In last week's recap, I failed to address a key plot point: Sidney branding Reverend Anderson with a switchblade. It's based on a similar scene from Robert Kirkman's comic, and it never sat well with me. True, it's a horror-tinged reference to the Book of Job. Being physically tormented is what makes Job snap — a parallel that isn't lost in Outcast, given how unhinged Anderson becomes in this episode. But still, and you'll have to forgive my nitpicking: Are we really supposed to believe that a man as stout as Philip Glenister could be overpowered by mild-mannered Brent Spiner? Yes, the man is probably the devil, and Anderson is just a man. But beyond a basic plot-pushing need to establish his power, why did we have to see Sidney lay hands on Anderson?
Despite its inelegance, I dismissed my misgivings as an irrelevant case of the implausibles. I hoped that Outcast would go somewhere with Anderson's pentagram. The other wonky plot points from Kirkman's comic have so far been smoothed out in the TV show — so why not this one? Luckily, my faith was rewarded with "The Damage Done," a smartly layered episode that establishes a basic parallel between the show's competing subplots: everybody wants to confess and/or confront their respective problems, but they do not necessarily know how.
Anderson is a prime example of this insecure need to do something — anything, really — about his problems. We see the post-branding haze that he struggles through during poker night, at the barber shop, on Main Street just before Remembrance Night, and then later during the remembrance itself. All of these scenes establish Anderson's anger and frustration in a way that makes his wracked, incoherent Remembrance Night outburst feel like an organic extension of the character. In that sense, we have to see Sidney laying hands on Anderson. This is the source of his frustration: He can physically point out the man who hurt him and he can show him to the people of Rome, but he can't make them believe his story because he's not thinking clearly.
Anderson stumbles over his words, only understood by Kyle and viewers who have seen what he has seen. We already know who Sidney is, and what he's capable of. That's the crux of Anderson's plight: He knows he's right, but he's too shaken to speak with conviction, let alone coherence. His confession is lost on his parishioners, making Brent Spiner's insincerely incredulous stare that much more satisfying. We look at his face, and for a moment, it becomes harder to see the devil we know. Sidney appears genuinely wounded. His quivering lip and concerned look seem to say: "Me? I'm the devil? How could you say that?" It's Spiner's best scene in the show so far.
Giles's paternal speech to Kyle similarly speaks to the episode's thematic concern with confronting the past. Giles initially asks, then tells, Kyle why he's stuck around his grandfather's home: "You didn't come back for the free rent — you got unfinished business, a stain you want to wipe off yourself ... that says something about who you really are." It's a clunky declaration, but it works because it not only sheds light on Kyle's predicament, but also touches on issues that Giles, Megan, Mark, Kyle, and Anderson are all dealing with. Each of these characters is "stained" by a grievance that they wish they could banish. Deep down, they know they can't simply get rid of their problems, but they stand their ground and try anyway. That seems to be what separates the show's heroes from its villains: The good guys want to confront their pasts, while the bad ones use the mysterious, impending Merge event to escape theirs.
Each of the show's main characters is faced with a major change. Kyle watches as his ex-wife Allison makes a decision for him, then runs away from him and her daughter. She can't accept the knowledge that she hurt them both under demonic influence, so she blames herself and flees. It's a sad, satisfying cliff-hanger, since it reminds viewers that Kyle isn't the only one affected by his dark past. Better still, it gives Allison enough agency to make a decision that's not just a reaction to Kyle's desires. I may not like seeing Allison leave, but I think her choice is ultimately a sharp plot development. It makes Outcast more than just The Kyle and Friends Show.
I was similarly impressed with the direction of Megan and Mark's story. The scene where they confront each other is especially satisfying, as they finally reveal that they've both held back information. Megan understandably comes out on top in this argument, since Mark's decision to beat the snot out of Donnie was borne out of alpha-male bluster. Still, Mark's analogy about Megan withholding information, like a "rotten tooth that you keep yanking on because you like the pain," hits home. He's not right, and he ultimately realizes that his wrongdoing isn't nearly equivalent to Megan's. But there's a brief moment of uncertainty here, where both Megan and Mark appear to be adrift, knowing that they each mishandled a serious problem.
"The Damage Done" works for a number of reasons, chief among them being its ability to slow down the narrative momentum in an attempt to make its characters reckon with their failures. Outcast is an unusual horror series in that sense, since its narrative flow is periodically interrupted for the sake of invoking — and not necessarily resolving — the sins of the past. It's a neat encapsulation of Kirkman's often-frustrating, always-personal approach to horror. He's constantly looking for ways to saddle his characters with problems that feel real, and therefore must be talked about, reasoned with, and ultimately lived with. I can't wait for the next episode.
Shots in the Dark:
- Come back, Patricia! Actually, no, wait, stay away! You're too good for Anderson!
- Anderson to Sidney: "Nothing exposes a man's true nature like a game of poker." Do poker players agree with this sentiment? Or does it ring as false as it sounds?
- Anderson: "I wonder if they have free pies on the streets of Sodom." Okay, this line cracked me up. So deliciously overheated.
- Atticus Ross's score is especially good tonight. Many retro musicians try to evoke John Carpenter's minimalist synth scores, but Ross's music actually sounds Carpenter-esque.
- The Worst Accent of the Night award goes to Reg E. Cathey. His drawl is so all over the map, it's hard to know who talks when he's off-screen. Seriously: Get this talented, charming actor a better speech coach.