The first episode of “Outcasts” was pacey, tense and offered an intriguing look and humans trying to colonise another world, setting a very high bar for the second episode to hurdle. The question is, did it make the leap? Unfortunately, no, despite introducing a couple of intriguing new elements, problems from the first episode plague this one and some of the better elements are lacking. It’s not a huge dip in quality, but enough to be disappointing.
The plot of the episode follows directly on from the previous installment: shuttles from the doomed transport ship are crashing on Carpathia, and now the Forthavenites know for sure that people of some kind are living beyond their walls. These two threads clash spectacularly when these outsiders kidnap a young woman from one of the shuttles and threaten to kill her unless the people of Forthaven help them to save a sick baby. At the same time, one of the new arrivals on Carpathia is Julius Berger, a dark and charismatic individual who quickly winds up at odds with Stella over the fate of a girl whose mother died on the transport ship.
Mystery and intrigue is looking to be the bread and butter of “Outcasts”, as every scene makes an effort to throw a bit of light on something hidden or a bit of darkness on what the audience thinks it knows about the characters. Answers don’t just lead to more questions, but just how accurate they are is thrown into doubt as well: for example, just as we think we know who’s been running around outside Forthaven, that answer is called into question by Rudy and like the characters, we’re left to wonder just how safe this brave new world really is. As a tactic for pulling the audience into the mindset of the characters, it works very well. The general air of tension, of expecting things to go wrong at any moment, keeps the episode compelling even during its weaker moments, and the occasional flurry of action helped things along as well.
My biggest complaint about the first episode was the lack of character development. The heroes and villains, so to speak, were only fleshed out enough to service the plot. While that’s forgivable in the very packed first episode of a science fiction series, it’s less forgivable in the second instalment where things have slowed down enough to prove that kind of opportunity. It seems as though there’s nothing to Richard Tate other than his persona as the stern but caring leader, nothing to Stella Isen but her motherly concerns, and in both cases this constant repetition of their one character trait starts to get on the nerves. Rudy and the rest of the ACs suffer more than anyone, as their characterisation is just so blank that it sucked any intensity out of the story as soon as they came on screen – which is very bad when they’re supposed to be the primary antagonists of the episode. And while some of this lack of character depth can be forgiven due to “Outcasts”‘ focus on mystery and intrigue – Cas in particular benefits from this, since how little we know about him is lampshaded and gives the audience the impression that they’ll find out his secrets at some point – it gives the impression that this series is a tightly-plotted drama about chess pieces rather than three-dimensional characters.
And unfortunately, as far as the series’ pacing goes, someone seems to have let the air out of the tires. Things seem to move much slower than in the first episode, leaving more downtime and navel gazing between each plot point: this might not have seemed so glaring if the characters doing all the gazing didn’t have such two-dimensional navels. The few strong character moments worked because they were quick and to the point: the exchange between Cas and Jack during and after their scuffle with the ACs did more to develop their relationship than the previous thirty minutes of conversation while tied to a log, and after watching a whole episode’s worth of Stella’s grief over her child, the most heartbreaking, sympathetic moment came quickly and decisively. If the series hopes to improve on its first episode rather than fall short, it needs to pick up its pace and realise that when your characters aren’t as fleshed out as the ought to be, it’s a mistake to hang half the episode on their quiet moments.
However, on the subject of characters, credit must be given where credit’s due: the introduction of Julius Berger across episode 2 saw him become the series’ most compellingly watchable character almost instantly. From the moment he walks into Forthaven, everything about the character screams “other”, from his very neat and well-groomed appearance, in contrast to those of other crash survivors and Carpathians, to his clear American accent in a show full of British voices. He walks through Forthaven with a calm and composure not seen by any other character, and just through the performance of actor Eric Mabius we understand how Julius commands as much respect and admiration as he does. And this is all before his story kicks off. Julius emerges from this episode as a much stronger antagonist than any of the ACs or the expeditionaries from these past two episodes, charismatic and dark and easily the most well-developed character of the series to date.
Again, Ben Richards decides to leave off the episode with some preaching about the kinds of science fiction themes that “Outcasts” evokes, and again he puts his soliloquies into the mouths of his characters, and again we’re reminded that despite weaknesses in the writing and development of these characters, the actors are all first-class. Liam Cunningham and Hermione Norris take what might’ve been a silly, overly preachy monologue about the value of human life and what protecting it is worth, and they make it compelling viewing. For the emerging faults of the series, Richards handle on the genre is one of the big saving graces.
Episode 2 of “Outcasts” is a let-down after the series’ strong opening, demonstrating how underdeveloped (most of) the characters are and how a fast pace is necessary to keep things interesting. But nonetheless, the continuing intrigue among the Carpathians, Julius Berger’s grand entrance and Ben Richard’s well-thought out take on science fiction still make for a very watchable and entertaining episode.