This The Outsider review contains spoilers.
The Outsider Episode 3
From her introduction, the dedicated detective Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo) is something to behold. She’s strange, and compulsively watchable, and in possession of some compelling traits. Somewhere between superstitious, savant, genius, and the autism spectrum, Holly falls somewhere roughly between Sherlock Holmes and Monk in her list of eccentricities. But there’s something about the character that is more than just a collection of quirks.
That’s due in no small part to the incredible performance by Cynthia Erivo. For those unfamiliar, Erivo picked up three-fourths of the vaunted EGOT thanks to a much-lauded turn in the most recent Broadway revival of The Color Purple, and she has two chances to capture the Oscar portion of the award at this year’s awards ceremony for her brilliant performance in Harriet, the Harriet Tubman biography, or for the original song from said film. So, clearly, Erivo is an actor of many talents, and while Holly Gibney has yet to sing a note, everything else about the character leaps off the screen and immediately marks both character and performer as the person you need to be paying attention to in a show full of interesting, talented performers.
In a way, Holly reminds me most of Hannibal‘s Will Graham, in that she is a brilliant detective who has too many other problems to seek gainful employment in the traditional way and must work as a freelancer. Certainly, her introduction hints at someone deeply troubled, but also very good at their work, and it’s in her detective capacity—and a sign of their collective desperation—that Gibney is brought on board to track down loose ends and help figure out just what happened when the Maitlands were in Dayton in March. It’s bad enough that Ralph (Ben Mendelsohn) and Yunis (Yul Vazquez) are so hard up for information that they turn to Howie (Bill Camp) and Alec (Jeremy Bobb) for help, but to bring in a person that can charitably called troubled suggests that all four remaining members of the investigative team are in a real pickle.
The more clues that are discovered, the less sense the crime makes, with Terry Maitland’s role in it growing more obfuscated the more physical evidence is discovered. His clothes, including the giant belt buckle, are discovered in a barn, along with a lot of mysterious substance that isn’t semen, udder cream, or any other possible disgusting crime fluid mentioned on an episode of SUV.
First, conflicting crime scene evidence, and now something that even a state crime lab cannot identify. No wonder the prosecution and the defense team have come together in a state of shared, mutual confusion. Combine that with a mysterious visitor stalking Glory Maitland’s young daughter Jessa, using her to deliver cryptic messages to Ralph, and some entity that has caused damage to the neck of Detective Jack Hoskins (Marc Menchaca), then it’s clear that the Peterson killing is no ordinary child murder (if a child murder can be called normal).
It’s to Richard Price’s credit that The Outsider continues to slowly unravel its mystery, weaving the personal issues of the Matilands and the Andersons together while not losing focus on the central mystery of the story. When there is a side-trip, such as when Ralph and Jeannie go speak to Glory, or when Ralph is speaking to his therapist, it’s worked back towards the central question while not neglecting the back story.
By having Jeannie go speak to Glory, not only does it allow us to see why the Andersons are so broken, but it allows a little glimpse into why Ralph has been so dedicated into catching Frankie Peterson’s murderer to the point of making a potentially career-ruining mistake by arresting Terry Maitland publicly. It allows us to see that Ralph and Jeannie, no matter what Glory might think, want to do what’s best for the surviving Maitlands, and that’s to clear their relative’s name (and Jeannie gets to show off a little interrogation skill of her own when talking with Jessa about her weird mystery visitor, fishing out more information and more pertinent information than anyone might have suspected).
Everyone shown on the show has a past involving some sort of trauma, and the collections of broken parts make for more interesting figures than a whole person. Director Andrew Bernstein does a terrific job of handling the actors, not letting Holly’s eccentricities cross into parody, holding Jack’s inner rage back just enough to allow him to be surly but functional, giving Glory and Jeannie a beautiful shared moment together when Glory asks Jeannie just how she managed and Jeannie admitting that coping with a huge loss is impossible. It’s beautifully shot, with the pause holding just long enough to feel like a real conversation, someone gathering thoughts, the silence lingering almost to the point of being uncomfortable before someone breaks it.
That brilliant use of silence, or lack of silence, is a hallmark of The Outsider thus far. When the four detectives (well, three detectives and a lawyer) are meeting in Howie’s office, the moment is shown from a distance, the camera very slowly tracking in on the window of Howie’s office as they’re shown from the outside of the building. They’re talking over one another, firing back and forth, cutting remarks at one another with the comfort of frequent collaborators and adversaries, and the viewer remains on the outside of that. We’re on the stairwell with a marginalized Ralph, Jeannie taking over the talk with Jessa (Scarlett Blum) concerning Ralph and the blurry doppelgänger of her father who visits Jessa in her night terrors.
Even when ostensibly following a character, like Holly, it’s not a character that’s an insider to a group; the viewer only falls in with a character when that character is alone, or ostracized from a group. We don’t get Ralph and the gang, we get Ralph listening in on a conversation. Holly’s a permanent outsider thanks in no small part to her unusual gifts, and she’s introduced sitting alone in her apartment analyzing cars by their exhaust before walking downstairs to the attached bar to hassle someone into leaving her usual seat. She’s capable of reaching out to others—calling Ralph to hear the voice of someone on her side—but it doesn’t seem natural or comfortable to her; she’s a loner, like Jack or Ralph, for her own unique reason.
Everyone seems a bit adrift in the wake of Frankie Peterson’s death and the follow-up tragedy. That seems to be the whole point of the thing; Jessa’s blurry copy of her father seems to want tragedy, to want people to be afraid and hurting, because that’s when he’s able to be at his most manipulative. After all, something scratched up Jack’s neck to the point where he adopts the mantra, “Whatever you need me to do,” which isn’t reassuring. Jack was easy pickings for the attack (or whatever it was), because he was all alone. Safety is only found in numbers, and everyone in Cherokee City seems isolated and ripe for the taking.