Last week, the screen cut to black after Jack Hoskins (Marc Menchaca) shot Alec Pelley (Jeremy Bobb) in the head, causing spurts of blood to splash on Ralph’s (Ben Mendelsohn) fazed face. Even when the screen turned to pitch-black, a series of gunshots continued to ring out, providing the perfect cliffhanger. The season finale of the show, “Must/Can’t”, opens immediately where “Tigers and Bears” left off: in the midst of a shootout between Jack and the rest of the group — Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo), Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn), Yunis Sablo (Yul Vazquez), and Andy Katcavage (Derek Cecil). Little do they know, Claude Bolton (Paddy Considine), Seale Bolton (Max Beesley), and Howard Salomon (Bill Camp) are not far behind. As expected, bodies fall and chaos ensues.
In “Must/Can’t”, The Reign Of El Coco Comes To An End…Or So We Think
An upside-down long shot of the woodlands opens the episode and instantly alludes to a situation turned on its head. A situation that implies death and disorder. Weeks of speculation and investigation has lead Holly and Ralph to the outskirt of a cave, about to face an arcane evil that isn’t human. Guarded by Jack Hoskins, El Coco’s pliable pawn, a shootout commences between a gravely infected Jack and the rest of the group, ending in tragedy. Seale Bolton, Claude’s reckless brother, is shot in the chest. Andy Katcavage, Holly’s compassionate boyfriend, is shot as he tried to drive away. And Howard Salomon burns to death after Jack causes his car to explode.
Positioned on a rock, intoxicated and uneasy, the gunshots falter after Jack is bitten by a venomous snake. Jack stumbles to the ground. The rest of the group experiences shock and awaits for any more chaos. When Jack limps to the scene, Yunis immediately pulls his gun on Jack, imploring him to put his gun down. Jack responds with, “It’s in there”, and then he abruptly takes his own life. Another body has fallen. A fitting overhead shot captures the aftermath: four mutilated bodies torn apart by gunshots, a burning car, and other cars ridden with bullets.
Ralph and Holly enter the cave, while Claude and Yunis stay back. Ralph and Holly wander the dark and damp cave seeking El Coco, and they find severed animals that suggest El Coco was feeding. But Ralph sees a glimmer of light, and they both walk toward it, only to be confronted by a confident El Coco. “Watch your step coming in. It’s very slippery.” How nice of El Coco to be concerned about their safety and balance. That said, Holly sees through El Coco’s confidence act, and she knows El Coco’s in a debilitated state and is probably scheming to get them off guard.
What Holly still doesn’t know, even after confronting it, is El Coco’s origins and purpose. Holly knows that it’s in a weakened condition, and that it feeds on grief and the innocent souls of children, yet its genesis is still hazy. But one of El Coco’s lines stays with you. When Holly asks why El Coco preys on children, El Coco says “cause they taste the sweetest”. Alongside Holly, Ralph also finds himself in a strange predicament: Ralph aims a gun at El Coco but is unable to use it because it’ll echo throughout the cave, causing the cave to collapse. Any gun is rendered useless. That is until a dejected Claude rushes in, and despite Holly and Ralph’s concerns, shoots El Coco, triggering the cave’s enclosure.
Holly and Claude head out, but Ralph runs into the ghosts of Derek Anderson and Ollie Peterson, Ralph’s deceased son and Frankie Peterson’s late brother/Terry Maitland’s killer, who Ralph himself shot dead. Knowing Ralph’s deceased son spoke to him at some point, Ralph perceives the sudden appearance of Derek as an inkling that El Coco is still alive. Ralph goes back to see El Coco, playing dead. Ralph enjoys being the one to end its life by smashing its head, saying that it would be better if no one ever knew El Coco existed. It all feels effortless, maybe even anti-climatic. That alone can be annoying for viewers who were expecting a longer showdown. I was also shocked, but I also didn’t condemn the show for it either. I would have been more annoyed if it went into It territory.
Holly, Ralph, Claude, and Yunis are able to coin a story that’ll finally clear Terry Maitland’s name. They tell the local police that Jack killed everyone, but he was being coerced by someone else who’s on the run, and that same person tried to kidnap another kid at CaveStock. In light of recent events, the DA is compelled to reopen the case, apologize to Glory, and publicly exonerate Terry Maitland’s name.
