Spoilers for both the series and book of The Outsider. Stop reading here if you do not want to see spoilers.
- HBO's The Outsider aired its finale on Sunday night.
- The series made some significant changes from the book, but kept a lot of things the same, too.
- If anyone is hoping for a second season, well, your wish seems like it might just be granted.
HBO's The Outsider came to a bloody and explosive end with "Must/Can't", and while viewers must be excited to see the story wrap up, that also comes along with a sense of eagerness to comprehend what we just saw, and consider what might be coming next. The season finale wraps up the adaptation of Stephen King's book of the same name, but continues to make a handful of key changes here and there—some of which set up the possibility of a second season. The actual ending, like most of the show, kept pretty consistent with the book: the tentpole events remained the same, but the means of getting there had some variation.
The big shootout that opened the episode, for instance, was by and large the same as in the book. After Alec Pelley was killed by Jack Hoskins to end last week's episode, this week's picked up immediately after. Some things were predictable; both characters created just for the show, Andy Katcavage and Seale Bolton, were killed by Jack. Howie also died, but in a more heroic fashion than his book counterpart—he was trying to save Andy when a sniper bullet from Jack blew the whole car, both men included, up.
A major change in the show's ending came when Jack had what was seemingly a moment of defiance against El Cuco. His characterization in the show in general has been more empathetic than the way he was written in the book; the show played him to be as much of a victim as someone in his situation could possibly be.
In the book, he was more similar to another King character—Henry Bowers, from IT. Jack in the book is infected, yes, but he also has a personal vendetta against Ralph; he's basically happy to have an excuse to try to kill him. It makes complete sense for King and showrunner Richard Price to agree on this change for the series; in the book, Jack is a POV character and we get a window to his thoughts. In a show without a narrator, this becomes much more difficult to convincingly depict.
The show's Jack, though, comes down from his perch, finally feeling freed from El Cuco, and tells Ralph and Holly where to find the monster. At that point, he's finally able to blow his own brains out, and does so (remember, he tried earlier in the season to no avail). In the book, he's shot several times by Ralph.
While Jack did have this defiant moment, it was a fair point to notice that it only came after taking out about half of the crew.
The 'final confrontation' with El Cuco comes earlier in the episode than some might think—and he doesn't put up much of a fight. As in the book, this makes sense; it had been repeatedly referenced that he's in hiding, and having Jack do his bidding because he's weak.
The manner in which El Cuco is defeated, though, is significantly different. The show finds Ralph and Holly venturing down into the cave, before El Cuco invites them for a stand-off; Claude shows up, avenging his fallen brother, and shoots El Cuco with a shotgun. (Claude isn't involved at all in this portion of the novel, outside of his face being used.)
On their way out, though, Ralph suspects that it's not over yet. He goes back to El Cuco, who had been stabbed in the chest by Holly even after being shot by Claude, and Ralph correctly finds out that he's still alive. This gives Ben Mendelsohn (the unquestioned lead of the show and also the first one to sign on to the project) a nice 'hero moment' of his own, getting to be the one to take the villain out himself. He stabs the creature's hand into the ground, and pummels his face with a cinderblock (after seeing it transform between the many identities he's stolen) to seemingly defeat him for good.
In the book, this goes significantly differently. In their conversation with El Cuco, they have the same realization as in the series—if they shoot a gun, the cave will collapse. Thus, Holly manages to get under El Cuco's skin by inferring that he's not going after child victims for feeding purposes, but rather that he's a pedophile. El Cuco charges at Holly, and she hits him with a weapon called a 'Happy Slapper,' which is basically a tube sock filled with very heavy objects—becoming lethal. This is King making a callback to his Mr. Mercedes series, where Holly first appeared and the weapon was previously used.
The show did definitively leave the door open for a second season, first with Ralph telling Holly he would be open to teaming up again; King's book, on the other hand, had more closure (though he's said he will continue to write stories featuring Holly Gibney). A lack of source material has never stopped HBO before, though, which has continued hit shows such as The Leftovers and Big Little Lies far beyond the written page.
The last thing The Outsider leaves viewers with is a bit of a post-credits scare. We get a glimpse of Holly at home, a bit of time having passed since the events of El Cuco. At once, she gets a glimpse of Jack in her bathroom mirror, and in a fit of terror, checks her neck for the burn that controlled and poisoned his mind. She's in the clear, but the scene still stands to show that she will now have this seed of paranoia set in the back of her mind for a very long time to come.
But then there's that closing shot. Holly has a scratch on her right arm—which obviously means that either Jack or El Cuco got her. This comes after she had inexplicably asked "Who's Terry" in the cave—the real Holly, or the unaffected Holly, obviously knows who Terry is. Is El Cuco alive? Is this the start of a new entity? My guess based on absolutely nothing? Since she saw Jack, she's now going to be used for assistance in the same way he was. He had his skills in marksmanship—Ralph talked about his sharpshooting record—and Holly of course has the cognitive gifts that have been on display all season long.
Online, fans reacted to that mid-credits scene with a mix of intrigue and concern.
For what it's worth, HBO's website refers to this as a 'Season Finale' and not a 'Series Finale.' If a second season season does end up coming (and exploring new ground; King's novel ends here), it feels certain that some sort of infected Holly will be at the center.
In the end, The Outsider wound up turning into one of HBO's biggest hits in recent memory. According to Variety, the finale garnered a bigger viewership than the same network's acclaimed Watchmen and True Detective. One way to gauge a show's popularity? Well, memes aren't bad:
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