“The Outsider” Recap: In “Foxhead,” Time is Just About Up

Foxhead Michael Banks Repeta & Paddy Considine in The Outsider (HBO)

Claude takes a trip out of town & the team isn’t far behind him in “Foxhead,” an occasionally meandering episode that has a few nicely macabre touches.

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

I had said in a recap of an earlier episode of The Outsider that it would probably take something big and terrible to make Ralph believe in the Grief Eater, El Cuco, whatever its name is, if it even has one. As it turns out, all it takes is him having to accept that his own eyes aren’t deceiving him in “Foxhead,” an episode that makes up for in tension and unease what it lacks in action.

El Cuco’s transformation is almost complete, as we learn when he eerily speaks to Jack (Marc Menchaca) in Claude’s voice. We also learn, in a gruesome twist, that, in addition to their grief and pain, El Cuco literally eats people. It chows down on a hunter Jack shoots, leaving only a bloody hat and some bits of brain behind. Still hungry, it makes its way to Cavestock, a tourist attraction full of delicious children and oblivious parents, with a reluctant Jack still doing its bidding.

The real Claude (Paddy Considine, finally given something substantial to do) , no longer comfortable Cherokee City, travels to his tiny Tennessee hometown to visit his brother Seale (Max Beesley). Seale is a bit sketchy and quick to anger, but he believes Claude when he tells him he had to leave town out of fear that “something bad was going to happen,” and offers him a safe place to stay. His whereabouts are quickly found out by Holly (Cynthia Erivo) and the team, and Holly announces that she plans to travel to Tennessee to keep an eye on him and supply an alibi should El Cuco claim another victim. Joining her for this grim little road trip are Detective Andy (Derek Cecil), Yunis (Yul Vazquez), and Ralph (Ben Mendelsohn).

That’s right, I said Ralph, who finally, grudgingly, seems to be on board, at least with the idea that Claude might be in danger. He admits to Jeannie (Mare Winningham) that it’s mostly because he’s fresh out of ideas, and she begs him not to go, understanding that his unwillingness to accept the reality of El Cuco will put him and the rest of the team at risk. “You’re not capable of seeing it for what it really is,” she tells him, which he, being Ralph, proceeds to ignore.

“Foxhead” sags a little under the weight of too many scenes of characters driving and talking, but the scenes on their individual merits work. Ralph tells Holly that Jack once trained to be an ace sharpshooter, but lost his dream assignment thanks to a questionable psych exam, a story that feels like an ominous bellwether of things to come. Later, the tension is lifted a bit when he recounts a touching story about hearing a song that connected him to his deceased mother, which Holly jokingly brushes off as a coincidence. They’re still reluctant partners, but on the same page in understanding that the key to the case as it stands now lies with Claude, and that’s enough to work together.

“Foxhead” sags a little under the weight of too many scenes of characters driving and talking, but the scenes on their individual merits work.

Before they arrive in town, Yunis makes a call and Claude is arrested, for his own safety. He’s remarkably calm and polite, considering the cops won’t say why they’re holding him. That’s more than can be said for Seale, who mouths off at them and ends up tasered and thrown into the holding cell with Claude. After Ralph and the team show up to free them, they’re stuck having to stay at Seale’s house, and he’s a reluctant host at best. Though the story sounds absurd, Claude is both frightened and relieved. Finally, there’s an explanation for why he feels so ill at ease, and like he’s constantly being watched and followed. Sure, there’s some sort of monster walking around out there wearing his face, but at least he knows he’s not crazy.

The monster is closer than they think, stalking the fairgrounds at Cavestock and looking almost like a person (let’s refer to it for now as “not-Claude”). Also at the fair is the Davidson Family, loving but bored grandparents traveling with their grandchildren, of which young Sam (Michael Banks Repeta) is the only one who’s really excited about exploring the local prehistoric caves. Not-Claude, wearing an eerie animal mask (the “foxhead” of the episode’s title), wanders away with Sam, a move that seems shockingly reckless, until you remember that El Cuco wants to be seen, to create confusion and chaos for its other, real self (which makes you wonder why it’s bothering wearing a mask). It didn’t account for Sam’s sister to spot them and cause a commotion, however, saving Sam and forcing Not-Claude to flee, leaving the mask (and a fair amount of DNA evidence on it) behind.

Meanwhile, in the quieter part of town, everybody is settling in for a long and uncomfortable night. Holly and Yunis, the only members of the group who maintain some sort of religious faith, attend a church service together, with Holly, whom Yunis looks up to as a sort of superhero of the supernatural, admitting to him “God, I’m so tired.” Later, she dozes off in Detective Andy’s arms, curled up next to him like a child, while Ralph silently watches, with sympathy and maybe a little recognition, a frightened Claude stumble around in the dark, convinced he’s heard something. Now that they believe in El Cuco, the only way the team can defeat it is to soften and give in to each other, show compassion, empathy, and even a little affection. Shielding themselves with simple humanity and decency can help keep this particular wolf at bay.

With daylight comes Alec (Jeremy Bobb) and Howie (Bill Camp), who’ve decided that their place is with the team. Minutes after that, the police show up looking for Claude, and when they show Ralph footage of the event at Cavestock, all he can do is nod. “Foxhead” ends just as he’s finally gotten the message, loud and clear. It’s real, it’s here, and time’s up.

Random Thoughts:

  • “Foxhead” dragged a bit in the same way that last week’s episode did, in that it was still compelling and solidly acted, but overall not essential except to add a little more to the characters. With two episodes left, both of which seem like they should be action-heavy, I hope the season didn’t peak only four episodes in with “Que Viene El Coco.”
  • Other than El Cuco actually eating a guy, the most shocking image in “Foxhead” was the idea of doing a jigsaw puzzle without the complete image to go by. Gonna honestly lose sleep over that.
  • On the road to Tennessee, Yunis asks Detective Andy if he and Holly are a “thing,” and Detective Andy, all but blushing, answers “A thing…man, I sure hope so.” Aw, Detective Andy. I hate that you’re probably going to get killed off soon.
  • That being said, who are we betting on as casualties in the war against El Cuco? My guess is Detective Andy, Alec, and/or Howard (mostly because they’re the least essential characters). Oh, and Jack, obviously. Yunis could be the wild card. Is it morbid that I’m talking about this? Probably, but this is a morbid show.
Liked it? Take a second to support The Spool on Patreon!