Robert Kirkman’s paranormal, exorcism horror show Outcast delved further into the dark life of Kyle Barnes last night. When Kyle shambled back into his childhood hometown of Rome, West Virginia last week, his status as a social pariah was pretty clear. The exact nature of his dark past, however, remained a mystery. Episode 2 gives us a much clearer look at the messed-up Barnes family.
After last week’s violent encounter with a demon possessed child, Kyle Barnes’s eyes are now opened to the supernatural terrors haunting the town of Rome. With these revelations, Kyle begins looking into his own past and trying to put his mother’s sudden violence towards Kyle as a child in this new, demonic context.
The Holy War
Meanwhile, Reverend Anderson is also motivated by last week’s exorcism and renews his heavenly crusade against the forces of evil. At church, the Reverend delivers a fiery speech how “The Battle is coming. And unless we prepare, that darkness will spew forth with the reek of a sewage, drowning us in its corruption.” Anderson doesn’t end there; he begins enlisting the help of the elderly women in his congregation to join him as part of his “army”.
Philip Glenister’s performance is a marvel, embodying both the dread and charisma of the Southern church militant. Of course, the audience has the benefit of knowing exactly what happened last week when he encountered a demon child, but Anderson does his best to make sure his flock understands him too, recounting the ordeal in more-or-less straight detail.
Unfortunately, it may be too little too late. Over at Chief Giles’ office, a citizen comes barging into the police station with a dripping bag full of the blood and guts of some poor animal — only one of many other animals gutted and nailed around the forests surrounding Rome. Of course, this means that the Chief and his deputy, Kyle’s brother-in-law Mark, have to head down to the forest to investigate. There, they find some deeply unsettling, let’s say unholy, things.
The emotional crux of this show centers around the women in Kyle’s life, namely his mother, his adoptive sister Megan, and his ex-wife Allison. All three characters come into play very quickly, first as Kyle visits his comatose mother in the hospital. The stress of her situation erupts into an outburst at the nurses, whom Kyle believes is not treating his mother right. The compassion he still shows her is heartbreaking, as the episode is filled with flashbacks featuring his mother’s horrendous abuse. The balance in which the show jumps from these horrifying flashbacks to the present day, impressively keeps the tone even throughout Kyle’s interaction with his mother.
Just to give the audience a little more sympathy for what Kyle went through, he’s apparently been hanging out with his longtime neighbor in the present-day. The two are friendly enough, but it’s not until his neighbor apologizes to Kyle for not helping Kyle as a child, even after he and his wife could hear the screams coming from the Barnes house. It might be a little sappy, but this actually helps depict Rome as the sort of idyllic small town in which everyone knows each other. It’s a nice moment which answers the question of why nobody came to Kyle’s aid as a child.
Megan, coincidentally, is heading out to meet with Allison for the birthday of Kyle’s daughter. Before she does, Kyle asks if she could deliver his daughter a birthday present he picked out. It’s when Megan tells Kyle that he is legally not allowed to contact his daughter in any way do we realize just how estranged Kyle is from his family. There are little moments between Megan and Allison which hint at some deeper history behind the forced separation of Kyle from his wife and daughter, but the show doesn’t appear to be ready to reveal all of that yet. But if all the flashbacks in tonight’s episode create a horrible tapestry of abuse and hurt in Kyle’s past, the present exchanges between Allison, Megan, and Kyle show the seeds of a family in slow repair.
It feels like Outcast, unlike The Walking Dead, is genuinely interested in healing and saving its characters from the brink. Some of this unfortunately means that the show tries a little too hard to save Kyle’s face for the viewers, but it leads for some genuinely touching moments in a show almost suffocated with darkness.
Those themes probably explain the episode’s climax, a scene in which Kyle takes his mom out of the hospital and back to their old home. Kyle’s clumsy attempts at taking care of his mother quickly escalate the stakes, and the episode becomes tense. Kyle’s clearly not able to handle the care for a vegetative woman. Luckily, Reverend Anderson is his mother’s emergency contact at the hospital. Outraged by Kyle’s seemingly ignorant disregard for his mother’s help, Anderson is about to call the paramedics, but not before Kyle’s true reason for bringing his mother back is revealed.
What happens next is great evidence for Outcast being a family drama at the heart of all its paranormal demon rigamarole. When Kyle and Anderson try to exorcise his mother one more time in the hopes of bringing her out of the coma, the episode truly shines. It incorporates the exorcism stuff, sure, but the real friction occurs in the service of repairing long-broken family ties, and that’s what separates Outcast from so many hollow-feeling current exorcism stories.
All the family stuff, as enthralling as it was, sort of detracted from the war against evil, which Anderson spoke of earlier in the episode. Luckily, the last couple minutes both conclude the backstory of Kyle and his mother and set up the much larger conflict within Rome Even though some of the family stuff has already wound down during episode 2, the action in Outcast looks like its only beginning to surge.