn’t, I’m reluctantly anticipating the announcement of a second season, and I’ll begrudgingly watch it. Hopefully it justifies its existence and I’ll become more positive about it when we get more information on what a continuation of The Outsider actually looks like. Just like El Cuco, the show is seeking survival through means that feel unnatural.
What did you think of HBO’s The Outsider? Are you hoping for a second season? Let me know in the comments and be sure to geek out with me about TV, movies and video-games on Twitter @kylebrrtt.