“Outer Range” has come to an end. And what an ending.
Episodes 7 and 8 of the Josh Brolin-led supernatural drama, now streaming on Prime Video, exposed old secrets, revealed new truths and unleashed many, many buffalo on an unsuspecting Wyoming town. It was an apt perfect payoff for what was already a masterclass in slow-burn mythology-building and deft character work, with stunning performances from Lili Taylor, Imogen Poots, Noah Reid and Will Patton (amongst many others). And typical to the show, it beautifully mixed everyday drama (who will be victorious at the rodeo?) with oversized mystical quandaries.
Given what unfolded over the last four episodes, we had to chat with creator and executive producer Brian Watkins about the spellbinding final stretch of episodes – and what’s in store for the future of “Outer Range.”
Major spoilers for “Outer Range” follow. If you haven’t finished the season, DO NOT read on.
Royal ingests the black dust and he sees a vision of his death. Or is it a vision of his death?
At the end of episode two we see him experience this other time where he does not exist, where he has recently died and his wife Cecilia comes up to him and says, “You died in my arms.” And in episode five we get to see Royal experience a vision of that, exactly what Cecilia told him at the end of two; and lo and behold, we see that Autumn is right there for it.
Should the show continue – which, by the way, any updates on that?
I wish I could, but I can’t tell you anything on that.
Well, is this something that you will be exploring perhaps from a different angle or in more depth, should the show continue?
Well, what I’ll say is that we were all really intrigued by the idea of a journey that starts with a man that knows he’s going to die and thus must prevent a future that includes that. So that’s been a really wonderful, fun narrative track for us to follow throughout these first eight episodes. It really comes to a head at the end of five with Royal seeing that Autumn and his wife Cecilia are linked in the process of his death.
Let’s discuss one of my favorite sequences from the final run of episodes – Royal’s “All the President’s Men” routine of looking for information about By9 and the oil companies. And it’s not just funny but actually ends up paying off.
I like that you took away “All the President’s Men” from that sequence. That’s one of my favorite films and to pepper in a little bit of tradecraft into this episode was a fun challenge and something fun to do with Royal. I think the point of it was, this is a man on a quest and he’s now off to the exotic reaches of Laramie, and the fun behind that rather local search to figure out where is Autumn from, who is this woman, but also this card that he found at the Tillerson house that references Dr. Nia Bintu. If you go back to the end of episode two, we experience images of the doctor there, we see BY9 on these derricks that are drilling into the land. So Royal is now thrust into this place of needing to put together pieces of both the future and the past to figure out what he must do in the present.
How hard is it for you and the writers not to give away too much? There must be a push and pull about how much to reveal and how much mystery to maintain.
I think it was a fun narrative challenge to say, “all right, if time is like this labyrinth that we can sort of make our way through, how do we build fun cliffhangers, but also include Easter eggs for the past…almost like a way of this odyssey that spans past, present and future all at once. It was a lot of fun to crack that story in the writers room but it certainly was not without its puzzling difficulties.
At the very beginning of 5, Wayne comes back to the house after clobbering Royal and falls into a catatonic state. What is going on there?
Wayne has a stroke at the beginning of five and it has to do with the impact of the fight that he’s had with Royal. The fight at the hole leads into his stroke where we also get to see premonitions of his childhood that will weave into our story going forward.
One of the things we see is that he was at the hole when a boy, about his age, crawls out. We later learn this boy is Royal. Was this one of the things that everyone agreed had to be addressed by the end of season 1?
I think the Wayne/Royal standoff was always one of the more thrilling relationships to dive into whatever way we could. These are two men, one from a traditional background, and one from a deeply capitalistic profiteering background, and pitting them against each other, not just
in the, in the past, but in the present, felt like a fun challenge to write, as their collision course came to a head at the end of episode four. And then that traveled, like you say, into five.
Was there any trepidation about taking him off the board before the big finale?
Yeah, a little bit. You have to tell the stories you’ve got to tell; you know, but Will understood what we were after and was game for it. Given what a brilliant actor he is, I would truly write anything and everything for him. He’s an absolute joy to work with.
Two big things happen when Wayne is in this catatonic state: Luke tries to kill him and Billy feeds him the crushed-up rock, seemingly in an attempt to revive him.
Luke trying to kill Wayne was a narrative strand that we wanted to follow –this theme of the sins of the father are visited upon the sons. Throughout the course of the season, we see Luke try to not become his father, but invariably become more and more like his father. Exploring questions of why that is was one big aim for the scene when Luke tries to smother him. And then of course it leads to a split in his relationship with Billy. Billy is really close to Wayne and him seeing Luke do that complicates their relationship. And it spins Billy off onto this track of following Autumn who has become more and more this messianic figure for him that is guiding him as this shepherd in the night, as she says. It was an interesting way to push the Tillerson story into Autumn’s story as well.
As far as Billy ingesting the dark mineral… Noah Reid is just so incredible in the show. And I remember the day we were doing this, and he sings this really creepy Judee Sill song that I’ve been in love with for years and sprinkles that dust on his father as a consecration of the land, upon his enfeebled dad. And not only does that hopefully bear some meaning for what the show is about – how the spiritual and the land intersect – but also how Wayne’s story is not over.
Let’s talk about one of the final episodes’ big reveal – that Royal is actually from the 1800s and fell through the void as a child.
