Brent Spiner as Sidney (Photo: HBO)

Last night at the Republican National Convention, Presidential nominee—shudder—Donald Trump gave an absolutely horrifying speech. All empty bluster and fear mongering, Trump continues to peddle a vision of ever-present evil that’s meant to frighten people into submission. The strategy is: if enough people are scared, maybe they really will vote for a repeatedly failed businessman with no background in politics to become President of the United States. What’s frightening about Trump’s speech isn’t just the content though, it’s the fact that so many people across the country believe in what he’s saying. They see their fear reflected in his calls to “make America great again”—great for who, Donald?—and swarm to it like mindless gnats to a flame.

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Taking in a whole week’s worth of this hatred left me with a single thought: there’s more evil out there than we know. There’s more hate, anger, ignorance than we can even understand. With that thought still lingering, “The Damage Done” resonates perhaps even more than it would have had it not dropped in the middle of a hostile and dangerous election season. Outcast dabbles in a variety of themes, but the two it keeps coming back to most successfully are, firstly, how people can engage with the past while learning from it and moving forward with some semblance of progress, and secondly, that evil is more present than we know. We can sit in our homes, have our routine poker games, and try to make meaningful connections with other people, but that doesn’t change the fact that evil is everywhere.

That may sound like a whole lot of fire and brimstone, but that’s exactly what “The Damage Done” is all about. For a few weeks now Outcast has been coasting a bit on its weekly demonic possessions, but this week’s episode sees the tension finally ratchet back up. Reverend Anderson, now the owner of quite the hellacious pentagram on his chest courtesy of Sidney, is no longer able to control his fear and conviction. He understands that Rome’s infestation of demons isn’t a joke. It’s not something to be taken lightly, to be easily pushed aside in favor of his own selfish pursuits.

Up until this episode, Outcast has been operating on a very personal level. The demons and bumps in the night that pervade Rome have been intimate and isolated. So Kyle Barnes carries a reputation with him, as does Reverend Anderson. When something is personal or individual, that means it’s removed from the larger consciousness. Nobody in Rome has to worry about demons because, hey, they haven’t had any encounters with them. But that kind of complacency, that kind of inability to accept and understand another person’s perspective, is what leads to the spread of evil. Such a culture of complacency allows Rome to become a home for demons of all sorts, and, in the real world, it allows Donald Trump to be a Presidential nominee.

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By refusing to really name or explain the demons that possess many citizens of Rome, Outcast has done itself a huge favor. Typically, any sort of supernatural horror in a piece of art stands in for something. What Outcast allows its audience to do is pick and choose what that something is. More than that though, the fact that the evil isn’t often recognizable, that it’s hiding in the sweet old lady around the corner, or in Kyle’s best friend and colleague in the coal mines, or somewhere deep inside a person we’ve loved for years, is the show’s boldest statement.

Here’s the thing though. “The Damage Done,” and Outcast more generally, isn’t peddling a vision of cynicism and total fear. It’s not engaging in hateful rhetoric like a Trump speech. Reverend Anderson may go over the line at the Remberance Day ceremony, but he’s not fear mongering, trying to coerce people into being scared of something that’s barely there. Rather, he’s attempting to get a lazy, complacent population off of its asses. He’s showing them how their ability to judge too quickly, to gossip, to rely on conjecture rather than facts, has lead to the spread of evil. “We let it pile up, brick by brick. A tower of our own complacency,” he says. We’re talking about fictional demons here, but Outcast is proving itself political in its message. If the good people sit back and laugh off the evil as unsubstantial, or as some sort of outlier with no real power to take over, soon enough that evil spreads, gains control, and asserts itself everywhere. It takes real action to vanquish evil, and that’s what Reverend Anderson and Kyle Barnes are looking to do. In that way, Outcast is refreshingly optimistic; it believes in the collective power of good people.

Outcast is in much better shape when it’s being so pointed and visceral. The show sometimes stumbles when handling the more personal stories of its characters—the appearance of Megan’s rapist in the narrative is still mostly exploitative and lacking nuance—but it certainly has a knack for commenting on a specific kind of dread that pervades contemporary society. I can’t help but watch “The Damage Done” and see something vital in Reverend Anderson’s plea for action, in his fear of spreading evil, and in Kyle’s insistence on not alienating the good people with too much anger and cynicism. Anderson sees the world filled with villainy, hatred, and complacency, and yet he feels hopeless to do anything about it on an individual level. But together, with Kyle, Giles, and any other well-meaning citizen, perhaps something truly revolutionary can be accomplished. I’d argue that’s a relevant snapshot of this place and time. We can all see the evil in this world, and there’s perhaps more than we thought. Now’s the time to step up and stop it before we have a shrine, brick on top of brick, to our own complacency.

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Stray observations

  • In less interesting developments, Megan tries to pay off Donny and, surprise, it doesn’t work.
  • Allison having flashbacks to her possessed time is intriguing. Do all formerly possessed people have these flashbacks? What does it take to trigger them?
  • Allison can’t live with what she now knows about that night, so she makes up with Kyle and then leaves their daughter with him.
  • “I was a jackass.” “Go on.” The “man reveals he’s terrible and woman tells him to keep talking/apologizing” trope is one of my favorites.
  • “How can we take a ride with you not in the car?” Reg E. Cathey makes every single line of dialogue sing.
  • “I don’t know which face to draw.”
  • Outcast makes great use of lighting. The candle-lit vigil added quite the aura to the confrontation between Anderson and Sidney.
  • So the fire chief admits to doing something, but thinks it’s best if Chief Giles doesn’t dig any deeper on it. Something tells me Giles isn’t going to be so easily swayed.

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