Outcasts S1 E2 – outlook improves

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I was, let’s be honest, not entirely complimentary about the BBC’s new science fiction drama series Outcasts after seeing the first episode on Monday, which seemed confusing, laden with unintelligible exposition, and poorly written, directed and played by almost all concerned.

Well, what a different 24 hours makes, because episode 2 started to get all those things right where episode 1 had got them so badly wrong.

There was, for example, much less world-building exposition, and what there was came in naturally as part of realistic discussions and situations. It didn’t feel the need to tell us the entire backstory in one infodump, but just what the characters needed to say for their own development in that scene and to move forward the immediate story. The story was also much stronger, being essentially an A-plot hostage crisis, and a B-plot introducing bad guy Julian Berger (Eric Mabius, whose American leading man looks and charm are too perfect for a British -produced series and therefore make him the perfect sinister presence for the show as their equivalent of Battlestar Galactica‘s Gaius Baltar) – all of which keeps it simple and allows the characters to register and start to grow.

In hindsight, I now realise that the biggest problem with episode 1 is that it was trying to pack too much in: establish the series, ram in the backstory, have a crisis with a freighter in trouble, and a character we don’t know apparently going psycho and killing other characters we don’t know for reasons that are screamed but not explained. No wonder that first episode left everyone confused and alienated. Ironically the series woud have been better to boil down the events of episode 1 to a five minute slam-bang FX teaser and then refer to the rest of it as backstory as needed. It would have made for a stronger opener if they had: how much more effective would “Mitchell” have been if both he and his death had been a budding myth, referred to but never seen for sure.

The show continues to plant some nice seeds for the future (a mystery virus; the moving child’s drawing on the President’s desk) but surprisingly it also throws away potential plots far too fast: the whole story of the true outcasts on Carpathia was thrown away in a few lines of exposition when a US drama series would have been able to milk the mystery for a good half a season, to great effect. Secrets won too easily are simply not valued so highly. The series could do with a little more subtlety and patience at times rather than making major plotlines so damned obvious: the Deep Brain Visualiser is threatened so often that it’s like the old axiom of “if you show a gun in Act 1, someone has to get shot in Act 3.”

Anyway, episode 2 certainly did enough to convert my “watch first two episodes out of duty” into a series pick-up, just to see where it goes. If nothing else then the South African locations are simply breathtakingly gorgeous; as are the opening credits, which is one of the most beautiful title sequences I’ve seen in a while.

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