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One of the most appealing aspects of the serialized drama in recent years has been the format’s expansive capacity.  Once we’ve grown comfortable with a core group of characters and gotten a feel for their surroundings, series as different as The Wire, Lost and Battlestar Galactica have pushed the boundaries of their worlds, adding new layers of characters, settings, and plotlines, and at their best, providing a more complex and rewarding viewing experience.  (Of course, it doesn’t always work out that way, as those of us who who’ve watched True Blood mutate from a fun show about vampires and humans co-existing in a small town into a self-indulgent orgy of supernatural hoo-hah can attest.)

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Maybe that’s the path Outcasts would have followed in the future seasons it will never get, but there’s not much indication of that at the halfway point of the one season that does exist. If anything, Outcasts seems to be contracting in on itself. There’s a rooftop chase scene midway through “Episode Four,” in the course of which we can see the skyline of Forthaven stretching into the distance. It looks huge, but it still seems to be populated by the same eight people who handle every situation that arises, playing out the same dull conflicts in the process. The writers have given themselves a huge canvas to work with, but they’re still scribbling in the same cramped little corner.

The crisis of the week involves Elijah, a violent AC on the loose in Forthaven. Poor Elijah doesn’t mean to be violent—his episodes occur during blackouts and stem from experiments performed on his brain—but he still manages to severely injure a redshirt cleaning woman who befriends him, so Tate wants him captured for further “testing.” Based on what we can glean from Elijah’s flashbacks, Tate’s idea of testing looks a lot like torture, and it’s done a number on the AC’s think-bone, causing him to react in an extreme way to emotional trauma.  Elijah finds a sympathetic ear in Fleur, who tries to help him back to his people by signaling Rudi as they’d arranged last week. But though he also feels for the confused and frightened Elijah, Cass puts duty first and reports to Tate.  A plan to subdue Elijah with tranquilizer darts goes awry when the AC freaks out and sniper Jack puts a bullet in him.  So, yeah, things are going pretty smoothly between Forthaven and the ACs at this point.

Try as I might, I could not get invested in Elijah’s plight; the whole storyline felt like a hand-me-down from other, better sci-fi shows, and that was true of the episode as a whole. Julius and Tate engaged in the sort of faith vs. science dialogue Jack and Locke did to death on Lost, while Stella found her truce with Lily to be short-lived after learning her daughter passed classified information on to Tipper to reveal on Radio Free Carpathia.  Julius remains a ridiculous character, as far as I’m concerned.  He seems very confident in his ability to mesmerize and manipulate others, but we’ve seen precious little evidence of these talents on the screen. He tries to work his mojo on both Stella and Jack in this episode, but both end up giving him the “Who is this asshole?” look after he walks away. I’d be delighted with this development if I thought Outcasts was building up to the revelation that Julius is a totally deluded fraud with no power whatsoever, but I don’t think that’s where we’re headed.

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Was there anything to like this week? Maybe the eerie final scene, in which the ghostly voices Tate has been hearing finally materialize as his dead children, although even this strikes me as something borrowed from The Martian Chronicles. Fleur and Elijah had some nice moments, and the discovery of a fossil that might signify an earlier race of humans on Carpathia is, well, a development of some sort. Here’s hoping it leads somewhere more interesting than this week’s dead-end destination.

Stray observations:

  • So Stella asked Lily to find somewhere else to live, and Lily showed up at Tipper’s door. This may get awkward.
  • Just in case you weren’t convinced Julius is a shady character, he refers to Elijah as “it” and “an animal” when supposedly consoling the cleaning woman, then calls her a “stupid woman” for not going along with his plan. He isn’t just the poor man’s Ben Linus, he’s the broke man’s Ben Linus.

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