Adapting any type of story into a serial narrative can be tough, even if you’re adapting something from a comparable medium. The thing I admire most about Cinemax’s Outcast is the way its creators re-contextualize characters’ actions, dialogue, and story arcs so that the overall narrative is thematically cogent, and even more character-driven. Sure, the answers we get tonight regarding Sidney’s purpose and the nature of Kyle’s gift aren’t exactly substantial. But I love the way that this exorcism-of-the-week story is paired with Kyle and Allison’s will-they-won’t-they reconciliation. “The Road Before Us” is about loss, and what people do when doing their best to help others is not enough.
Kyle’s faith is tested twice in this episode, and thankfully not in a way that absolves him of his guilt. He’s first reminded of the finite limits of his powers when he exorcises Sherry, a runaway teenager who was previously healed by Reverend Anderson. It’s initially unclear if Sherry is still afflicted, but when Kyle touches her, her skin crackles like bacon on a skillet. Then Anderson encourages Kyle to hit Sherry. This prolonged, multi-step moment of uncertainty suggests that Sidney is right: Kyle doesn’t know much about his powers or what he really is. As a viewer, I found it hard not to feel frustrated by all the gaps in Kyle’s knowledge. Noticing a pattern here? Outcast stingily distributes bread-crumb-sized bits of information every time Kyle lays hands on a demon/angel/whatever-possessed victim. That’s about as fun as it sounds.
Still, the very end of Sherry’s story is what matters most: She is successfully exorcised, but she’s also put in a coma. The hollow victory leads Kyle to say some things to Anderson he’ll probably regret. But then again, as Allison points out later in the episode, Kyle doesn’t really apologize a lot, so Anderson may have to wait for a while. (He does successfully force one from him, though. More on that in the bullet points below.) Kyle really lets Anderson have it, insisting that his platitudes aren’t enough anymore: “You call that a win?!” He adds: “I don’t know where that girl Sherry is right now, but God didn’t put her there […] If your God is out there, he’s laughin’ at you.” Anderson responds with a pained look of concern. There’s not much he can do for Kyle, especially since his mind is on Allison.
Here’s where things get interesting, and why Kyle’s tone is so vicious: He’s really thinking about his wife. After all, if Sherry can be un-possessed and still feel off, what good does that do Kyle? He doesn’t hear what Allison tells Megan, but we do, and it’s even worse than what Kyle’s imagining: “I feel like everything that held me down is gone, and I’m just floating away […] Something’s getting in the way, blocking the truth.” In the moment, this line is meant to make us wonder if Allison is still possessed. But it also suggests that life after possession may just suck.
In “The Road Before Us,” Allison addresses the psychological toll she suffers post-trauma, and it makes her character so much more interesting. The scene where she flashes back to when she woke up in the hospital after being whaled on by Kyle is especially noteworthy. We’re seeing what a battered woman — even one who was previously possessed by who knows what — wakes up to post-beating. It’s a harrowing scene, especially given how Kate Lyn Sheil sells Allison’s flat-out refusal to believe that Kyle did this to her. This sequence makes her acceptance of Kyle easier to stomach; she’s never been able to accept his complicity. She wants to believe him, and even says something that would be pathetic in any other context: “If I could erase ten minutes from our lives — ten minutes — everything would be perfect.”
So, it’s a very good thing that Kyle doesn’t get let off the hook tonight. He is just as much a slave to his stubborn character as Allison is to hers, as we see when she begs him to tell her what’s going on. He simply can’t. Patrick Fugit delivers a Timothy Olyphant–worthy performance during Kyle and Allison’s second porch-side conversation. His inability to speak syncs up perfectly with the way he ends their first porch talk: He doesn’t apologize to get her to come back, he just says “wait, wait.” Those are the words of a man drowning in a cesspool of pride, to steal a phrase from Freddie Mercury. Kyle is too stubborn to admit that he should apologize because he knows he’s right. And you can’t see that righteousness on Fugit’s face. He’s impatient, like a kid who’s waiting for the teacher to stop picking on him.
Ultimately, “The Road Before Us” feels like more of a writer’s episode than a director’s episode. I can’t help but marvel at the parallels and character-enriching depth that episode writer Robin Veith brought to the table. Veith even managed to make Amber an interesting character by reminding us that she’s just as much a victim of Kyle’s actions as Allison is. The scenes where Amber acts out are essential because they remind us that people have to live with the long-term effects of Kyle’s actions, even if they are justified by his super-exorcism powers. That focus on outcomes and consequences is what makes Outcast a Robert Kirkman show. I’m just glad that Veith keeps this episode so grounded while he works to develop the show’s big picture.
Shots in the Dark:
- Anderson to Kyle: “That man lost his daughter to the streets!” Who talks like this? Granted, I don’t know too many fire-and-brimstone, exorcism-believing preachers. But, c’mon now.
- Why does Kyle have to apologize to Anderson? Shouldn’t he be apologizing to Sherry’s dad? The warily hopeful look Sherry’s dad gives Kyle suggests that he has nothing to apologize for. But still, why is Anderson happy to accept an apology by proxy?
- Tonight is a bad night for Southern accents, between Brent Spiner’s tedious drawl and Reg E. Cathey’s lame twang.
- Kyle to Allison: “It’s my fault. I didn’t mean to make [Amber] upset. I shouldn’t have come by the house.” This not-quite-apology seems very true to the character. Kyle’s not excusing his actions, but rather bending over backward to accept blame. He wants to feel bad; he’s still using his guilt as a shield. It’s one way among many that Kyle makes his concern for others secretly about him. That benign selfishness makes him feel more real.