“The Outsider” Recap: “In the Pines, In the Pines”

The Outsider, "In the Pines, In the Pines" Cynthia Erivo & Mare Winningham in The Outsider (HBO)

Ralph’s stubbornness becomes a liability, and Jack finds a sympathetic ear in a disappointingly below par episode.

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

At what point does folding one’s arms and refusing to give in start to become actively harmful? Ralph’s noble pursuit of truth and logic despite the increasing weirdness of the Peterson case is now hindering the investigation, while Glory’s refusal to pull up stakes and leave town is causing her needless pain. Both of them are unwittingly setting up a veritable banquet for the The Grief Eater in “In the Pines, In the Pines,” a shorter than normal episode written by mystery author Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island) that feels a bit like filler.

It’s the morning after Holly’s disastrous presentation, and no one really knows what to do next. Though Ralph (Ben Mendelsohn) told Yunis (Yul Vazquez) that he was going to return to “real police shit” in the ongoing investigation, he mostly just wanders around his house in a troubled fog. Jeannie (Mare Winningham) is so shaken by the discovery that her nighttime visitor was real that she’s gotten rid of the chair it was sitting in, to which Ralph reacts to his with his usual, slightly condescending harrumphing. It’s unclear at this point if Ralph is troubled because he thinks there might be some truth to what Holly’s saying, or because the only person left on his side is Howard (Bill Camp), who, being the Maitland Family’s attorney, is technically his adversary.

Whether it’s out of genuine concern for her, or because he finally feels useful again, Ralph notices that Holly (Cynthia Erivo) is missing, and teams up with Alec (Jeremy Bobb) to find her. They almost instantly figure out that she’s with Jack (Marc Menchaca) and what felt like a genuine cliffhanger in the last episode is disappointingly anticlimactic here. Holly easily escapes from Jack during a gas station stop, and though her phone is destroyed, Ralph and Alec are able to track her down and bring her back to safety. It’s a bit of a fakeout from a show that so far doesn’t play around with audience expectations. We know that a confrontation between Jack and the rest of the team is inevitable, so why there was a need for a meandering teaser is unknown.

What this sequence lacks in excitement is made up for in giving Jack some dimension. He’s gone from a big dumb cop to a sympathetic monster, almost entirely under control of the Grief Eater, but occasionally still permitted some moments of lucidity. He admits to Holly that growing up he never believed in God, or the Devil, or even Santa Claus, but he knows now that “There’s something else out there, worse than I ever imagined. He laments being chosen, particularly when Holly tells him that the Grief Eater is drawn to pain. Turning Jack into a tragic rather than terrifying villain (though one suspects he’ll be far more the latter in the remaining episodes) is a compelling move. Though the fate of every other character is unclear, we know that, whatever happens, things aren’t going to end well for him.

We know that a confrontation between Jack and the rest of the team is inevitable, so why there was a need for a meandering teaser is unknown.

Speaking of things not ending well for people, Claude (Paddy Considine), after ominously telling his boss “I haven’t been feeling myself lately,” quits his job at the strip club. Holly notices a resemblance between Claude’s mugshot and Jeannie’s nighttime visitor, and, for the first time, explodes in a rage at Ralph for neglecting to tell her about Claude’s encounter with Terry. This seems to tear it for everyone else involved: Jeannie tells him he needs to get out of the way of the investigation if he’s not willing to explore all the possibilities, while Yunis says “You need this to make sense so you can live with it. I just need it to end.” Even Alec is dismayed by Ralph reacting to a frightening story from his childhood with a dismissive “yeah, right, sure” grunt. 

It raises an interesting question: what smoking gun does Ralph hope to find that will logically explain everything at this point? That Terry Maitland had an identical twin brother after all? He spends much of “In the Pines, In the Pines,” and the last episode vacillating between almost being open to what Holly is saying, and being infuriatingly narrow-minded about it. It doesn’t seem to matter to him that his wife believes her (and is terrified by it), and contemplating what it would take for Ralph to finally believe it himself is chilling.

Speaking of stubborn, Glory (Julianne Nicholson), having finally found an actual homeschool teacher for her kids, returns to work, after just three weeks since Terry’s death. She’s a real estate agent, and not surprisingly her first attempt at selling a house quickly goes south, as the husband stammers through questions about the local schools and the wife silently stares at her with a pained grimace on her face. Glory isn’t ashamed, she’s angry, referring to herself as “the Bride of Frankenstein” and promising the couple a photo of herself with her head turning 360 degrees if they agree to a sale. 

Marc Menchaca in The Outsider (HBO)

She has a point: even if Terry had gone to trial and been found guilty, what right do strangers have to treat her and her children like freaks? Unfortunately, we know how human nature works, and if one person commits a heinous act their whole family is held responsible for it. After her children are forced out of school, and she loses her job, the logical thing for Glory to do would be to leave town, changing her name and never looking back. That’s her house, however, and she won’t be run out of town on a rail. She tells Howard to move forward with a lawsuit over Terry’s death, though, interestingly, something stops her from specifically naming Ralph as a party to it just yet.

Even after an emergency meeting with his therapist, Ralph doesn’t seem much closer to believing in those other things that Jack believes in now. He’s setting himself up (and most likely the people he cares about) for the Grief Eater to make itself known to him in a big, unspeakable way. “In the Pines, In the Pines” ends with Holly having a nightmare about her encounter with Jack, but the scream she lets out suggests that she understands what lies ahead. 

Random Thoughts:

  • When I describe “In the Pines, In the Pines” as “below par,” that doesn’t mean it was a bad episode. It just ultimately didn’t add much to the overall plot, except to depict Jack as something a little more than an “I do the master’s bidding” henchman. If every other episode so far has rated a solid 9 or 10, this one would come in at around a 7. Not bad, just…not great.
  • Detective Andy (Derek Cecil) is back! Holly’s face lighting up when she sees him fills me with the dread of someone who’s seen many movies with superfluous love interests for the hero or heroine, and knows that their chances of making it to the end of the story are rather low. Let’s hope The Outsider zags on us, and Holly gets a little happiness in her life.
  • Speaking of superfluous characters, Tomika (Hetienne Park) is also bafflingly stubborn when it comes to refusing to tell Ralph about her concern over Jack, and her own frightening encounter with Jeannie’s nighttime visitor. If we come away from The Outsider with anything, it’s that it does absolutely no good to put on a stoic face when struggling with some sort of existential fear.
  • Though I’m unclear as to how the title is relevant to the episode, save for Jack returning to the woods after Holly escapes and trying to kill himself (unsuccessfully), “In the Pines, In the Pines” is presumably named for the Leadbelly blues standard, more familiar to modern audiences by the haunting Nirvana cover.
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