Last week, Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo), Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn), Yunis Sablo (Yul Vazquez), and Andy Katcavage (Derek Cecil) were driving to Cecil, Tennessee to contain Claude Bolton (Paddy Considine), who they believe to be El Coco’s next victim. They hope to provide an alibi for Claude’s whereabouts when El Coco murders another child and pours Claude’s DNA all over the crime scene. When El Coco was caught on camera trying to kidnap a child, wearing (most of) Claude’s face, Holly and Ralph have to mollify the situation with local police who know nothing about this El Coco.
In the ninth episode of the season, “Tigers and Bears”, tragedy is looming over the characters. As Ralph begins to really acknowledge the existence of El Coco, Claude Bolton is growing increasingly restless because he does genuinely fear that El Coco is lurking nearby, with his face, his physique, and his DNA. It’s terrifying to think that at any moment, your image, and your outer skin, can be used to murder an innocent child. The Outsider builds to a fatal finale that’ll potentially kill off a good portion of the cast. And that has to do with the ninth episode’s startling cliffhanger.
In “Tigers and Bears”, They’re Closing In On El Coco
Opening to a flashback, we’re still in Cecil, TN but the year’s 1947, and two brothers are playing hide and seek with flashlights before they wander in the woods. The older brother guides his younger brother to a cave that was once inhabited by bears but is now a tourist attraction. Instead of paying the entrance fee, the two brothers slip through a secret entrance. Eventually, they get lost, and their father ventures to search for them. Unfortunately, the kids can’t be reached.
Back in the present-day, Ralph is finally believing in El Coco and admits that he’ll be facing an esoteric threat that defies logic. A phone call with Jeannie (Mare Winningham) confirms that Ralph is starting to take this supernatural threat more seriously (though Jeannie is afraid for Ralph’s safety). Jeannie and Glory also hash things out a bit about what happened at the meeting, and Glory ends up respecting Jeannie’s belief in El Coco.
The team is seeking a way to defeat or contain El Coco, ending a perennial cycle of violence, while also keeping a watchful eye on Claude. They send Howard (Bill Camp) to go with Claude to a fried chicken place an hour away from Cecil to keep him busy while the remainder of the group tries to come up with a plan to stop El Coco in its tracks. As El Coco is becoming more and more like Claude, Holly is concerned that anything they say around Claude will be telepathically communicated to El Coco as well, foiling any potential plan. So why not send Claude to obtain some of the best fried chicken in the world?
Claude and Howard have some nice character moments, as Claude discloses to Howard that he represented him eight years ago in court. Unable to remember Claude, Howard says that “If I don’t remember you, consider it a compliment.” Being a defense attorney means Howard had to protect vile criminals, and Claude wasn’t bad enough to leave an impression.
Ralph and Yunis question the boy who was nearly taken by the nefarious Claude. In an attempt to contain the El Coco virus early on, Ralph and Yunis ask the boy if he was somehow scratched, or if the boy’s grandfather was scratched—they weren’t. The boy’s grandfather does mention that the kidnapper had “weird eyes”, as if they were far into his eye sockets, or as if he was wearing a mask. The boy also tells Ralph and Yunis that the kidnapper promised to take him to the Bear Cave, but there’s nothing on the map that shows the location of the Bear Cave.
Fortunately, Seale Bolton (Max Beesley) knows all about the Bear Cave, and the incident that caused the cave to become completely deserted. In 1947, two boys went missing, and a search party of more than 30 townsfolk went in, only for the entrance to collapse. Everyone died a slow, miserable death. Knowing how El Coco seeks out the places where grief lingers, it’s fitting that El Coco will seek refuge in the Bear Cave where dozens of people died an excruciating death. Ralph, Holly, Andy, Yunis, and Alec stock up on weapons and drive to the Bear Cave, hoping to find El Coco, but are they prepared to face an ill-defined evil?
