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'Outer Range' Season Two Sacrifices Vibes for Plot [Spoilers]

By Dustin Rowles | TV | May 24, 2024 |

By Dustin Rowles | TV | May 24, 2024 |


The first season of Outer Range is about a large hole in the middle of a field on a ranch in Wyoming that appears around the same time a manic-pixie-dream drifter named Autumn rolls into town and a nine-year-old girl named Amy disappears. Royal Abbott (Josh Brolin) is the ranch owner, it’s his granddaughter who disappears, and it’s also his ranch that Autumn drifts onto. Royal’s son and Amy’s father, Perry (Tom Pelphrey), kills a neighboring rancher during a bar fight. Bill Pullman’s kid, Lewis, plays Rhett Abbott, who is trying to escape town, and Noah Reid from Schitt’s Creek plays a rancher who speaks mostly in 1980s and ’90s hair metal songs.

It’s a kooky, weird-ass season built around a compelling mystery. It’s aimless but a blast, and Josh Brolin — who is actually from 1882 but crawled out of that hole into the 1980s and lived his life until the present — brilliantly holds it all together. It’s like Yellowstone crossed with Dark with the tone of Patriot. Needless to say, I loved it. I thought the show was entertaining, a little confusing in a good way, and exhilarating.

The show was created by Brian Watkins, a guy with zero credits to his name. After the first season, I think maybe Prime Video thought, “Love the cast. Like the hole, but maybe this show is a little too eccentric for us.” In the second season, Charles Murray (Sons of Anarchy, Inhumans) takes over as showrunner, and I think he came in with a mandate: Make it make sense.

And to his credit, he does. While the first season was driven by vibes, the second season is more plot-driven. The hole is less mystery and more plot device, and while I still very much enjoyed it, it has definitely lost some of its charm. There’s not enough WTFery going on here.

At the end of the first season, Royal figured out that 29-year-old Autumn was actually 9-year-old Amy. She’d fallen into the time hole as a kid and crawled out about 20 years prior with no memory of her identity. She was raised in a cult, but eventually, she felt pulled back to the Abbott ranch.

In the second season, we see the motions that would lead 9-year-old Amy to fall into that hole come together. Spoilers for the second season.

The whole season is written with that endpoint in mind, and all the characters converge to make it happen. The real catalyst is Autumn herself, who is hellbent on ensuring that her nine-year-old self falls into the hole so that the 29-year-old version of herself ends up on the Abbott ranch to push her in. It’s something of a paradox — if nine-year-old Amy had never fallen into the hole, there’d never be a 29-year-old Autumn to push her into it.

It’s not the only paradox, either. Deputy Sheriff Joy Hawk (Tamara Podemski) falls into the hole in the present, surfaces in the 1880s, and lives during that period for four years before she’s responsible for the events that lead young Royal Abbott to crawl into the hole and climb out in the 1980s, live until the 2020s, and own the ranch where Joy falls into the hole to set in motion the events that cause Royal to jump in the hole.

It’s circular. Indeed, the rules of time travel in Outer Range completely lose their logic. There’s another instance where Perry, who killed the Tillerson brother in a bar fight before later jumping in the hole, resurfaces just in time to return to the bar fight only to see himself killed by the Tillerson brother this time. If he had died in the bar fight, he shouldn’t have existed to jump into the hole to travel back in time to watch himself die, but the series handwaves that by having Perry throw his own corpse into the hole. Nonsense!

The lack of time-travel logic would have been more excusable in the first season when vibes fueled it, but if Charles Murray’s mandate was to make it make sense, he managed to pull the story together but forgot to use the gel of logic to hold it together. He wants to have his cake and eat it too, while creator Brian Watkins was more interested in smearing cake all over the windows.

Don’t get me wrong: Season two is still out there, and I had a blast watching it, but it tries to put the wheels back on and loses a little something for it. Granted, it is still stranger than 95 percent of the era’s streaming, algorithm-driven slop, and I will giddily tune in for a season three if Prime Video chooses to renew it. However, I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed that the second season tries to rein in the go-for-broke audacity that made the first season so great. Yet, for the second season’s faults, it’s never boring and easily the best hole show since Dark.