Do you like Justified, Game of Thrones, Shakespeare and the Appalachians?
Boy, do I have a show for you.
Returning next week for its second season, on paper, Outsiders from WGN shouldn’t really work, but it does.
Following the trials and tribulations of a clan of Mountain People as they class with the small town and mining companies taking over their mountain, Outsiders weaves real wold grit and struggles with Shakespearean plotting and naturally a healthy dose of sex, violence and gunplay.
Ostensible lead character, Asa Farell is one of the Shay Mountain Farell clan, an isolated group of Appalachian peoples who shun outside contact, modern technology, money and even reading, as unnecessary and irrelevant to their way of life. They live off the land and the mountain and nothing else, and they take great pride in their independence. Asa broke their cardinal rule a decade before the events of the show, running away to join the Down Town world and to find … something. Himself … the answers to life … we don’t yet know.
Too much of a Farrell to accept the ugliness of the world below, but too world travelled to be entirely welcomed back home, Asa is an outcast from everything. And, he knows.
In the shows opening moments we meet a tearful, suicidal Asa, portrayed with vibrating intensity by The Crazies’ Joe Anderson, with a gun to his head and death in his eyes. His only reason for hesitating in taking his own life is the sudden and inexplicable appearance of a pack of wolves (in the hills of what looks like L.A.), whose baleful stare stays his hand and, it would seem, prompts his homeward journey.
Some six months later we find Asa back home on the mountain, still an outcast and facing further rejection after completing a customary period of imprisonment in an outdoor cage at the bidding of his family and clan.
On any other day, he would finish up his time and be sent back out into the world. But this, for the Farrells, is not to be any other day.
The clan leader, Lady Ray (Phyllis Somerville), known formally as the Bren’in, is old and ailing and intends to pass her mantle on to her eldest son Big Foster (David Morse). Big Foster is, as you would expect, a big dumb asshole with mommy issues for days and an inadequacy complex to rival the current POTUS. There’s some talk of a prophecy and demonic influences on the Clan’s business should the wrong leader be chosen, but the long and short is, Big Foster, after all his waiting, may not get his wish to be The Leader at long last.
You see, down in the world, in the small town of Blackburg that sits at the base of Shay Mountain, a new and ruthless coal mining company has bought the mountain and intends to remove the Farrell clan at any cost. Despite warnings by low key, drug addicted Deputy Sheriff Wade (Top of the Lake’s Thomas M. Wright), who believes truly and deeply in the rumoured ‘powers’ the clan possess, the company wants ‘their’ mountain cleared so they can blow the top off the thing and scoop out all that delicious coal goodness from the inside.
This is where Asa comes in. While his time away is a mystery, he got himself a learnin’! He can read, write, understand money, computers, and the modern world of the people below. Right as the clan needs someone to go between them and the townsfolk, Asa has come home to save the day.
And, thinking it will win him a full place back in his clan, save the day he intends to do. At any cost.
The first season follows not only Asa’s attempts to save his people, but to worm his way back into their hearts.
Most ready to reject him are of course, Big Foster, who views him as a potential candidate for Bren’in and thus a threat, is number one. Bren’in is traditionally an inherited position, from you parent or lover, regardless of your gender, but at the discretion of Clan elders and current Bren’in, the post can be awarded to anyone viewed to have the best interests of the clan at heart.
Which brings us to G’win and Little Fos (Gillian Alexy and Ryan Hurst). G’win is Asa’s former lover, the girl he left behind when he ran off to find himself. Frighteningly smart, ruthless and utterly fearless, G’win recognises not only Asa’s value to the clan, but the danger he presents to their quiet, peaceful way of life, even as he tries to save it. G’win is just as calculating and scheming as anyone, quietly questing to be named Bren’in anyway she can.
Lil Foster Farrell, G’wins fiancé — of sorts — and Big Fos’ eldest son, has his own history with and reason to distrust Asa, but to say more would be to ruin it.
Lil Foster’s motivations are, perhaps, amongst the most pure. He wants to protect his family, his people and his way of life.
Rounding out the cast are Haylie, the utterly terrifying corporate ghoul tasked with chasing out the Farrells by any means necessary, and Hasil Farrell (Kyle Gallner), a cousin to Asa, and his new discovered love interest, Sally-Ann (Christina Jackson), a black resident of the little town down the mountain, trapped in a shitty situation with her abusive, Farrell (and arguably just ‘any white dude’) hating older brother.
While Hasil accidentally offends her with his genuine obliviousness to offensive language, when she realises how truly innocent and clueless he is, the show sparks one of the sweetest romances on TV today.
I won’t say too much more because the series is such a blast to watch, and there is so much to experience just watching it first hand. Every character has a rich, developed personality and everyone has their own motivations for their behaviours that fit their experiences, make sense in the context of their situation. And you guys know, if they let me down there, I would be harping about it.
If you can catch up, do so. If you’ve already seen it, I welcome some conversation in the comments. It would be nice to be able to discuss Asa, possible actual psychopath who, mild spoilers, puts acid in a man’s water supply to scare him off the project. Or, the mystery of Deputy Wade’s wife. Did she kill herself? Is she up on the mountain or out in the world somewhere?
If you loved Justified, you will adore Outsiders. It feel like it exists in the same world as Raylan and Boyd, though there are some very subtle suggestions of faint supernatural element to the mountain folks practices, a hint that there is more to the Farrells’ nature loving ways than a yearning for freedom from The State.
With recent political shifts, watching Big Foster’s scheming for power, and the Coal miners scheming for the land, while the poorest folk, caught in the middle, just try to stay alive, the show feels far more relevant now than it did even one year ago.
Season 2 starts on January 24th and the recaps will follow soon after.
Ged Ged Yah