This Sunday at 9:00, HBO will be airing the finale of its sleeper hit, The Outsider.
If you haven't seen the first nine episodes, you must love spoilers, because we're about to dive into the whole mess. Last week's installment, "Tigers and Bears," ended with a terrifying cliffhanger as the secondary antagonist and El Cuco's mind-slave, Jack Hoskins, opened fire on our collected heroes with a sniper rifle. It was previously established that Jack was a talented sharpshooter in his military days—only held back in that career by his psychological instability—and we were first introduced to him while he was hunting a wild boar. There's no doubt that he will hit his target if he really wants to, but we've also seen Jack struggling against the control of the predatory being that has taken hold of him, so the outcome remains to be seen.
The finale, entitled "Can't/Must"—a reference to the tattoo on Claude Bolton's knuckles, commemorating his struggle with addiction—is certain to contain a great deal of tragedy, violence, and drama, but the worldview of The Outsider is actually surprisingly reassuring. Let's review what we've learned so far:
Evil doesn't exist.
As Detective Ralph Anderson discussed in that emergency session with his therapist, there are a lot of ways that people can be broken—bad parenting, bad genes, bad brain chemistry—to make them do horrible things. But none of those issues make them evil. Even a creature that feeds on grief and murder is only driven by its will to survive. El Cuco, from that perspective, is not evil; it's broken, and killing it will not only save any number of families, it will release the creature from a miserable, broken existence in which it's always on the run, living on the edges of our society—always hungry, hated, and feared.
Not only is the monster in this world something other than evil, its existence means that any number of the worst criminals on Earth are innocent victims in their own story. As Jack noted in his conversation with Holly Gibney, there's a hell of a lot that we don't know about this creature. How long has it been killing? Decades? Centuries? Every 27 days it strikes. Are there others like it: a hidden species living beside humanity, feeding on us? How many murders have been pinned on innocent people? How much kinder might the world seem if we could erase the crimes of these creatures from our record as a species? While people in The Outsider do awful things to one another, those awful things almost always come in the form of revenge in the wake of El Cuco. If Ralph and Holly and the rest manage to defeat this creature, they will be making the world a decidedly better place. But can they?
El Cuco is powerful but vulnerable.
Yes...they probably can. The 27-day cycle definitely suggests that El Cuco—the grief eater, tear drinker, the Fetch, the doppelganger—has to feed to live. It has a lot of tools at its disposal to protect itself, and it's not clear if there's any other way to kill it, but it's clearly afraid of Ralph and Holly pursuing it, so if they find some way to contain it then starvation is at least an option. But what will they have to overcome to do so? The most obvious tool El Cuco has is shape-shifting. It can take on the form of any man or woman that it scratches and use that form to do unspeakable things and to trick even people who know that person well. However, there is always something slightly off about the imitation, and since all the protagonists know that Claude has been scratched, there is limited value in taking on his form.
El Cuco's more powerful weapons are psychological. Physically, as the shape-shifting wears off, the creature becomes weaker, but it can still use its almost hypnotic powers—projecting itself into a dream-like experience (that somehow leaves a residue, even though El Cuco isn't there/is weightless?). While in that hypnotic state, El Cuco can take on the form of loved ones, and characters have proven helpless to fight back, even if they are prepared—as Tamika Collins was with her gun. It can also get in the heads of both the person it scratched and the slave that it controls through the back of the neck and some connection to the pain center of the brain. That power makes Claude a liability and Jack a serious threat. But Jack wants to die—it's his only escape. So if the other characters are able to overcome him, what then?
Will El Cuco be able to take a new slave? Will they be able to kill it by physical means? It has recently fed on meat as it took on Claude's form, but if its time as Terry Maitland is anything to go by, it will quickly begin to deteriorate, and will need grief to feed on. If it doesn't kill a child, will it be able to survive? There are few clues about other possible weaknesses (there was a plastic lamp from Jack that it rejected), but starvation definitely seems like an option. Whatever the case, the heroes are not without a few tricks of their own...
There is other magic in the world.
Holly is the most obvious example. Her powers seem to be purely mental, but they could confer a huge advantage. She knows things that she has no way of knowing—the height of buildings, the lyrics of songs she's never heard. When in the presence of El Cuco that unexplainable knowledge could be the key to everything. She also puts a lot of stock in faith. Her belief in God and the unknowable may turn out to be essential in the finale—or perhaps she will need to inspire Ralph to discover some faith of his own.
Whatever else happens, if the optimism of The Outsider's world holds true, there will be something like a happy ending—justice for the Maitland's? Closure for the Andersons? Love for Holly and Andy?—even if there's a lot of gore and darkness along the way.