“The Outsider” Recap: “Tigers and Bears”

The Outsider, "Tigers and Bears" Cynthia Erivo & Max Beesley in The Outsider (HBO)

The team figures out where to center their attack, as the penultimate episode of the season continues to struggle with pacing.

Warning: don’t read until you’ve seen the episode!

Okay, fine, I’ve been a little more generous with The Outsider than other folks who are writing weekly recaps, but it must be said: it’s had some significant pacing issues in the second half of its season. There hasn’t been this many scenes of people just driving since Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and at least there it was to set up a sense of the leisurely, mellow days of the late 60s, before the Manson Family brought it all to a screeching halt. Here, it just feels like filler, and one too many scenes of various characters trying to convince Ralph (Ben Mendelsohn) that he should be open to believing what Holly says. The penultimate episode, “Tigers and Bears,” feels much like the last two episodes, in that nothing much happens except a lot of talking (and driving), up until the very end.

The team is still in Claude’s (Paddy Considine) dreary little town, and, under false pretenses, interview the boy not-Claude tried to kidnap in last week’s episode. He tells them that not-Claude offered to show him the “bear cave,” which, according to the local cops, doesn’t exist. We later learn, in an extended flashback, that it did exist, but was sealed off back in the 40s after several of the townspeople (some of them Claude’s relatives) were killed in a cave-in while searching for a pair of lost brothers. Full of bodies that were never recovered, it’s both the perfect place for El Cuco to lay low while it finishes his transformation, and for the team to trap it while they figure out if it can be killed.

Much of this is kept a secret from Claude, because apparently anything he hears or sees, not-Claude hears or sees as well, which is a new twist that Holly (Cynthia Erivo) just seems to pull from the air. Claude’s brother, Seale (Max Beesley), a sketchy, sarcastic asshole which the show absolutely does not need now, but we’re stuck with him, disagrees with this idea, but grudgingly goes along with it, at least at first. Howard (Bill Camp), the only member of the team who’s not fully on board with El Cuco at this point, agrees to be Claude’s babysitter for the day, driving him to a chicken restaurant two hundred miles outside of town. Man, you feel every one of those two hundred miles too, and while you’re watching Claude and Howard eat chicken, all you can think is “Surely they could have done this show in eight episodes.”

While you’re watching Claude and Howard eat chicken, all you can think is “Surely they could have done this show in eight episodes.”

It gives me no pleasure to admit that “Tigers and Bears” is the third episode of The Outsider in a row that does nothing to move the plot forward in any meaningful way. Yes, finally, we see that El Cuco is, indeed, turning into Claude, but we knew that was happening already. It spends a lot of time reestablishing things we already know, like that Ralph clings to his sense of rationality beyond a point where it does nothing but hinder the investigation, or that Jack (Marc Menchaca) is El Cuco’s puppet, or that Detective Andy (Derek Cecil) is so doomed he might as well have a red X painted on his back.

Glory (Julianne Nicholson), a character whose usefulness to the plot ended two episodes ago, has a conversation with Jeannie (Mare Winningham) that serves little purpose but to reiterate that she doesn’t believe in the idea of El Cuco. We know that. She’s said so several times already. Why the writers of the show treat each episode, including “Tigers and Bears,” the second to last of the season, as if the viewer is coming into it not having seen any previous episodes, is puzzling and frustrating.

That being said, there’s still a lot to like about The Outsider. The pacing issues would be much harder to deal with if not for the fact that the characters feel so very lived in and authentic. It’s refreshing to see male characters show genuine unease and fear. Even Ralph, when they’re on the way to the abandoned cave to make a last stand against El Cuco, looks a little green around the gills. No one, not even Holly, really knows what they’re getting into. They don’t even know what to do with El Cuco when they find it. All they know about it is that it exists, and that now, thanks to Seale, it knows they’re coming. On his way to join the team, Claude brings a baseball bat with him, which seems charmingly naive, like bringing a toothpick to a knife fight. They have no idea what’s about to happen.

Random Thoughts:

  • Although of course there was no way of knowing at the time “Tigers and Bears” was written, Holly mentioning that the Spanish flu decimated much of Claude’s hometown is a little uncomfortably on the nose given current events.
  • That chicken did look pretty good, I gotta say.
  • Pretty impressive set design for that cave. Between this and The Descent, I don’t understand, and will never understand, why people go wandering around inside caves for fun.
  • I’m not sure how I feel about the screen going black right after Jack starts firing at the end. I guess it was better than it just ending with his finger on the trigger, though.
  • Called Alec’s death, although it was an easy call. Though Jeremy Bobb was fine in the role, Alec was a character that could have easily been left out, and absolutely nothing would have changed.
  • That CGI blood when Alec is shot! God, what I wouldn’t give for movies and TV shows to return to the good old days of corn syrup and red food coloring.
  • Note that the preview for next week’s episode referred to it being the “season finale,” not the series finale. Though Holly appears in several other Stephen King novels, and Erivo is great in the role, I’d prefer it if they took the Watchmen approach and left it as a one and done.
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