Fear hits us right in the face. It’s the up-close-and-personal kind of motivation that pushes us sometimes to even the direst actions. Often times, the immediacy of it will make us consider a choice we might otherwise logically abandon, and we’ll likely regret what we did – if even only in the smallest way – once calmer winds prevail.
Grief, in contrast, typically hits us in ways we don’t anticipate. It’s the slow-burn effect, the rumination of time, life, and circumstance that can carry us through the darkest of times. We begin to reflect – sometimes too much so – and we weigh the decisions in front of us against the substance of our own mortality. The desire is to bring us a new peace, one that returns hope to our short- and long-term existence.
Outer Range’s “The Soil” – its first installment – is a bit of an oddity. (In fact, I’ll admit to having to watch this one twice in order to make whatever peace I could with it.) Soil is typically something we associate strongly with life and death – culturally, we both plant new seeds and bury loved ones beneath the soil – and, thus, the episode is clearly fixated on that curious cycle of life in ways that perhaps require a closer look.
The hour was scripted by creator Brian Watkins along with writers Naledi Jackson and Dominic Orlando; and the bulk of it kinda/sorta sidelines Royal (played by Josh Brolin) as he’s hellbent off on a mission to find his own answers to fear, grief, and rabbit holes. (Don’t fret none: he’ll be back for the show’s final moments in a big way.) Instead, the remaining players of the ensemble get to experience their own highs and lows after Wayne Tillerson (Will Patton) returns home – triumphant – only to lapse into what we’re told is a stroke. (FYI: the previous episode closed with the rancher overpowering Royal – a puzzling development, indeed, given the man’s precarious health to begin with, but that’s the way it was scripted.)
In the aftermath, Royal sleeps the sleep of dreams, in which he’s delivered a message from the late Trevor Tillerson; and that pushes him to head off in search of those aforementioned answers. What he learns essentially ties him back to his trip down that infamous hole in the west pasture in which he was treated to a look at the future … and I’m starting to suspect this isn’t the man’s first time either in or out of that space. Clearly, he’s fearful of it, and he’s doing everything he can to keep the reality of its existence from his family; that suggests (to me, at least) that this man without a clear background might very well have come from not so much some other place as it was another time.
In any event, “The Soil” spends a great deal of time in the life of Cecilia Abbott (Lily Taylor). Though the previous episodes have largely hinted at her current crisis of faith, we’re shown just how personal its grown. She’s no longer certain what to make of her God and her husband (much less her sons), and the ladies of the congregation recognize this predicament and ‘lay hands’ on her in prayer. Everything that has served as an anchor for her up to this point has been shattered, and Cece fights against the spiritual and emotional tide tugging her away.
Perry (Tom Pelphrey) is revealed as a closeted headbanger after a spirited conversation with Autumn (Imogen Poots) as they make their way to a nearby tavern featuring a metal band. After a bit of time losing themselves to the music, this unlikely pair end up sitting under the peace and quiet of the night sky, and Perry shares with her what happened the night Rebecca (his wife) vanished. At this point, the mysterious Autumn – she clearly knows more about what’s going on in this place than she lets on – suggests to him that the young woman’s disappearance might be part of something much larger, implying that her absence was needed, though we’re never told by who.
Rhett (Lewis Pullman) continues to push himself away from the safety of family, instead finding a bit of needed attention in the arms of Maria Olivares (Isabel Arraiza). They finally consummate their relationship (despite her obvious pushback from earlier developments) in what might be the fellow’s only real escape from reality to this point in the story. We’ve yet to see if he has the right stuff to make it elsewhere with his rodeo bid, though it’s hinted at that the championship contest is just on the horizon.
Lo and behold, Royal finally returns home, well after the sun’s gone down. He marches to the barn and angrily cracks open Autumn’s necklace, the very trinket he won from her in last episode’s fateful poker match. Inside, he finds ‘the soil,’ rubs it on his hands, and is treated to yet another vision of the future: this time, he sees himself lying on the floor of the barn – seemingly dead – in the arms of his wife. Sitting on the ground beside them is Autumn … but, as it turns out, she can see Royal’s transcendental self standing there watching them! When she stands and speaks to him, the spell is broken, and the rancher finds himself back in the dark of an empty barn as the credits roll.
As I said in the opening to this review, it’s an hour I found a bit empty on first viewing. Watching it again forced me to see some of the smaller moments were clearly adding up to the various subplots; but the biggest reveal for me was Royal’s increasing desperation. Clearly, he knows more about these events than we, the audience have been told (as does Autumn); and I suspect that’s where the show might be pulling its own sleight of hand. Could it be that he’s from a place only the hole can show us?
We’ll only know in time.