14 January 2020 22:34
The Outsider, a new HBO series based on a Stephen King bestseller, starts like pretty much every other murder mystery in existence. The opening scene could've been lifted from any number of episodes of CSI: a man is walking his dog in a park, past a creepy white van with blood on the door. But from the opening moments of The Outsider, Detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) knows who perpetrated the crime… or at least he thinks he does. The first episode bounces back and forth in time from the discovery of Frankie Peterson's body to the arrest of the main suspect in his murder, Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman), the local little league coach. Terry was spotted picking Frankie up in a white van; later, a kid saw him at the park, covered in blood.
And Ralph does it in high style, cuffing Terry in the middle of a big game, in front of a crowd of 300 people, including his wife and kids. "You just ruined our lives," Terry tells Ralph, as the cop car pulls away. The cops have Terry on video all over his hometown of Cherokee Creek, Georgia, the night of the murder. It's what ultimately makes The Outsider so effective and creepy, like the best of Stephen King's horror ouvre. Spoiler alert: Terry doesn't even feature into the series after its second episode.
But even though Bateman is pitch perfect in the role (pun intended), the story doesn't need him after his character kicks off its tragic events. Though she's prominently featured in the series trailer, her character doesn't appear in the first two episodes of The Outsider. (Screenwriters reportedly condensed the plot of the first half of King's novel in order to introduce her character, Holly Gibney, a little sooner.) Erivo plays an investigator willing to embrace a supernatural explanation for what's going on. (I haven't read King's novel, for what it's worth.) By getting all the predictable crime tropes out of the way, fooling us into thinking we know the answer then making it clear pretty quickly that nobody knows shit, The Outsider set itself up with a lot of narrative freedom. Spoiler warning: the following story contains spoilers for both the novel and series The Outsider. The first two episodes of HBO's The Outsider debuted on Sunday night, and the series is already off to a thrilling start with a number of twists and turns setting the grim mystery into motion. Based on Stephen King's book of the same name, the series mostly keeps the story and characters on a similar track as the book, but there are always going to be key differences between a 10-episode series and the 500-page book on which it's based. Some minor changes are made in other settings, too: the little league game where Terry is arrested, for instance, takes place in front of more than 1,500 people in the book, but in the show the crowd is only referred to as 100. Detective Ralph Anderson The hero of the story, Detective Ralph Anderson, has a significantly different physical appearance in the book than what's on screen. The show also depicts the Andersons' son, Derek, as having passed away from cancer; in King's book, Derek is merely away at summer camp. This makes Ralph's mindset toward Terry—knowing that Terry, someone he trusted, could be extremely dangerous toward his son who's no longer around—that much more intense. This one in part comes just by sheer difference of mediums; where King has an unlimited amount of pages to set the scene and describe everything at Terry's arraignment (the chapter comes from Ralph's perspective, so we see and think everything that he sees and thinks), the show has the unenviable task of adapting this into a quick scene that lasts a minute, if that. First, the book has a whole conundrum about whether or not Terry should have worn a bulletproof vest on his way into the courthouse. But the more interesting difference within the story comes with the actual circumstance of Terry's death. As Ralph observes the wound, he jumps into action and offers Terry the chance to confess. You are going to die," Ralph tells a bleeding-out Terry in the book. Eventually, he gives Terry the chance to confess, to clear his conscience; with Marcy right by his side, he denies it one final time before dying. It's a creepy character that looks positively unhuman, and as anyone would guess, would almost certainly be a key part of what's happening. And you're probably right—but this figure doesn't show up until much later in the book. The difference here—and probably a good idea—is to let audiences know basically right off the bat: this isn't a regular detective mystery like True Detective or Sharp Objects; there are other forces at play. Most major character names—like Detective Ralph Anderson and Terry Maitland—are the same in both the book and the series. However, Terry's wife's name is 'Marcy' in the book, and it's been changed to Glory in the series. Throughout the first two episodes, there are a number of other minor differences, which include: Arlene Peterson, mother of Frankie and Ollie and wife of Fred, is described in the book as being massively overweight and at major health risk. When Ollie opens up shooting at Terry, he's described from Ralph's vantage point as hiding under a newscap with a red bag over his shoulder. When Ralph and his co-workers are reviewing footage of Terry at the train station, one notes when zooming in that it appears that he's giving the security camera 'the finger.' This is another piece of added foreshadowing, and is not in the book. When Jack Hoskins is introduced in the book, he's sent to the crime scene that the show depicts at the end of the second episode. The teacher conference that Terry attends in the show is about Censorship; in the book, he and his fellow teachers are going to hear Harlan Coben (the real-life mystery author) give a speech and answer questions.