This The Outsider review contains spoilers.
The Outsider Episode 6
For a detective like Ralph Anderson, evidence is everything. As he says in the episode, if something doesn’t seem to have a logical reason behind it, it’s because he hasn’t found that logical reason yet. His world view, by the nature of his job and by his nature as a person, has to operate in such a way. To Ralph, there is always a reasonable explanation for a criminal act, no matter how inexplicable or heinous. What Holly asks of him, Alec, Jack, Glory, and everyone else in the episode is something that Ralph simply isn’t equipped to handle, no matter how much Holly’s time line of events seems to be as solid as anyone’s could be given the theory she’s expressing.
In many ways, Holly is asking everyone to take a leap of faith that what they’re dealing with isn’t a simple serial killer, but some sort of malevolent entity out of the folklore of the past. It’s easy to see why Glory, when given this theory, explodes on Holly and the assembled for getting her hopes up before abandoning clearing Terry’s name to chase after the bogeyman. Howie and Ralph seem to be on Glory’s side, but Yunis (who grew up with El Coco), Alec (himself a budding paranormal and folklore expert), and Jeannie (who has been in the presence of the creature) are willing to go along with her. Jack, who is currently at the mercy of El Coco, expresses no opinion, because the monster is actively manipulating his brain to get him to stop Ralph and Holly from their investigation.
Ralph sums up his attitude perfectly in a single line from Jessie Nickson-Lopez’s script. “I’ll keep looking for dumb cop shit like evidence,” is the whole of Ralph’s attitude towards this case, and the fact that the evidence keeps contradicting itself or pointing towards something not human would require his mind to be just a little bit too open for his comfort level, regardless of the physical signs left behind by the thing at his table and his wife’s own insistence that she saw the very same man that visited Jessa Maitland and gave the creepy-crawlies to the kid who had stolen the van in Dayton, Ohio. Holly, who knows she’s about to walk into a room and lose all good will she’s built up by announcing what she’s uncovered, looks crushed by the disappointment and anger on the assembled faces, Ralph’s in particular. Despite being prescient enough to predict disbelief, she clearly wasn’t prepared for the backlash she faced simply from expressing what she’d uncovered.
Again, the highlight of “The One About the Yiddish Vampire” isn’t the supernatural elements as much as it is the interpersonal complications. Holly’s summation of her investigation itself is impressive to watch, as everyone in the scene seems to have a different reaction to her words. Julianne Nicholson’s anger is explosive and righteous; Glory is offended that she was brought to Howie’s office just to be told a folk tale. Ben Mendelsohn is angry, but mostly disappointed that all this time went to nothing. Cynthia Erivo is so good at internalizing feelings while still being able to express them with body language and the pain in her eyes; she’s so hurt by the responses she’s getting, and despite knowing that nobody would believe her, she can’t lie about what she’s uncovered, which is a pattern of activity that would allow them to chase down what it is that’s still in their community.
Holly isn’t the sort of person who can give up on a trail, but rather than keep working backwards, she’s going to try to go forward, and even if Ralph is a little slow to follow in her trail, the evidence she provides him—which vindicates an angry Jeannie—will be enough to allow him to at least give her more of a chance to prove her theory and her worth. Karyn Kusama does a brilliant job of extracting tension from pretty much every exchange everyone has in the episode. Jeannie is understandably angry that Ralph doesn’t believe her, or Jessa Maitland, and Ralph is understandably frustrated that someone as level-headed as Jeannie is choosing to put weight in a dream and that Holly has been wasting time and money researching folklore. Yunis and Alec, while still detectives and still seeking evidence, are more willing to listen to outlandish theories in an attempt to stop any further bloodshed.
Even if the Outsider isn’t a supernatural creature, it’s still a serial killer with a very distinctive pattern and very specific motif. Tracing it back to its origins, as Holly points out, won’t help matters, but figuring out where it’s going next, and that next appears to be Claude Bolton. Yunis wisely is keeping tabs on him, though given that he’s received a pretty telltale cut during “Yiddish Vampire,” it might be a little too late to prevent El Coco from taking on its next face.
Certainly, that seems to be what Karyn Kusama is wishing to imply. He got cut, Terry got cut, Heath got scratched, and so on. The creature needs blood, and someone willing to help collect that blood while Jack is busy trying to stop Holly. Another scene dripping with tension, Holly and Jack have several interactions during the episode, and all of them are unsettling, even before the creepy STOP HER messages start appearing scratched into Jack’s skin or in blood on bathroom walls.
There’s been remarkable restraint on the horror elements of The Outsider—if that can be said about any show in which some sort of monster murders children, this would be the show—but when Kusama goes to that well this week, it’s incredibly effective. There’s just enough off about Jack to make Holly nervous even before she notices the pustules on his neck, and the scene in which Jack is confronted by the spirit manifesting as his dead mother is unsettling even before she flies across the room and beats him into a bloody pulp.
It’s a two-pronged assault. On one hand, you’ve got the tension of a supernatural monster and a murder mystery; lives literally hang in the balance, and the reality of who is behind the killing is enough to shake even the most rational person to the core. On the other, you’ve got a story about people broken by grief who are unwilling or unable to reach out to one another in a constructive manner while dealing with some of the most intense emotional pain—the death of a child, the death of a husband, the death of a parent, divorce and being ostracized—that can be found in the natural world.
A show like The Outsider is capable of both making skin crawl and making tears fall in equal measure. Dread is something that is comfortably invoked by movies and TV shows, but this episode, particularly Jack seeing his dead mother and Ralph openly talking about his dead son, touched me in some very real, very vulnerable places as both a person who lost a parent, gained a child, and continues to struggle with that lingering feeling of loss in both my life and in the life of my baby. Ralph might have pulled himself together and Jeannie might be back at work and off her medication, but they’re still very much grieving. Sometimes the lingering ache is just as bad as the initial shocking loss. The pain of loss eventually goes away, but that empty space can never be filled completely.
The evil of the creature isn’t just in the way it kills, but in the way it spreads grief and unhappiness throughout the fabric of communities. It’s tragic to have a child die and his family follow soon after in horrible ways, but those holes left behind by the Petersons and Terry Maitland and who knows who else? Those will never heal up. Frankie Peterson will eventually be forgotten, but Cherokee City will never be the same.