This review contains spoilers.
Early in The Outsider episode two Roanoke, there’s a meeting between Frank and Terry at the jail that is one of the most crackling, sharp exchanges in any television show in recent memory. It has the snap of real conversation, or the snap of a 1930s screwball comedy without the wordplay. Frank and Terry are sharp, batting a conversational ball around, cutting each other off, finishing each other’s thoughts. It’s pure brilliance.
The thing that makes it work, aside from the intelligence of Richard Price’s script is the way both actors approach the scene. Terry isn’t defensive, he’s open and honest and confused; he wants to help but he also can’t give the cops rope enough to hang him. Frank is just as confused, but angry, enraged by the betrayal of someone who he thought of as a solid member of the community. Terry tempts fate by mentioning Frank’s late son Derek, but when Jason Bateman launches into a long baseball story about how Derek’s son changed his nickname from The Whiffer to Drag It, it’s a thing of restrained beauty.
It’s a funny story, it twists around, it highlights a lot about Derek, Frank, and Terry’s relationship, and at the end of it, when Jason Bateman chokes back tears and finishes the story without letting the emotion go. Simply stunning. All of the emotion Terry feels plays across Jason Bateman’s face without being showy; only a little quaver in his voice and a few extra blinks gives away just how hurt and stunned and angry Terry is about this whole situation, about how he’s done so much for the kids of the community, Frank’s own son included, only to be accused of a horrible crime that he knows he didn’t do.
Terry wants his freedom, and he’s defending himself against the charges, but even if he’s exonerated, Terry will never be able to get his life back. Like Frank’s life after the death of his son, Terry’s life before, as a teacher and upstanding pillar of the community, is done for, and both men know it. Frank has to decide if he’s done the right thing or harmed an innocent man, and Terry only wants to make it through this incident whole. Things only get muddier from there, after a horrible incident throws the entire investigation into turmoil.
There’s something about Jason Bateman, particularly in the role of Terry, that makes him seem just a little too charming to be completely trustworthy. Even behind bars, he’s a little too together. In that sense, Terry is a great polar opposite for Frank, who is professional and competent, but Ben Mendelsohn always makes sure Frank seems just a little bit like Columbo if Columbo were on the verge of tears or screaming. There’s a weary pain to him that comes through, even when he’s otherwise together and productive.
Again, Jason Bateman, who has been around forever, knows what he’s doing behind a camera and turns in another strong directorial effort. He handles his actors beautifully, and his camera even more so. The discussion in the prison visiting room is essentially a speech to camera for Bateman, and it never gets boring watching him; when the speech ends and we track from Terry to a stunned Frank, Mendelsohn’s wordless stare communicates all that is needed. Frank came into the jail confused, and he’s leaving confused and emotional because Terry just might be as good as everyone in town used to think prior to his arrest. And the horrible incident mentioned above? Comes out of nowhere and packs a huge punch, shot with straightforward, unflinching honesty.
Much like the camera tracks Frank through the halls of the prison, focusing more on what’s happening than his movements, so too does Frank drift through this investigation. He catches onto a piece here or there, wrings the information out of it, and adds that to the list of confusing issues around Frankie Peterson’s death. With every lead, every clue, things only get weirder and more confounding, and his late-night talk with Marcie (Julianne Nicholson, who is brilliant) only makes things all the more confusing for him, as his questions bring forth answers that counteract the evidence he’d been uncovering all along.
At this point, Roanoke provides more questions than answers. For every step forward in the case, for every link that would prove that arresting Terry was the right move, another link connects that indicates that Frank has made the biggest mistake of his career, and the more he seems to hunt down answers, the more the community seems to shatter, and the more terrible things seem to keep happening to the people around Frank and Terry. The Maitlands are shattered. The Petersons are shattered. Frank’s exhausted and worrying himself to death over the case. No one in town that is connected to this case seems to be getting through unscathed, and the more the police and detectives dig, the more confusing everything becomes.
The open-and-shut, slam-dunk case of the first episode was gone before that episode ended. Any hope of a logical explanation for events now is beyond hope. Things are more confused and muddled than ever. A sweater can’t be knit by pulling threads loose, but Frank isn’t the sort to stop picking until he’s figured everything out, no matter how many sweaters might be shredded by the time he’s done. There’s no undoing the damage to the community, to the families, or to himself; Frank will see this through, one way or another, because he doesn’t have any choice.
Not if he wants to keep something like this from happening again. It might not have been Terry, but someone killed Frankie Peterson, and for all anyone knows, he’ll kill again and again until someone stops him. It’s clear that the killer’s business isn’t done in Cherokee City, Georgia. It also seems as though only Frank can stop him from continuing to manifest at the scenes of tragedies. and, from the looks of things, causing the tragedies either directly or indirectly.