Tuesday, February 9, 2016

REVIEW: 'Outsiders' - Asa Heads Down the Mountain to Diffuse the Tension Between the Communities in 'Messengers'

WGN America's Outsiders - Episode 1.03 "Messengers"

Big Foster and Asa choose different tactics to stop the coal company's assault on their homestead.

Outsiders is essentially a show about an escalating conflict between two very different societies. Up on Shay Mountain, the Farrell clan have prospered for many generations. In the town below, the community is living an average life and is faced with many big and small real-world problems. It's a kind of dynamic that can only create meaningful and suspenseful drama when both societies are well-defined. The show has done a great job at showcasing the lifestyle of the Farrell family. However, their way-of-life is more singular. They choose to live on the mountain because it's where they come from. They are willing to die in order to protect the place they call home. It's a unified community that understands each other and the world they have created for themselves. The town below has been less defined in these first three episodes. That's likely due to many very different points-of-view in this community. There are the people who want to keep things as is. They are the people who are in desperate need of work. There are the police who are forced to enforce the rules of this ever-changing world. And then, there are the corporate businessman who are either bringing prosperity or disaster to this community. All of those conflicts can add up to a satisfying whole. It's largely just a jumbled mess though and makes the plight of the Farrell family much more entertaining and compelling to watch.

"Messengers" attempts to bring more clarity and unity to the town at the bottom of the mountain. They hold a town hall meeting where any citizen can get up and talk about what action they should take in the future with the Farrells. It's a place where many different opinions of these people form. It divides this community. No one can agree on anything. That is very demonstrative of the real world. Individuality has allowed this to happen. Debate is good. A difference of opinions is good. But it can also foster inaction. The town is no closer to deciding what to do after this town hall meeting is over. Wade is just as confused as he has always been about what to do on the job. The Farrell family isn't conflicted. Their way-of-life is in danger of being ripped away from them. They will all unify around Big Foster who is determined to stop this eviction even if it means more bloodshed on both sides of this conflict. That unity is strong and powerful in this episode. The Farrells are actually able to do something. They don't just sit around talking and passing the problem off to someone else. They stock up on guns and sabotage the construction site.

All of this is further complicated by the people who have a personal stake in this conflict. That encompasses all of the Farrell clan. They are at risk of losing everything they have. Most of them side with Big Foster regarding what needs to be done. He embraces violence because that's the way that things have always been done. The last time the outside world tried to take them away from Shay Mountain, they fought and won. They lost two men - the other side had casualties as well (including Wade's father). But to them, that was an acceptable loss. That was their payment for getting to stay on the mountain. Every so often they need to fight and give a human sacrifice in order to keep living the way that they always have. That's Big Foster's mentality. It's shared by most because they are so willing to rally around him. But that's not the only opinion held amongst the clan. Asa and G'win understand that that can't always be the answer to this problem. The people below the mountain are determined on coming. Big Foster can't see the big picture. He's focused on the here and now and what looks good for him. He doesn't want to entertain the possibility that Asa and G'win may know better than him. To him, they are just foolish children who haven't lived long enough or sacrificed enough in order to decide how to handle this situation.

And yet, Asa heads down the mountain in order to find another way out of this conflict. It's a rather interesting journey too. Some parts of it work well while others not so much. The show is still insisting on Asa's past and what he did in the outside world be shrouded in mystery. He tells G'Win that she knows why he can't go back down there. But it's not that clear at all. It's just some vague grand sentence to explain his hesitation. But it's not rooted in a personal reason. An explanation doesn't need to be given. And yet, the show shouldn't hinder so much of Asa's story this season on the fact that he needs to be on this mountain in order to avoid the danger and destruction he caused in the outside world. If it insists, more explanation will need to come. But Asa does return to the outside community. He shops at the convenient store and visits the newspaper editor who taught him how to read. Both visits are really boring and don't really inform the audience of anything new about his character. He's at his most exciting when he's at the town hall meeting. He takes it all in before making his big declaration.

However, Asa really doesn't push at all to find a way out of this conflict without any bloodshed. He hears how passionate people are about this issue. To him, that's the only way to get through to these people that if they come, death will come for them. He didn't mean it as a threat. He was simply stating a fact. Big Foster is stockpiling a lot of guns for when this war gets vicious. But this moment only showcases how underdeveloped the community in this town really is. It largely amounts to three rednecks who aggressively cheer whenever says something they like tracking down Asa and trying to beat some sense into him. It's very weird that the last episode was rooted in Asa being a weak man with the odds against his victory in the fight with Lil Foster. And yet here, he is presented as capable of taking on three large men who wish him harm. He is injured but he's also able to take on these men with relative ease. Plus, he's able to have sex right afterwards. It does nothing for easing the tension between the two communities. But it shows the lengths Asa is willing to go to send this message to the outside world. The Farrell clan should be left alone otherwise bodies will start piling up.

However, that feels inevitable. Nothing Asa could have done would have stopped this conflict from boiling over. The oil corporation and Big Foster are too stuck in their ways. They are too committed to this bloody and deadly conflict. The communities they represent have the most to lose. The innocents in this war will be harmed the most. The oil representatives will be able to return to their luxurious homes. They aren't the ones literally fighting in this battle. Meanwhile, Big Foster is leading his family into battle. He will be leading some of them to their deaths just in the pursuit of staying on this mountain. He has done many bad things over the course of these three episodes. He has still yet to pay any kind of consequences for those actions. He may be able to escape all of them. But this conflict needs to get much more personal for all of the main characters if it's going to have meaningful stakes for the remainder of the season.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Messengers" was written by Peter Mattei and directed by Michael Trim.
  • The episode opens with Wade's son, Caleb, wandering off into the woods late at night while Wade is drunkenly asleep. It's suppose to be mysterious and creepy. But it's weirdly executed. Plus, I don't really care about Wade as a family man.
  • Wade is trying to avoid a conflict with the Farrell family. He's doing his best to keep the businessmen from evicting them from the mountain. He wants the two societies to go back to living how they used to live. That seems like a hopeless goal though.
  • Wade's personal history with the Farrells is because his father was killed by them the last time the police tried to move them from the mountain. It's basically just a really blunt way to say that Wade is drinking and popping pills just like his father used to.
  • Hasil is arrested for a little bit because the police force is really on edge with anyone from the Farrell clan. He is unnecessarily tased by the officer. He was just waiting to take Sally-Ann on a proper date. That's still a story that feels out of place though.
  • Lil Foster also goes down the mountain in order to kill the man who killed his younger brother in the hopes of getting back into his father's good graces.
  • However, Lil Foster has more problems than just the tension with his father. G'Win and Asa have sex together. It's a really awkward moment. Their entire relationship is based on what happened in the past. Information the audiences doesn't have - which makes it hard to care about them as a couple.