Watching Outcast is like riding the world's most underwhelming roller coaster. Yes, each episode is almost always thematically cogent. And yes, the show is very good at reminding viewers that characters' actions have long-lasting consequences. But then those characters do things that are either so out of the blue or just flat-out disruptive that one can't help but feel like they, like Anderson's fickle God, are messing with us. That feeling is fitting, in a way, given that tribalism is the thematic glue that holds "Close to Home" together — you're either with your loved ones or against them. I'm still with the show, but tonight's episode makes me wonder about my priorities.
In this episode, couples stick together or fall apart based on their varying degrees of faith in each other. That's how things seem to go, at least, until mitigating circumstances take away the characters' ability to make their own decisions. For example, Mark supports Megan when she reveals to him that she's pregnant. But when she gets possessed at episode's end, she beats the snot out of him. This plot twist would, admittedly, be more satisfying than watching a possessed Mark assault Megan. But still, it's frustrating to watch these two characters act like adults one minute, then lose the ability to think for themselves a moment later.
Megan's possession is especially frustrating, since it comes after she seems to have a breakthrough about the night she took a hammer to a bunch of perfectly good tag-sale stemware. (And the scene where she deliberately presses a piece of jagged glass into her palm is a return to what makes her character so interesting: her independence.) For a moment, it seems like she is becoming something more than Mark and Kyle's doting caretaker. But then — bam! — Megan is suddenly possessed, making the scenes where she acts out feel like a cruel tease.
Patricia's decisions aren't much more nuanced. I may not understand her continued attraction to Anderson, but she says all the right things when she invites him into her home. (Which is to say, she tells him to "get your shit together" and brushes off his protective feint of "people are already talking about us" with a terse "fuck 'em.") But when Anderson threatens Aaron, Patricia has to side with Aaron against him. Again, this is frustrating because Outcast is about losing control. Characters should have to live with the decisions that they make; they shouldn't be able to cop out by thinking they have no choice. What else is Patricia supposed to do when she sees Anderson threatening to discipline her son with a switch? Lines are drawn and crossed, making the consequences of major characters' actions seem immaterial.
I was similarly disappointed by Allison and Kyle's hospital rendezvous. She shoos him away, which is a step in the right direction since she is, in her own way, trying to take care of herself. But it broke my heart to hear Allison go out of her way to coddle Kyle. She's enabling his worst tendency, namely that habit of making everything about him. Allison makes it seem as if she's taking time for herself because she doesn't want to hurt Kyle, not because she wants to get better for herself. She begins by telling Kyle, "You are the kindest, gentlest man I've ever known," a line that doesn't quite satisfy given how hard she tried to shut him out of her life throughout the first half of this season.
Then she goes even further by telling him, "You need to move on. You need to be the one to raise Amber, not me … not us." Again, this obscures the most pressing issue: Amber doesn't trust Allison, and Allison can't handle that kind of pressure. Allison's objections encourage Kyle to assume the familiar role of caregiver, and although it's reassuring to see Kyle step up and take care of his family, it's also frustrating to see Allison crumble in the face of impending crisis. She needs him, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. What rankles is that Allison's problems feed into Kyle's: He thinks he can fix every problem, making her one more nail to hammer.
And so we're left with the least satisfying of tonight's subplots: Anderson and Sidney's showdown. In a way, this scene is the crucial for "Close to Home" since it proves that the best-laid plans don't always amount to much. But watching Anderson get off scot-free after he assaults Sidney — in a room full of unsympathetic witnesses, no less — made me want to play Devil's advocate. It's one thing to excuse Anderson for losing his cool in the face of Sidney's unflappable, disingenuous speech about how he should be a better Christian. It's another thing entirely to make ever-faithful Giles a walking get-out-of-jail-free card.
Giles doesn't just confront Sidney and tell him that he'll back Anderson up. He does it with such a smug tone, too: "Since there's no real harm done, I suggest we forego the usual legal formalities." At this point, you'd have to be a boulder-sized stone to be unmoved by Sidney's plight. Like him or not, the man was struck repeatedly without any provocation more serious than wounding Anderson's pride.
I'm sick of watching characters like Anderson get away with their worst behavior, even as the show repeatedly suggests that it's done for good reasons. I almost screamed when he whined that he's "tired of pushing a rock up a hill," and Kyle wearily replied that he "[knows] the feelin'." Outcast is at its best when it's about individual choices made within a community. Tonight's episode, by contrast, is about weak women and strong men. The show's writers would do well to heed Patricia's advice to Anderson.
Shots in the Dark:
- Giles to Anderson: "You get jammed out there, give me a call. I'll come runnin'." But why?! Seriously, what has Anderson done to warrant such a devoted guardian? "I've known him for years" doesn't cut it.
- Anderson: "I am this church […] laid the foundation with my blood, sweat and tears." Isn't this a scootch, presumptuous? Am I supposed to like Anderson anymore? I sometimes wonder.
- Aaron to Anderson: "He says you're too late to stop it." Oh, good. That vague event we know nothing about is on the way. How exciting.
- Did anyone actually like this episode? I felt it was maddening, but I would really love to hear somebody tell me what worked for them.