And we’re back!
“Outer Range” is our new obsession and with good reason. The Prime Video original series releases two new episodes each week and stars Josh Brolin stars as Royal Abbott, the patriarch of a Wyoming ranching family that finds his way of life under attack — primarily by the overbearing zealot next door, Wayne Tillerson (played by Will Patton), but also by the discovery, on his western pasture, of a giant void that seems to be an otherworldly bridge between far-flung points in time. (In the first episode, we see him get pushed in; by the second we learn that he was sent into the future, two years after his death.)
We’re back with creator and executive producer Brian Watkins, who walks us through episodes 3 and 4. Watkins talks us through the symbology of the buffalo, Wayne’s bubbling Clamato and what he thinks about the disappearing mountain. Also learn what odd detail from “It’s a Wonderful Life” inspired an equally weird moment in “Outer Range.”
We don’t have as much time this week so we’re going to jump around a little bit. Let’s talk about the finale of episode 3 with the disappearing mountain.
If our main character is starting to learn that something is happening with time on this land in such a way that time is really, we see where the past, present, and future might be colliding. We talked a lot about the inspiration for the sequence, which was actually from this James Michener book, “Centennial,” which, the first hundred pages of that book and a lot of his books talk about the geographical history or the topographical history of an area. It’s why we wanted to start the episode with that time-lapse, that really takes us through all of the evolutions of the land. And in that way, the mountain disappearing at the end is this sort of glitch in time that Royal is experiencing. And, it might have something to do with the fact that when he and Autumn shook hands and he noticed a swirl in her necklace, that there is a link to these events that’s occurring that made that glitch in time occur.
The other thing is that Brolin’s performance is so hilariously understated – is that how you conceived of that scene too, with him being like, “Nope, nothing at all going on here.”
It’s, like such a cowboy way to really fathom an unfathomable event. I just love the fact that he played it with such a straightforward, hand close to his chest kind of way. Like, he never showed his cards in that scene. And I love that. I thought it was like the perfect performance for that.
One of the other major things in episode three is Joy’s interaction with Frank Harlan. Where did the pet crow come from?
The pet crow was a nice touch that came in a little later. I think we were talking about it in the writers’ room and said part of the inspiration for the scene was there’s a scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life,” of all films. I know you probably weren’t expecting a Frank Capra reference for “Outer Range,” but there’s a scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” where I think it’s Uncle Billy is the character that has these squirrels and birds in his office while he’s melting down. In the writer’s room, we just thought that was such an interesting detail that this guy has a pet crow in his place. And they’re massive loud birds. It added to the idea that this kind of quirky character was an influential person in the town.
It was just like a fun detail that we wanted to lean into. And it also speaks to the strangeness of this particular part of the world, where there’s all sorts of wild, strange characters in Northwestern Wyoming. One other of which actually is introduced in the bar in the character of Cupcake.
And I’m not sure you notice Cupcake in the scene between Autumn and Perry, but that character came from, I was in this wonderful dive bar in Dubois, Wyoming at like 11:00 AM on a Tuesday one time. And I walked in there to check out the place and hoping that it would stir some sort of inspiration for the show in some ways and sitting at the bar was one person. And in front of him, he had a bottle of Budweiser and a cupcake. And I came back to the writers’ room and I told him this story and Zev Borow, our co-showrunner and the writer of “The Simpsons” was like, “We’ve got to write a character and their name is Cupcake, he’s got to go in.” And like, hell yeah. That’s where Cupcake came from.
Well, the other part of the Frank Harlan scene that has caused me endless fascination is the Mastodon story. What was your takeaway from that? Is this something that we should consider literal truth? Is this more of kind of cosmic weirdness, or how true is it?
Why is, why are cosmic truth and weirdness mutually exclusive?
That’s true when it comes to “Outer Range,” those things are very close.
Cosmic weirdness is the truth in this case. I’ll leave it at that. That is a fun little thing that we want to dance toward in future episodes.
Can we tell people that maybe she will return to Frank’s property?
You could say, let’s say this it’s not the last time that [she] and Frank will have an encounter.
Earlier in the episode, Joy encounters a tweaker in a convenience store who mentions missing people. Have you worked out the secret history of this town? Is this something that does go on fairly often and is Rebecca’s disappearance part of this kind of continuum of disappearances?
It is. Yeah, and we kind of plotted out the backstory that we think would be most interesting for all of that, of course, and then try to weave it into these story points and what Perry’s pain is. But I think more than that, it speaks to this thematic strain of how loss is an everyday point of grief for the Abbott characters and moreover sort of planting this existential question of when something goes missing, where does it go? And that’s hopefully a question that we can relate to the grief and the loss that our characters are feeling that there’s an incompleteness or, a sense of wrongness to these missing people that are in their lives.
