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Series / The Outsider

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The Outsider is a 2020 HBO miniseries based on the Stephen King book of the same name. It stars Ben Mendelsohn, Jason Bateman, Cynthia Erivo and Julianne Nicholson.

The plot concerns the small town of Cherokee City, Georgia when a shocking and brutal murder of a young child shakes the community to the core. When DNA and eye witness reports points to the local little league coach Terry Maitland, it seems to be an Open-and-Shut Case... until equally compelling evidence places him over 70 miles away at the time of the crime.

As the families affected by the crime and the town slowly splinters and disintegrates, the police try to explain the contradictory evidence and figure out the truth behind the gruesome crime. The questions soon become who, or what, is responsible.

The miniseries contains examples of:

  • Adaptational Nice Guy: Jack Hoskins is a downplayed example. In the novel, he's a straight up psycho with a personal grudge against Ralph Anderson. In the show he's pretty far from a nice guy, but his humanity is evident in the fact that he's friends with Tamika Collins, has the self-awareness and humility to admit that he's to blame for his inability to get along with Ralph, and in another departure from the novel, he spares Holly's life and turns his gun on himself.
  • Agent Mulder: Yunis Sablo is quick to believe Holly's theory, going so far as to cross himself while she explains it. He adds that it coincides with legends he's heard from his family.
  • Agent Scully: Ralph Anderson insists on approaching the case as a conventional mystery with a mundane explanation, even as evidence mounts that something supernatural is afoot. His wife ultimately has to tell him that his obstinance is getting in the way.
  • Alone with the Psycho: Holly quickly realizes that she's trapped in her car with Jack, who is under the influence of the killer and armed with a gun.
  • Ambiguous Ending: Ralph assumes that crushing El Cuco's head has killed it, though given that it can get regenerate after seemingly getting killed, it's unconfirmed. In the end, Holly has been scratched by El Cuco, leaving open the possibility that she will become its next scapegoat.
  • Ambiguously Jewish: Howard Salomon is a lawyer with a Jewish-sounding name who tells a joke that involves Yiddish, but his religion is not explicitly stated.
  • Ate His Gun: Jack Hoskins attempts to eat his gun, but it's implied that he's not allowed to do so. In the end, he manages to do it, possibly aided by his shattered mental and physical state.
  • Bait-and-Switch:
    • We see a mysterious and disfigured entity in a green, hooded jacket lurking around the crime scenes. When Jeannie is in her office, she spots a man in a green, hooded jacket in her waiting room and tries to confront him... but it's just some random guy dozing off.
    • When Andy arrives unannounced at Holly's door, she receives him with a cold, "What are you doing here?" After a moment, she smiles and jumps into his arms.
    • When Holly presents her theory that the killer is supernatural, Howard angrily suggests that Glory leave with him, but she insists on staying to hear Holly out. But rather than support Holly once she's finished, Glory angrily rebukes her for blaming "the boogeyman" and storms out.
    • Sablo tells Andy that Holly's abilities include forecasting a person's death, implying that her behavior around Andy means that she thinks he's going to die... but then Sablo admits that he was just joking.
    • The last episode features a number of scenes that suggest that Claude is going to make a Heroic Sacrifice to take out El Cuco now that it has completed its transformation to resemble him and has had Jack kill Seale. While Claude does shoot El Cuco, leading to it being impaled and crushed by rocks in the resulting cave in, he isn't the one to finish it off and he ultimately survives the encounter.
  • Batman Gambit: Holly escapes Jack by breaking the glass in the back of a bathroom, counting on the fact that he'd be lurking at the door of the bathroom and immediately run around back, so that she can open the door and escape. If he hadn't been close enough to hear it, she'd have run right toward him.
  • Better to Die than Be Killed: Heath Hofstadter gives himself a Slashed Throat rather than let himself be beaten to death by inmates.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Holly is extremely eccentric but also the best damn private investigator around due to her enormous mental talents.
  • Dead Star Walking: Jason Bateman, the biggest star and apparent main character, is killed in the second episode.
  • Decoy Protagonist: It seems like Terry Maitland, as man at the center of the mystery, is the main character, but he's killed in the second episode. It's actually Ralph Anderson who is the main character.
  • Decapitation Required: Implied. Ralph knows that El Cuco isn't dead in spite of being shot at point blank range with a shotgun, been bludgeoned and pierced by stalactites, and stabbed in the heart. But smashing its head into paste seems to kill it.
  • Dies Differently In The Adaptation:
    • Jack Hoskins commits suicide in the show, whereas his novel counterpart dies in what is essentially a suicide, but by cop (Ralph) rather than his own hand.
    • El Cuco is killed by Holly with the Happy Slapper in the novel. There was no way to set that up in the show, so instead it's shot by Claude Bolton, stabbed by Holly and then has its head crushed with a rock by Ralph, presumably killing it.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Ralph drinks when he is depressed. He admits being very drunk in the aftermath of his son's death. Although apparently not an alcoholic, he's still susceptible to it. Holly notes that he doesn't enjoy drinking casually and only orders a beer so that she won't feel awkward.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • El Cuco takes on the identity of nursing home worker Heath Hofstadter before murdering two little girls. In prison, Hofstadter kills himself by slitting his throat before another inmate can get to him.
