Outcast S01E01 “A Darkness Surrounds Him” REVIEW

Outcast S01E01 “A Darkness Surrounds Him” REVIEW

0 comments 📅07 June 2016, 22:56

Outcast S01E01 “A Darkness Surrounds Him” REVIEW


stars 3.5
Airing in the UK on FOX, Tuesdays, 10pm
Writer: Robert Kirkman
Director: Adam Wingard

Essential Events:

  • We open on a quiet house, in the countryside at night. A small boy watches a cockroach walk across his wall. He looks feverish, frantic, coiled.
  • Suddenly he headbutts the cockroach, smashing it.
  • Then eats the remains.
  • Buckle up everyone.
  • The sound of arguing comes from downstairs and the boy, scratching at his skin, walks awkwardly down. He’s fascinated by every surface, wanting to touch everything. Blood is all over his face. His mother and sister argue, not noticing as he begins methodically eating chips. Then, he bites himself. His mother, finally sees him and screams. Joshua, the small boy, is chewing off his own finger…


  • In the small town of Rome, the sheriff and Reverend Anderson are playing cards with the fire chief. Just as the Reverend is about to take all their money, he’s interrupted.
  • The sheriff and fire chief leave and Anderson reluctantly answers the call. He meets the boy’s mom who asks for his help and lists two other cases. Something is very wrong in Rome…
  • Elsewhere, Kyle Barnes dreams of the love of his life. Sleeping on the floor in the wreck of his childhood home, he’s dragged awake by Megan Holter, his foster sister banging away at the front door. Ignoring her, he walks through the house stopping at what used to be his mother’s room and in the store cupboard. In the first there’s a shattered mirror, in the second, children’s drawings etched into the inside of the door. He makes breakfast and finally cracks, opening the door to Megan.
  • She tries to get him to leave and get out into the world with all the foul-mouthed enthusiasm of a grumpy Disney princess. He reluctantly agrees after clearly lying to her about losing his phone again.
  • She leaves and as he gets ready he flashbacks. His mother scratching her arm; him sitting at the breakfast table trying not to notice her; her standing over him, then yanking him by the hair into the same store cupboard we just saw.
  • Reverend Anderson arrives at Betsy’s house to talk to her about Joshua.


  • At the supermarket, Kyle is visibly uncomfortable as everyone in the aisles stares at him. He powers through. Megan buys him another cellphone on the condition he calls her and not “the one person on Earth he’s not supposed to call”.
  • He overhears two people talking about him and confronts them. The two older women badger him into attending church, explaining that Joshua Austin is falling prey to “dark forces” just like Kyle’s mother did.
  • Speaking of Joshua, the exorcism is going very badly. Joshua levitates, Anderson and Betsy get the crap kicked out of them and the demon isn’t going ANYWHERE.
  • Driving Kyle home, Megan hijacks him back to her place for dinner and a shower. It goes okay until her husband, Mark, comes home. The two men, who hate each other, bond over how relentless Megan is and declare an uneasy truce for dinner.
  • Mark confronts his wife, admitting that they owe Kyle a debt they can never repay but that he took a dark turn in later life. Megan, because she’s awesome, wins Mark over.
    Outside, Kyle talks to their daughter. She tells him that he hurt his little girl and isn’t her daddy anymore. Kyle breaks down and leaves.
  • The following morning Kyle is woken by the sound of a car leaving his house. He goes outside and finds a care package on the front porch from Megan, including the cell phone. He sits on the porch swing, dials in the one number he shouldn’t and the woman from his earlier dream picks up. He can’t speak and smashes the phone.
  • Borrowing his neighbour’s car, Kyle drives to the Austin house to see Reverend Anderson. Kyle isn’t sure why he came. Anderson is, though. It’s a possession, and as far as Anderson is concerned, Kyle has stopped one of those before.
  • They enter Joshua’s room and the thing wearing him speaks to Kyle. It says, “I know you.” Kyle is convinced that Joshua’s faking it until he tells him he wouldn’t fit in the pantry anymore.
  • It’s real.
  • Suddenly Joshua goes for Kyle, trapping him and drawing some supernatural energy out of his mouth. Kyle flashbacks to his mom doing the same thing as Anderson wrestles the kid free and Joshua flees back to the bed.


