HBO’s The Outsider (an adaptation of the Stephen King novel) has aired its season finale, “Must/Can’t.” The drama series combines King’s infamous adoration of supernatural touches with a murder mystery to chilling effect. We’ve talked about all of the deepening plot twists and mysterious scratches and spooky dreams that have unfolded along the way. Now it’s time for everyone to come together and stop El Cuco.
Less than a month ago, Stephen King promised that the final three episodes of The Outsider “are going to blow you away.” In response, I thought, “Sure, fine. He has to say that.” Well, now I’m rethinking because, while I wasn’t blown away, the episodes got under my skin. I was prepared for this showdown with El Cuco to take out the bogeyman, and I figured that we’d see some spine-tingling ending scene with Ben Mendelsohn’s Ralph making a puzzled face while absorbing the gravity of all the supernatural sh*t he witnessed. Those things happened — so there! — but screenwriter Richard Price tossed some wrinkles into the mix, which left Holly Gibney’s fate open.
In the process, the series sets up a possible second season, unless they want everyone to forever wonder what on earth is happening to Cynthia Erivo’s Holly. And you know, that might very well be the case, too. However, Price recently suggested to IndieWire that HBO was open to a sophomore run: “There’s no such thing as a series that, if it does well, they’re not going to want a second season.”
Yep, the finale hinted that this show — after the first ten minutes wrapped up Jack’s sniper attack on Holly and her troops — could continue. As I predicted, Andy didn’t make it out alive. Nor did Claude’s brother, Seale, which is (arguably) fitting because it’s his fault that El Cuco knew that the group was cave-bound. Yunis survived (yesss), and more on that later. Ralph made it as well, and so did Holly, thanks to a combination of Jack’s poor aim and/or conscious decisions on his behalf. We saw last week that Jack (who was still enslaved by El Cuco) had Ralph in his sights and, strangely, moved to shoot Alec instead. This week, he had a clear shot of Holly but chose not to take it.
Why didn’t Jack shoot Ralph and, more importantly, Holly? All along, she’s been painted as the biggest threat to the bogeyman/Tear Drinker/Grief Eater, so presumably, El Cuco would want her gone. I’m taking a shot at three possible reasons for Jack’s behavior:
(1) Jack, although an accomplished marksman, was inebriated, so maybe that’s why he was shooting terribly and also dropped the ball on killing Holly.
(2) Jack — and this is the most “logical” reason — was rattled enough by Holly’s scream to shake off El Cuco’s control. I think this is probably the strongest take, since Jack then merrily let a rattlesnake bite him and subsequently shot himself.
(3) Perhaps El Cuco — and I feel like this possibility presented itself as purposely ambiguous — wanted Holly to survive and enter the cave, so he could take a stab at controlling her, too. If this is true, then Holly Gibney could be the… new El Cuco.
Here’s my face when I realized that all of this clever f*ckery was happening.
And this is the face that I imagine that Richard Price and Stephen King were both making while the finale aired.
Well played? I think so. Let’s review the evidence without growing too terribly forensic, since we’re talking about supernatural shenanigans and an ending that’s uncharted from the book, in which Holly killed El Cuco with a “happy slapper,” a sock containing ball bearings, which is also her weapon of choice in Mr. Mercedes. In this HBO show, Ralph smashes in the head of El Cuco/Claude 2.0 after it, in a weakened form, starts flashing through former incarnations (including Heath) while facing certain death.
Done and done? Probably not. Several hints hint at strange happenings with Holly.
– The mid-credits scene: Holly receives a “visit” from Jack in her bathroom mirror. This causes her to panic and frantically examine her neck for blisters similar to what Jack sustained. Her neck looks unscathed, but she’s clearly feeling haunted.
We’ve got a scratch: Being traumatized might not be the extent of Holly’s situation. In a drawn-out moment where we see Holly reading a story about Terry Maitland’s exoneration, the camera lingers on her arm, and yep, that’s a scratch. Dammit.
Look, this might be a perfectly innocent scratch. She could have already had the mark before this episode, or maybe she picked it up (even though she was wearing a jacket in the cave) from falling rubble or while helping to move the boulder off O.G. Claude. Or maybe El Cuco snagged her, without us seeing it happen, but it feels like Holly would have reacted if that happened, and she seems oblivious here. Clearly, we’re supposed to see this scratch and wonder if there’s a Holly doppelganger brewing out in the wild. That’s not the only strangeness afoot.
“Who’s Terry?” That’s an actual question that Holly, who uttered the words “Terry Maitland” several times during her investigation this season, poses to Ralph in the cave. This question did not go unnoticed on social media, and it’s a real puzzler. That’s the pre-scratch-revelation moment when I began to suspect that the show was setting Holly up to be the next El Cuco host, or at least to make us wonder if that’s the case. Of course, this could have also been Holly being purposely obtuse with Ralph, who was entirely stubborn about coming around to her perspective for most of the season.
Why didn’t Holly see these ghosts, but Ralph did? This is a little odd. Holly, who’s absolutely obsessed with the supernatural and senses things that other people can’t even fathom, turns around and asks Ralph what’s wrong and completely does not see these two ghosts. Also, who are they? Well, they’re not dead Boltons, but instead, appear to be Ralph’s dead son, Derek, and the teen that Ralph shot outside the courthouse (after he opened fire on Terry). I might be reading too much into this moment, but it’s very bizarre that Holly Gibney wouldn’t see two ghosts that Ralph (the chronic unbeliever) sees. It makes me wonder if she wasn’t feeling, you know, like herself, but maybe this moment was intended to be a personal challenge for Ralph.
Holly’s goodbye exchange with Ralph: The two former adversaries shared a nice hug when Holly said goodbye in one of the final scenes. A few lines of dialogue gave me pause here: (1) Holly supplied an arguably too-cheery grin when Ralph asked, “Is there anything else out there?” (2) Holly told Ralph what she wishes she’d told El Cuco about why she believed in him so easily: “An outsider knows an outsider.” We could read this as communicating that she feels ostracized by alien-spaceship jokes and her position on the autism spectrum while making this utterance. Or we could wonder if Holly is, you know, going to be the new The Outsider.
Well, we won’t know what happens with Holly and El Cuco unless HBO announces a second season, so enjoy that frustration. However, we have certainty on one front that makes me very happy. My man, Yunis, is alive! He also (to my knowledge) sustained no scratches. Therefore, I predict that he’ll be saving the world in a second season from an El Cuco-controlled Holly, and he’ll smirkingly pull in a retired Ralph for assistance. Don’t take this dream away from me, El Cuco and HBO.
‘The Outsider’ can be streamed on HBO Go and HBO Now.