This week the great Karyn Kusama (The Invitation) directs a tense hour of HBO’s supernatural mystery, one that capitalizes on her skill with slow burns while pushing us into the final arc of the season. “The One About the Yiddish Vampire” drops everything that Holly Gibney learned in Ohio on the table and then steps back to see how The Outsider’s characters respond to the impossible truth that’s been uncovered. How would you react to being told that the bogeyman is real? Someone obsessed with evidence and detail like Ralph Anderson naturally pushes back, even as his wife, Jeannie, is more emotionally prepared to accept the dark possibility that demons might be real. Another mind trained to dissect facts, that of attorney Howie Salomon, responds similarly, trying to dismiss the supernatural away. And Glory Maitland, who has spent weeks trying to find some sense of normalcy, can’t bring herself to accept that the abnormal could be real. Overall, it’s a slow episode but an accomplished one in terms of tone and performance, ending on an ominous note for poor Holly Gibney.
Holly is preparing to leave Dayton when she hears a news report about the death of Tracey Powell, Heath Hofstetter’s cousin. She discovers a few important facts about Powell that really pull the veil off a lot of what’s been happening on The Outsider and what could happen next. First, Powell’s prints were found in the car of the sisters whom Hofstetter was accused of killing, and Gibney notices the scar on the back of Powell’s neck, which she photographed at the cemetery. She also learns that Powell knew one of the sisters. A theory starts to form both in-show and in the minds of the viewers that perhaps the men with neck scars, like Powell and Jack Hoskins, are procurers for the evil force that needs time to reshape into someone else. It’s roughly three weeks between murders, a time during which the hooded figure is taking a new form, such as Maria Caneles, Heath Hofstetter, or Terry Maitland; during that time, someone who is “infected” like Powell or Hoskins is putting things in place for the next awful crime.
Holly Gibney has not quite put all of these pieces together yet, but she’s close, and she has to present what she knows to Ralph Anderson and the rest of the major players in the case of Terry Maitland. In the first scene to really get everyone in the same room, Gibney lays out what she discovered in Dayton to Ralph Anderson, Jeannie Anderson, Howie Salomon, Alec Pelley, Yunis Sablo, and Glory Maitland. Would that really happen? Ralph Anderson has to know that Holly Gibney isn’t coming back with a traditional answer to this case — there can’t be a traditional answer. Perhaps his confusion and grief allow him to make the mistake of having Glory there, but it does stretch belief that he wouldn’t want to disseminate Holly’s information himself.
It also creates that classic cop-show trope in which the left-brained people on the show are forced to keep denying what’s in front of them and what the viewers know to be true; Ralph Anderson and even Glory Maitland have seen the impossible, but there’s no episode if they don’t push back against Holly Gibney’s talk about bogeymen. And so Glory screams and yells and Ralph feigns disappointment in moments that feel a bit overwritten (even if Julianne Nicholson and Ben Mendelsohn find ways to make them believe) and lead us to another classic cop-show trope, in which the denier comes around to wondering if the impossible could be true. And so Glory first works her way through the idea that Terry was guilty — a natural step now that Holly can’t exonerate him with classic evidence — and Ralph questions the vision he had last week of his son in therapy.
One of the reasons Ralph hasn’t just thrown up his hands, called Holly crazy, and closed the case is that his wife, Jeannie, has been having visions herself. He discovers that the hooded figure Jessa Maitland saw and the one sketched by the kid who stole the van in which Frankie Peterson was kidnapped are not only one and the same but that Jeannie has seen this figure too. Jeannie has no doubt what she saw, but Ralph keeps pressuring her into thinking it was a waking dream, even after Holly Gibney finds some of the same odd fluid in the Anderson dining room that the creature left in the barn on Terry’s clothes. Something was in the Anderson home. What is it going to take for Ralph to believe?
Ralph Anderson and Glory Maitland aren’t the only two coming to terms with a changing worldview this week, as we spend more time than ever before examining the descent of Jack Hoskins. No longer content to just leave lamps in the woods, he’s now actively being pressured to do something about the investigation. Again, it’s interesting that El Cuco, or whatever one wants to call the malevolent force on this show, almost seems scared about Holly and Ralph getting to the truth. It comes to Jessa to send a warning to Ralph, and it’s actively pressuring Jack into doing something about it, painting the words “Stop Her” on the wall and then scratching them into Jack’s hands. Jack’s even physically assaulted by a vision of his abusive mother. Is this how El Cuco pushes his own Renfields into obtaining victims? And doesn’t that mean that Holly Gibney will be the latest victim, likely at the hands of a doppelgänger version of Claude Bolton? She certainly seems to think so when she sees the bubbling scar on Jack Hoskins’s neck.
• Can you really use a marker, tape, and a phone to find fingerprints and other fluids? Holly Gibney does an impressive job with those ingredients in the Anderson home. Keep that in mind the next time you want to see something hidden by the light.
• I didn’t mention Holly’s vision on the bus, which nearly leads to a deadly crash and damage to the vehicle. I hate to be that guy, but if you scream “STOP” on a bus, causing damage and nearly giving the driver a heart attack, are you really going to be allowed to finish your ride? I would assume they’d leave you on the side of the road for the safety of other passengers.
• Last week, I referred to the hooded figure as the Outsider, but this week’s episode provokes the idea that the title refers to someone else on the show. Who’s the most outside the norm on this drama, the person who isn’t like anyone else and who seems to be figuring out what’s going on before anybody else? Could the title refer to Holly Gibney? If there’s a season two, removed from the plot of the book, that’s a way to make the title consistent — providing another case for the outsider of private investigation.
• If Tracey Powell was an accomplice for Heath Hofstetter, and Jack Hoskins is being set up as an accomplice for Claude Bolton, or whatever shape the bogeyman takes next, who was the accomplice for Terry Maitland? Why does his crime appear to be committed entirely solo? Is it something of a plot hole, or is there some aspect of this crime we don’t know about yet?