The difficulty of reviewing an ongoing mystery procedural – say something like David Lynch’s ground-breaking Twin Peaks or, more recently, Netflix’s short-lived Archive 81 – is that viewers are tasked with digesting only a single morsel of a larger meal but being asked to determine its quality bite by bite. Instead of pronouncing judgment of the end result, they’re required to sound-off on each successive sampling of the whole – which is getting progressively smaller, obviously – and that’s a challenging process by which to make or break one’s supper, much less compliment or insult the chef.
Though I do hate to repeat myself (not really), I’m guessing that – as I’m now two hours into this all-new Amazon program – it may become a necessary evil with each subsequent hour. When one is dealing with layers upon layers (upon layers) of mystery, confusion, and/or downright narrative misdirection, it grows increasingly difficult to comment on the central thread; instead, reviewers tend to bandy words on individual performances or visual aesthetics. Those things are good, true, and Outer Range is to be commended (more on that below, as that’s what I’m left with), but the second hour definitely serves up the meatiest reveal yet in its late moments, giving audiences a greater bit of context for the otherworldly journey they find themselves taking with these characters.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and/or characters. If you’re the type of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last few paragraphs for the final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
A few years back, I fell in love with a great ‘red meat’ action program on Cinemax called Strike Back. (For the record, it got kinda/sorta rebooted with a second crew, but their adventures paled in comparison to the original.) There was nothing about it that was Science Fiction or Fantasy – the show’s focus was on a small team of British operatives essentially fighting terrorism – but I bring it up here solely for one of the things I learned when watching one of its ‘behind-the-scenes’ featurettes. I forget who it was – a showrunner, clearly someone on the creative staff – who said something to the effect that they structure their storylines such that something dynamic that propelled the arcs forward happens every other episode. This gave them the mechanics of approaching two episodes like they were a single two-hour movie, thus they felt audiences were owed something significant as a payback that would also set-up the next two-episode focus.
I bring this up in this space now because that’s how I’d approach Outer Range’s first two episodes.
Episode 01 ends with Autumn (Imogene Poots) shoving Royal into the abyss, a development that appears to be entirely brushed over in Episode 2’s opening scenes: the rancher merely awakens on his land, albeit in rough shape from a tangle with a barbed wire fence and a curious ‘shot’ to the leg. As we never saw this ‘shot’ take place, it’s given a plausible enough explanation at the time; and it isn’t until the hour’s final reveal when we learn how it all took place … in the man’s future.
Like those adventures I so much loved with Strike Back, Outer Range’s first hours work much the same: viewers are given a surprise ending that only makes sense by the obvious delay of storylines unfolding, and that big twist is clearly being deployed to establish the series’ next arc. How long this one will sustain interest until the next expansion is yet to be seen, but I’m hoping – unlike other mystery procedurals – the writers don’t space them too far apart. Audiences can be fickle and lose interest easily; remind them why they fell in love in the first place, and they’ll follow you into that darkness.
But about the aesthetics?
The fabulous Lili Taylor delivers a fantastic opening scene to this second hour, giving her character an all-new level of respect and cause for admiration. As the matriarch to the Abbott family, she confronts the Tillerson boys at her front door in the middle of the night, and she definitely gives them ‘what for.’ In a moment, she takes charge of the situation, redirects their testosterone-fueled anger into angst, and even squeezes an apology out of one of the Tillersons. Think what you may about good writing (of which the scene is fabulous), but it takes a truly gifted actress to bring words to life off the written page, and Taylor has been no slouch. Her career is practically riddled with awards and nominations – she’s made it her life’s passion – and I’m hoping we’ll get to see more of this firecracker madame as the show builds its mythology.
“The Land” (the second hour’s title) is largely propelled by a fabulous performance by the great Will Patton. The show’s protagonist finally gets some face time with his – ahem – somewhat mortal enemy, and their exchange helps to establish their respective backgrounds and might even hint at more mysteries to come. Patton’s Wayne Tillerson is a bit of a broken man – he’s suffering from physical ailments, true, but I’m inclined to believe there’s more to that – and he’s willing to drag everyone down with him when he goes. Something is pushing him to seize Abbott’s land – might he know a thing or two about the hole? – and it looks like he’s going to make obtaining it his dying wish. Indeed, it’s a dire predicament that friends, family, and enemies will remain on high alert as these situations grow.
After all, a mortally wounded animal can always be the least predictable as it has nothing to lose.