Within its first two episodes, Richard Price's The Outsider proved it's possible to make a good Stephen King adaptation that remains almost entirely faithful to the source material. By episode five, "Tear-Drinker," Price proves that it's also possible to improve upon that source material by slightly deviating from the narrative in ways that reign it all in a little closer to home. For instance: In King's book, the eponymous boogeyman enlists Jack to help construct his nesting place in a cave at the Marysville Hole – a state park/natural tourist attraction of sorts. In the series, that nesting place is relocated to a wooded area, with his previous grounds being the barn (where Terry's clothes were found covered in a weird semen-like goo) near Terry's grave. These are small changes, but they help retain the focus of the story while keeping King's sprawling tendencies in check.
The biggest developments this week involve parallel stories – Jack, who has become fully submissive to the Outsider's will and is now trying to weasel his way into Ralph's investigation, and a man who assisted the Outsider in Dayton, when he took on the appearance of the now-deceased orderly, Heath, and murdered the two little girls. Tracking the latter – and with the help of her handsome new friend – Holly makes an interesting discovery about the Outsider's preferred nesting grounds. Where would a "tear-drinker," or someone who feasts on grief, go to ground? Given this supernatural force's proclivity for wiping out entire families, he'd probably stick around nearby the cemeteries where said families are buried – hence the discovery of the barn. Meanwhile, the Outsider has visited Ralph's wife, Jeannie, and left her with a grave warning for her nosy husband. While Ralph believes it was only a bad dream, Yune shares a story from his family history that illustrates his eventual point: "Dreams are messages, bro."
Though Price's pacing might be a bit of a slow-burn for some, he's covering an impressive amount of narrative ground in these episodes and really luxuriating in the detective work. It's kind of amazing that I still feel this invested despite knowing where this is all headed and how it will end. It's not what a thing is about, but how it is about, and The Outsider – particularly in these past two episdes – is a real testament to that.
Another fascinating element that's given more time this week is how the Outsider infects and controls peripheral characters in these situations – like Jack, who's close enough to the investigation to allow the boogeyman to keep an eye on its progress (or lack thereof, as has seemingly been the case up until now) and remain within spitting distance of his tasty grief-snacks. This parasitic relationship is evocative of the Dracula/Renfield dynamic, but also of the behavior of certain types of wasps found in nature. Parasitoid wasps lay their eggs in the bodies of arthropods, like spiders and cockroaches, and when the eggs hatch they consume the host body. There are several different kinds of parasitoid wasps, but The Outsider makes me think of a couple in particular: The Costa Rican parasitoid wasp, which paralyzes the body of a particular spider and places its egg inside the spider's abdomen. When the egg hatches, the larva feeds on the spider's blood while the spider continues about its life, blissfully unaware of the Cronenbergian horror happening in its guts. When the larva is ready to become a pupa, it injects a hormone into the spider's blood, which causes it spin a web – but instead of building a web for itself, the spider builds a very specific web for the wasp pupa, which then kills the spider from the inside, sucks its body dry, and builds a little coccoon that hangs from the middle of the web.
There's also the emerald cockroach wasp or jewel wasp, which attacks a cockroach and injects it with paralytic venom, resulting in a cockroach that is essentially brainwashed – it can move, but it cannot decide to move on its own. The wasp gets to work absolutely owning this roach: It partially removes the roach's antennae and drinks it blood, lays an egg on the roach's body, and then attaches itself to the host and its hobbled antennae, where it can control the roach's movements. When the egg hatches, the wasp larva digs into the roach's abdomen and selectively consumes its insides with surgical precision – thus allowing the roach to continue "living" and moving around until the larva is ready to use the roach's body as a coccoon and transition to the next stage of its life. Meanwhile, the roach remains totally submissive; the venom from the wasp's initial sting attacks the brain's escape reflex and ensures that the roach will not attempt to fight back or run away.
The Outsider's version of this is made all the more disturbing by what happens to the host after the parasitic boogeyman is done with him – we see how this plays out with the man who helped the Outsider when he replicated Heath, and we assume something similarly tragic will befall Jack, though his general shittiness makes it more difficult to care about what happens to him when this is over.
How are you guys feeling about the series now that we're halfway in? Something worth noting and possibly discussing: HBO was very insistent that press refrain from referring to The Outsider as a "limited series" – the implication being, obviously, that the network would like to leave the door open for additional seasons (because of course). It seems to me that the likely course of action would be continuing the series in an anthologic nature, with Holly investigating new, potentially supernatural mysteries each season – sort of like The Sinner, with Holly as the Bill Pullman character. I could see myself being okay with that, maybe, but how about you?