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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The cycle of violence and trauma continues on Outcast

Illustration for article titled The cycle of violence and trauma continues on Outcast
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For awhile now, Outcast has been building towards a mysterious happening. The demons know what’s going on, but they’re being coy about the details (demons, am I right?). That mystery, the very ambiguity of the coming apocalypse or something akin to it, has imbued Outcast with a palpable sense of dread. Watching the show week after week we’ve seen the personal side of these possessions. We’ve watched as Kyle Barnes struggles to put his life and family back together. We’ve watched as Reverend Anderson has seen the devil get the better of him. But something bigger has been coming, and by the end of “Close To Home,” it seems to have arrived, in absolutely terrifying fashion.

You see, Rome can’t just get rid of its demons and be done with it. Kat and Lenny are packing up and leaving town, but not without letting Chief Giles know that he “can’t stop what’s coming.” Lenny is likely referring to what was called the “merger” in the series premiere, but it’s also a line that gets at the heart of what “Close To Home” thematically explores. The thing is, these demons have always circled around Kyle Barnes, taking his loved ones from him in one form or another. We’ve never actually seen that happen in real time though. All of the emotional intensity of the possessions is crafted through flashbacks, both to Kyle’s mother and that fateful night with Allison and Amber. “Close To Home” changes that by taking us through a number of emotions, all with the hopes of devastating us by the episode’s end. It’s manipulative, but damn if it doesn’t garner the exact reaction necessary. By the end of the episode, it feels like you’ve been punched in the gut.

The emotional impact of that closing scene, where Megan becomes possessed, seemingly kills Mark, and Kyle gets a panicked call from Amber saying that her aunt is “sick like mommy,” is the devastating payoff of weeks of patient storytelling. Every little step this season has been leading to this reckoning, and yet it’s not exactly predictable. Rather, it’s logical, and perhaps that’s what makes it so affecting. For weeks we’ve seen Kyle struggle with his obligation to Anderson and the people around him, understanding that he has a special gift that can banish demons from the bodies they possess. And yet, that banishment often comes with a price; his mother still lays unresponsive in a hospital years after she attacked her son. Outcast, by slowly revealing what these demons are capable of and how they come to possess the ones they do, allows for Megan’s turn to the demonic side to feel all the more horrific. There’s no mystery anymore. We know what these demons do and how they work, and to see it happening to someone so likable and central to Kyle’s mental health is mortifying.

The possession also works to retroactively justify, to a certain extent, the shaky subplot involving Megan’s rapist. The show never really managed to engage with that subplot in a meaningful way. Rather, it felt like the show was pulling out a predictable and widely misused trope in order to create conflict between Mark and Megan despite such conflict not seeming necessary. There’s no excusing the fumbled handling of that storyline, but having Megan possessed at the end of “Close To Home” does create some parallels. This is Megan’s body once again being violated without consent. It’s not the most nuanced of parallels, especially considering the one-the-nose cold open, Donny’s face contorted and demonic, but it does underline the emotional trauma of these hauntings, and once again allows for a supernatural occurrence to have an underpinning in the real world.

Trauma has been an ongoing theme in Outcast‘s first season, and “Close To Home” spends some time digging a little deeper, even musing on ideas of mental health and how we as a culture perceive mental illness. When Kyle goes searching for Allison, enlisting Mark to break into her home to look for some sign of her whereabouts, he runs into her mother. After explaining himself, she tells him that Allison’s checked herself into a psychiatric hospital. Kyle visits her and tries to explain everything that’s going on, saying that she doesn’t belong in the psych ward. “You’re not sick. You’re not dangerous,” he pleads with her as she cries and tells him to move on, walking away from him and leaving him with nothing. It’s another devastating moment in an episode filled with them, and that’s largely due to the way Patrick Fugit plays the scene as a big misunderstanding. Those two lines above, and Allison’s pained acceptance that she’s “crazy,” act as a critique of our inadequate and often inhumane treatment of people with mental illness. Allison is locked up, believing herself to me insane, despite the fact that her actions were the result of something out of her control.

Kyle, Anderson, and Giles all recognize that there’s something bad coming and that it must be stopped. But, as Aaron tells the Reverend after goading him into a display of violence in front of Patricia, it’s probably too late to stop it. At the very least, it’s too late to stop Mark from dying, or Megan from experiencing more trauma. “Close To Home” is bleak, but as usual, Outcast pulls it off.


Stray observations

  • The psychiatric hospital gave me terrible flashbacks to being a kid and jumping out of my pyjamas because of this all-time great jumpscare.
  • “You’re lying. Because that’s what grownups do.” You have no idea, Amber.
  • Megan’s pregnancy is maybe a little much in terms of adding another layer to the emotional manipulation, but again, that final scene is so brutal that it’s hard to argue with the contrivance.
  • Reverend Anderson slugging Sidney was beyond satisfying.
  • So Kat and Lenny are sticking around. That can’t be good.