"(I Remember) When She Loved Me" is an ambitious, tantalizing misstep. Outcast writer Jeff Vlaming incorporates some major beats from series creator Robert Kirkman's source comic, and thankfully explores new territory by establishing Kyle's relationship with his mother, Sarah, but the episode falls prey to a few big mistakes.
Imagine if it climaxed with the concluding image of Outcast's second issue: Brent Spiner's diabolical stranger visits Sarah in her hospital bed, and a single tear rolls down her cheek as he boasts about "having [Kyle]" despite her better efforts. Vlaming and director Howard Deutch downplay the emotional impact of this scene in a patently unnecessary, head-slappingly blunt flashback that shows Kyle being strangled by the viscous black gunk that both Sarah and Joshua vomited after he exorcised them.
This image — Kyle strangled by a noose-shaped black cloud — begs viewers to take the show's heavy-handed psychologizing seriously. It also inadvertently speaks to what makes Outcast so interesting: its creators' paradoxical interest in making their possessed antagonists' sympathetic by absolving them of guilt.
Think about it: Unlike zombies, victims of demonic possession are alive, but without control. We assume that their personalities and sense of agency have not been completely destroyed because periodically, they still speak to their loved ones in recognizable human voices. When a young Kyle locks Sarah in the pantry, she meekly tells him that she's scared of the dark. Horror movies have trained viewers to be mistrustful of this ploy, so you'd be forgiven for dismissing this scene as just another post-Exorcist cliché. But this episode tries very hard to get viewers to see and understand Kyle's guilt, and why it led him to hide from the outside world. You can see it in the way that Patrick Fugit fidgets, almost never making eye contact with the other actors. Kyle practically hops from one foot to the other when his neighbor, Sidney, asks after him; he can't wait to be alone again. The scene where Sarah — or the thing that's manipulating Sarah — speaks in her voice is crucial because it speaks to Kyle's doubts. What if all those years of abuse weren't really his mother's fault?
Vlaming and Deutch strain to suggest that Sarah wasn't always a bad mother. They show us one of Kyle's idyllic pre-abuse memories, an impressionistic scene in which the boy mouths "I love you" to his mom while she beams at him approvingly. To be fair, depictions of black sludge erupting out of possessed victims' mouths also unnecessarily reassures viewers that evil is real, and therefore should not be dismissed. But that's just it: The knowledge that evil objectively exists and that good people are threatened by its existence automatically shifts the show's focus away from Kyle's inner struggle. If Kyle's actions are truly justified, his search for answers becomes less interesting.
Kirkman assures viewers that Evil with a capital "E" exists in his comic too, a mistake that is perhaps best exemplified by the sudden appearance of Spiner's unnamed character. Nevertheless, affirming Reverend Anderson's mission does interesting things for the show's focus. Take, for example, the episode's most affecting scene: Kyle's failed exorcism of Sarah. This scene does not exist in the comics, and it's definitely an improvement on the source material. After Joshua's successful exorcism, Kyle tries to use his supernatural powers to snap Sarah out of her coma. He does everything he did to Joshua, right down to exposing Sarah to sunlight and dribbling his own blood into her mouth. Thankfully, Kyle does not succeed. Had he manage to cure his mother, the scene would only confirm Kyle's martyr complex. Instead, the plan doesn't work, making him look small and human. This sequence makes you doubt Kyle, or maybe just forget the many ways that he's been positioned as an anti-heroic messiah.
In many other ways, however, "(I Remember) When She Loved Me" establishes the importance of Kyle's quest. We know that Anderson is right when he says that Kyle has to let go of his mother, just as we know that he's right to think that Evil is real. So when Chief Giles (Reg E. Cathey) warns Anderson that he might be attracting more trouble than he's stopping — "The more you preach hellfire and brimstone, the more hellfire and brimstone you get" — we only briefly pause before remembering, oh right, every piece of evidence backs up Anderson's case. Philip Glenister does a fine job of reminding viewers of how prideful and stolid a man can be when he knows he's right. He digs in his heels, white-washing the Satanic graffiti on the church because even symbolic challenges bother him now.
Anderson also lectures his parishioners in a way that would, in any other context, be insufferable. We know he's speaking the truth, but try to imagine what people in his pews are thinking: What proof or evidence do they have beyond Anderson's words? We watch Anderson and Kyle's actions from a relatively privileged perspective, making it easy to overlook this fact. But apart from Giles, nobody even half-heartedly questions Anderson's vision, or his demands to put "more butts in these pews." The congregants whom Anderson asks to help build his "army" of worshipers are only wary because of Kyle. This reflects their pettiness, not their lack of faith. For that reason, the show's focus blurs a bit whenever it comes to Anderson's subplot. If we know better than to question this character, what are we supposed to think about those who challenge him? Outcast's creators haven't provided any substantial answers yet, but the questions they've posed in the space of two episodes are pretty tantalizing.
Shots in the Dark:
- Reverend Anderson says that church is "the only thing to fortify us, inoculate us against the darkness." Such a strident line — in episode two, no less — is pretty provocative, no?
- "This ain't the Crips, chief." Do they have gangs in this part of … uh … town?
- Giles: "[Anderson] keeps the peace in this town the way our guns and badges can't." Again, quite a provocative opinion, no? Within the context of Kirkman's Bible Belt upbringing, he's basically progressive. But did anybody else twitch at this line?
- Another burning question: Who else thought Giles acted ungratefully when he walked off with one of Anderson's beers? It's only Rolling Rock, but c'mon! The man gives you a beer, you drink with him.
- Theory time: Giles is the humanizing counter to Anderson's hard-to-swallow, but essentially true perspective. Without his protests, Anderson would be unbearable. But is that enough? More Reg E. Cathey, please!