Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

There’s no escaping the past on Outcast

Illustration for article titled There’s no escaping the past on Outcast

It’s quite appropriate that this week’s episode of Outcast, “A Wrath Unseen,” begins with a funeral. It seems as if everyone in Rome is grieving or dealing with trauma. There are literal and figurative ghosts at every turn and there’s no escaping them. The casket belonging to Norville, Kyle’s newly-deceased neighbor, fills the entire frame. Death is everywhere. As Kyle Barnes shakes his head in response to whether he’d like to say a few words about Norville, a blurry figure moves across the frame behind him. It’s Sidney, aka. the mysterious man in black and also probably literal Death. He lingers everywhere. I mean, from what we can tell, he killed Norville. Now he stands at the man’s grave mourning the loss of his “old friend.” It’s a grim (I know, I know) start to the episode, but Outcast’s type grim is more than welcome.

That opening is just the first of many scenes that deal with the way death, grief, and trauma consumes the lives of the people of Rome. A black cloud hovers over all of “A Wrath Unseen,” and while the episode isn’t as visceral as the series premiere with its tense exorcism, there’s a quiet paranoia and tension that permeates this one, and Outcast puts that tension to good use. So, when the Reverend is finally having his dinner date with Patricia and she asks him about the trinkets on his shelf, the ensuing flashback becomes a way of underlining the tension. Reverend Anderson keeps mementos from his previous exorcisms, as they’re offerings from families who appreciate his work. And yet where they symbolize closure for those families, they’re symbols of trauma for Anderson. He can’t touch them without thinking about the demons he’s seen, the evil he’s confronted throughout his life.

The burden of past experience is a theme that runs through the whole hour. The past keeps popping up for everyone. The most immediate and obvious example is Donnie, who finds his way back into Megan’s life by bumping into her during her date night with Mark. We don’t know much about Donnie at this point, but the previous episode insinuated that he had assaulted Megan sometime in her past. “A Wrath Unseen” uses flashbacks to fill in a few more details. Donnie was a foster kid living with Kyle and Megan, and from what we can tell he regularly sexually assaulted Megan when they were kids. One flashback sees a young Megan running from the bathroom, fresh out of the shower and wearing only a towel, to her bedroom, only to fail to close the door before a young Donnie forces his way in.

Much like Reverend Anderson and his trinkets, physical things and spaces trigger Megan’s traumatic past. As she peaks through the door in her house she remembers all the times she had to keep an eye out for Donnie, to be on guard in her own home. What Outcast has done remarkably well across its first four episodes, and especially in this week’s episode, is find the horror in the mundane, in the day-to-day things we encounter. Megan’s house is a safe space, one where she’s put together a family complete with loving memories. But with those memories come the past traumas. They’re all linked. The house isn’t haunted, but the person is, every single one of us is. So Megan sees an open door, which on its own is rather innocuous, and reaches for a gun for safety. Reverend Anderson holds on to trinkets from the people who appreciate his service, and yet they only serve to remind him of the continuous presence of evil in this world.

What really amplifies the stakes here though is the reveal that Reverend Anderson’s previous exorcisms, and the work for which he’s destroyed his family, may be insufficient. When Kyle goes with Anderson to visit Mildred, an old woman who Anderson previously rid of a demon, he finds that she might still be possessed. Not only does she angrily dig into Kyle’s past, she also recoils at his touch the same way Joshua did. Of course, Anderson can’t believe that there’s still a demon inside of her, otherwise all of his past sacrifices would be for naught. “A Wrath Unseen” works as a compelling hour of TV because of this inner struggle. We see Anderson reckon with his own past, with his vision of his cause and Kyle Barnes’ role in it. Finally, we see him accept that his pride allowed him to deny that there’s a good chance there’s still plenty of evil in the people he tried to help. Him and Kyle turn their car around and seemingly head to check on Kyle’s wife, the past once again creeping in.

As fleshed out as these themes are, the slowly unfolding police case plot still remains undercooked. Chief Giles does find evidence to implicate a man in town, someone who he seems to be at least passing friends with, and when he stakes out the trailer in the middle of the night he sees that same man torching the unofficial crime scene. These bits and piece don’t amount to a whole lot though, and Outcast doesn’t seem too invested in revealing much about how the dead animals and evidence found in the trailer tie in with all the other strange occurrences in Rome. I’m sure that’s coming at some point down the road, but right now it’s a listless plot in a show that’s otherwise deftly handling a story of the lasting effects of trauma and personal experience.


Stray observations

  • How great is Brent Spiner as the creepy man in black? He touches on the performance a bit in his interview with Danette Chavez from earlier this week.
  • Speaking of great performances, Grace Zabriskie is really good here (duh). Quiet moments of menace.
  • Reverend Anderson talking about sins: “Pride’s the bad boy.”
  • Mark is such an unrealistic cop. Most of them know to turn off the camera before assaulting someone.
  • “Those dumb crackers are our good friends and neighbors.” I’ll take a whole Outcast spinoff that’s about Chief Giles and his wife please.
  • Always nice to hear a little Sturgill Simpson on my TV.