(Photo Credit: HBO/Kent Smith)

Reverend Anderson, for years, has had his faith challenged at every turn. He’s a man who’s sacrificed his life in order to vanquish evil. On the surface, it’s a wholly selfless act; he puts aside his spiritual demons so that he can deal with the literal demons in others. That selflessness has lead to him being embraced by the community, a few spray painted demons on the church aside. Here’s the thing though: the community embraces his preaching, and yet when he forces these same people to confront the idea that evil walks among them plain as day, they turn their backs on him, organizing a meeting to have him removed from the church. It’s an intriguing turn of events that gets at the heart of “What Lurks Within,” where Anderson must reckon with the very idea of how faith can both comfort and alienate.

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What I mean is that Outcast is crafting an intriguing character study in the form of Reverend Anderson, despite the fact that Kyle Barnes is the man who seems to be at the center of all this demonic activity. Anderson’s the most intriguing character on the show because he has the most at stake. Be it a lifetime of faith, a penchant for doom and gloom, or the very real threat posed by Sidney, Anderson is someone who’s personally, emotionally, and spiritually invested in what these demons are and what they might want with the people of Rome.

See, in many ways, the demons are in no way a challenge to Anderson’s faith. In fact, their mere presence confirms much of what he believes. Without the demons, there’s no real legitimacy to his practice. Sure, there’s legitimacy in the form of community and ritual, but the demons allow Anderson’s faith and life pursuit to become something more substantial, more visceral and real. In some ways, Anderson should be thrilled. These demons confirm that there’s evil out there that works for the Satan or the Devil or however else you want to identify a lone demonic leader. But “What Lurks Within” complicates that view by asking one simple question that terrifies Anderson: what if when the evil shows up, everyone decides they like it?

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That question sits at the center of “What Lurks Within.” It’s central to the plot. Reverend Anderson, desperate to recover from his public outburst, kidnaps Kat, the fire chief’s wife, in the hopes of having Kyle exorcise her, therefore proving that he’s not on some insane mission. What he doesn’t anticipate though is the fact that Lenny has no interest in “curing” his wife. When Chief Giles picks him up and takes him over to Kyle’s house, Lenny goes on about how long he’s known about his Kat’s condition, and how once they got through the first few days of transition, everything got better. He talks about how experiences with his wife are “new and exciting.” He’s so dedicated to this idea, that his wife is still inside there somewhere and doesn’t necessarily need to be exorcised, that he was using that burned down camper to help other people get through the first few rough days of possession.

So, rather than these possessions being merely unfortunate accidents, some are actually facilitated, welcomed, and then embraced. Add to that the fact that these demons come from some “other side” and randomly drop into bodies with no rhyme or reason—Sidney, for instance, is revealed to have once been a horrific sociopath who kidnapped and murdered children—and suddenly the Reverend’s staunch refusal to accept the presence of these demons becomes more complicated. Yes, they’re evil, but there’s more to it. As Sidney tells Kyle when they’re chatting in jail, “you will leave behind a monster” if he tries to get the demon out of him. That leaves Kyle and Anderson at odds with one another. Kyle refuses to exorcise Kat because of what he’s learned, and the effect he’s seen his actions have on others, and Anderson refuses to accept any sort of hesitancy towards banishing these demons. The two come to blows and head back to the only comfort they really know. For Anderson, that’s Patricia, the only one who still seems to be by his side. For Kyle, it’s his sister Megan. He tells her the truth (sans demonic possession) about the night he hit Allison, and perhaps the two grow a little closer.

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As fruitful as the exploration of Reverend Anderson’s faith is, “What Lurks Within” does struggle to show the same nuance when it comes to other characters. The backstory of Sidney pre-possession is enlightening in terms of filling out the mythology of this universe, but the sudden inclusion of Patricia’s asshole of a son, Aaron, into his plans feels like conflict for the sake of conflict. Aaron says he wants the Reverend out of his life—this after calling his mom a slut and admitting to painting the pentagram on the statue in downtown Rome—so Sidney sees a friend in this jaded teen. The motivations are shaky though. Aaron has really only been a presence for two episodes, making his sudden significance to the ongoing story of Anderson and Sidney feel rushed, like moving a piece into place just because they may be important later on.

The move feels inorganic, as does the sudden resolution of Megan and Mark’s dealings with the man who raped her, which is a shame because Outcast has largely avoided such rushed storytelling. The first season of the show has shown tremendous patience in establishing these characters, the mythology, and the interconnectedness of worlds. “What Lurks Within” doesn’t suffer greatly from the more hurried storytelling, but it’s a sign that Outcast should be careful in how many corners it cuts. Because when it’s not cutting corners, it’s telling quite the story of faith and humanity while complicating the typical battle between good and evil.

Stray observations

  • Two great setpieces define this week’s episode, and both are superbly tense and well-acted: Kyle’s chat with Sidney in jail, and Kat putting doubt into Anderson’s head about his faith.
  • Kat describing the Reverend’s brand of shaky faith: “Jesus is coming! Everybody look busy!”
  • Brent Spiner makes “I brought a treat for you” sound pretty damn menacing. Of course, he did have a kid locked in a padded room when he said it.
  • Aaron reminds me of that kid in The Strain because I want him to die a horrific death.

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