Does it also connect to the historical nature of the land itself and the missing indigenous peoples?
Yeah, exactly, exactly. Right.
Wayne says to one of the kids, “You sound just like your mother.” How long has Wayne and his wife been separated and how long has he been obsessed with this land?
I’ll speak to the point of how long they’ve been separated. You know, the story that we built for ourselves is one where the dissolution of their marriage happened when their boys were in high school. And so the Tillerson boys grew u,p when they were coming of age, in high school, grew up in this environment of feral masculinity and that just ruled over the house and our incredible production designer took this and ran with at this and designed that Tillerson house with so many incredible details. Like a little dirt bike is in there. There’s a VR headset, there’s cases of Red Bull. There’s all sorts of taxidermy animals. There’s very fun, little details in that room. And that set was so much fun to work on and tell stories in and stuff. And as far as the second question, that’s a wait-and-see one.
Connected to that, when she returns Billy’s outfit changes completely, he’s a T-shirt and sweatshirt guy. And then he looks more like a cowboy when she shows up. What was the thought behind that?
We had a blast looking at what shirts Billy Tillerson would be wearing in each episode. And if you look closely, you’ll see when his mom arrives before he’s wearing, I think it’s this incredible jellyfish design that’s on the breast of that shirt. It’s a jellyfish western shirt, which is one of my favorite costumes of Billy’s, and Rachel Dainer-Best just did an incredible job finding the quirky details for each character. But yeah, I think, if we’re talking about Episode 3, it’s not going to be any secret to anyone that the end of that episode we discover or rediscover the body of Trevor Tillerson. And with the advent of that, there is a shift in the story that maybe things that are lost are not gone, and that’s a recurring theme in this, but back to Billy’s clothing choices, there is a turn in the story that certainly makes him spruce up a little bit. And, it happens to be linked to the loss of his brother.
Episode 4 starts with the flashback to nine months ago, a very “Jurassic Park”-type scene where one of his guys brings him a rock. Would you say, this is the flash point? Is this what reignites Wayne’s obsession with this weirdness on the land?
Yeah, I think Wayne is a character that has these inklings of a prophet, and I think there’s something stirring within him and something that’s always been stirring within him to a degree that he has a harmonious relationship to the energy of the land. And he feels things, he feels things in ways that other people don’t, and in that way, Billy Tillerson is the closest to him in that. That there is something strong about Wayne that’s in Billy and vice versa. They have a deep connection as father and son, but yeah, there’s scene in episode 4 where the rock is brought to him and he sees it ever so slightly move, which is a new clue for Wayne to advance this rather spiritual frontiering quest that he’s upon.
During Joy’s interaction with Royal, she mentions UFOs. Is there a possibility they could be brought into “Outer Range?”
I like where your mind’s going. I say, bring them in. There’s all sorts of strange happenings up there. I think I wouldn’t disqualify it. I’ll say that.
There’s Wayne’s breakdown with the fur coat and he’s screaming at the buffalo. Royal’s buffalo has a few big moments this episode. What is the connection there? Is there a possibility that Royal’s buffalo is the same buffalo that’s on Wayne’s wall?
I can’t answer that. I can’t answer that. Shooting that scene by the way, with Will Patton. I mean, he just doubled down in the greatest way. It was like watching a master at work, him doing this grief scream into a buffalo mouth. He like completely transcended everything that we thought was possible with that scene. That was a joy to see, but that’s the main thing I’ll tell you about.
There’s a moment during Rhett’s interrogation where he says to Royal that he wishes he could turn back time and Royal gives this look like, maybe there is some way of harnessing this thing for the good of his family.
I… no, I think he’s a character that is really questioning how to use the tools that are before him, that’s he’s really questioning. Maybe there’s something about this that can be wielded. And maybe there’s something about what we’re going through that isn’t permanent. Again, this sort of refrain of maybe what’s lost is not gone. I think that’s where his character’s head is at, that’s where the episode is. The episode is called “The Loss.” And I think Royal’s head is really spinning around that theme.
The title of the episode travels in many different ways from that scene, the loss of Trevor, we’re at his funeral. We experienced loss there. And then the poker match, of course, another semblance of the loss. So it’s a theme throughout the episode that we hope people lock into.
Why do you think Patricia knows it’s Perry?
I think Patricia suspects that it’s Perry simply by having a decades-long relationship with that family. And being able to read on their faces, what they’re holding and what they’re not. I think she’s another one of those characters that has a deep sense of a high level of instinct about the Abbotts and, looking at just seeing how torn a party is inside. I think she can put some pieces together there that other people might not be able to.
After the funeral, Royal talks to Joy and says maybe there’s nothing out there and describes chaos all the way down. Is that his understanding of the void or is that his worldview or both?