Making it back home safely, Holly and Ralph share one last moment and one last hug before Holly goes back to Chicago. Ralph asks, “What else is out there?” And Holly leaves after shrugging her shoulders and letting out a faint smile. When it’s all said and done, Glory Maitland gets an apology and her husband’s name cleared, and Ralph and Jeannie are in a peaceful place. However, something’s off. When Ralph discloses to Jeannie that the version of Derek Anderson he saw implored him to “Let him go”, Jeannie is rather confused, chiefly because no parent can forget their child, they can only live with it. And something tells me that El Coco’s work isn’t done yet, and perhaps they will have to deal with an undying evil that’ll find a way to always exist.
That’s where the mid-credits scene comes in. Holly Gibney is seen having the infamous El Coco scratch, and she also had a brief (and frightening) hallucination in the mirror of Jack Hoskins. This could be El Coco’s projection abilities preying on Holly’s state of mind. Worst case scenario, El Coco slowly replicates Holly’s face and infiates her mind, continuing the cycle of murder and woe.
“An Outsider Knows An Outsider.”
From the very first moment we saw Holly Gibney, she was an outsider herself. When she was a kid, her parents would allow doctors and scientists to perform tests on their daughter to determine where her great intelligence and eccentricities stem from. Holly utilized her peculiarities into becoming an extremely talented private investigator. She remained an outsider, and because of that, she tackled a supernatural evil with as much dedication as she would with a human criminal. Cynthia Erivo delivers one of her best performances as the wonderfully quirky Holly Gibney. I would be willing to venture on another Holly Gibney-lead case if another season is on its way, even more so after that frustrating mid-credits scene.
“Must/Can’t” isn’t the conclusion many viewers were hoping for. Sure, El Coco is seemingly defeated (for now), Terry Maitland’s name is cleared, and the aftermath of the gory shootout is appropriately devastating. The thing is, all of this happens in a short 50-minute runtime. After the pulse-pounding and harsh opening shootout, the swift pace also counteracts the impact of other moments, including how Ralph goes about to clear Terry Maitland’s name, and how El Coco ultimately “dies”.
However, there are snippets here-and-there which imply the reemergence of El Coco, or something else entirely. These questions reel me back into The Outsider universe. When Holly screamed, “Damn you to hell!” at Jack, he immediately stopped shooting, which is odd, right? Did Ralph leave a coat behind in the cave? Why did Holly ask, “Who’s Terry?” when she was speaking with Ralph in the cave? I can’t help but feel nauseous and upset because of this ambiguity, a sensation that The Outsider has wholeheartedly embraced.
Yes, the long-awaited showdown with El Coco is indisputably underwhelming. Nonetheless, by exploiting the hollow space of a cave, director Andrew Bernstein elevates the tension by eerily and unwaveringly following Ralph and Holly in a jagged cave, and then by putting Ralph in an infuriating plight: he can’t shoot the gun he has aimed at El Coco because of the dire echo, therefore rendering him defenseless. Ben Mendelsohn is still a delight to watch, and he’s given the chance to unload on an enfeebled El Coco in one of the more rewarding scenes.
But it’s really Paddy Considine who shines in this episode as Claude Bolton, and as the ever-so nefarious El Coco. As Claude Bolton, Considine radiates anger and despondency due to his brother’s brutal death. Considine takes on an inflated bravado as the over-confident El Coco. Whatever role Considine is playing in this episode, he pulls it off.
The Outsider Ends On A Strange Note
The season finale of The Outsider is consciously unsatisfying. For those hoping for a conclusive ending, will likely be disappointed. Even so, maybe The Outsider is breeding a greater monster, a greater evil that’ll soon manifest itself in a second season — that is only if it’s officially renewed. The quicker pace and the short-lived runtime debilitate certain threads from completing a convincing whole. Yet, I’m still spellbound by this universe.
For a series that prospered on a measured pace and an overarching sense of ambiguity and unforeseen dread, The Outsider continues to leave viewers in the dark, even during the grand finale. It’s a decision that’ll instantly backfire after more and more viewers experience it, but I’m certain it will gradually garner more admiration as viewers let it sink in. There are objects (a coat) and spoken words (“Who’s Terry?”) in the season finale that unsettle me to the point of curiosity. I’m interested to see where The Outsider goes next; I hope HBO shares the same opinion.
Have you seen the season finale? What are your thoughts on it? If there’s a second season, are you watching it? Also, what does “Who’s Terry?” mean? Let us know in the comments!
The entire first season of The Outsider is available to watch on HBO.
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