Why did HBO choose to open The Outsider with a two-night premiere? At first, it feels like the network wanted to keep people watching after the breakneck pace of the premiere, but it seems likely that they also wanted the lingering action of that hour to carry through a much slower second chapter. The pace lessens greatly in “Roanoke,” an episode nowhere near as plot-heavy and told through longer scenes of two characters in front of a fireplace, in therapy, smoking an “aged” cigarette, etc. If it had been left for a week, it might have been seen as a letdown on its own. As a companion to “Fish in a Barrel” on the same night, it works better, especially in how it keeps us engaged in the details of the increasingly complex case of Terry Maitland.
It also allows the tragedy of Terry Maitland to play out in one night as The Outsider turns sharply, setting the table for the bulk of the story that’s yet to be told. It turns out this won’t be just the tale of a murdered child and a collection of evidence that contradicts itself, but also the public execution of the man that Detective Ralph Anderson arrested for the crime. The last episode ended with Terry’s life being threatened by a fellow prisoner, who said he would kill him when he got back from his arraignment. He doesn’t get the chance. Frankie Peterson’s brother Ollie takes justice into his own hands, murdering Terry on the sidewalk in front of the courthouse before being shot dead by Ralph.
Before that, the episode starts with a pace-setter. The breakneck tone of the premiere slows down for the longest scene the show will provide, unless there’s a flashback, between Mendelsohn and Bateman. They’re both phenomenal here, feeling out each other’s intentions, trying to figure out what the hell is going on, and building on the shared past of a different dead child. Ralph asks about the family vacation to Dayton, which will be a narrative thrust of the episode, and he asks him straight out the questions that have no logical answers about if he killed Frankie Peterson. Terry tells him a story about his son Derek and how he struck out so much that he was nicknamed “Whiffer.” Terry taught Derek, who wasn’t going to quit, how to bunt. Most kids don’t bunt. They worry about getting hit. Bateman expertly directs this scene, capturing the shaky resolve in both of them without feeling manipulative. In that moment, what Ralph has suspected — that Terry is innocent — looks confirmed in Mendelsohn’s eyes. Opening “Roanoke” with such a long, dialogue-heavy scene about the loss of two children — Frankie and Derek — sets a different tone than the premiere. This will be a more somber episode.
Cut to the arraignment, and, again, those familiar with the source material are probably surprised we’re getting to this moment so quickly, one that comes almost 200 pages into the book. We learn via newscast that the footage from the conference was leaked (probably by Salomon), but the D.A. is moving forward with the case. People boo and shout as Terry is walked into the courthouse and a man sneaks under the barricade, opening fire. He makes contact with four bullets — three cops and Terry Maitland — before Ralph shoots him through the eyes. Terry’s wife Glory holds her husband as he dies. The shooter is revealed to be Ollie, the brother of Frankie Peterson, and Ralph hears the dying words of a man he once considered a friend: “I didn’t do it. I wasn’t there. It wasn’t me. It wasn’t me.” If he was hoping for a dying confession, he gets the opposite. There’s panic everywhere except for a hooded figure in the distance, a hooded figure that doesn’t look quite human.
Bateman’s visual sense changes after his character’s death. The camera drops low, often on the ground, shooting up into other rooms, as in the subsequent scene of Ralph at the doctor’s office. It adds to the disconnect and the sense that something human has been lost. And scenes start to play out more slowly, including the introduction of the irascible Jack Hoskins (Marc Menchaca), first seen forgetting to turn off his ringer while he’s boar hunting and then picking a fight at a strip club. The officer has been called in early to take Ralph’s place while his colleague is on leave. He’s not too happy about it.
In terms of plot, there are two major threads in “Roanoke.” First, whatever force is at play in Cherokee City doesn’t seem to be done. The same hooded figure in the periphery of Terry’s shooting is there when Frankie’s dad tries to hang himself. Is that the same figure that Jessa Maitland (Scarlett Juniper Blum) is seeing at night, which the haunted girl calls “the Man”? Whatever it is leaves something on the floor of the Maitland home, the same something seen on Terry’s clothes in the final scene. What does this figure want from Jessa? And why is it destroying the entire Peterson family?
Second, for Ralph, who needs to close out this case that seems impossible to close both for his sanity and to assure that no more kids ends up dead, the main thrust of “Roanoke” is about the van that Terry was seen driving that day, a vehicle that was stolen in New York, before traveling to Ohio, where it was ditched for another car. Ralph remembers that the Maitlands were in Ohio for a family vacation. It can’t be a coincidence. And a scrap of paper still under the windshield wiper of the van leads Ralph to an establishment called “Big Daddy’s Hangry ’Que” in Dayton. Sounds yummy.
GBI Officer Yunis Sablo (Yul Vazquez) and Ralph talk to the kid who stole cars on a cross-country spree, pinning down the day he dumped the van in Dayton as Ash Wednesday, which would have been March 6 in 2019. Two weeks later, Frankie Peterson would be killed by someone driving that van who looked an awful lot like Terry Maitland.
Ralph goes to talk to Glory, giving the wonderful Julianne Nicholson her best scene so far. She’s furious, but Ralph plays on two undeniable truths: Whoever killed Frankie could strike again, and the only way to clear Terry’s name is to continue the investigation. Ralph lays the van history on the table, learning that they went to Dayton to visit Terry’s father. It seemed like an ordinary visit but Glory’s oldest daughter reveals something: “Daddy got a cut.” A nurse bumped up into him on a wet floor and they fell. He got a cut on his wrist. Sounds simple. He put something on it and that was it.
So what do we know? The Maitland family flew into Dayton in early March to visit Terry’s father in a nursing home. Terry had an incident there that led to a cut on his wrist. They flew home. The van that would be used by whoever or whatever killed Frankie Peterson was dumped in Dayton at the same time. Two weeks later, a man who doesn’t just look exactly like Terry Maitland but shares his saliva and fingerprints killed Frankie Peterson driving that van. How does the cut in Ohio lead to the death of Frankie Peterson in Georgia? Something is still missing. As D.A. Samuels says to Ralph, quoting Hamlet, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” There’s a mystery and there will always be unanswered questions. Can Ralph Anderson live with unanswered questions? As he says, “That’s hard for me.”
• Samuels drops a well-rehearsed good-bye speech on Ralph when he announces that the death of Terry has forced him out of reelection for D.A., and he mentions Roanoke, which gives the episode its name. The case of Roanoke is one of the most fascinating mysteries in history. Read more about it here. It’s something that has inspired King before, most notably in Storm of the Century, in which characters have the word ‘Croatoan,’ which was found at Roanoke, carved into their foreheads.
A little clarity might be needed on that final shot, in which a young man comes into a remote barn and finds something unusual. Those are the clothes Terry Maitland was wearing the day he killed Frankie — you can see the belt buckle that the strip-club bouncer described last episode — and they have the same “something” on them that was on the Maitland floor after Jessa saw “the Man.”
• The opening credit burst of color as if one liquid is invading the space of another is a wonderful tone-setter. Something is spreading, almost infecting the space around it, just like something is spreading in Cherokee City.
• Speaking of that, if you’re curious if Cherokee City, Georgia is a real place or a creation of the show, it’s the latter. There’s a Cherokee County outside of Atlanta but appears to not actually be a Cherokee City. There is a Cherokee City, Arkansas. No word on whether it’s haunted by a doppelgänger too.