HBO’s The Outsider (an adaptation of the Stephen King novel) is turning out to be a hell of a slow burn as the drama series unfolds. Two of those installments, “Fish in a Barrel” and “Roanoke,” aired on Sunday night, and the show is already leaving questions to be answered. We’ll work through them on a weekly basis, beginning below.
The Outsider‘s debut episode spends most of its time outlining the inconsistencies of the show’s central murder mystery, which revolves around the death of a young child, Frankie Peterson; the accused, Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman); and the lead cop on the case, Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn). The premiere left the audience with two big questions before moving onto an even more thought-provoking second installment.
Did or didn’t Terry kill Frankie? A “heap of forensic evidence” sits on both sides of the argument. Terry’s fingerprints were all over Frankie’s body and the white van. They were also found at and near the site of the professional conference that he attended 70 miles away at the time of the murder. CCTV evidence exists of him at a strip bar after the murder (with blood on his back, inconsistent with the given excuse of a nosebleed) and at the hotel near the conference. Also, this face is enough to haunt nightmares. Not to be trivial, but we’re not only looking at the same actor who played Michael Bluth but also the former child star of Teen Wolf Too. It’s … a lot to process.
The same goes for this image of Terry staring straight into a camera (again, penetrating our souls) outside the hotel. There’s also the matter of the closer look that Frank can’t figure out, i.e., the puzzle of why Terry (apparently) flipped the bird.
Why did Ralph have Terry so publicly arrested? This question receives an answer, days after cops interrupt Terry’s coaching stint at a kids’ baseball game, and that’s something that the lawman later comes to regret. Obviously, Ralph was motivated by what he felt was airtight evidence against Terry, but there’s also the heavy suggestion that Ralph was swayed by residual feelings about his own son, who died of cancer.
Many more questions surface with the “Roanoke” episode, which is presumably named for the infamous Lost Colony. That’s likely appropriate for hidden reasons, other than viewers feeling “lost” and left with the following questions.
What of Terry’s deathbed statement? In a seriously messed-up turn of events, Terry ends up being killed (in front of his wife and a bunch of TV cameras) just prior to his arraignment when a gunman opens fire outside the courthouse. With his last breaths, he tells Ralph (for a final time, after their official and clandestine discussions on the subject) that he didn’t kill Frankie and wasn’t on the scene during the homicide. This presents some issues, given that the series has already told us not to believe forensic evidence, witness statements, and CCTV on either side of the conflicted case against Terry. Should we believe what Terry’s actually saying to Ralph here? (Besides that point, there are definitely legal cases where deathbed confessions are admissible in court, but deathbed anti-confessions are a whole other ballgame.) Ralph starts to lean toward believing Terry, but not without plenty of questions remaining.
What did Ralph see during his therapy session? Yunis pretty much forces Ralph to go to therapy while he’s on administrative leave. Within the session, we see why he paused after removing the courthouse gunman’s glasses. Not only was the shooter young, but Ralph had also recalled the memory of what appears to be his son’s face.
Who’s the mysterious hooded figure? Lurking outside the courthouse chaos, we caught a glimpse of a mysterious, terribly unsettling face who hides underneath a hoodie. No one seems to notice this figure on the scene, but to be fair, everyone’s pretty damn distracted. It’s unclear whether this guy (and I’m making an assumption there) actually exists in the flesh; or if he’s human or otherworldly. He certainly appears to be up to no good. I’m gonna gather that we’re supposed to detect a sinister vibe.
The figure’s also visible in the background immediately following this tragic happening — Frankie Peterson’s father hanging himself while a jogger passes by — which is actually one of the most visually arresting scenes I’ve spotted in the first handful of episodes. That is to say, we can actually see what is happening because everything is well lit and framed, unlike several scenes within each episode. Hooded Figure sure ends up hanging out where people unexpectedly die, and that can’t be a coincidence.
Some other odd things (including some dark humor amid all the darkness) go down, too.
Why are we seeing the world’s cruelest wedgie? Detective Jack Hoskins is described as “ornery” in press materials, and I’d say we definitely see evidence of this here. He’s seriously angry about being called back early from vacation, and it’s hard to blame him for feeling that way, but damn, why take it out on this fellow strip-bar attendee? This mystery may never be solved, but if anyone has any takes, I’m here for them.
What of “Big Daddy’s Hangry BBQ”? I never knew that I wanted to hear Ben Mendelsohn say “Big Daddy’s Hangry BBQ,” but here I am, admitting it now. We learn near the end of “Roanoke” that this restaurant might be tied to whatever went down in Dayton, where the Maitlands took a vacation, and a teenage boy stole the white van.
What does Terry’s cut have to do with all of this? Terry’s wife, Glory, wearily agreed to talk to Ralph near the end of the second episode. Although she said nothing unusual happened in Dayton, one of the Maitland daughters (not the one who’s having night terrors of some sort) spilled that “Daddy got a cut.” Even though Glory insisted that a cut is just a cut, this seems relevant, and it appears that Terry was cut during some sort of interaction with a male nurse at his father’s medical facility. Given that the episode ended after this revelation, we can probably bet that we’ll hear more about this cut next week. Hopefully no more potentially lethal wedgies will surface, though.
HBO’s ‘The Outsider’ airs on Sunday nights at 9:00 pm EST.