It's Good vs. Ancient Evil as the team confronts El Coco.
Ben Mendelsohn
Credit: Bob Mahoney/HBO

The Outsider

S1 E10

The biggest problem with the finale of The Outsider is that its opening few minutes are some of the show’s most anxiety-inducing work, which means the rest of the episode struggles to keep up. It’s a tense, propulsive, uncomfortable opening scene that picks up where last week’s episode left off, with Jack trying to kill everyone coming after El Coco. He’s already killed Pelley, and he’s aiming for more. He kills Claude’s brother, and it isn’t long before both Andy and Howie are dead when Jack makes a car explode, killing both men. At some point some of these characters had to die — that’s the way Stephen King novels work — but that doesn’t make this scene any less difficult to watch. It’s gruesome and shocking, and there’s real dread in the feeling that our heroes are pinned down with little hope to make it out alive.

Unfortunately, from there, the finale struggles to keep the momentum. There’s a great shot where, after Jack has managed to fend off the influence of El Coco long enough to tell the team he’s hiding in the cave, all before killing himself, the camera swings up into the air and surveys the wreckage. A burning car, other cars riddled with bullet holes, a few dead bodies. The remnants of a battle that still isn’t over. It’s a shot that visually represents the thematic underpinnings of the series: that the real struggle comes after the battle, when grief and an existential crisis kick in. Evil is a hell of a beast, but it’s got nothing on the trauma that lives with you well after Evil has been thwarted.

That shot is, in a way, the climax of the series. It tells you everything you need to know. The rest of the episode is largely a whole lot of exposition and tying up loose ends in ways that aren’t particularly satisfying. Take the final showdown with El Coco. Gibney and Ralph head into the cave, and they have a curious conversation with El Coco (fully looking like Claude) about what he is and what his purpose might be. They don’t get any answers, and then things just sort of end anticlimactically. Claude comes in, shoots El Coco, and the cave collapses. Gibney and Claude head out, but Ralph goes back to make sure the thing is dead. It’s not, and he relishes in being able to end its life, saying that it’d be better if no one ever knew this thing existed.

That’s a potentially interesting angle, the idea being that Ralph has come around to believing in this thing, but also wants to shield the world from the kind of eye-opening, world-expanding experience he’s had. But the show doesn’t do much with it. Essentially, Ralph gets a “happy” ending where he can imagine seeing his deceased son again one day. After all that anticipation and tension, the whole thing ends with El Coco mostly dying from a collapsed cave, and the team deciding to concoct some sort of fake story to clear Terry’s name.

I’ll be honest: I may not have totally followed the story they created, so feel free to drop into the comments if you got all the details and I’m missing something. In essence, though, they talk about Jack killing everyone, but being influenced by someone else who’s on the run, the “main actor” who tried to kidnap another kid. That forces the DA to reopen the case, apologize to Glory, and publicly clear Terry Maitland’s name. There’s some intriguing thematic work here too, the idea that even with El Coco dead the grief lives on, and these lives are forever changed. But again, the show never really digs much deeper. Everything feels rushed and too tidy considering how much of the series was a slow burn interested in sitting in uncomfortable emotions and morally questionable situations.

Anyways, the emotional arc ends with Ralph and Jeannie visiting Derek’s grave—the episode ends with Holly Gibney seemingly infected by El Coco, her remark of “Who’s Terry?” and her sly smirk when Ralph asks her “what else is out there?” suddenly making sense—and, like I mentioned above, contemplating what this experience might mean for what they believe in terms of an afterlife. It’s an ending that makes sense, but it feels very tacked on. A tidy little bow with no complications, which, to me, doesn’t suit the more ambitious episodes that came before. Much like the novel the show is adapted from, The Outsider had some interesting stuff to say, and plenty of atmosphere to boot, but struggled to keep it all going along the way.

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The Outsider
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