Tuesday, February 16, 2016

REVIEW: 'Outsiders' - Wade Struggles Getting Up the Mountain While Lady Ray's Big Sleep Ends in 'Rubberneck'

WGN America's Outsiders - Episode 1.04 "Rubberneck"

Wade makes a deadly trip up the mountain while the coal company makes an attempt to spy on the Farrells.

Past actions and mistakes have defined a number of characters over these first few episodes of Outsiders. There has been a lot of teasing about what happened in the past that made these characters into who they are today. These teases are somewhat built up as mysteries. Something happened between Asa and G'Win that forced him to leave the mountain. Something happened to Asa in the outside world that forced him back. Something happened between G'Win and Lil Foster which keeps them from fully embracing a relationship. Something happened to Wade that forces him into being just as much an alcoholic as his father. But these also play as nothing more than just pointless teases. It alludes to darkness happening in the past that informs the characters. And yet, it's a lot of talk with very little substance. The mystery is just too big and it's hard to care about any of them. All of these characters are much more effective when their actions are done in the present. That makes them so engaging to watch. But the show is struggling to find ways to advance all of these character arcs forward.

Wade has been a very weirdly utilized character this season. At first, he was simply the man tasked with evicting the Farrell clan from Shay Mountain in order for the coal company to come in and bring prosperity to the community. It was something he just didn't want to do. It seemed that was entirely because he had a history with the Farrell family. His father was killed the last time law enforcement tried to move them. He passionately doesn't want to do anything to upset the status quo. But now, the show seems to be suggesting that Wade just doesn't want to do it because he's drunk and high all the time. His grief is so weirdly placed. Characters talk about it a ton. But there's absolutely no value in it. Wade is an engaging character when he's actually doing something. Here, he's a very passive character. He has absolutely no purpose. That's frustrating because he is suppose to be a leader for the community. Plus, it's just not all that interesting to see him struggling to find his pills once he drops them on a gravel road. The show hasn't put in the time to show just how much he relies on these drugs to get through his days. It's simply going through the motions of an addiction story but without any of the emotional or personal plot beats. It's awkward and really doesn't work at all.

It should say something that Wade's problems with substance abuse get his superior, the Sheriff, killed. And yet, that's such a hollow moment that doesn't add a whole lot to the narrative. It means the town will have much more anger towards the Farrells moving forward. But it also means Wade will need to handle even more responsibility. That's awkward because the Sheriff was getting ready to force him onto medical leave in order for him to get sober. But it's a very awkward storyline. Why does Wade have to be the one to get the Farrells off the land? The show seems to suggest that it's because he's the Deputy Sheriff. But the Sheriff knows about all these problems Wade has and still insists that he joins him and another officer on the trip up the mountain. That just makes absolutely no sense except for the fact that Wade is the only series regular who works in law enforcement. It just doesn't track well and makes Wade's personal story even more unnecessarily complicated. It's a brutal and sudden end for the Sheriff. But it's also incredibly pointless with no indication that it's going to force interesting character dynamics in the future.

The show fares much better with the secrets from the past for the Farrells. But that's because they aren't really lingering on those mistakes. They are much more focused on the present and moving forward with their lives. They are trying to protect themselves from outside forces. Asa and Big Foster have different ways of going about that. But that doesn't really lead to much conflict. Big Foster stealing from the construction site gets noticed from the coal company. But it doesn't amount to anything. Meanwhile, Asa is much more productive about the situation by going after the people who are actually responsible for this latest push to get them off the mountain. Even though he was just beat up by a bunch of guys who hate him because of his name, he doesn't blame the entire community. He actually gets to hear from Wade's sister just how beautiful the mountain is to her as well. Of course, this episode then shows just how ruthless Asa can be. He plans on blackmailing one of the businessman into dropping this whole business operation. But that's largely a story that plays offscreen. It's more important that he gets this newly recovered drone fixed than actually stalking this guy for some reason.

More importantly, the love triangle between Asa, G'Win and Lil Foster continues to go around in circles. It's starting to become a little frustrating. G'Win pines after both of them. She loves both. That's stronger with Asa but it's much more stable with Lil Foster. Meanwhile, Lil Foster is torn between his father and G'Win. She tells him his dad is always manipulating him while his father pushes for him to see just how physical the dynamic between G'Win and Asa really is. It's the same kind of story that's been told already this season. Lil Foster only exists to serve his father. That doesn't inherently make him all that interesting. He would be lost without his father. That could be an interesting story development down the road. See how he survives in a world with no family. But right now, it basically makes him a boring sheep who has no purpose by himself. He exists solely to be a complication between Asa and G'Win and to give Big Foster someone to order around.

However, this is a pretty interesting episode for Big Foster because Lady Ray wakes up again. He tried to take her out because he was so furious after losing his other son. She wasn't going to do anything which made no sense to him. That anger and need to act quickly doesn't make him a good leader for this community. But he still holds plenty of respect amongst the clan because he upholds the traditions they've valued for years. Being a leader requires more than that though. And now, it seems that Lady Ray is back to being the official Bren'in for the clan. She knows exactly what happened before she rested for thirteen days. But she also can't punish her son because he's still family. She's at a loss over what to do with him. She knows just how lost he would be if he got banished. He's a man who can only exist in this world. If she takes that away from him, he has nothing left. But she's still very afraid of her son. She never wants to be left alone with him again. That's an intriguing plot thread. But her waking up also just leads to a perfunctory plot moment in the end where she relies on Asa to determine the future of the clan. She sees a leadership quality in him. He has had the better approach to this outside threat than Big Foster. But how would she know that? Again, it's just a lot of talk and not enough meaningful and character-defining action that pushes the narrative forward in engaging and compelling ways.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Rubberneck" was written by Ryan Farley and directed by Michael Trim.
  • Asa is pretty much fine with Hasil being interested in Sally Ann. How much of that was because he needed to figure out what Hasil did with the other jug of Farrell wine he took though? Asa gave him something - showing him how to write Sally Ann's name - which made Hasil let his guard down. 
  • Big Foster practically confesses to his son that he did something shifty to Lady Ray before her big sleep and he now fears punishment as a result. Lil Foster doesn't care in the slightest.
  • Also, it's hard to care about G'Win saying yes to marrying Lil Foster. She clearly loves Asa more. That love is just more complicated. But that's not a good enough reason to marry the guy. It's just because he beats Asa up over proof that G'Win hid from him. Yeah, this marriage is only going to end disastrously.
  • Lady Ray is up and walking now. That's not something she could do before her son tried to kill her. So either G'Win is magical or it should indicate that she'll die pretty soon.
  • The coal company gives a promotion to Wade's brother-in-law for absolutely no reason. They are up to no good. But he doesn't even question it because he is so desperate for work and doesn't have a high opinion of Wade.