Monday, 14 March 2011


Monday, 14 March 2011

It's the end of the road for this maligned sci-fi drama, and what a rocky journey it's been. The cruel thing is that this finale was Outcasts' most assured and confident hour, for a number of reasons: there was stronger use of Julius Berger (Eric Mabius), who finally embraced his villainy without pussyfooting around; a surprise development with Fleur (Amy Mason) discovering she's a unique breed of AC, created as part of an "Omega Project", which makes her a more interesting presence; a clearer threat posed by the alien "host force" as they attacked Forthaven with a new strain of a deadly virus; fun scenes of political maneuvering with Tate (Liam Cunningham) and Stella (Hermione Norris) trying to protect the presidency from the devious Berger's clutches; and the climactic arrival of another transport ship full of evacuees loyal to Berger, which throws a fresh angle onto the whole situation. A situation that will never be explored, as Outcasts vanishes into a black hole...

Some of episode 8's solid character development should have come earlier, as the things that intrigued me about Outcasts were rarely character-driven. Frightening whiteouts, alien doppelgangers, excavated skeletons – those all helped keep me watching, but very little about the characters themselves drew me back. If Fleur had proactively discovered she was an AC (rather than be told by people) a few weeks ago, perhaps after sensing she was different to everyone else, that would have been more interesting. If the story had revealed that Cass (Daniel Mays) was once a hitman for Mexican/Russian cartels around episode 5, that would have made me more anxious and interested whenever he interacted with people. But those moments, and others, arrived too late in the game.

Berger was introduced well in episode 2 (a harbinger of doom, descending from the skies), and I found his belief in a Universal Spirit and an undertone of pedophilia simmered away quite nicely for awhile, although I'd have like to have known more about what ordinary Forthavenites thought of him. Berger gathered a clique overnight, but the show didn't tackle the idea of Berger as a dangerous spiritual leader in a society that's perhaps become very secular. I mean, the people of Forthaven have experienced a literal end-of-the-world event, so wouldn't there be some incredibly juicy stories to tell about how people's view of a benevolent God has changed. Outcasts had a religious angle at its disposal. and a few storylines felt quite Biblical in nature, but it never seemed to outright tackle them.

Tate practically invited trouble by letting Berger have an official role at Forthaven and get away with making disruptive speeches to the populace. It was all too easy for Berger. Maybe Berger could have risen to prominence by rigging an official election, or blackmailing important people on the council to undermine Tate? If only to have given him something to do and achieve in the preceding episodes, other than whisper poison into dopey Jack's (Ashley Waters) ear and eventually lynch an AC.

Still, Eric Mabius improved in this finale; suddenly allowed to get serious in his quest to usurp Tate, manipulate Stella (his weakness), resume flirting with Stella's teenage daughter, continue brainwashing Jack, threaten Fleur (whom he assumedly believes doesn't have a soul?), and feed his orbiting comrades misinformation. It's just a shame he didn't feel very active in the show between his arrival and the finale, as it was good fun seeing him scramble for the presidency once Tate relinquished it to Jack, in a masterful move.

One thing I don't think worked with Outcasts was how episodes would introduce hitherto unseen characters, put them through an hour's drama, to never be seen again. Namely, the woman with her difficult pregnancy, the wife suffering domestic abuse, the mother replaced by an alien duplicate, and others. It would have worked better if these were people who had come to know, or who hung around in some capacity. The finale avoided that by putting Tipper's (Michael Legge) life in danger when he caught the alien virus, which was a wise move. We know enough about Tipper to feel some sympathy for his plight and, while I wasn't exactly desperate to see him survive, it helped the drama having a familiar face going through this life-and-death situation.

There was also far better opportunities for good character moments, which brought the best out of the cast. Daniel Mays was great in the scene where he admitted to Fleur he used to kill people (his story of a little boy clutching a rabbit was a highlight), Ashley Waters had something more interesting to play as he came to realize that Tate's preferable to Berger (despite their differing views on some issues), Hermione Norris looked more interested in the events playing out with the virus and Berger, and Amy Manson delivered good work as she realized she's a next gen AC, although the script had her character accept this fact rather too easily. There was a sense of things being rushed in the home run, which didn't help. This should really have been a two-part tale.

There was evidently misplaced confidence in this being a finale with a future, as it left so many plot-threads dangling. The abiding thought you'd left with is that Outcasts started to find some shape and confidence in its final episode, setting up a second series that might have hit the ground running now everything's been laid out. Fleur as an emissary of Forthaven, living in the AC society; Forthaven defending itself from the alien menace; people loyal to Berger arriving to remove Tate from office. The writers could have responded to the criticism and done something about the easily-fixed issues.

Overall, Outcasts wasn't a great show and clearly didn't click with audiences, but it improved steadily after its third episode and might have found its footing in a notional second series. I don't think there was one killer reason the show didn't work: it was felled by a thousand different paper cuts. Inflated audience expectations, sci-fi nerds huffing about the lack of tech porn, some weak characters, a premiere that didn't explain the concept enough so people could get a handle on it, and other concerns I've mentioned in the past. But it was also ambitious for a primetime BBC drama, the design and cinematography was very strong, its cliffhangers singlehandedly refueled your interest, Liam Cunningham raised the material with minimal effort, and some of its ideas (while a little shopworn in the genre) were developed nicely.

A flawed series that didn't succeed with the mainstream (as intended), but not quite the god-awful insult to science fiction many people were claiming in its early weeks. We can agree it knocks spots off The Deep, at any rate!

Now it's over, what did you think of Outcasts in general, and this finale in particular?


  • Why are the people aboard the CT10 transport ship so loyal to Berger and trust the reports he sends back to them about Tate's failure to lead? More importantly, why did they keep their presence a secret from Carpathia?
  • Transport ships are prefixed CT, just like viruses. What's that about? What does "CT" even stand for? "Carpathian transport" makes sense, but in the case of viruses? One day a transport ship's going to arrive with the same designation as a virus, so that'll be confusing!
written by Ben Richards / directed by Jamie Payne / 13 March 2011 / BBC One