“Can’t catch ‘murder,’ it’s not a virus.” — Holly Gibney
The first four episodes of The Outsider have been about setting up the series’ mythology, which expands this week beyond the tragic case of Terry Maitland to hint at something much greater and more sinister. This is not simply the story of a man falsely accused, or of conflicting evidence that’s physically impossible to reconcile. It’s something more primal and deeply embedded in the concept of expanding evil. We learn through Holly Gibney’s investigation this week that whatever ruined Terry Maitland’s life has not only done this before, but very purposefully creates a ripple effect of tragedy. It takes many names across cultures, but the most definitive may be a “Grief Eater,” something supernatural that lives off pain and suffering. As Holly Gibney sinks into her tub at the end of the hour, the question on her mind has to be, “How could we possibly stop this?”
The episode opens with Gibney, after being pepper-sprayed when she’s mistaken for a reporter, learning more about Heath Hofstetter, an orderly at the facility in which Peter Maitland lives and Terry Maitland visited. Gibney is basically following the case of Maitland backward, trying to discern the connection that allowed two men who never showed signs of violence to be accused of unimaginable crimes. Practically, Gibney learns that Terry literally bumped into Heath when he was there over the holiday; before that, Heath didn’t seem normal, giving his co-worker a polite smile and indicating to us that this was the doppelgänger form of Hofstetter passing some sort of disease along to Maitland. But what’s thematically important this week is the revelation that Hofstetter’s mother killed herself, speeding through traffic and into a light pole, and that his brother overdosed. Think about what happened to the Peterson family in the context of what we learn later, that these crimes are designed to drive people beyond the edge of sanity. It raises the question of why it hasn’t happened yet to the Maitlands. If Ralph Anderson and Howie Salomon weren’t pushing Glory Maitland and her girls to help exonerate Terry, one wonders if they might not already be victims of the Grief Eater themselves.
Ralph Anderson and GBI Agent Yunis Sablo are looking at surveillance footage of Terry Maitland again when they notice something strange at the gentlemen’s club. It looks almost like he scratched bouncer Claude Bolton, played by Paddy Considine. Does that mean he’s passed along his disease and there’s another Claude out there? Could that be the shape that Jessa Maitland sees when she sees “the Man”? And, if so, what’s he planning to do? Ralph goes to talk to him later in the episode but doesn’t get far.
Meanwhile, Jack Hoskins is still in pretty bad shape. Whatever is growing on the back of his neck looks redder and grosser, if that’s possible, and he keeps looking over his shoulder as if something is following him. He’s also planning something crazy, moving a deer carcass through the woods and stocking up in a hardware store, before leaving it all in the woods. He almost looks like a robot in the hardware store scene, not unlike the shot of Heath Hofstetter walking down the hall at the home. Is this maybe the doppelgänger Jack? Maybe it/he’s just trying to get attention, to be seen on security cameras and be remembered by a cashier, much like the doppelgänger Terry did. When Jack barely talks to Collins later in the episode, though, it feels like he’s not quite the way he should be. He says he’s “just hungover,” but maybe he’s hiding something else.
Holly Gibney goes to meet Andy Katcavage (Derek Cecil, whom you might remember from House of Cards), who asks her out to dinner to go over the case. They chat over some beers (and actually have some decent chemistry) about the case. Gibney learns there was DNA, saliva, and even physical evidence that tied Hofstetter to the murder of the two girls. He calls what happened after the murders “like a plague,” killing other family members of both the killer and his victims. Again, this is the theme of this episode and a main one of the series overall: evil doesn’t stay contained, it infects others and spreads tragedy in its wake.
After talking to a helpful bartender, Gibney realizes that the next step is to figure out who infected Heath so that he could infect Terry — trace it back. Heath went to NYC back in February, and Gibney is lucky enough that the young man thought to send a co-worker and friend a postcard. Gibney goes to look up the crime report for NYC in February and finds something startling pretty quickly in the story of Maria Caneles, a bartender arrested for killing a 7-year-old. Terry and Heath are dead, but Maria is at Rikers Island. What does she know about this murder virus that’s spreading across the country?
It turns out Maria’s family has seen its share of spreading grief. The grandfather of her doppelgänger’s victim murdered her father and uncle in a bar before sitting down and waiting to be arrested. Maria also says that Heath looks like someone who flirted with her, but she blew him off. We saw the two of them having pancakes in the prologue, so the first instinct may be to think that Maria is lying. She’s probably not. It’s the doppelgänger Maria that ate with and later slept with Heath, scratching his back in the process, and passing along the disease.
In the final scenes, the kid who left the van in Dayton comes to reveal a secret to Howie, Alex, and Ralph: He saw the man who took the van. It was the hooded, disfigured man seen in the background when Terry was shot and when Franky Peterson’s dad tried to hang himself. And Holly goes to meet with a woman who drops a lot of mythological exposition on her. Discussion of God and the Devil rings a bit hollow compared to some of the best scenes on this show, but it’s an important deepening of what’s happening on The Outsider. Whatever you call it, something evil is in control. Now that Holly Gibney knows that, what can she possibly do about it?
• When I hear of Rikers Island, I think of the depiction of what it does to people on HBO’s The Night Of, written by Richard Price. Interesting that he returns there for The Outsider.
• This was such a darkly lit episode. Interiors seem menacing, gloomy in every scene — even public places like restaurants feel like they haven’t paid their power bills.
• Andy’s cheesy line to Holly when he asks her out — “I have the strength of ten because my heart is pure” — is from the poem “Sir Galahad” by Alfred Lord Tennyson. It’s quite a literary pick-up line. Wonder how often it works.
• Speaking of classics, you’ve probably seen the ominous painting that Holly looks at near the end while she’s heading down a rabbit hole of scary imagery like the Pugot Mamu and the Black Annis. It’s Francisco Goya’s “Saturn Devouring His Son.”
• I know we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but let’s say The Outsider is a hit and HBO wants a second season from Price. It would more likely be another case for Gibney than Anderson, right?