Tuesday, 22 February 2011


Tuesday, 22 February 2011

It's the snail's pace that keeps killing my enthusiasm. I liked the idea behind this lyrical fifth episode, but because it boiled down to a long trek through an empty wilderness with three characters (two of whom you don't really care about) you felt every second of the hour passing. It doesn't help that the alien world of Carpathia is, for reasons of premise and budget, a beautiful but unexciting place of unending vistas, with the occasional binary moon. This journey at the heart of this episode needed bigger incidents to keep things fresh and tighten the trio's dynamic as they struggled through obstacles, but not enough really happened in that respect.

This week, a bearded Scottish stranger calling himself Pak (Gary Lewis) arrived at Forthaven with a pouch full of glistening diamonds, getting himself into a bar brawl with Jack (Ashley Waters) and some locals before disappearing, chased by PAS officers Fleur (Amy Mason) and Cass (Daniel Mays). It soon became clear that the unkempt outsider is one Patrick Baxter, the first person to step foot on Carpathia; an expeditionary man presumed dead but who's actually been living for 11 years at the coast, which Forthavenites avoid because they've been told the ocean is dangerously radioactive. After hearing about their community's visitor, Stella (Hermione Norris) decided to track Fleur and Cass across the wilderness with the help of Jack, believing the ocean holds the key to explaining the discovery of hominid skeletal remains on Carpathia.

At one point Jack suggests to Stella "you need to think less; that'll make life easier", and that's good advice for the viewers at home. There are just so many questions Outcasts throws up every week. Individually they're minor quibbles, but collectively they punch holes through the show's reality. How did Pak just wander into Forthaven's open gate? Aren't they protecting their perimeter from possible AC attacks these days? Why does anyone care about diamonds, if they can't be used or exchanged as currency on Carpathia? Why does nobody recognize Patrick Baxter, who's obviously a very famous figure in human history? Why were Stella and Jack so unimpressed when they found the beach that turned Cass and Fleur into excited kids? Are Cass and Fleur the only PAS officers in Forthaven? Why did Pak opt to stay away from Forthaven for 11 years after he landed? Why would people believe the oceans are radioactive? As it's not true, who told them they were? Was Stella expecting to find unearthed skeletons at the beach? Admittedly, there may be answers to some of these questions, and a few may even be intentional clues towards something Outcasts has up its sleeve for the finale, but in the moment some of these head-scratchers can be very irritating.

To be positive, the focus on two connected storylines avoided the rambling that seeped into earlier episodes, and Gary Lewis was excellent as the archetypal wise old man trying to broaden two people's horizons -- literally and figuratively. He brought a great deal of interest to a fairly sketchy character. The fact Pak was dying and on something of a reverse pilgrimage also gave the episode some heft and, later, some emotional spark. The fact Pak has been "hallucinating" his dead golden retriever also subtly developed the storyline with Tate (Liam Cunningham) seeing visions of his dead children. It seems likely the planet is somehow capable of generating these illusions, giving it a similarly mystical vibe to the Island on Lost. Or is it more Solaris? I'm not sure if Outcasts was created with an eye on Lost and Battlestar Galactica, but it certainly resembles a loose fusion of those two shows in some areas. If Pak's dog had been called Vincent, it would be case closed.

Still, Outcasts has delivered decent cliffhangers that keep me coming back, and this episode's felt particularly game-changing, as we saw Julius Berger (Erica Mabius) open a communication device in his quarters and make contact with transport ship CT10, with a warning that Tate's losing control of the mission. I guess it's not totally shocking to realize there's another batch of emigrants on the way to Carpathia (these transport ships probably leave Earth at a regular evacuation pace), but Berger's words could be construed as meaning he knows Tate has a specific "mission" beyond leading these people. Or is he just trying to subvert people's faith in Tate so he can assume control? Why is his codename "Alchemist"?

Overall, episode 5 was pretty good, although it's beginning to feel that Outcasts is skilled at making you ask questions, and not much else. And are we asking questions out of desperation to find form and reason to the show? How many of these questions did the writers intend us to be asking every week, and how many are just shrewd viewers noticing gaping plot-holes? I just hope Outcasts has a satisfying answer for the core mysteries in play (the skeletons, the fossils, Tate's hallucinations, Berger's plan), and the majority is answered by episode 8. I think it's safe to assume Outcasts won't be renewed for a second series by the BBC, so will it leave us with a maddening cliffhanger? That does seem likely, to me, as there's a lot to cover in three episodes if they intended a largely self-contained miniseries.


  • In case you didn't hear, in the face of bad ratings the BBC are pulling Outcasts from its 9pm Monday night timeslot. It will now air on Sundays at 10.25pm for the remaining three weeks.
  • Pak told a story of an AC called "Tigger99" who was actually the first person sent down to Carpathia, back when they weren't sure if the environment could sustain life. Tigger was a character in the Winnie The Pooh books by A.A Milne. He was also a tiger, which is the animal Mitchell's son was obsessed with in episode 1. Coincidence? Or is this a clue to something..?
  • Does anyone else think Outcasts would work a lot better if Forthaven had been around for 30-50 years instead of a mere 10? It would have been much better if Baxter had landed on Carpathia as a young man, and was now aged. The decadal gap appears to have been decided on because they want to show the growing pains of a community, but I still think it would be better if Forthaven had been around a great deal longer. I think the planet needs some human history behind it, beyond the AC situation: like other aborted communities, splinter groups, nomads, mineral mines, a prison, stuff like that.
  • What was on the stone Stella found on the beach, that she described as "a time machine"? An etched drawing of something? A fossil?
written by Ben Richards & Jimmy Gardner / directed by Andy Goddard / 21 February 2011 / BBC1/HD