    • Jack Hoskins shoots himself in the head late in the game to finally stop El Cuco's torment.
  • Emotion Eater: The killer feeds on suffering.
  • Flash Back: Episode 9 flashes back occasionally to the story of how the Boltons' ancestors were all killed in the local caves.
  • Foreshadowing: Sablo jokes that Holly has foreseen that Andy will soon die. Sure enough, Andy dies during the shootout with Jack.
  • Homage: Howard's joke about the Yiddish vampire seems inspired by a scene in The Fearless Vampire Killers in which a Jewish vampire menaces a woman who presents a cross to him, only for him to say in a thick Yiddish accent, "Oy, have you got the wrong vampire!"
  • Establishing Character Moment:
    • Terry is introduced making pancakes for his family and being a wholesome father. He also talks about the team his coaches for.
    • Howard Salomon is introduced while out golfing and takes his call from Glory in an entirely supportive and competent manner, supporting earlier implications that he is a successful and formidable lawyer.
    • Jack is introduced getting dragged back to work while out hunting, and also gets into a bar brawl in an early scene, establishing him as a tough guy who is good with firearms and is also a jerk.
    • Holly's first scene demonstrates her mental abilities by identifying cars and rattling off details about them as they drive by her window.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: El Cuco's child murders will often send the person he was imitating at the time to prison, where killers of children are at the bottom of the totem pole and at heavy risk of getting murdered.
  • Humanshifting: El Cuco can shapeshift into the forms of specific people.
  • Humanoid Abomination: El Cuco is a monster who is humanoid in shape and can alter its appearance to look like specific people.
  • Idiot Ball:
    • Seale seems to completely understand the stakes and the rules for the fight against El Cuco, yet he still decides to tell his brother Claude about the team's planned ambush, giving El Cuco warning. Claude immediately starts calling him an idiot for doing so.
    • El Cuco was wounded from the cave in in the final episode, but probably could have easily recovered. However, he decides to screw with Ralph's head a bit by giving him visions of dead boys. This clues Ralph in that Cuco isn't really dead, and Ralph comes back to bash his head in with a rock.
  • Juxtaposed Reflection Poster: The poster shows a creepy figure reflected in the surface of a lake...except there's nobody standing over it that would cast the reflection. The identity of the killer who caused the Plot-Triggering Death is the Driving Question, and the symbolism of the poster is eventually explained with El Cuco, a creature capable of Humanshifting, who would have no definitive appearance anyway.
  • Kick the Dog: Jack is introduced drunkenly instigating a bar fight, establishing him as a dick. This is apparently why it's not immediately obvious to everyone when he becomes El Cuco's slave.
  • Missing Reflection: Inverted. The poster shows a dark human-shaped reflection in the lake water, but nothing that casts it.
  • Photographic Memory: Holly has perfect recall and can flawlessly quote facts she's memorized.
  • Race Lift: Holly is white in the original book, but black in the series, due to Jason Bateman's desire to work with Cynthia Erivo. Her habit of saying cheers in Lithuanian is turned into a eccentricity rather than a reference to her ethnic background.
  • Red Right Hand:
    • The murderous entity looks like people, but its face is warped and disfigured when it is transitioning between disguises.
    • People who are under the influence of the killer develop a blistering rash on the back of their neck.
  • Riddle for the Ages: Where did El Cuco come from? Are there more of it, or is it unique? Even El Cuco doesn't know.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Alec Pelley is a fairly significant side character throughout the series. He gets killed in the ninth episode, at the very beginning of the team's confrontation with Jack and El Cuco.
  • Slashed Throat: Heath Hofstadter - one of the people El Cuco shapeshifted into before killing two girls - slits his own throat in prison, right before the first (of presumably many) inmates was about to beat him in his cell.
  • Shapeshifter Swan Song: El Cuco goes through a mishmash of multiple identities he's stolen right before Ralph splatters his head with a rock.
  • Title Drop: In the final scene, Holly reveals that the reason why she was so quick to believe the existence of El Cuco was because "an outsider knows an outsider."
  • To the Pain: Ralph delivers a monologue like this to El Cuco in the final episode, after it has been incapacitated. He threatens to first bring tour groups around to leer at it in its helpless state, followed by scientists who will vivisect it. Ultimately, he decides it is better if no one else knows the thing even exists and caves in the creature's head with a rock to put it down for good.
  • Uncanny Valley: A given in a series revolving around doppelgangers. While El Cuco can perfectly mimic the appearance and mannerisms of the people it impersonates, everyone who encounters it notes that it has a dead-eyed, unsettling gaze. In addition, its physical appearance can invoke this, particularly when it's almost finished with a transformation; the guy who sees its face when it is almost finished transforming into Claude describes it as looking like someone peering out from under a mask.
  • The World's Expert (on Getting Killed): As a military veteran, Alec Pelley is the best equipped person on the El Cuco hit squad to survive the shootout with Jack. He's the first person killed, before the group even realizes they're being attacked. It's possible that Jack chose him as the first target for this very reason.
  • Would Hurt a Child: El Cuco specifically eats children "because they taste the sweetest".