When the opening sequence of this week’s Outcast, the show’s eighth episode titled “What Lurks Within,” ended, I jotted down in my notes something very simple, but also very accurate: “holy ****.” Turns out it was an apt description for the entire episode, arguably the best yet in what has already been an excellent first year.
One of the strengths of the show has been the portrayal of the “bad guys,” the demons that possess the humans. We know what evil their possession can produce, having witnessed among other things the horrors young Kyle experienced with his mother, the murder of his elderly neighbor, and the rape and brutal murder of an innocent woman. Yet, they haven’t been presented as mindless, one-dimensional monsters. In fact, the more they talk and the more we learn about them, the more they start to make sense—and the more reasonable they start to seem.
Now before you think I’m justifying anything they’ve done, I assure you I am not. What I am talking about is depth of character and clear motivations, which make for much better villains than one-dimensional caricatures. Once you start seeing their side, like Kyle and Chief Giles, the scarier they become.
If the notion that what happens to these people isn’t actually that terrible, and if co-existing with a demon/having your loved ones be okay with it had been the only thing this episode had conveyed, it would have made for a fascinating hour (one where lots of questions were answered about how the possession of this world happens). But the story went well beyond that.
The show has consistently presented the idea that evil is not limited to the possessed, that humans like Donny are perfectly capable of heinous acts, and that sin can corrupt even good men (like with Reverend John Anderson and his pride), but this week took it to a whole new level with Sidney’s backstory.
Sidney has been the epitome of evil thus far—both big and small—having mocked Kyle’s mom for her brave fight against her demon, killing Kyle’s neighbor, and literally carving up the reverend (with what was clearly a successful plan to drive John Anderson insane to discredit him with his followers). Yet, it turns out the old human version of Sidney was even worse, much much worse. That opening scene was a mini-masterclass in how to tell a story with a twist ending. In just a few short moments we got an idea of who this seemingly sweet man was before being overtaken: a patient and kindly amusement park worker who extolled the virtues of fairness to kids, with an affinity of jazz and photography. He seemed like one of the better people we had met thus far, and it made his possession that much sadder.
For the first half of the episode it wasn’t clear if he had already been taken by that point, but by the scene with him and Kyle in the jailhouse—where he explained that these humans are basically chosen at random (“You land where you land,” with Kyle as a sort of “match” in the dark forest that makes the people around him more susceptible)—it was undeniable, and far more horrifying, to realize that the child molester was just a man capable of terror as bad, or worse, than any demon.
It’s why the ending—where the possessed Sidney freed the boy (and also fought the urge to harm Patricia’s son, the worst child alive, in the present)—was equally as shocking. These are the bad guys, supposedly, but they seem to have a code of their own, one that has its own morals and standards. So between that, and Kat Ogden explaining that things aren’t so bad being the way she is, as evidenced by her non-possessed husband’s love for the new her, the bad guys aren’t as bad, especially when compared to the good guys that consistently aren’t so good.
(Note: Brent Spiner was so good in this episode that platitudes seem insufficient. I’ll just say that he was asked to do in this episode was incredibly difficult, but he made it seem easy.)
The bad guys are starting to make sense, and who and what is the right thing to do against them is murky enough that for the first time Kyle’s inaction seems like it might be right.
Which is why things have never been scarier in Rome, West Virginia. The man of god has been discredited, kicked out of the lord’s house, and labeled a lunatic. Meanwhile, the citizens of the town, the ones that know the truth of what is happening, are ready to accept it for what it is and co-exist with demons.
“You take this out of me you will leave behind a monster.” That makes sense, and he was right, but the lesser of two evils is still evil, and if no one is willing to fight against all evil in the name of good, then there are no good men left.
This was a standout episode, fraught with danger and suspense, both written and acted superbly, but the best part was it made the bad guys sound reasonable. But they aren’t. What is happening is not okay, and it will not end okay for anyone. The evil that has overtaken the town is a virus, and it will infect everyone. The classic line from The Usual Suspects, the one that says, “The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist,” was wrong.
The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he wasn’t wrong. That’s a much more dangerous and scary idea.
What did you think of this week’s episode? We can’t wait to discuss it with you in the comments below.