In a reckless decision, Seale informs his brother that El Coco is out there and that the group went to Bear Cave to face it. Claude is immediately angry at Seale for telling him about the group’s plan, enlivening Holly’s presumptions that El Coco will be able to hear whatever Claude hears. Little does the group know, Jack Hoskins (Marc Menchaca) is still taking orders from El Coco. El Coco now knows that they’re coming, so he summons Jack to take a position on a rock with a rifle.
Recognizing what he’s done, Seale, Claude, and Howard all stock up on weapons and drive to the cave after not being able to contact the group via phone. When everyone shows up, Jack is equipped with a rifle, fluctuating between targets, until he finally pulls the trigger. Jack shoots Alec Pelley in the head, and blood spatters all over Ralph’s face. Ralph’s in shock, unable to respond quickly because he didn’t anticipate a gunshot, and he just watched Alec’s head explode in a mere second. That’s when the screen cuts to black, and a series of rapid-fire gunshots ring out. The body count must be staggering.
A Gut-Wrenching Finale Is Approaching
I always liked how HBO’s The Outsider was a weekly series. It allows the viewer to reflect on how these characters are striving to deal with a supernatural force and the inexplicable. The sepulchral atmosphere, the blistering ambiguity, and the measured pacing allowed the series to become a fully-fledged Stephen King nightmare that doesn’t resort to garish CGI or jump scares to create those unsettling feelings.
“Tigers and Bears” is directed by Charlotte Brändström (The Witcher & Conspiracy of Silence), and she makes all of the right choices when it comes to vivifying the stakes and handling the cliffhanger. The characters have no choice but to face El Coco, despite knowing very little about its power and weaknesses. In a broader sense, The Outsider is about vanquishing a generational evil. And in order to know if this evil can be defeated, one must tackle it head-on. Despite having a difficult time believing in the El Coco, Ralph is a rigorous and dedicated detective. Deep down, Ralph must know that he may die if he steps foot in that cave, yet Ralph’s willingness to do so has to do with preventing the deaths of other children and coming to terms with his own son’s death.
Charlotte Brändström causes the situation to viciously erupt at the last minute. Another director may have cut things to black before Jack shoots the rifle, but for Brändström, she lets one body fall, and then allows strident gunshots to ring out while the screen is hauntingly pitch-black. The set-up to the finale is enticing and frustrating, chiefly because we will potentially lose Andy, Yunis, Howard, and Claude. Of course, Holly and Ralph will remain unscathed (for now, at least), but the anticipation for the finale is immensely high.
S1 Of The Outsider Ends Next Week, But Is It Really The End Of The Show?
The cliffhanger was certainly shocking and bloodcurdling, but imagine my surprise when I watched the finale’s promo and realized it was being marketed as the season finale, not the series finale. I wouldn’t be surprised if we get more Holly Gibney-lead cases in the near future. But as of right now, The Outsider has to deliver a reasonably satisfying conclusion that’ll at least gratify those viewers who stuck with the series.
The Outsider started as a bleak crime mystery, but the show gently morphed into something more evocative, disturbing, and odd. It tinkers with the mythology of El Coco in a deliberately leaden fashion, only ever giving us glimpses of the boogeyman’s deformed face and cryptic figure. But in doing so, the horror is all the more potent and fittingly uncertain because we have no idea what the boogeyman will do next. Hopefully, El Coco’s reign comes to a rewarding end in the finale. If it’s the last time we see Cynthia Erivo and Ben Mendelsohn together in these roles, we can only hope that Ralph and Holly get a memorable send-off. And maybe we won’t have to mourn Andy (but I’m definitely not betting on it).
Are you all caught up on The Outsider? What are your thoughts on the recent episode? Let us know in the comments!
The Outsider is available to watch on HBO every Sunday at 8.
Does content like this matter to you?
Become a Member and support film journalism. Unlock access to all of Film Inquiry`s great articles. Join a community of like-minded readers who are passionate about cinema – get access to our private members Network, give back to independent filmmakers, and more.