Outcast Recap: God Is Messing With Us

Philip Glenister as Reverend Anderson. Photo: Cinemax
Episode Title
All Alone Now
Editor’s Rating

In "All Alone Now," the forces of Evil chip away the few remaining shreds of Kyle's confidence. This necessarily makes for a frustrating hour, since we mostly assume Kyle's perspective. After last week's realization that he couldn't use his powers to heal his mother, he ends this episode more dejected than ever, now that he knows certain victims cannot even be exorcised.

That's certainly the impression he gets after trying to heal Blake, a murderer and rapist who drops small clues about his powers. It's hard to know if we can trust what Blake tells Kyle about his "outcast" status. Based on what he says, he and his kind — they're apparently not demons — are not eager for Kyle to lose his powers. Blake actually teases Kyle with his fondest wish — to no longer be able to help victims of possession — but that's just another feint. What's true? What isn't? It's hard to know.

Although it's easy to sympathize with Kyle and Anderson's frustration, it's much tougher to separate their subjective suppositions from the impressions we're supposed to be left with. Can we be sure Kyle is right when he says that "whatever's in [Blake] is there to stay?" That seems like a shot in the dark, but he's probably on to something. Still, how could Kyle know? Is this a rare act of faith from someone who constantly challenges Anderson's similar leaps in logic? Or how about the scene where Blake sneers after being beaten viciously? Kyle seems to hurt him, but Blake hisses for "more," as if he were ready for a few more rounds. That one-word taunt is supposed to mess with our heads, but we're three episodes in and the rules of exorcism only seem to be getting murkier.

I'm trying to make guarded criticism of the show's intentional ambiguities because I know that series creator Robert Kirkman is building towards something. Learning about Kyle's powers is the crux of the show, so anything that leaves viewers with more questions than answers is probably meant to be vexing. That notion is reinforced in Kirkman's comics, too. There's even a scene in a recent issue where Anderson — who has a bad gambling habit in the comics — reveals a new theory to some poker buddies: God just likes to mess with people. Or, put another way: People are sustained by their search for meaning, but the answers we find are meager and unsustainable. That's the theory the TV series has toyed with throughout its brief run, and it's certainly an interesting one.

But how can one enjoy a show that relishes leading viewers around by the nose? There were several moments in "All Alone Now" when I just wanted the show's creators to slow down and flesh out their supporting characters. Megan and Mark's respective subplots are especially disappointing in this light because they don't really reveal much about Kyle's closest relatives. All we know about Mark is that he's stubborn and horny — the scene where he tries and fails to, uh, complete a little boudoir business is especially sad. And Megan is apparently a bad guidance counselor. This is the advice she gives to a victim of school-yard bullying: "Don't let her cross your orbit." Wow, great tip! If Megan and Mark are supposed to be the emotional glue of Outcast, it's no wonder that nothing hangs together.

Even so, the episode is nothing if not effectively unnerving. Like Kyle, we don't know when Blake is just messing with Kyle, and when he's being honest. Blake's comments about Kyle's powers are certainly the most confusing exchange — he promises to help if Kyle continues to visit him, but then taunts him by saying he will never be rid of his gifts. This comes after Blake mockingly asks Kyle why he would want to be normal: "Didn't your mama tell you not to hide your light under a bushel?" It all lends credence to the prison guard's admonition to Anderson: "You'd be surprised by what can be turned into a weapon." By making himself vulnerable and revealing the questions he wants answered, Kyle gives Blake's possessor — yes, Blake is technically a hostage now — the means to mess with him.

Although Kyle's interrogation does add more to the story than it takes away, it's still not a fun viewing experience. "Fun" may not be what Kirkman is aiming for, but there's not much to latch on to beyond creepy ambience, mystifying questions, and some strong performances. Outcast seems to have taken several pages out of The Exorcist's playbook, but it's straining to draw out that film's off-putting and unsettling elements. Hyperrealistic violence and circuitous interrogations may intentionally frustrate viewers, but both tools are a little too effective in "All Alone Now."

It's simply too hard to get into the episode, given how far afield it gets from the show's most compelling aspect: learning how to sympathize and accept loved ones who commit evil acts. How can we learn to hate the sin and love the sinner if we're focused on getting answers to questions that won't come in this episode? We know that Evil is real, so we don't need any further negative reinforcement of the fact that Kyle is not an omnipotent demon-healer. But what good does it do if we're stuck listening to Blake without knowing anything about his crimes, or his pre-possessed life? And what about Kyle? The most compelling part of Blake's questioning is the bit where he sizes up Kyle, but there's no follow-up, making it hard to tell if he got inside his head. By focusing so much on Kyle's powers, the show diminishes its ability to get under viewers' skin. The stakes in tonight's Outcast are too low, making it the weakest installment in an otherwise promising new series.

Shots in the Dark:

  • Anderson to Kyle: "I never walked away from a soul in torment. That includes your mother." Isn't this a touch manipulative? 
  • Kyle to Blake: "Do you know me?" What was the deal with this? It felt like Kyle was getting his bearings in a way that we haven't see him do. (Not even in the comics.) Could it be a Biblical reference? An allusion to Christ asking Peter three times if he loves him? Or is that a stretch?
  • Does the Devil get stubble? He has to take care of his host body, right? I ask because it's weird to see Evil incarnate shaving, even with a straight razor.
  • Anderson to Kyle: "Call me old-fashioned, but I think our vices should leave a rotten taste in our mouth. Keeps us honest." So glad to know that Anderson is anti-vaping.