  • Outside, Kyle is badly rattled but Reverend Anderson is utterly calm. He explains that the demons are everywhere, worldwide. Anderson explains he didn’t believe until he saw what happened with Kyle’s mom and that convinced him. Seeing Kyle arrive at the Austin house is, as far as he’s concerned, a sign. And he doesn’t think Kyle is going to run.
  • Later, Anderson returns to the church to find Caleb, his handyman, fixing the railing and getting ready to paint. The local teenagers have painted satanic graffiti on the church. Anderson tells him to leave it, and that they should turn the other cheek.


  • Kyle visits his mother, comatose in a rest home and… flashbacks to being beaten and locked in the closet again. He remembers biting her and it causing her an abnormal amount of pain…
  • Later he returns the car to his neighbour. He accepts an invitation to dinner and the two men bond over their lost other halves. His neighbour apologises for not doing something about the abuse he suffered and Kyle tries to shrug it off. His neighbour tells him to come by any time.
  • The next day Kyle and Anderson head back out to the Austin house. On the way out, Kyle notices a photo of Matthew, the Reverend’s son in the car. Anderson very deliberately changes the subject and dangles the idea that Kyle might be innocent in front of him. He asks why Kyle came back to Rome and, again, he changes the subject.
  • Time for round two.
  • Kyle remembers that his mother hated light and yanks the curtains down in Joshua’s room. Joshua screams in pain and Anderson asks what else he did with his mom. Kyle admits that he hit his mom.
  • What follows is less an exorcism and more an increasingly savage fist fight. It culminates in Kyle repeatedly punching the little boy in the face screaming, “WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?!” Joshua bites him and begins gagging. Kyle pours his own blood into the kid’s mouth. Joshua vomits a column of black smoke that then evaporates.


  • Joshua, covered in blood, wakes up just as Betsy bursts in. Unsurprisingly, the police arrive and arrest Kyle for assaulting a child.
  • Until, that is, the Sherriff talks to Anderson and releases Kyle. Betsy has refused to press charges. Mark is disgusted. Kyle is free. As Anderson drives him home, he meets Joshua’s eyes and the boy smiles at him. He, at least, knows the truth.
  • The two men talk, and Kyle admits that this wasn’t the same as what happened with his mother. Or his wife. He tells Anderson that he knows it wasn’t his fault but it was still because of him. These things have been hunting him his whole life. He leaves the shellshocked priest in the car and returns home.


  • As he does, he flashbacks again, this time to a few months previously. He hears a crash from upstairs and rushes in to find Allison crouched over their daughter. Behind him his wife convulses and spasms as something settles into her body, charges at him and…
  • Quietly, but determined, he whispers, “Come and get me.”


So the good news is this is great. The TV adaptation of Robert Kirkman’s every day story of small town, southern exorcising folk, Outcast is a very different beast to The Walking Dead. Smaller focus, shorter seasons and with none of the weird reassurance that comes from the end of the world. This is a series set here, and now. No Wildfire virus. No hordes. Just awful things hiding inside the innocent and hurting as many people as they can.

If The Walking Dead is about human nature in extremis, then Outcast is about abuse, trauma and its survival. Kyle is an abuse survivor; the show makes that explicit very very early on. He’s also barely functional as the show starts, sleeping in his decaying childhood home and barely setting foot outside. It’s like he’s constantly picking a scar, constantly defining himself by the pain he inflicts on himself. That’s a subtle, horrifying motif that the show repeats several times. The possessed endlessly scratch at themselves and are obsessed with tactile interaction. They use pain to feel. So does Kyle.

