'The Outsider': Shape-shifting nurse, low camera angles for death scenes and other theories about HBO’s horror
After Terry and Ollie’s deaths, when Ralph is at the hospital, the camera angle is low -- almost like seeing it from the point of view of the floor. It was the same when Ollie and Fred were earlier at the mortuary, looking for two coffins -- one for Frankie and the other for Frankie’s mother Mildred
The following piece contains spoilers for the first two episodes of ‘The Outsider’.
HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s 2018 novel ‘The Outsider’ has been marvelous so far. With two episodes out, the show has set a grim, almost despairing, tone to the sleepy Georgia town of Cherokee Creek.
The town’s mundane existence is shaken by the brutal rape and murder of an 11-year-old boy called Frankie Peterson. Detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) investigates and finds a local teacher and baseball coach, Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman), as his prime suspect.
After all, myriad witnesses can tie him to the crime. He was spotted offering Frankie a ride in a van. He was later seen covered with blood. The crime scene is covered with his fingerprints, and his blood type was present there as well.
But Terry has a solid alibi -- he was captured on video in a different town at the time the crime was committed, attending a teaching conference with several colleagues who could all vouch for his presence. And his fingerprints too were found at the conference site.
This is mystery number one. How could Terry have been at both places at once? For those who have read King’s novel, all of this must feel understandable. But for the others caught between these inexplicable events, we have a few theories.
The simplest explanation is that Terry did not commit the crime. Rather, it was an unknown entity who donned Terry’s appearance and indulged in the monstrosity. But that begs a more important and troubling question: How could an impostor have the same blood type, DNA and fingerprints as Terry?
And if such a thing did happen, the impostor, in all likeliness would have to be a supernatural entity. After Terry is shot down by Frankie’s brother Ollie (Joshua Whichard), Ralph reaches out to Terry’s wife Glory (Julianne Nicholson), who reluctantly agrees to meet with him.
While questioning Marcy about their trip to Dayton, Ohio, and if they had noticed any oddity there, Terry’s daughter Jessa (Scarlett Blum) volunteers a piece of information. Terry had allegedly gotten a cut on his hand from a strange encounter with a male nurse in the nursing home where his mentally ill father (who suffers from dementia) was admitted.
One plausible theory is that it was this male nurse who was some kind of poltergeist or demon and he had from Terry’s blood, managed to take over his identity. We have seen in lore and popular culture that blood can be vital to such magic.
In ‘Dracula’ -- both Bram Stoker’s classic novel and Stephen Moffat’s 2020 adaptation -- even a drop of blood can reveal to the Count, one’s innermost secrets. Whatever this entity was, then decided to take Terry’s shape and kill in his name.
But this theory, like everything else in the show, raises more questions. Why was Terry chosen? Was it a mere coincidence that the entity chose to take Terry’s shape. And if so, why go to the effort of committing such a heinous crime in Terry’s hometown and not in Dayton itself?
For the sake of sanity, let’s assume it wasn’t a coincidence. We know from both episodes that Terry’s youngest daughter has been seeing a “man”. Is it possible that this “man” is the same entity that took Terry’s shape?
If we consider that possibility, then we should consider the following as well: Terry’s father may have been diagnosed with dementia. But it is not outside imagination that he could be seeing a supernatural entity.
And that such a sight could have altered his mental health, leading to the diagnosis. That is most certainly in the same realm of possibilities that he saw the same “man” that Terry’s daughter did.
That is not all. This “man” could also well be the same seemingly-faceless hooded figure we see in the scenes of various tragedies in the town: Terry and Ollie’s death (Ralph shot Ollie down after the latter opened fire in front of the courthouse) and Frankie’s father Fred’s (Frank Deal) attempted suicide.
Perhaps it is the camerawork, and perhaps it is the cinematographer’s way of conveying the atmosphere through his lens, but there is a perceptible change in the angle when one sees the aftermath of a tragedy in the show.
After Terry and Ollie’s deaths, when Ralph is at the hospital, the camera angle is low -- almost like seeing it from the point of view of the floor. It was the same when Ollie and Fred were earlier at the mortuary, looking for two coffins -- one for Frankie and the other for Frankie’s mother Mildred (Dayna Beilenson), who died of a heart attack (or maybe just a broken heart).
One possible explanation, other than a creative choice, is that whatever entity took Terry’s shape crawls on the floor in its natural form, and consumes despair and sadness, much like a Dementor from J. K. Rowling’s ‘Harry Potter’ lore. The floor angle can also be corroborated by the fact that in one scene, we see dark liquid under the bed of Terry’s daughter, right after she tells her mother that she had seen the “man”.
Episode 3, hopefully, will shed more light on these questions. Knowing King, however, one can take solace in the certainty that, at least, for the foreseeable future, viewers will only be piled on with more questions than answers. Till then, let’s hope anyone who has read ‘The Outsider’ doesn’t ruin it for the others.
‘The Outsider’ airs Sundays, 9 p.m. EST (8 p.m. CST) on HBO.