Wednesday, 16 February 2011


Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Largely freed of the need to "world-build" and introduce characters, episode 4 was markedly the best hour of Outcasts yet. It was able to tell a simple story without too many dull subplots, because the groundwork's been laid and everything established. This episode, written by Jack Lothian, was still a little sluggish in places, but I blame the hour-long runtime BBC drama's expected to fill. Most TV writers seem to have a natural rhythm for a commercial 40-minutes, as every episode of Outcasts would be improved by removing a third.

In this installment, a burly "AC" called Elijah (Nonso Anozie) collapsed on the perimeter of Forthaven, where he was taken into custody by Cass (Daniel Mays) and Fleur (Amy Mason). Tate (Liam Cunningham) was quietly grateful the defection of Elijah from his people means they now have an adult AC for testing, to aide their research in determining why the supposedly infertile AC's have been able to procreate in the wild. However, after the mentally-unstable Elijah broke free and accidentally killed a cleaner (shades of Frankenstein, no?), Tate ordered Cass and Fleur to recapture him before Forthaven's population realize there's an errant AC in their midst. Unfortunately, Lily (Jeanne Kietzmann) is feeding community radio DJ Tipper (Michael Legge) intel straight from her mother Stella (Hermione Norris).

As I said, the simplicity of this episode's story was key, as it was much easier to focus on the story and simply enjoy the flourishes around it. In particular, flashbacks via Elijah's suppressed memories revealed that Tate was aware nasty experimentation was being performed on the AC's before they were so cruelly sent to their intended deaths. A big part of Outcasts is the ambiguity over who the villains are on the show (Tate's regime or the feral AC's), and with every passing episode it seems that Tate's who we should actually be condemning. Of course, nothing's black-and-white, and the show benefits from asking us to question Tate's morals. He may have been wrong about the AC's being the carriers of the deadly C23 disease, but the virus did vanish the moment they were packed off to be killed by Mitchell. Coincidence?

Divisions are also forming within Forthaven. Obviously there's the ideologically opposed views of secular Tate and religious Berger (Eric Mabius), but it's becoming clearer that Fleur's siding with the plight of the AC's, jobsworth Cass has decided to stay loyal to Tate, and Jack (Ashley Walters) is revealed to have been secretly allied with Berger, who is promising regime change. I'm not sure what Berger's opinion of the AC's is, which will hopefully become clearer in the episodes to come. As cloned humans, are they part of the Universal Spirit he follows, or unholy aberrations he'd want to annihilate?

Episode 4 was also more blatant with the weirdness surrounding Tate, regarding the hallucinations he's been having of his two dead sons. There were two creepy sequences here: incorporeal laughter in Tate's bedroom, a child's hand print on a kitchen worktop, and the final scene with Tate outside Forthaven's gates actually watching the ghosts of his children play. It still seems likely Tate's going crazy (his final words "just don't leave me yet" could refer to his kids, but perhaps also his sanity?), although there remains the possibility something supernatural is going on. Carpathia's an alien world, so who knows what affect the environment is having on the human mind. Or are Tate's reverie's related to overuse of Stella's Deep Brain Visualization machine, which seem to provoke highly-detailed memories in subjects?

I was also pleased to see this episode gave us a broader view of Forthaven, particularly when Elijah was being pursued across the town's rooftops. The use of CGI to expand the world worked nicely, together with more original sets, and for once it felt like the scale of the place was more tangible. We even had a nice throwaway comment from Cass about pioneer Patrick Baxter, the first man to set foot on Carpathia, whose shuttle is now part of Forthaven's architecture. It's superficial detailing some would argue, but you kind of need that stuff to sell the reality.

Overall, this was a decent episode of a series that, you have to admit, is getting incrementally better every episode. I was particularly taken with Jack's discovery of a fossilized human jawbone in the ground outside Forthaven as his team were laying water pipes. Human have been on Carpathia thouands of years before? How can that be? To be honest, there are similarities here to Battlestar Galactica, if the answer ends up being that humanity started on Carpathia and we actually left to colonize Earth millennia ago, but maybe there's another explanation. Either way, Outcasts suddenly got interesting and I find myself slightly anticipating the fifth episode.

What did you make of this episode? A turning point? Proof the show just needed time to find its feet? Or is this still a smorgasbord of ideas stolen from other shows, in your opinion?


  • After next Monday's episode, the BBC have announced they're moving Outcasts to a new timeslot for its remaining three episodes: Sunday, 10.35pm. This comes after episode 4 only attracted 2.6m viewers (down from the 4.4m who watched episode 1), although it was facing a particularly competitive evening with ITV1's coverage of The Brits and Channel 4's wildly popular Big Fat Gypsy Weddings.
  • It just occurred to me: where are the female AC's? If they've produced a baby, surely there must be women. But I can't recall seeing any in Rudi's team! Is that an important clue about something? Is the baby not of AC origin?
  • There are cleaners employed at Forthaven? Obviously this is an important job that needs doing, but you have to wonder how humble cleaners managed to get one of the precious tickets to Carpathia! Or are the cleaners actually Nobel prize winners and quantum physicists on some kind of agreed rota?
  • I liked the comment from Tate that every time planted seeds fail to germinate on Carpathia, they're losing entire species of plant life. A clever reminder of how precious everyday things are on this world.
written by Jack Lothian / directed by Omar Madha / 15 February 2011 / BBC1/HD