When you think of gripping TV dramas, you probably don’t think of WGN. For years, the network has basically been a landfill for syndicated sitcoms and bigger channels looking to dump their old shows. But since rebranding as WGN America and launching acclaimed series like Manhattan and Underground, that’s started to change.. So if the station’s latest original series Outsiders (its fourth so far) has flown under your radar, that’s okay. But consider this your first and only warning. If you don’t immediately binge-watch every episode of this show, we will come find you, tie you to a chair, pry your eyelids open with pliers and do the job ourselves. (Sorry, that went too dark, too fast.)
Seriously, though, with Paul Giamatti executive producing and stars like David Morse and Sons of Anarchy’s Ryan Hurst lending their talents, there’s no reason not to become obsessed with Outsiders, whose finale airs tonight. A moonshine-drenched look at American culture, the series dives deep into backwoods territory by focusing on a clan of isolationists content with making their home on a mountain deep in the Kentucky wilderness.
The Farrells — aptly named — lead a simple existence. Instead of money, they barter with goods; instead of learning to read and write, they… well, just don’t. They live by their own code, fighting, procreating, and drinking liquor in the woods while the local townsfolk at the base of the mountain view them as savages. Even Sheriff Wade Houghton (Thomas M. Wright) would rather sweep their infractions under the rug — pretty sure supply runs that see the family stealing goods from supermarkets by riding down the aisles on ATVs are considered illegal — than confront the “mystic mountain folk.”
Of course a TV drama needs action and, though the scenes that provide subtle commentary on societal norms and individual autonomy are often the most compelling, love triangles, murder, betrayal, drug addiction, prodigal son prophecies and four-wheeling jousting tournaments all get their due. While the Farrells would be more than happy to continue pillaging from the town as needed and having hoedowns in the boondocks, a national coal-mining company has its eye on their mountain-top safe haven — the family doesn’t own it, obviously, because that would involve money, bills of sale, and other things the Farrells simply don’t have time for.
That’s where Asa (Joe Anderson) comes in. Arguably the show’s main character, the young clansman returns to the mountain after ten years of living in the civilized world. Tainted by society and shunned for abandoning his family, he quickly finds himself imprisoned in a cage for six months by the group, only to be released after he proves helpful in reading an eviction notice issued to the mountain folk by said mining company.
If the show centers on the conversation of what’s normal and what’s other, Asa is the embodiment of that dichotomy. Hated by his family for being too similar to the townspeople, mistrusted by the townspeople for being a wild Farrell, he serves as the reluctant bridge between the two worlds and the foe to Anderson’s Big Foster, a man who’s set to inherit leadership of the clan from his mother Lady Ray. The passing of the crown is threatened by Asa’s return as Lady Ray sees it as fulfillment of an age-old prophecy that warns of the looming destruction of the clan.
Admittedly there are a lot of storylines happening on this show. Asa’s adversarial relationship with Big Foster (Morse), his place as a corner of a love triangle between Lil’ Foster (Hurst) and his childhood love G’Win (Gillian Alexy), the clan’s imminent showdown with the mining company and all of the poorly planned ways they hope to sabotage construction on the mountain, Sheriff Houghton’s drug addiction and mysterious history with the Farrells, a Romeo-Juliet romance between a young, endearing clan member Hasil (Kyle Gallner) and town resident Sally-Ann (Christina Jackson). It’s obvious creator Peter Mattei wasn’t worried about weaving too many subplots into his 13-episode run, but it all works, mainly thanks to its extremely talented cast and its gritty feel.
You won’t find anything more fun to watch on TV right now than Morse and Anderson’s rivalry. A scene in the third episode featuring the two teaming up to drunkenly trash a construction site before returning to their normal back-and-forth of veiled threats and hillbilly-accented insults effectively proves that. It’s also great to see a show that marketed itself with masculinity — most early trailers spent plenty of screen-time on that epic jousting tournament, clips of gun runs and blackmarket moonshine deals — give its female characters the more powerful roles.
As bren’in (the clan’s old-language term for leader), Lady Ray rules over her people with uncompromising authority. Her power struggle with her son makes for some shocking moments on the show — no spoilers, but assassination attempts come in pairs. Similarly, G’Win is more than just the symbolic rope in a romantic tug of war between Lil’ Foster and Asa. She wields an influence that’s felt more and more as the series moves forward.
Tonight’s season finale promises to tie up some loose ends in the battle for the mountain and might just involve a main character meeting his (or her) demise. Anyone tuning in will likely be compelled to catch up with what they’ve missed. There’s something here for everyone: violence and family-oriented hierarchy for the Game of Thrones fans, moonshine, whiskey and law-breaking for anyone still crying themselves to sleep at night over the ending of Justified, gun-running, drug-deals and total lack of respect for authority that Sons of Anarchy club members dig — really, it’s just an all-around crowd pleaser that should only get better in the already-announced second season.
The season finale of Outsiders airs on WGN America tonight at 9 p.m. ET.