HBO’s The Outsider
Episode 1: “Fish in a Barrel”
Directed by Jason Bateman
Written by Richard Price
* For a recap & review of Episode 2, “Roanoke” – click here
A normal day in a normal neighbourhood. At least that’s how it seems, until a dog being walked by its owner sniffs around a van with blood smeared on its door. Further into the woods the dog runs, pulling its owner, to find more blood on a tree stump. The dog runs off on its own, trailed by its owner, and comes upon what’s surely the murder scene/origin point for all the blood.
Soon police swarm the area. Detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) arrives on the scene. He meets Yunis Sablo (Yul Vazquez) from the GBI and take a look at the gruesome mess left in an awful murderer’s wake: a little boy, Frankie Peterson. Some time later, Dt. Anderson goes back to the station to speak with the man walking his dog who stumbled onto the slaughtered corpse.
At home, we meet Coach Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman), his wife Glory (Julianne Nicholson), and their family. The whole town’s been rocked by the murder, obviously. People are trying to get back to normal, including the Maitlands. Elsewhere, Ralph’s grappling with the terrifying implications of what happened to Frankie, and also with the man he’s going to have to arrest. He’s got a warrant and everything’s official, so there’s nothing left to do.
We see a bit of the police leg work leading to the arrest. Like when Dt. Anderson spoke to teacher Mary Mason (Margo Moorer). She was getting groceries and saw the Peterson boy walking his bike with a busted chain. The kid stopped to talk to Terry, who pulled up in a white van for a chat. Frankie got into the van after Terry loaded the bike, and then they were gone. Ralph also talked to a young girl who was going to the park and she supposedly saw Terry, covered in blood, walking back to his van.
Was it just a nosebleed? Was Coach Terry really out there cutting up a boy?
Dt. Anderson and the police are bearing down on the local baseball game. Coach Terry’s surprised when two cops read him his rights and arrest him in front of everybody. A shock to everybody. The coach doesn’t resist, calmly going along with them across the field to their cruiser. The white van is being picked apart forensically for any and all evidence of what happened to poor little Frankie.
Ralph sat down with Claude Bolton (Paddy Considine), a recovering addict well-known to the police department. They have a casual talk, because Claude works at a strip club called the Peach Crease, where Terry wandered in covered with blood looking for a place to clean up and a “doc in a box.” Surely suspicious, plus the fact Coach Terry had a change of clothes with him. Claude gave a general description of him, specifically the blood on the back of his jacket. Video footage confirms Terry was there. Just like a cab driver confirms she picked the coach up and dropped him off at the train station, where more video footage shows him waiting around. Although Terry never buys a ticket or comes back to the station. Hmm.
While Dt. Anderson and the cops take Terry off, Glory is losing her mind— like any spouse would! She does the sensible thing, calling attorney Howie Solomon (Bill Camp). He advises to be strict about the boundaries of the warrant and how to respond to the police’s demands while they carry it out at their house. At the same time, Terry’s trying to figure out what the hell is happening, asking if the cops checked where he was when Frankie was killed. Nobody sees anything but guilt when they look at him.
Ralph couldn’t figure out why Terry would be so stupid after killing a child, getting caught on tape everywhere, as if the man wanted to be caught. Could it be so easy? Well, now Terry’s in custody, sitting in an interrogation room. He’s already told them: “You just ruined our lives.” Father Gore’s reminded of the West Memphis Three case here and how the police only looked a single, convenient direction while ignoring any other options whatsoever because they were so convinced in their own theories and the apparent witness statements they’d gotten from people. However, right now, it’s looking bad for Terry. His lawyer Howie arrives to try and help, albeit a mountain of prejudice is already building against the coach.
In the interrogation room, Terry tells the detectives he was in Cap City from 9 am Tuesday to Wednesday at noon. He was with Jerry Frost and Bob Barry, they were attending a conference for Secondary School English teachers on “banning books” and “censorship.” They did workshops and panels and had dinner with people, as well as beers at the bar where there were tons of others. The detectives are convinced DNA swabs will prove Terry’s the murderer, despite Howie telling them they’re rushing to an easy conclusion. The attorney has his man Alec Pelley (Jeremy Bobb) on the road investigating things in Cap City to confirm Terry’s telling the truth. Unfortunately, Terry’s already in jail and fearing for his safety. Another inmate singles him out as the one who “did that kid” and it’ll all be downhill from there.
And none of it does anything to help the Peterson family grieve. Things get so bad that Joy has a heart attack, dying in the hospital. The Maitlands aren’t so well, either. Jessa wakes in the middle of the night claiming “he was here” and that he was “saying bad things.” Who’s she talking about?
Video footage Alec tracks down shows none other than Terry standing up on camera at the conference in Cap City to ask a question concerning Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and the Iliad, in terms of censorship. Howie presents this to the detectives and they have nothing they can come back with to explain how Terry could be in two places at one time. This leaves the DA and the cops scrambling to piece their case back together. Thing is, the “justice train” is on the track. Terry still has to go through a process.
Dt. Anderson goes to Cap City, seeking his own info to get to the bottom of this messy situation. A gift shop clerk recognises Terry’s photo. He came in and looked at a book, but didn’t buy it. So Ralph purchases it, right as Alec’s arriving to look for the exact same thing, and he hopes the fingerprints will serve his case rather than doing Terry a favour. He’s found that the prints all match, from the gift shop to the crime scene to Terry’s prints during his arrest.
Ralph’s suddenly got doubts about what’s really happening. We get a bit of his personal life with his wife Jeannie (Mare Winningham). They lost their own boy at some point. It plagues Ralph, being a cop and having been unable to “get justice” for his child, whatever happened. And now he’s plagued by the ambiguity of whatever’s going on with Terry and the murder of Frankie Peterson. Especially after reviewing footage of the train station, noticing that Terry’s giving the camera the finger. Odd.
“Blood cries for blood”
Amazing opening episode.
Father Gore’s not yet read this King novel, so forgive him should any of you know the answer, but just seeing this first episode he wonders: does Terry have an evil twin? Not out of the realm of possibility in King territory. That’d explain a man being in two places at one time. Either way, The Outsider‘s off to an impressive start, and it’ll be interesting to see where this grim tale heads from here.