In an early scene in HBO’s underrated horror series The Outsider, the would-be hero cop Ralph Anderson announces that he has no tolerance for the unexplainable. “Well then, sir,” Holly Gibney replies, looking ominously at the detectives through her eyelashes, “you’ll have no tolerance for me.”
Holly (Cynthia Erivo) appears in several Stephen King novels, including 2018’s The Outsider, Mr. Mercedes, and its sequels. (She also has a short story of her own, titled “If It Bleeds.”) She’s always an uncomfortable figure to the normies in King’s universe, and she interprets the nature of whatever Kingsian monster is hunting them down. When she’s played by Erivo on The Outsider, though, Holly is at her most compelling. It seems like an obvious and fruitful move to give this Holly her own TV series, one that could follow her through all the as-yet-unadapted King books (with some familiar baddies sprinkled in for fan service).
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Why is Holly such a sure bet? In The Outsider, it takes Holly, Ralph (Ben Mendelsohn), and an entire team of locals twelve episodes to take down their monster, but it’s very quickly clear that Holly’s abilities extend beyond just this one ghoul. She feels a certain kinship with it, alluding to King’s wider mythology when she says, “an outsider knows an outsider.” It’s very rare in King’s universe to follow a human character who’s drawn to both good and evil because she knows what’s at the root of both.
The doctors in Holly’s life have diagnosed her with obsessive-compulsive disorder and a sensory processing disorder. Canonically, she’s on the Autism spectrum, but King uses all these real-world symptoms to poke around at what’s really going on. In fact, she’s got the power thing Danny Torrance has got, only she doesn’t know to call it the Shining.
To give a gifted character like Holly a story of her own, and to place Erivo in the role, complicates these monster stories in a way that few King adaptations have done before. She’s part hero, given that she’s on the side of the humans in both The Outsider and Mr. Mercedes, but she’s also part monster. She has trouble communicating with both sides of King’s paranormal war, and humans never trust her at first.
On the good side of the conflict, King likes to cast his everyman heroes, often writers or cops looking for some inspiration. Holly is different: she’s a surprisingly young Black woman with an otherworldly affect and an intellect that far surpasses other characters in King’s oeuvre. Plus, it’s just plain fun to watch people react to her. “When it comes to women onscreen, and specifically Black women, I’ve never seen anyone like [Holly],” Eviro said in an interview this year. The actress researched communication patterns used by people on the spectrum, and purposefully did not read King’s books or watch Mr. Mercedes so Holly would remain a creation of her own. And it shows.
On The Outsider, Erivo is gifted with some killer dialogue, which she delivers in a memorable and almost otherworldly deadpan. Her movements are prim and verge on robotic, but her eyes are always alive with either dread or wonder. After all, she’s the only human onscreen who understands the stakes. “When the facts before you are so filled with uncanny coincidences,” she tells Ralph and the other skeptics, “then perhaps the first step to seeing things clearly is not to find a way to dismiss those facts, but to expand your sense of what reality might entail.” The men listening to her just groan; they haven’t seen the monster yet and they’re still holding out hope that a human being is killing people in their quiet town. It’s moments like these where one can see Holly navigating King’s world without the help of a skeptical everyman character. She knows how to approach a confounding horror like the Outsider or Pennywise or even Christine because she accepts things as they are. Even when they’re straight-up insane.
It’s pretty easy to imagine Cynthia Erivo’s Holly leading a King series of her own by taking the Mad Max approach and pairing her with a new dynamic co-star in each episode (or each multi-episode narrative arc, anime-style). In a way, she is Fox Mulder and Dana Scully combined, with both a clinical taste for logic and a deep fascination with the powerful forces at work in King’s world.
The ongoing tension in a Holly solo series would feel a lot like following a Star Wars padawan through their training as they wrestle with being drawn to the dark side. Holly doesn’t know it, but she’s animated by a celestial force King calls High Order, which is a twin entity with the evil that powers his creatures, aka High Random.
A Holly show could explore more of what Hulu’s Castle Rock attempted to do somewhat unsuccessfully. A modern King show could subvert certain expectations by centering each monster-of-the-week story around Erivo, and preserve a lot of what fans like to see in King’s works: gangs of wayward kids, gruesome monsters, and vintage-looking Americana set pieces.
She could be the face of a new era in horror TV.