That’s dark territory and the show is camped right in the middle of it. It’s mined most successfully by Pugit, whose Kyle is a quiet, courteous, numb figure. We find out why he’s isolated himself by the episode’s end and also why what people know about him isn’t true. He’s definitely brave, probably depressive and certainly struggling to understand what keeps happening to him. Spiky, melancholy, desperate and heartbroken he’s a compelling lead. One who, thankfully, is orbited by Megan and Anderson who both bring a lighter touch to this uniformly grim show. Schmidt as Megan is wonderful and Glenister’s Anderson is off to a very good start. He may be the kind of priest Jesse Custer would get on with but there’s actual faith under the arrogance and seeing that tested looks to be a major part of the show.


So we have a show that explores the consequences of abuse and the price of both faith and the lack of it through the lens of demonic possession. It’s directed by one of the best horror directors in the world, written by a bona fide comics rock star and has a brilliant cast. Is there a downside?

Yes. An odd one too.

This is a show that doesn’t flinch away from difficult subject matter, but tackles it head on and with both fists up. That’s an admirable stance and horror absolutely should tackle issues like this, precisely because it’s so well equipped to do it. We learn when we fail but we also learn we’re afraid and Outcast looks set to be one long learning curve for its characters.

But there’s also a meta concern here. It’s too early in the show’s run to see if the care with which it uses these issues is going to be maintained. It would be incredibly easy for it to tip over into sensationalism especially as it comes close here with the beating Joshua receives. We desperately hope that doesn’t happen. If it does, hopefully the show can come back from it.

For now though, this is an impressive debut for what looks to be an impressive series and one whose short season should be a real asset. Rome isn’t a nice town, but odds are you’ll want to stick around a while after this.

The Good:

  • The “I Want To Believe” poser on Kyle’s wall is a nice touch.
  • Pugit in particular is fantastic. His Kyle is a wounded animal of a man and that quiet, rage filled final line lands as hard as it does entirely because of him.
  • “How long has it been since you ate a vegetable? Do you even REMEMBER solid poop?!” Wren Schmidt is the other MVP this episode. As fans of the comic, were delighted to see Megan so perfectly realised.
  • “Your 12 year old students notice your condescending tone or is that just me?”
    “Pretty much just you.” Much more of this please.
  • Here’s a random thought: Megan and Mark’s daughter takes Kyle down, hard, with some very specific stuff. Does she just know the story (it seems an odd thing for her parents to tell her)? Or is something hiding in plain sight inside her?

The Bad:

  • On the one hand, Kirkman’s script is a nicely trimmed down version of his original comic issue. On the other, this drags badly in the middle. It’s not quite Preacher levels of trudging yet but it’s not far off.

The Random:


  • Patrick Fugit has an impressive resume that takes in appearances on House, Gone Girl and Almost Famous.


  • Philip Glenister is of course best known in this country as metaphysical sort-of immortal copper Gene Hunt from Life On Mars and Ashes To Ashes. It’s a role that’s both iconic and at times he’s probably felt it’s inescapable, but he’s definitely out from under the shadow of it here. And yes, if you’re one of the six people worried about his American accent after Demons, it’s much better here. Relax.


  • Wrenn Schmidt, who’s so good here as the cheerfully foul-mouthed Megan, had a small role on The Americans but is best is known for her long turns on Boardwalk Empire and Person of Interest.
  • David Denman has a genre resumé to die for including playing Skip the demon on Angel and he also turns in Person Of Interest, The Nines and True Detective. He’s currently working on the new Power Rangers movie.


  • Reg E Cathey has been in stuff you like. Odds are lots of it; he’s incredibly prolific. His movie credits include SWAT, The Machinist and Fantastic Four where he was somehow very good despite the movie itself very much not being. He’s best known of course for his role as Norman Wilson on The Wire.
  • This week’s director is Adam Wingard, one of a new wave of horror directors reinvigorating the genre. He’s best known for You’re Next but you should absolutely see The Guest too. And go in spoiler free, trust us.

Review by Alasdair Stuart

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