Tuesday, January 26, 2016

REVIEW: 'Outsiders' - An Eviction Notice Forces the Farrell Clan into Action That Quickly Turns Deadly in 'Farrell Wine'

WGN America's Outsiders - Episode 1.01 "Farrell Wine"

Set in present-day Kentucky, a family clan living off the grid on a mountaintop homestead faces new threats to their way of life.

Outsiders is another solid new drama from WGN America, a cable network quickly becoming known for niche hits with small overall audiences. This first hour definitely gives off a Justified meets Sons of Anarchy quality. Those two FX dramas were very successful. The hints are there within Outsiders as well - even though it's not quite as gripping as the two shows were at their respective starts. "Farrell Wine" is a solid intro to this world of rural Kentucky where the Farrell clan has been living for 200 years on top a mountain. This hour does interesting things in showing the culture and way of life of the Farrell clan. How they've adjusted to years of living in these conditions and the society that has formed around them. Meanwhile, the community below the mountain is living in the real world but their lives are becoming more complicated by the increasing number of visits from the Farrell family. This hour does a fantastic job in establishing the mood and atmosphere of this world. This feels like a world that has been created due to the lives these people are choosing to live. This first episode doesn't do a whole lot in letting that be established before offering a twist that could upend all of it. But the threat to the Farrell family's way of life is still a compelling plot thread that has many unexpected complications.

Deputy Sheriff Wade Houghton is given the incredibly daunting task of evicting the Farrell clan from the mountain. A coal mining company wants to come in and mine the mountains. It's a plan that can drastically change the environment of this community. It can bring economic change to this town. And yet, these people don't really have a respect for the Farrell's and their way of life. They don't understand how sacred this land is to them. They figure they can relocate them to a different mountain that isn't sitting on a bunch of rich minerals. It's the task that Wade is asked to do. He knows just how difficult it actually is. They can't just post an eviction sign and figure that the family will be willing to leave. The company men just want to look down on this family. To them, the Farrell's are a bunch of idiot hillbillies who procreate with their own family members. It's much more complex than that. Wade has a history with the family - though details aren't immediately provided in this first episode. But this hour is all about the escalating tension between the communities as they get ready for this war.

Meanwhile, the Farrell family is getting ready for a massive change in their leadership. Right now, their leader's health is declining. Lady Ray is confined to a wheelchair. The community still respects her. Her word is law in this family. But her eldest son, Big Foster, is already starting to call the shots. He fully believes that just because leadership has always passed down to the first son that he'll be in charge of this family soon. That power is already going to his head. More importantly, he doesn't seem to see the world for what it is like his mother does. She is able to assess the situation and inspire the community. She learns about the eviction threat and vows to never leave this mountain until they are all dead. It's an inspiring moment that the family celebrates. But it also comes at the expense of passing the torch to Big Foster. He's angry and his actions then make the situation so much worse.

Big Foster doesn't have much respect for the outside world nor does he care about the traditions and opinions of his fellow family members. He leads a small group of men down the mountain multiple times. At first, it's just to raid the local store. They just drive in on their vehicles like this world is theirs and they can do whatever they want. That's the mentality that Foster has. He's in charge and doesn't want anything to question that or get in his way. This is his world because he is willing to embrace it for what it really is and not the fantasy world that everyone else in this universe is living. But that power is corrupting his world. He pays for it significantly when his son is killed during the big late night raid to find guns to protect themselves. It's a devastating loss to him. But it only strengthens his resolve to lead his people and fight against the people who want to oppress them. His mother stands in the way of that. He almost kills her too. That rage is going to upset the balance in this community.

However, Foster's actions don't have a huge impact on the community at the bottom of the hill. The police are getting ready to evict the Farrell's off the land. But this is a community shrouded in darkness as well. They live in fear of the Farrell clan. When Hasil comes down alone just to get a drink at the local bar, he is met with hostility and discrimination. Only one person is willing to be friendly towards him - and that's only because he wants something from the Farrell's. This town just doesn't understand how the Farrell's can live the way that they do. They have as many questions about them as the Farrell's do of the real world. And yet, both societies are comfortable just going off into their own worlds and crossing paths only when absolutely necessary. This episode showcases that the Farrell's are becoming more willing to go down the mountain in order to protect what is theirs. They come down to steal and take whatever supplies they need. If it's harmless, the community doesn't do anything. But it's no longer harmless. Because of Hasil, one of the coal company representatives is dead. It's purely by coincidence that the teenager who drinks the Farrell moonshine is also the kid of this businessman. However, it highlights just how powerful and strong that drink is. Despite him drinking most of it, he doesn't land in the hospital for alcohol poisoning. Instead, he returns home and stabs his father in the chest. This is one powerful and dangerous beverage. That makes sense due to where it comes from. But the Farrell's are much more complex than that. Their way of life is being threatened. Neither side knows how to communicate all that well with the other. That's the reason why this war between the two sides is going to be so brutal this season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Farrell Wine" was written by Peter Mattei and directed by Adam Bernstein.
  • Hasil only sells the moonshine in order to get some money. He doesn't believe in it but it's the only way he can impress the local store clerk who he is smitten by. Sally Ann isn't much of a character. In fact, I feared very strongly for her safety when Hasil was talking to her outside the store. That should make for a precarious dynamic considering Hasil loses his money by the end of the hour because Big Foster finds it and burns it.
  • There are many interesting things at play with the Farrell clan in this opening hour. And yet, they are also at risk of becoming a stereotypical story where the men act without thinking first and get the whole family in trouble while the women just yell at how stupid the men were. Lady Ray is smart but now she's in no position to lead this family.
  • A mystery is also being set up with Asa, a member of the Farrell family who left for 10 years for the outside world. Now, he has returned but the family no longer wants him. He's caught between two worlds and doesn't belong in either. That's interesting and makes him a major wild card in this escalating war.
  • Wade seems like a good sheriff. He understands the situation for what it really is and isn't disillusioned by what the corporate men want. He's also firm but fair when he's out on the streets cracking down on crime. Not sure he needs to have a son who could easily get caught up in this mess though.