The Quarantine Stream: 'The Outsider' Is A Supernatural Stephen King Mystery That Is Best When Binged

(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they've been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)The Movie: The OutsiderWhere You Can Stream It: HBO Go and HBO NowThe Pitch: HBO's miniseries adaptation of Stephen King's 2018 novel is a slow-burning chiller about an impossible crime with a seemingly impossible solution. It's brutal, cold, and moves at a pace that feels simultaneously like it's barreling out of control and crawling toward a slow and inevitable doom. In other words, it's not the feel-good experience of the year.Why It's Essential Viewing: The Outsider opens with a vicious child murder and only descends into darker places from there. Veteran detective Ralph Anderson (Ben Mendelsohn) arrests local educator and youth baseball coach Terry Maitland (Jason Bateman) for the crime based on airtight evidence. But it's quickly revealed that there exists equally airtight evidence that Terry is innocent. It's a familiar enough set-up for a crime thriller, but it quickly lays its real cards on the table – something supernatural is at work and you're not watching True Detective here. You're watching a Stephen King adaptation.

By the end of its second episode, The Outsider has zigged as hard as possible while setting you up for a zag and if you don't know anything else, we'll leave it at that. All I'll add is that the wonderful Cynthia Erivo soon joins the cast as Holly Gibney, a gifted investigator and a regular in King's recent novels and stories and that she starts to uncover something very sinister.

After the fireworks of its first two hours, the series begins to slow down. Rather than let a shocking event propel the plot into overdrive, it instead taps the brakes as everyone affected stands among the ruins and tries to make sense of it all. The Outsider is less of a procedural and more of an exploration of belief. How long does if take for you to believe in something impossible, even when there exists no credible solution whatsoever? Not many cop shows, supernatural or otherwise, allow their cast to wallow in the misery of an unsolved mystery quite like this.

Honestly, the pace change is what threw me off when I first started watching The Outsider week-t0-week when it debuted on HBO earlier this year. Unlike King's novel, which is a potboiler in the purest form, the adaptation is quiet, more contemplative, and more interested in sordid detail. It makes sweeping changes to the source material, often to allow strange detours that add texture instead of plot development. I stopped watching, not because it was bad, but because each episode taken alone was proving a bit maddening.

And while I still think the 10-episode series could have been cut down to eight episodes in the script phase, there's no denying that pacing issues become less of an issue when you binge the finished series. The show's intentional withholding becomes bearable when the next episode is right around the corner and you're allowed to better appreciate what it does so well, like the moody cinematography where virtually every frame suggests the characters are being watched or Mendelsohn's astonishing lead performance. When you can settle in for an entire evening session with The Outsider, you can better appreciate its pacing choices and its deliberate use of time and misdirection.

I'm still a big believer in event television, in programs that demand your attention once a week for 60 minutes. But there's nothing wrong with a show that plays better in a handful of sitting and The Outsider is a show best binged.