“What Lurks Within” is a deceptively slow episode. Not much seems to happen, but a lot of questions are asked. There’s not even an exorcism of the week, which speaks to the episode’s main concern: Do our heroes know what they’re doing?
Anderson stubbornly clings to the notion that he’s doing the Lord’s work by banishing possessed victims of demonic influences, a notion that Sidney challenges when he talks to Kyle. Sidney’s backstory is meant to poke a big hole in Anderson’s righteousness: What if people are worse off without a demon inside them? What if removing whatever lives inside them ultimately prevents people, like Kyle’s mother, from living a normal life? Kyle protests that he knows his mother is better off, that Sidney didn’t see what she’d done. But Sidney’s provocative question still stands: How do Anderson and Kyle know that they’re serving a higher power, let alone doing the Lord’s bidding?
Sidney’s point is made in tense, though thankfully brief, scenes from his past. We see a moment or two before his host body — the real Sidney — is possessed by what Anderson is convinced is the Devil. In these moments, it becomes clear that Sidney is a psychopath: He keeps a little boy locked up in a basement cell, and presumably wants to molest, torture, and kill him. During his only meaningful exchange with Kyle, he explains that he didn’t choose to inhabit Sidney’s body. “We land where we land,” he says, suggesting that Sidney’s possession wasn’t a matter of chance. This makes it a little easier to swallow those nagging questions about faith and doing the right thing. After all, if there’s no reason for Sidney’s possession, how can one say for sure that God is testing those with the ability and faith to cure the possessed?
Still, “What Lurks Within” is about Reverend Anderson. Anderson’s outburst in last week’s episode effectively stole the spotlight from Kyle, who is now struggling to think of ways to take care of his daughter and reunite with his wife. Anderson is vexed that Giles imprisons Sidney, telling him that this is exactly what Sidney wants — to be made into a martyr. Granted, that’s an awfully big leap in logic. But that’s the point: Anderson doesn’t know what he’s talking about anymore. He’s making choices based on gut instincts, and that’s leading him astray. Case in point: He’s effectively fired by his district council’s church leaders based on his Remembrance Day speech. Anderson is indignant, but he can only produce generically bombastic threats about how the council’s members “are making a big mistake.” He warns, “There is a disease in this town, and it’s spreadin’ like a wildfire.” Not even an epithet as pissy as “Open your fuckin’ eyes to the devil in your midst” phases them. Anderson’s got to go, and it’s all because he believed that the only way to combat Sidney’s scare tactics was by putting the fear of God into his parishioners.
And that’s where Anderson loses me. He’s an evangelical preacher who has, for as long as we’ve known him, tried to frighten his flock into being more pious. The usefulness of Anderson’s scare tactics are called into question when he sequesters Kat Ogden in a vain attempt at exorcising her. She scoffs at him when he lays out his Sidney theory: “[He’s] preparing the Great Tribulation.” She coolly replies, “Why are you so scared? […] Jesus is coming […] unless you don’t believe it’s true!” Kat’s accusations hit home for a number of reasons, chief among them being the assumption that Anderson’s fire-and-brimstone attitude towards religion is borne out of fear.
Still, what’s interesting about Outcast is the fact that Anderson’s otherwise reprehensible attitude towards worship — sorry, but you can’t teach me to love by making me afraid — is tempered by his waning faith. His humanity comes from his doubts, making his blustery tirade against the district council members that much more sympathetic. He doesn’t seem to say anything in this scene, but he reveals a side of himself that he’s probably not even aware of. All of his protests and chest-puffing sermons are actually a sign of his weakness. He doesn’t know what to do, so he insists otherwise, and persists to the point where he alienates almost everyone around him. Even Kyle comes to blows with Anderson, releasing Kat to the custody of her husband, Lennie. And that’s when “What Lurks Within” does something rare: It convincingly suggests that the show’s supporting cast have character flaws that aren’t just the stuff of subplots. Anderson may ultimately be a foil for Kyle’s insecurity, but after tonight’s episode, I feel like I understand him and his personality more.
The same is true of Giles’s scenes. He doesn’t have a lot of lines, which is a relief given how twangy his accent remains. (Sorry for repeating myself, but Cathey’s accent really is bad.) Nevertheless, he articulates where he’s coming from in a way that he hasn’t in previous episodes. I’m thinking specifically of the way that Giles refuses to back down when Anderson confronts him about locking Sidney up. Anderson insists that Giles has no substantial proof to keep Sidney locked up, and maintains that Giles is “handing [Sidney] the ammunition to get a bigger following.” But Giles’s response is telling: He doesn’t care about Sidney’s ulterior motives, or what happen later. He only wants to protect the people he cares about, with or without the letter of the law backing him up. In that sense, he’s like Anderson: He finds it difficult to trust his conscience, but stubbornly clings to the notion that he alone can fix his own problems.
Although “What Lurks Within” may seem slow and uneventful, it’s asking viewers to empathize with these flawed characters, and I like that. Anderson and Giles are trying to do the right thing, but they honestly have no clue how to see outside of themselves. Outcast’s creators would do well to keep their show as character-driven as it’s been in the last couple of episodes. That’s what makes it such a promising series.
Shots in the Dark:
- Philip Glenister delivers a very strong performance tonight. I can’t get over the way he coaxes Kat into his car. You can feel the waves of frustrated macho pride when he says, “You’d be helping to salvage my reputation by letting me do you a good turn.” Too good.
- Brent Spiner also delivers his best performance of the series so far. Here’s hoping he gets more opportunities to show off his skills without having to ham it up so much.
- Not so sure about the Aaron McReady story. It makes sense, given the direction they’re going with Sidney. But seeing a teenage kid rebel against his mom by literally becoming the Devil’s minion? Gingers really are evil!
- Giles’s money quote has got to be, “My friends mean a lot. I will cross the line to protect them.” It’s a succinct statement of intentions, and just as telling for the insecurities it reveals.