The slow burn of HBO’s newest series has finally come to an end after 10 episodes and the reactions are mixed. As I do with most things, I see both sides. The word hate has not come to the discussion because even the people who didn’t enjoy the ending were still enthralled with the series as a whole. It was unique, creepy and psychologically challenging to say the least. Though, it was a slow burn, it was extremely well written and shot. At simply an artistic level, it was very impressive and well executed. BIG spoilers ahead so if you are not caught up then see yourself the hell out of here and go finish the show… Then come back 🙂
It took me a while to collect my thoughts after the finale but after sleeping on it for a bit, I had more of an appreciation for what Stephen King and the show runners were going for. It was not a giant climactic ending like we have become accustomed to like “It” or “The Shining”. It was dialogue based and simply a much more subtle conclusion than I was expecting. After the build up over the first nine episodes, I was ready to finally see El Cuco it his horrifying natural form, whether it is a giant demon or some kind of physical entity. Rather it was just a much more sinister version of the man, Claude Bolton himself. There is a lot to unpack and I probably won’t get to everything but lets dive into a little bit more.
Jason Bateman’s character Terry Maitland was at the forefront of the story when it all began and part of me wanted to see him live through the final eight episodes because his character held so much weight. Spoiler, he dies in the second… Anyways, his story was the entire reason we were all so caught up in this bizarre story line that had as much mystery as you can ask for. Did he kill Frankie Peterson? Why? How? The shots of him (El Cuco) covered in blood, walking back to the van after the grizzly murder and catching eye contact with a little girl now seems like one of the most haunting shots of the entire series. At the time, we still believed that that was indeed Terry Maitland, which was still scary but we didn’t know what the fuck that meant and what was coming. Now that we know that was El Cuco, it is much more haunting.
The mystery behind why a person was in two places at the same time mind fucked the viewers, including myself, and as the series went on, we were introduced to a few more characters that were going through the same thing. I enjoyed these side stories because it opened up our minds to start conceptualizing possible theories about who or what was behind these murders. These stories were of course brought to light because of one of the most interesting characters in the show, Holly Gibney. Hired for her esoteric and unorthodox investigative techniques, Holly quickly became a fan favorite as she was the reason this entire group of people became believers and followed her lead into the unknown. Stephen King’s incredible character building in supernatural settings was on full display as both Holly and Ralph really became fascinating characters over the course of the series.
Ralph proved to be the most relatable and in a sense, the moral logical compass of the series. Most of us have no concept of the supernatural or anything beyond reason and Ralph displays that side of the spectrum throughout. His transformation though, is definitely one of the driving factors behind the great story telling that happens in this series. Watching him take small bites every episode was both frustrating, yet relatable. Then we have Holly, who is on the complete other side of the spectrum and uses her open mind and past experiences to chase something that has never been chased before. Seeing all of these characters come together to fight the evil that lurks in the shadows was extremely entertaining.
El Cuco is one of the most interesting evil entities that Stephen King has ever created. The mystery and unknown nature of El Cuco gives it this power and constant intrigue. It it not of this world and it is capable of leaching into your brain and controlling your thoughts. Jack becomes the focus of El Cuco’s protection and to see how much control the evil has over Jack’s thoughts and actions gives the audience a look at how powerful this entity is and how it has survived all these years. One of the creepiest scenes in the entire series is without a doubt the manifestation of Jack’s dead mother who abused him as a kid and was the cause of his inner demons. Hearing her voice in the background tormenting Jack was extremely unsettling and then to follow that, she kicks his ass… As the audience, we start to see all the angles little by little. Sometimes a slow burn with story telling can be frustrating, but I believe it was justified and used brilliantly in The Outsider.
One of my favorite episodes was probably one of the majority of viewers least favorite and that was episode nine. HBO is known for having huge, epic episode nines that lead up to the finale, but The Outsider took a new route. It gave us the backstory of the cave in which El Cuco resides in. The show runners used the flashback to showcase the pain and unsettling nature of the cave itself. The shots of the kids getting lost in the cave, along with the group of rescue searchers looking for them was creepy as hell. It felt like at any moment, shit could go down. Not going to lie though, at the end of that sequence I was hoping/expecting El Cuco to manifest and give the family a brutal end so that we can really get a grasp on the evil that was on the loose. After looking back, I can now respect the decision to use that moment to just give the audience an idea of how much unresolved tragedy was involved in the cave collapse and how that location was soon the resting spot for an evil entity that feeds on grief… and children…
This leads into the finale… At the end of episode nine, we heard about seven shots ring out after a cut to black. It was the cliff hanger of all cliff hangers and had me and I’m sure everyone else ready for the final confrontation between the group of believers and the unbelievable. My guy Alec got his brains blown out, while we endured some other tragic losses at the hands of Jack’s rifle. I KNEW the shot of the snake at the end of episode nine would not be for nothing. My prediction came to fruition and Jack used the snake bite as a way out of his unforgiving end. Following the deaths of Andy, Howard and Claude’s brother, Ralph and Holly enter the cave… This is where my blood was pumpin’ and I was ready for El Cuco’s final stand. Although, the final stand ended up being a creepy ass confrontation that was kept somewhat under control until Claude showed up and blasted his doppelganger with a 725 shotgun. The back and forth between Holly and Cuco was fucking fascinating as they were both curious about the answers to Holly’s questions. Where are you from? How long have you been here? Why children? The answer to that one was of course, “because they taste the sweetest”. As Ralph sees his dead son on the way out, he still feels the presence of Cuco playing with his mind and I think this was a great moment for Ralph. After a short exchange, Ralph smashes a rock onto the evil Claudes head and calls it a day.
If you stuck around after the credits, you were rewarded with a short scene with Holly after the final showdown with Cuco. She sees Jack in the mirror then proceeds to check her neck for any sign of Cuco’s hold on her. Nothing is there but the next shot is her on her bed playing with her hair and as the camera pans around, a small cut is seen on her arm…. Does this mean she was scratched at some point? And is this this trigger for a possible season 2?
Overall, I believe I let my expectations get the best of me for the finale, so my judgement was a bit obscured. Then after some time, I really began to appreciate the writing and alternate approach to the final confrontation. The dialogue was extremely eerie and it served as a subtle but effective conclusion to the slow burning psychological thriller. I HIGHLY recommend the series to anyone interested in Stephen King’s stories because it did not disappoint. I give it a solid 4 out of 5 stars and look forward to any news coming out about a possible season 2.