It's fair to say Monday night's premiere of sci-fi drama Outcasts was met with widespread disappointment, mixed reviews, and vitriol from the "online community" (Twitter's my barometer of choice). I wasn't very impressed either, but aware some shows don't arrive fully-formed and lofty expectations rarely help matters. I was pleased to find that episode 2 was a noticeable improvement; delivering more drama, answers and character moments than the first episode managed, while giving us a better sense of Carpathia's topography and Forthaven's society. It still has a long way to go, and suffered from a sense of dreariness at times, but it was an improvement that warranted the show some reconsideration.
Quite a few of the confusing elements of episode 1 came into sharp relief. In particular, it became clearer that President Tate (Liam Cunningham) executed the citizens he believed were carrying the deadly C23 virus years ago, out of desperation because the contagion was wiping out Forthaven's children, but the "infected" all escaped their fate because executioner Mitchell took pity on them. The AC's, as they're known, now live in the wilds of Carpathia, led by a man called Rudi (Langley Kirkwood), and are understandably upset that Forthaven's promise of a safe sanctuary became anything but, while wanting the removal of Tate from office.
Children seem to be key to Outcasts, not least because they're needed to ensure the survival of the human race on this alien world. The birthrate at Forthaven has dropped mysteriously, while the AC's beyond their walls have somehow managed to produce a baby. Stella (Hermione Norris) is also desperate to see her 18-year-old daughter Lily (Jeanne Kietzmann) after 15-years apart, who managed to escape the destroyed transport ship in a shuttle, only to be captured by Rudi's men and used as a bartering chip: Lily's safe return in exchange for the AC baby receiving lifesaving treatment at Forthaven.
Another survivor of the unfortunate transport ship arrived at Forthaven in the shape of Aisling (Laura Greenwood), a young woman convinced her mother was condemned to death because evacuation official Julius Berger (Eric Mabius) stole her seat on an escape shuttle. Berger's clearly the show's snake in the grass; an American who had a humanitarian role in getting everyone to Carpathia, but maybe hides a dark side to his personality. Beyond stealing a woman's shuttle seat (although he claims he was given it), it's revealed that Berger got briefly intimate with that woman's daughter Aisling, and seems to a have an odd fascination with kids. These might be interpreted at hints of latent pedophilia, which is what Stella seems to believe after she scanned Aisling's memory with her Deep Brain Visualization kit, but I'm more inclined to think Berger sees children as potential disciples of his. He seems to be a follower of what he calls The Universal Spirit, so I'm predicting he'll be setting himself up as this world's messiah: the man who helped mankind survive the end of the world, like Noah before him.
Episode 2 also partnered security officer Cass (Daniel Mays) with expeditionary man Jack (Ashley Walters), which worked better than seeing Cass mix with his female partner Fleur (Amy Mason) because they're very different people. The mismatched buddy vibe was more entertaining than expected, as Cass and Jack were taken hostage by Rudi's group, which strengthened the AC's demand to have Forthaven treat their sick baby.
It's still finding its feet, but Outcasts showed enough promise here to have me cautiously optimistic it'll keep going from strength to strength. I'm not sure if it's intentional or just an inevitable result of the premise, but so far it's a very obvious mix of Battlestar Galactica, Jericho and Lost. There's little that feels fresh and unique, but I'm hoping the story develops in some interesting ways. A few moments piqued my interest: like who killed the other survivors of the crashed shuttle? What caused that child's drawing to move by itself on Tate's desk? Tate mentioned "bipeds" rather than "AC's" at one point, so does this mean he knows there are indigenous people on Carpathia? Why was Cass so upset to get blood on his hands after escaping Rudi's men? Are some people on Carpathia rehabilitated killers? Does the "outcasts" of the title refer to the Forthavenites or the AC's? And I now recall the transport captain in episode 1 enquiring about whether or not Tate's voice was "human", so was that a clue towards there being cyborgs who look and sound human?
Overall, I wouldn't say episode 2 was a triumphant success, because it still feels like Outcasts has done a poor job making its premise and characters leap off the screen. The pace was brisker here, but there are still periods where you find yourself checking your watch (not helped by the common BBC problem of drama episodes having to last a full hour, when they'd be improved by a 45-minute runtime), and some of the show's broad ideas feel like reheated versions of things I've seen done better.
But still, there was promise here and the location shooting was quite beautiful in places. What did you think?
written by Ben Richards / directed by Bharat Nalluri / 8 February 2011 / BBC1/HD