The Outsider reaches a key moment at the end of its eighth episode, and it’s not just everyone clearly seeing that the creature they’ve been hunting has turned into Claude Bolton — it’s the look on Ralph Anderson’s face. He finally believes.
It took a trip to Cecil, Tennessee, and the attempted kidnapping of a boy at something called Cavestock to finally convince Ralph of the truth that Holly Gibney has been preaching to him for weeks now: There is a force at work here that his investigative mind can never fully understand. Did Richard Price and the creators of The Outsider stretch this out a bit too long? Arguably. When Ralph is still saying “if” at the beginning of this episode, it’s a little difficult to believe he would still be pushing against the obvious truth. However, a later scene between Anderson and Gibney helps with the suspension of disbelief. Ben Mendelsohn sells the idea that Ralph needed time to accept this impossible reality; Cynthia Erivo is even better at selling Holly’s frustration and concern that he’ll put them all in jeopardy if he doesn’t get on the same page right about now.
Before then, Jack Hoskins does some grunt work for El Cuco, and Claude Bolton goes to visit his brother, Seale, played by Max Beesley. Claude is on the run from something. He doesn’t know he’s essentially being hunted by the same creature that destroyed Terry Maitland’s life, but he tells Seale he feels something ominous in the air, almost like someone is outside his house trying to get in. One of the best threads of “Foxhead” is the idea of omens, those little inexplicable events or feelings we all have in our lives at one point or another. Alec Pelley tells Howie Salomon he tasted copper in his mouth when Holly mentioned they should go to Cecil to monitor Claude, a sign from his days in the military that something bad was going to happen. Ralph shares a story of hearing his mother’s favorite song while thinking of her after the birth of his own child. We all have stories like that, and Stephen King has made a career out of turning those relatable anecdotes into true horrors.
Back to Jack. He’s apparently in full retrieval mode for El Cuco nowadays, getting things for his hungry master to eat. He even shoots a fisherman for the creature to devour, which features some of the nastiest sound design of the season. In one of the darker beats of this episode, the creature, which now talks, says the fisherman had cancer, which means El Cuco will need to eat again soon. And it looks as if they’re finally close to the endgame, in which a child will be murdered and Claude Bolton’s DNA will be found all over the scene.
Holly Gibney also knows this day is coming soon so suggests that she go to Cecil and monitor Claude. What better alibi for him than her testimony? And it will help push El Cuco into panicked, wrong moves again. Ralph, Yunis, and Andy decide to go with her, breaking into different pairs for the commute than Andy was probably hoping for. Holly going with Ralph to encourage him to face reality allows for some nice scenes between Erivo and Mendelsohn, two phenomenal performers. Yes, these past few episodes have stretched the plot of The Outsider in ways it probably didn’t need to go — the season could have easily been eight episodes total — but when that stretching gives two great actors a chance to dig into their characters like this, it’s hard to complain too much.
The unexpected split also allows for the rare humorous scene on a show not exactly known for big laughs. Yunis tells Andy that Holly can sense when people are going to die, even asking him if she’s been acting differently around him. It’s a great moment because it’s totally believable that Holly could have this power, and everyone who watches this show is worried that Andy is going to bite the dust. So it hooks viewers as much as it does Andy until Yunis reveals that he’s just pulling his, and our, leg. It’s a great scene.
Ultimately, this transitional episode is a collection of great scenes: Jeannie’s concern for Ralph, both pairs in the cars on the way to Cecil, that great beat between Yunis and Holly in the church, even Claude’s interactions with his brother Seale. They all work. Every scene clicks this week in terms of character and performance, all in the shadow of the tension building with the actions of Jack and his master on the fringe of the episode. It’s a rare hour of TV that feels like it’s both character driven and has a momentum toward something horrible. It almost captures what Claude is talking about in episode form: the sense that something is just on the outside trying to get in.
The bulk of the suspense this week comes late, when it’s clear that a cave-loving child named Sam will be the next victim of El Cuco. As Sam’s family wanders to an event called Cavestock, the creature stalks him, wearing a truly terrifying mask. One question: Isn’t the idea at this point for Claude to be seen? Is it because he’s not quite done “cooking” yet that he wears the mask? And would that make Sam just the appetizer for the big crime that will frame Claude? That seems likely. Whatever the case, Sam is lucky enough to be rescued by his sister, Wanda, and El Cuco flees, but not before the mask is pulled and semi-Claude’s face is seen. Ralph and the rest of the Scoobs know for a fact that Claude Bolton was at his brother’s house all night, yet there “he” is, trying to grab Sam across town. Now what?
• Of course, the song Ralph Anderson says he played for his mother is a real one. If you want to hear “Washington Square,” by the Village Stompers, click here.
• Let’s talk a minute about how generally great Paddy Considine is. He’s an always-reliable actor. His best film work probably remains Jim Sheridan’s beautiful In America, but you can’t go wrong with nearly any of his performances. He makes most of his projects better. The casting on this show from front to back has been excellent, elevating what could have been a lesser project. There’s literally not a bad performance.
• The choice in directors has been essential too, and this week The Outsider tapped a super-talented young man named J.D. Dillard, who helmed Sleight and Sweetheart, both of which premiered at Sundance. The latter is a great little creature feature that’s currently on Hulu. Check it out.
• Cecil does not appear to be a real small town in Tennessee. Maybe the writers didn’t feel right turning anywhere real into a tourist trap for people looking for El Cuco.