I think it’s both. And he’s really fucking with Joy. I think he senses that Joy is onto him in some keen way. There’s a lot being said under the surface and between them throughout Episodes 3 and 4, and I think he sees her as a threat, that’s getting closer and closer to what the Abbotts are hiding and what Royal, in particular, is hiding. And as such, he really wants to throw her for a loop or send her off in another direction. And so there’s this sort of showdown gaze at the bar that occurs. I think it hopefully ratchets up the conflict between them at the beginning of the episode, when she’s interrogated the family. I think what we see is she gets too close to home for Royal and this is his way of retaliating.
There are so many great production design details in this stretch. Royal’s bolero is a stone. The Coors Light logo is mimicking the disappearing mountain. How many of these things did you guys come up with in the writer’s room and how many were inventions on set?
They were pretty much all from the writers’ room. I think we really had a sense of symbology that we wanted to impart on the show from the outset and the writers did such a great job of like spitballing. What are the sort of icons of the show that can kind of be these physical Easter eggs and help guide our characters along like their encountering totems across their world. We started to think of the neon beer sign as a totem and the belt buckle as this, that’s a rodeo belt buckle, and kind of linking it between father and son. And so hopefully they bear emotional import as much as they bear narrative import.
The buffalo shows up during the poker match. You said before that he’s Royal’s spirit guide. And I was wondering what his appearance in that scene means. Is he giving Royal strength or like permission to do what he is about to do?
Sure. Yeah, I think the arrival of the Buffalo in that scene is the clue that Royal takes to double down. Something is at work here, as he says in that scene. And the buffalo is confirmation of that. And the other side of that, in the writers’ room, we wanted to conceive of a world where like, it wouldn’t be implausible for a buffalo to be standing outside of a saloon, which, which was a great fun task to try to build story towards and try to incorporate it in as realistic way as possible. But the buffalo continues to be this premonition for Royal as a guide, like you said, that takes him through his journey.
Why is Royal so obsessed with her necklace? Have you worked out where this came from?
We do, we do. That was something that we really built a strong backstory for in the writers’ room. And if you look closely in Episode 3, when you first see it, you’ll see that it’s a bit of this darker mineral that is sort of held in place by amber. And it is inferring a bit of a linkage for Royal, at least in the same sort of darker mineral that he sees swirling in the hole. You’ll see in her necklace in 3, that dark mineral moves ever so slightly right before the mountain disappears. And then likewise at the start of 4, you’ll see in Wayne’s rock.
Royal cheats, which is huge. Is that just another indication of him doing anything to protect his family and this land or does it speak to something else?
Yeah. No, I mean I continue to poke your metaphor, he’s all in, at this point, there’s no going back and it is anything you can do to protect your family, to keep this a secret, to restore what has been fractured. And I think he’s a man on a mission by the end of Episode 4 and we see that mission sort of catalyze and take him on a journey throughout the final episodes.
Wayne knocks his Clamato over and it seems to activate the rock. Can you talk about that?
Yeah. When you go to Wyoming, you go to Yellowstone National Park, as many people have been to you’ll notice all these geysers and gaseous, crazy patterns that occur in the air, and in the writers’ room, we were trying to conceive of a way to get at sort of the wildness of the land as it, as it might be interacting with these characters. And with the spilling of the Clamato, you’ll see a kind of pools around the rock and our mission with our production designer say, “We want it to look like one of those crazy gaseous patterns that occur up in Yellowstone,” we show a picture he’s like, “Oh, very cool.” And so the aim was always sort marry the outer world to the inner world in that, and to look at how the Clamato spill could teach us or teach Wayne, rather, something more about what he’s experiencing. Or rather see patterns that are occurring that he wouldn’t have otherwise seen if that accident of spilling the Clamato hadn’t happened. It’s a bit of a wink at the same time, too.
The show is at its most absurd when we’re with the Tillersons, I think it’s safe to say. And leaning into the fun of that and also just like any chance to use Clamato in “Outer Range,” we just got to go for it, so that’s a little bit of where that came from. He’s also watching “Gunsmoke” and he’s staring at the buffalo, there’s all sorts of elements that are showing Wayne something more than what he can see.
Wayne obviously goes looking for the void. He finds it. And Royal is there. Do you think Royal is attempting to kill Wayne?
I think he’s definitely trying to stop him. I think if that fight would’ve continued, it would’ve been a strong chance that Wayne would’ve gone right in that hole. But he’s definitely trying to stop him.
Wayne gets the upper hand and knocks him unconscious with the rock. Wayne, to me, seems like someone who’s much more in it for the kind of gamesmanship than Royal. Could you talk about Wayne’s intent in that moment?
Yeah. Gamesmanship is the right word for it. I think Wayne, when he experiences that eureka! moment of finding the hole, everything clicks together for him on the inside. And I think, later on when we learn more about Wayne and Royal’s backstory, you might get a few hints as to why.