HBO’s ‘The Outsider’ asks, “What is Grief?”

New Stephen King series gives Grief a New Feeding Ground.
The Outsider Cover

Now, you all are here to read my review of the first 6 episodes of HBO’s new series based on the Stephen King novel The Outsider. However, I want to say a few things before I get into this:

First, I love horror, sci-fi, fantasy and the like. I even bring it into my college classes, and my students love it. That said, a series based on anything Stephen King related I was pretty sure was going to be a safe bet for me to like.

Second, I have no idea how many episodes will be in the season (wiki has 10 listed). As I said, I only have access to the first 6. These episodes probably don’t give the full breath of the show/series as with any new show it has to get its footing by building the world, and with Stephen King, that world-building can usually be very slow and methodical.

Lastly, I have not read the novel for The Outsider, so everything I’m going to be talking about will be coming directly from the show, and my opinions (which are my own) will only be about what I have seen.

*Light spoilers like the healthy dressing that should be on your salad*

The Outsider Inside 4

What’s Going on in Georgia

The mutilated body of a young boy named Frankie Peters is found in the woods, evidence is collected, witnesses questioned, and a suspect is arrested. The perpetrator is revealed to be English teacher, little league coach, husband, and father Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman; Arrested Development). For Detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn; Captain Marvel), it’s an open and shut case. Frank has left fingerprints all over the body, the van he used to transport the body, and there is no way in Detective Anderson’s mind that he didn’t do it. So much so, that he breaks procedure and has the police make a big public show of arresting Maitland as he is coaching a little league game. We also quickly realize that this is partly because Detective Anderson’s son (who is dead) used to play for Maitland, and he is taking out his anger on this accused child killer.

This is immediately where things take their first turn when Maitland produces an iron clad alibi that he was almost 100 miles away when Frankie was killed, including video evidence. Now, this all conflicts with the witness, DNA, and other video evidence that show Maitland was in town or at least had come back in enough time to commit the crime, and the district attorney moves ahead with the case. However, on the day of Maitland’s arraignment, a shooter (who turns out to be the older brother of Frankie) opens fire killing two officers, wounded another, and fatally shoots Maitland in the neck before being shot in the head by Detective Anderson.

Maitland’s last words were to Detective Anderson saying that he didn’t commit this crime. Detective Anderson, now on paid administrative leave for the shooting, continues to try and figure out if Maitland really did it just to put his own doubts to rest. This leads to the beginning of the twists of a Stephen King mystery.

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What’s REALLY Going on in Georgia

With magical realism in mind, The Outsider seems to bring this in by….*SPOILER ALERT*… giving grief a form. Grief is controlling people or taking on the form of people and killing children, literally causing one of the greatest griefs in the world…the loss of a child. And grief is a complete asshole; it mutilates and sodomizes the child to make sure that the parents feel the visceral pain of their child’s death. Grief then feeds on pain, but it doesn’t stop there. It nudges at the pain the family feels until they kill themselves or kill others for revenge. Thus, this creates more pain for grief to feed on. All this is put together by a private investigator named Holly Gibney (Cynthia Erivo; Harriet) who features in a few of King’s other novels and basically has a form of “the shining.”

For anyone who doesn’t know what “the shining” is, it is basically what King calls almost any type of psychic abilities in his worlds. This is different from Carrie in the novel of the same name who is more telekinetic. What Holly has is more of the ability to see hidden patterns, to know what you are thinking or feeling, to read beyond the surface, etc.

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So, Holly is a magical negro….but that’s a soapbox I won’t get on today…

My Opinion About the First Six

So, through the first six episodes, I would say that it’s very heavy on the crime mystery side and light on the fantasy element until about the end of episode 4 with episode 6 definitely being the turning point. With that said, do I plan to continue watching, and do I think you should watch it?

I may continue watching in hopes that it leans more into the fantasy element. Once again having not read the book, I don’t know if it will. This is important to me, because I’m not a big fan of crime drama, and without the fantastic element (which honestly in this case is really just magical realism, not fantasy), this is a good crime drama.

With that said, if you’re looking for a good crime drama, this is for you. One thing I was going to say is that it doesn’t feel like Stephen King, but that’s because I’m thinking of his movies like Carrie, The Shining, Pet Sematary, and IT. However, I’m forgetting his more subtle works like Dolores Claiborne, The Green Mile, and Gerald’s Game that align more with The Outsider in the crime drama and a less fantastical realm.

I don’t think this series is bad. As I said, I’m a sci-fi/fantasy/horror person, so I was looking for more of that; however, episode 6 really does pick up with that once Holly reveals to Detective Anderson and his crew that she believes that some type of demon, boggey man, grief come to life entity is behind Frankie Peters’ and other child murders all so it can feed on the living’s pain and hurt.

The outsider inside

Early numbers have come out giving the show a high-C, mid-B rating after just the first 3 episodes. My guess is because of the slow pacing and not-so-interesting characters. Early on it feels like a regular white-led crime drama, and several of the white men are of the angry variety, and I really wasn’t here for that. The cliffhanger of episode 6  has the only Black character, Holly, in the car with one of the angry white men who is being controlled by the entity, so a showdown is definitely in the works.

I think in the long run it is worth at least one watch-through, but you will have to get through the less interesting first few episodes to get to some actual meat.

The Outsider is currently airing Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.

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  • Kenneth Broome

    College Professor/Editor/Writer

    Kenneth Broome, Jr. is originally from Mississippi, but he lives and works near Atlanta, GA. He hold degrees in English and creative writing. He's a college professor, editor, and writer as well. He loves sci-fi, fantasy, and horror, but witches are his favorite. Overall, he's just a big nerd at heart.

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