This The Outsider review contains spoilers.
The Outsider Episode 5
In a car conversation, after repeating something that happened to his grandmother during World War II, Yunis (Yul Vazquez) comments to Ralph (Ben Mendelsohn), “Dreams are messages, bro.” Throughout the series, dreams have played an important role in just how whatever spirit that’s attacking Cherokee City communicates.
Jessa’s dreams of the man who kind of looks like her dad allowed her to pass messages to Ralph, and now other people in Ralph’s orbit are having dreams of their own, particularly Jeannie (Mare Winningham). Much like Jessa’s dreams, Jeannie’s dreams blur the line between electrochemical images in the brain and a dangerous, threatening reality.
Holly has seen, throughout her investigation, that the Tear-Drinker—another clever name for the being—doesn’t just want to consume the pain of a dead child. It’s after grief, anguish, and something about the way it operates means that it must consume the pain of entire families, a member or two at a time, until all of them are dead.
Terry Maitland was just the instrument the being chose to use. The Peterson family was a ritual sacrifice to further fill its belly with grief, and the barn in which it had been hiding served as a handy location to consume grief owing to its close proximity to the cemetery. That clicks in place for Holly after traveling around Dayton and noticing a correlation between those graves and the graves she went to in New York; both of them had a handy place to hide nearby.
This creature – Holly might not feel comfortable calling it a creature yet but the audience has been given more than enough clue that they’re not dealing with just a random mush-faced person – operates as successfully as it does because it knows how to blend into the world around it. A person wearing a hoodie in on a Georgia winter morning isn’t out of place. A person wearing a hoodie in a drug counseling office also isn’t out of place, as shown by Jeannie’s tense scene in her office working with parolees. Clearly, it’s skilled enough to fool acquaintances of the people it overtakes, even if it can’t fool close friends or family members, and that seems to be by design. It also seems, judging from what’s been seen thus far, picks a patsy to operate in the normal world while it recuperates or rests or does whatever it does when it’s not killing families and gorging itself on grief.
Those tools also don’t seem to have happy endings, from what is shown at the end of “Tear-Drinker.” This is a being that spreads waves of tragedy as it goes through the world, like the ripples made by a passing boat. They weaken, certainly, but they spread until they can no longer spread. It is also a creature that, based solely on the brutality of its crimes, is uniquely dangerous, so its threat to Jeannie that it will kill not only Ralph, but also her, is one that should be taken seriously.
Jeannie, for her part, does take that threat very seriously. This is one of several incredibly suspenseful scenes handled by cinematographer/director Igor Martinovic, who has been crucial in establishing the look of the show behind the camera prior to getting a chance to sit in the big chair. Not only is Jeannie’s confrontation with the creature ominous, every confrontation in the episode seems vaguely threatening.
The man at the cemetery suggests that at any moment he could turn around and go after Holly. Jeannie’s slow trip across the waiting room to check on someone who didn’t bring his hood down after being told to do so is toe-curling, because of a beautiful combination of staging and music. Tomika (Hettienne Park) has a nightmare that echoes one that I have had as a new parent, so that bit of film making hit especially hard for me as I watched it unfold between hiding fingers.
Tomika’s nightmare is the most out-and-out horror movie section of “Tear-Drinker,” but it’s still not the most unsettling portion. The scary stuff in this show seems concentrated in conversation, not in terrorizing nightmares full of dutch angles and shrieking strings. Jeannie and the creature invading her house walks the line between dream and reality, and Mare Winningham does a brilliant job of showing Jeannie’s restrained terror.
The violent altercation between Ralph and Jeannie is another fine bit of acting from Winningham and Ben Mendelsohn; the two turned to vastly different ways to deal with their all-consuming grief, and both are struggling through without any real support from the other. Ralph, like Jack, turns to drinking, and Jeannie turns to isolation and antidepressants that lead to some interesting side-effects that cast doubt on her tale of an invader in their house in the wee hours of the morning. Great work all around this week, especially from Winningham, who has done solid, thankless supporting work until given a few great scenes this week.
As always, Richard Price earns praise for his work with the script, and with Igor Martinovic’s direction and staging, the conversations these characters have with one another are all different, but all equally realistic. Holly and Skye the bartender (Genevieve Hudson-Price) finish one another’s thoughts. The argument between Ralph and Jeannie feels painfully realistic.
Holly’s interactions with Andy are all awkwardness, even when both of them are in detective mode and aiming towards the same conclusions. Jack’s scenes with both Tomika and Ralph underly the character’s desperation at being used and manipulated by something that shouldn’t exist—it’s no wonder he’s screaming angrily at nothing in the woods after slightly displeasing his horrible puppeteer.
The ending for all involved, should Holly and the various other detectives fail to figure out a way to stop the monster, is obvious. It’s a pattern that’s repeated itself, time and time again. Death all around, for all involved, from the tool used to the entire family of the victim. The difficult part is avoiding that fate. The being says that if the investigation stops, Ralph and Jeannie will be safe, but can a grief monster be trusted with two grieving people? Given that both of them still struggle after the death of their son, maybe the Andersons are looking less like complications and more like potential desserts for the Tear-Drinker.