The Outsider recap: Visions and rituals
When I wrote my recap of the two-part season premiere of The Outsider, I worried that the show would struggle to sustain its momentum after burning through so much plot from the book in just two hours. The next two episodes deepened the mystery, fleshed out the characters, and established an eerie, compelling tone that kept things interesting even if the more traditional procedural aspects were buckling under the weight of a plot stretched thin. “Tear Drinker” doesn’t get so lucky though. The compelling, haunting atmosphere is still there, but this is the first episode of the season to feel like a drag to sit through.
There are a few things that contribute to this episode feeling rather sluggish. One of the main problems is the show continually going back to the same episode structure, where we get a cold open that foreshadows future events before flashing back and filling in the details. That can be an effective storytelling tool — the episode bookended by Heath going to prison and then slitting his own throat used the mystery of the plot beautifully — but the show is overusing it. It’s relying on the same structure in each episode, and it’s leading to a lot of predictable moments.
“Tear Drinker” feels like The Outsider is killing time. Every plot thread is unspooling at a brutal crawl, and while that wasn’t necessarily an issue right off the bat, the slow burn is starting to rob the show of its intrigue. This is partly because we can see what’s happening or about to happen, and yet the show is still playing coy. Take Jack, for instance. We know he’s been infected by whatever thing/being/demon has been ruining families across numerous states. We know he’s close to blowing up and doing something truly heinous and violent, and the show is teasing us with it. Ideally, our knowledge would help build tension. But that tension can only be sustained for so long, and right now The Outsider is running out of steam. Every scene with Jack is the same: he’s brash and offensive and this might finally be the moment where he lashes out, but then he doesn’t. We’re watching the same thing over and over again.
The slow reveal of facts, and the slow-burn pace of the narrative, has helped establish the show’s atmosphere, but now it’s working to its detriment. At some point, The Outsider needs more action. Not explosions or gunfights or anything like that, but rather more things happening. Where the deliberate pace has contributed to the various themes in some episodes, “Tear Drinker” is mostly absent of any layered nuance. Gibney spends much of the hour wandering around cemeteries, trying to figure out what connects all of these cases and just what is committing the murders. She finds derelict buildings at every site — the barn where Terry’s clothes were found ends up being right near where he’s been buried, which nobody knew somehow — and wonders if the Grief Eater is haunting these places.
These details can be revealing and necessary, but The Outsider is doling them out like crumbs, and that’s not enough to really feed a mystery over time. “Tear Drinker” is dull in its plotting and execution. There are a handful of solid scenes because this show is still doing some interesting things. Jeannie’s visit from the Hooded Figure is wonderfully creepy, and it allows the show to go deeper inside the trauma that nearly tore her marriage to Ralph apart. That insight also underlines how this case is opening that wound again. Or rather, the wound remains open, even if Ralph is in denial about it. He tells Jeannie that her run-in with the Hooded Figure was just a bad, vivid nightmare and that Frankie’s death has her once again thinking about their son. But the truth is that Ralph is the one still consumed. He’s the one distant from his wife because he’s wrapped up in getting to the bottom of this case. He’s the one reliving the pain of that time when their son died and their marriage was on the rocks. He’s the one being visited by a vision of their dead son.
These are nice character-building moments, but they’re stuck in an episode that’s otherwise dull and meandering.