This review contains spoilers for the first season of Outsiders.
“You have no idea what you’re dealing with.”
That’s the tagline for the first season of WGN’s new hit series, Outsiders. It is also Sheriff Wade Houghton’s (Wright) advice to anyone who will listen for most of the season. Wade, battling an addiction to alcohol and pills after the death of his wife, finds himself stuck between his duty as an officer in Blackburg, Kentucky and his fear of the clans living on Shay Mountain, nestled high in the Appalachia. The mountain casts an imposing shadow over Wade’s town and the people who live there. The mountain folk live off the grid and by their own laws, and have done so for hundreds of years. They make occasional trips into town to take what they need and want, sometimes paying in whittled wooden figures, but most times not paying at all.
All of the clans answer to the Bren’in, Lady Ray Farrell (Phyllis Somerville), who’s expected to pass down leadership to her son, Big Foster Farell (Morse). Everything is thrown into question when Asa Farrell (Anderson) returns to the mountain after spending years out in the world. Lady Ray believes he’s the one promised in a prophecy, who will lead their people through a difficult time. With a mining company pressuring Wade to serve the clans with an eviction notice to gain access to the coal on the mountain, Lady Ray is even more certain she must remain Bren’in and pass the title to Asa instead of her drunken, reckless son, Big Foster.
Throughout the 13-episode season, the show seemed to flirt with the supernatural. You understand why Wade won’t mess with the folks on Shay Mountain as legend goes they called down the lightning that struck and killed his father on a sunny, rainless day. And Asa’s return to the mountain was prompted by seeing wolves staring at him as he was about to commit suicide. Then there’s the Farrell Wine – coveted moonshine that drives the locals to bizarre behavior and even murder when they drink it.
“You have no idea what you’re dealing with” is also directed at the audience. Is Asa some kind of messiah? Can the clan control the elements? Are they magic?
So, it was particularly frustrating that the season ended earlier this week and we’re no closer to understanding what we’re dealing with. The long-awaited showdown between Wade and his way-in-over-their-heads officers and the tested, yet united clans ended with chants, sudden thunder, dark clouds, and the arrival of a character killed in the first episode… and that’s it.
We still have no idea what we’re dealing with.
Even if you put that aside, most of the interesting storylines presented throughout the season received little to no payoff. Besides the political machinations going on between Lady Ray, Big Foster, and Asa, the representative for the mining company, Halie Grimes (Francie Swift), manages to cause unrest in the town.
She draws Hasil Farrell (Gallner) to her side with the promise of a fancy new condo for him and his local love, Sally Ann (Jackson), and a cash salary. She also drove a divide between Wade and his brother-in-law Breece (Jeb Kreager), who’s been out-of-work for years. Breece is anxious to get the mountain evacuated so he can work and provide for his family. He’s appointed the local liaison, which really means he’ll snitch to the mining company and try to control the restless and unemployed town folk. Since this position comes with a brand new vehicle and heavy salary, he sees it as a good thing though it puts him at odds with Wade, who spends most of the season intoxicated and kind of just hoping these problems will magically sort themselves out. The fact that Grimes, at one point, had a member from each opposing side in her pocket could have made for some interesting maneuvering. Instead, within two episodes Breece is dead and Grimes has Hasil and Sally Ann evicted from the house they were squatting in, which drives them both to the mountain. What was the point?
If everything was leading to a quick and confusing conclusion, some payoff during the prior 12 episodes would have been nice. And it doesn’t help that we have to wait until January 2017 for season two.
Still, Outsiders was a gem of a find, one I wouldn’t have watched if not for my challenge to myself to sample every new show at least once. I watched the first episode of Outsiders about a dozen times before the second episode. And there were quite a few reasons for that.
One of the biggest surprises and most enjoyable aspects of the season was the romance between Hasil and Sally Ann. She lives with her oppressive brother (also out-of-work and on edge) and she’s black. Hasil is taken with her immediately and pursues her adorably. Surprisingly, the conflict in their relationship doesn’t come because he’s white. Sally Ann is herself considered an outsider to those on the mountain. They don’t care that she’s black; they care that she’s not one of the mountain, and her brother would rather beat her than see her with a Farrell, the people he sees as standing between him and a better life. Some found it unbelievable that the mountain folk wouldn’t be racist, but if you consider that they’ve not socially with anyone but each other for generations and that racism is taught, it’s not so hard to imagine. The chemistry between Jackson and Gallner is ridiculous and hopefully we’ll see more of the couple in season two – some episodes this season were painfully shy on #Sasil.
Another highlight was Morse’s portrayal of the destructive, mean, and paranoid Big Foster. Not since Joffrey Baratheon have I hated a character so much. And shout-out to Hurst as Foster’s long-suffering eldest son.
Though I was let down by the finale, the series is definitely worth a watch and I’ll be covering it with weekly reviews when it returns next year. Note: I also fully admit that I’m still sore about certain cliffhangers (side-eyes The Walking Dead). The difference here is that I actually have faith in Outsiders to deliver the answers I’m looking for.
Give the show a follow on Twitter if you’re into live-tweeting. I did it several times this season and the show and cast are super gracious and interactive.
Outsiders - Season 1 = 9/10