Brent Spiner (Photo Credit: Kent Smith/HBO)
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There’s almost no way to talk about the first season of Outcast, and particularly the stunning, intense season finale, without circling back to a point that I’ve been discussing all season long. Outcast is a show about demonic possession, but more than that, it’s a show about various forms of violence and their effects. It’s a show that takes something as supernaturally strange as people being possessed by demons from some other realm of existence, and makes it into something truly terrifying not because of how surreal it is, but because of how familiar the violence and consequences look. We’ve all been Holly Holter, cowering in the corner of a closet, afraid of something both inexplicable and completely real; and we’ve all been Kyle Barnes, thinking that if he hadn’t left his house maybe none of this would have happened.

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What’s rather remarkable about “This Little Light” is that fact that it manages to live up to the expectations created by the gigantic cliffhanger at the end of last week’s episode while not only carefully ruminating on the season’s most fruitful themes, but also making sure that there’s a near-perfect blend of satisfying plotline conclusions and set-up for next season. A frantic and frenzied tone is established immediately, as “This Little Light” picks up right where last week’s episode left off. Megan, possessed by a demon, has killed Mark while her daughter and niece play downstairs. We know this, so when the episode opens with an exterior shot of the Holter house at night, leaves blowing in the wind, we’re left to anticipate the horror that’s happening inside the otherwise quiet place of domestic bliss.

It only gets more terrifying from there. A glass breaks in the kitchen as Amber and Holly sneak snacks out of the fridge, the remains jumping into the frame. A possessed Megan peels skin off of her hand. She’s covered in blood. She pushes on Mark’s milky eyeball; no reaction. Then, when the kids see what’s happened, they run to the bedroom and hide in the closet, and director Loni Peristere, who does a tremendous job throughout the finale, delivers a haunting shot. We’re given the kids’ perspective. We watch Megan walk into the room and put her crimson hand on a teddy bear, before turning towards the closet. She moves closer and closer taking up more of the frame—itself divided by the slits in the closet door—until her face is in a close up. It’s claustrophobic and extremely unsettling, which makes the jump cut to Anderson and Kyle knocking down the door, after Megan has already up and left, a moment of catharsis more than anything else.

“This Little Light” sees the evil spread from there. Kat and Terry are basically running a demon birthing center in Caldwell’s, the old department store in downtown Rome, while Sidney works to bring not only Megan into his keeping, but also Kyle. He kidnaps Amber and tells Kyle that the only way he’ll see her again is if he agrees to everything Sidney tells him to do. So he meets him on the side of the road—the scene composed much like the one where Mark beat the hell out of Donnie—and puts a pillow case over his head and gets in the trunk of Sidney’s car. The claustrophobia comes on again, as Peristere puts the camera inside the pillowcase. We can’t see much until it’s ripped off, and Kyle is locked in a closet inside Caldwell’s along with Amber.

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For all its patience, Outcast does speed along when it comes to ridding Megan of her demon. The more feverish pace ends up working though not just because the plot calls for something a little more hurried, but because the reveals and surprises supersede any rushed plot mechanics. So, having Megan be rid of her demon isn’t too surprising or even that thrilling of a scene, but the fact that Amber is the one to banish the demon makes it significant. This power to exorcise demons is something inside Kyle, and also apparently inside his daughter Amber. With the help of Anderson and Giles, Kyle and Amber are able to bring Megan back. She still has to confront the fact that Mark is dead—Outcast smartly leaves that emotional character study, which calls for nuance and patience, for next season—but she’s alive and demon-less. That’s something. What’s more is the message Outcast sends. This is the show saying that despite all the evil and violence that seems insurmountable, despite the ease with which we could all slip into cynicism when confronted with the evils of this world, coming together with strangers, with our families, with friends and our community, can be something truly powerful, and can lead to salvation, however you define it.

Of course, ending on a positive note isn’t a great look for a horror show that’s explicitly dealing not with acts of violence, but rather the reverberations that shake communities and are felt through generations. What “The Little Light” gets right in its closing moments is doubling down on the tone established throughout the first season while also signaling a way for this story to shift and change as it gets renewed for more seasons. So, just as the opening scene is haunting in its visceral nature, the final scene is haunting in its minimalism. Kyle and Amber are filling up the car at a gas station and talking about going to find a new home, somewhere where people don’t know about their “superpowers” and where they can help Megan and Mommy get better. But, as they begin to walk from the car to the convenience store, everyone around them stops and stares. There are only a handful of patrons—maybe 10 or so—but they all stop and stare. The mystery of Outcast runs deep, and that final eerie shot is more than enough to garner intrigue for next season.

Stray observations

  • I can’t praise Loni Peristere’s direction, which was honed on quite a few episodes of Banshee, enough. Best shot of the episode? Megan looking at the glowing power lines, and then the camera shifts and frames her, the concrete path behind her looking like a starry sky in the minimal light. Just beautiful.
  • Speaking of Banshee, Hoon Lee will be in season two of Outcast!
  • Of course, the other big “reveal” at the end of the episode is that Reverend Anderson probably (never say “definitely” until you see a body!) burned Aaron MacCready alive rather than Sidney, but that’s no big surprise. The devil is a tricky bastard.
  • So, we didn’t exactly get answers about what the demons want and what they’re doing in Rome, but Sidney does tell Kyle that he’s going to be useful for them, and that the demons are from “the same place you’re from.” There’s probably a temptation here for the creators to reveal more, but I like that the show is keeping things slow and steady. There’s enough story elsewhere that Outcast doesn’t have to reveal every card in its hand at the end of the season.
  • “Where’s Mark?” Well, that’s one way to leave me emotionally devastated, Outcast.
  • That’s a wrap on reviews of season one. Thanks a bunch for reading and commenting, everyone, and I’ll see you next year for season two!

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