HBO’s The Outsider (an adaptation of the Stephen King novel) is turning out to be a hell of a slow burn. The fifth installment, “Tear-Drinker,” aired on Sunday night, and the show’s been prompting plenty of questions. This week, the mystery further deepens through a hoodie-wearing menace and future-predicting dreams.
Last week’s The Outsider episode introduced the story’s take on the mythical El Cuco, a ghost-monster that is pretty much the bogeyman. Holly Gibney was already digging into what she was calling “the Grief Eater,” and there was a suggested tie to the hoodie guy who kept hanging out near-death scenes. Although this story frames itself as a murder mystery, we’re obviously seeing plenty of the supernatural touches that we’d expect from King. Holly has pretty much nailed down — although law enforcement, led by Ralph Anderson, doesn’t really agree — her doppelganger theory. She’s piecing together a trail of defendants who appear to be entirely innocent of murdering children but were still convicted through DNA evidence. They all acquired mysterious scratches and passed the “virus” (for lack of a better word) onto each other. Whereas Detective Jack got scratched in an abandoned barn by a nefarious presence, which is now controlling him.
Speaking of mysterious scratches, we’ve got a few new developments:
Scratch Update #1: Claude Bolton, strip club manager, is starting to catch the itch following Terry Maitland’s wrist scratch. He’s woozy and remembering his encounter with Terry, so will we see a Claude doppelganger at some point? It’s hard to predict, since we don’t know if Terry, Maria, or Heath ever felt physically funky before hatching (for lack of a better word) a doppelganger. And Claude’s symptoms don’t appear to match up with Jack’s case, either, since he first realized something was seriously amiss very soon after the barn attack when his neck started burning. Whereas several days have passed since Claude was scratched by Terry. Will we see a third iteration of what El Cuco will do in order to accomplish its child-killing/grief-eating mission?
Scratch Update #2: A new character, first seen dead in the street during the episode’s opening moments, turns out to be connected to Heath in some way. Holly heard the guy mutter that “he” (El Cuco?) f*cked over Heath and himself. Notably, the marks on this guy’s neck resemble the blistery affliction that Jack’s got going on. It appears that El Cuco was controlling this guy, too, and that’s why he forced police to kill him. Why? I don’t know. Oddly, this guy was tied to Heath, who caught the version of the affliction that’s spread from doppelganger-to-person (not the same way Jack was attacked). Further, this guy was hanging out in the cemetery (like El Cuco does), where Holly visited, and then his cop-suicide at the end appeared to be aligned with Holly hitting a traffic snarl (caused by the standoff). Honestly, this seems like a ton of trouble for El Cuco. If he wanted to stop Holly’s investigation, why isn’t he aiming straight toward her? Maybe El Cuco realizes that Holly wouldn’t be intimidated by his garbage tactics.
Checking In On Ornery Jack: Well, Jack’s miraculously behaving himself in public (at least relative to his bar-wedgie delivery) by the end of the episode. That’s because he’s doing this entity’s bidding and working on getting inside the Frankie Peterson case. He claims to have stopped drinking, and he appears to be genuinely afraid that he’ll hurt Tamika’s baby, but yeah, plenty of bad vibes from Jack wanting to “help” Ralph out. In private, Jack’s raging because the presence doesn’t respect his lamp offerings and wildlife sacrifices, and he gets struck down in the middle of the field as a result. The guy was already a loose cannon before getting scratched, and now he’s a true wild card.
Of Hoodies And Dreams: Much of the rest of the episode revolved around unsettling dreams and spooky hoodies, and the question of whether Jeannie’s conversation with a hooded menace (after freaking out about hoodies in her office’s waiting room) was actually a dream. It appears that whatever is speaking to Jeannie (with a message for Ralph) is the presence that’s controlling Jack (although we never actually hear it speak to Jack). However, Ralph’s convinced that his wife’s been hitting the sleeping pills too hard (she does sleepwalk sometimes, but come on, the stepping-on-glass aspect must be unusual) and dreamed everything up. I brightened the screencap up there ^^^, and it sure looks like it’s dripping-face guy (let’s just call him El Cuco).
Here’s where we dive into the deepest depths of Ralph’s denial. Jeannie’s drawing of El Cuco resembles the drawing that the Dayton-van teenager drew for Ralph, yet he still refuses to believe that this entity actually visited their home and spoke with Jeannie. Obviously, he’s never going to accept Jeannie’s hunch that whatever killed Frankie has a supernatural edge. Ralph also doesn’t want to stop investigating Frankie’s murder despite any threat, legit or not, for a few reasons: (1) Justice for Frankie; (2) Ralph’s unconsciously tying the case to his own son dying of cancer. And it also appears that El Cuco is what’s been visiting Terry Maitland’s youngest daughter, Jessa, with warnings to Ralph. And he still won’t believe!
This leads me to another takeaway from this episode, which is that beyond Holly Gibney’s brilliance, this story needs characters who can cut through the biases and the bullsh*t and point out the truth of the matter without leaning too far into the skeptic-paranormal dichotomy that Ralph and Holly represent. With that standard set, we’ve got two underrated characters who are proving to be the real MVPs.
The Best Bartender Ever:
I don’t know how well this lady does drinks, but she’s killing it here with personality, and much credit does go to Holly for knowing who to unofficially consult on the Maitland case. She’s got Andy doing legwork for her, and she knows exactly who can play a good word association game. This bartender manages to casually help Holly dissect any possible Grief Eater/Tear Drinker motives, along with the realization that this thing is hanging out in cemeteries. She’s also a riot and deserves some good tips, dammit.
I dig this guy, even if I never expected him to say, “Dreams are messages, bro.” It somehow works in this scene, though, and someone (Yul Vazquez) got away with saying that to Ben Mendelsohn on camera. Of course, this quote also clouds the investigative waters. Jeannie didn’t appear to be dreaming, but I feel like Yunis damn well knows how Ralph ticks. He’s trying to get this case solved, and he wants Ralph to look into what Jeannie saw. Yunis also knows that Ralph is stubborn enough to not dig into things unless he’s prodded, so maybe Yunis is embellishing a little bit? Then again, maybe I’m wrong, and his story about his great-grandma’s dream was real.
It’s definitely worth giving Yunis a few points for noticing that Terry’s gravesite is near the barn where his discarded clothing was found after Frankie’s murder. Granted, Yunis should be the guy who figures out this out about the barn, but at this point, I’m amazed when any character in this series besides Holly can put together pieces of a puzzle. Overall, the local law enforcement department is not doing well here.
Let’s not dismiss the dream business too quickly, though. We did (barely) see Tamika have a hoodie-guy dream about her own baby’s disappearance.
Oh yeah, and one more thing.
What Of Ralph’s visitor?
Ralph and Jeanne’s late son, Derek, shows up at the end of the episode and tells Ralph to let him go. Ralph doesn’t appear to be surprised or rattled, and he appears to silently refuse Derek’s plea as well. So, is this … a Ralph dream … or a common occurrence? Is it real in the sense that Derek’s ghost is visiting? And if the latter is true, did El Cuco send Derek’s ghost to convince his father to stop the Frankie investigation? I don’t know why El Cuco would send all types of messages to Ralph instead of tossing on the hoodie and paying a visit. There’s the suggestion that Holly and Ralph are both immune to visits from El Cuco, but who knows how long their “luck” will hold out.
HBO’s ‘The Outsider’ airs on Sunday nights at 9:00 pm EST.