We always knew that it should come at the end of episode seven, and we felt like it was the penultimate episode because it launched Royal into this manic grief. The reveal of his own past actually is what makes his son Perry see some hope. The hole is this opportunity and Royal tries to tell him, “No, it is not that.” And it’s too late. Perry goes into the hole and Royal is left there, reeling with guilt as the hole closes. Now, he is a man with vengeance in his eyes and he’s after Autumn with a whole new resolve.
We knew it had to come at the end of 7 for those reasons. We also thought it would be one of the more surprising places to put the reveal of a big secret like that. And hopefully we draw it backwards to fun little things like the reason he didn’t eat ice cream until he was 10 years old is because he grew up in the 1800s. Little Easter eggs that come into play. But again, it comes back to this idea of the sins of a father being visited upon the children and the thematic mirror of the Tillersons and Abbotts.
The other big reveal is that Autumn is Amy from the future.
The idea for it came really early in the process of “Outer Range.” It came in the mini room that we had way back when I was writing the bible for the series. I think it really came into play with the idea of grace being the main theme of the season finale. Royal’s speech really starts with grace. And we see that as a theme throughout the season as well, be it his prayer in the second episode or be it the scene at church in the sixth episode.
But the Autumn-is-Amy reveal came back to this idea of grace, this idea of, what if your greatest enemy was someone that was very close to you,someone you love, and you didn’t know that they were in fact of your own kin? And that became such a launchpad for the idea of secrets in this show, of the unknown – What is held from us? What is unknowable? And grace became the cohering glue for all of these questions.
The big billboard in seven and eight that reads, “America tells you that the only things worth knowing are those which can be known. America is wrong.” That billboard became a thematic fulcrum for the last half of the season so that as we experience Royal’s revelation that Autumn is in fact his granddaughter, that there is a descending grace upon that whole scene and that he then carries her home and puts her into Amy’s bed. And we start to see how disparate stories of fates colliding are interwoven. And more than that, they are one and the same.
It’s such a beautiful moment too when Cecilia says that Amy’s gone and Brolin says, “No, she’s not. She’s here.”
I’ve got to say writing episode eight was one of the more joyous writing experiences that I’ve had. It was a thrill ride putting that script together. And then seeing our director, Larry Trilling, and our DP, Drew Daniels, execute it at such a high level. It was this bizarre experience of literally the things that I saw in my head for that episode are exactly what they rendered. And that is such a gift to experience when the artists that you’re collaborating will execute what was on the page and elevate it in such a way that felt like they were inside my brain in a beautiful way.
Luke finds a second hole. Is he looking for oil or is he on a more existential quest?
The West is filled with stories about treasures in the Earth, about seeking opportunity with digging into what’s beneath our feet. And the idea of Luke striking the mother lode of this dark mineral that has been living underneath the soil for perhaps all of time was really a way to crack open the story. If these eight episodes are really about the discovery of this dark mineral, what does that mean when that dark mineral is then unleashed into the world? Luke’s story really catapults that idea for us and cracked it open in a fun way that also introduced a stampede of time buffalo.
Joy returns to Frank’s land and travels back in time. Where do you see Joy going and how important was this journey for her?
When we see her follow that trail of the dark mineral in 7 and then we see where she ends up in 8, we can infer that she’s traveled to the past. I think we were all really excited by the idea of someone that needed to get back home. And that was having to make sense of a past that she had heard about and feels deeply connected to but has never physically been a part of. I could watch Tamara Podemski’s performance in those final episodes on repeat, because seeing how she tackles the co-mingling of catharsis with fear, with thrill…she was able to play five different things at once, and it was really special to witness.
Was the mastodon ever in this finale?
The mastodon was not ever in this finale, but we hoped that people would be wishing for it or perhaps maybe expecting it. Frank Harlan is one of our favorite characters and bringing him back at the end of the season was a fun little scene to shoot as well.
Rebecca returns. Did Cecilia see her earlier in the season? And what are we supposed to take away from her return/abduction of Amy?
Answer to the first part of your question is a big old maybe. There’s a quality to these mysteries for the Abbotts that I think is important that we see them not solving things. That their emotional lives are really defined by being in the murkiness of life sometimes. And what does that feel like? And what are the ways that we cope with that murkiness? Sometimes it’s their faith, sometimes it’s their community, sometimes it’s their work . Leaving those questions open is not intended to frustrate audiences, but a way to bring us into what the Abbotts were dealing with emotionally, if that makes sense.
And then the second question of Rebecca – we wanted to leave the story open that this is a woman that did not want to leave her daughter but had to. The co-mingling of regret with joy at being reunited with her at the end of eight was another one of those scenes that was just heart-rending to witness when it was shot. I think what came across were such incredible performances from those two actresses.
What are the biggest mysteries left at the end of Season 1 that you are potentially looking forward to exploring in future “Outer Range” adventures?
Well, what I’ll say to that is that it’s our hope that all of those clues will be dug into from that future hole scene, because it does take place so far in the future. And again, these last few episodes were such a collision course of the past, the present, and the future that hopefully the emotional impact of what these people have gone through invokes enough chatter to make us ask questions about our own selves and about how we grapple with the unknown. What do we do when the unknown comes and kicks over our kitchen table? That’s hopefully the biggest discussion from the end of this season. I’m excited for all of the theories to blossom and to gain traction. I’m not going to speak to any future narratives or storylines, except that we are very thrilled to have all of these eight episodes out into the world in such a way that feels cathartic for everyone that made it.
Is there a finite number of stories that you want to tell? There’s nothing better than a mystery show overstaying its welcome.
I think it’s the intention of every show to do the tricky dance of providing enough mystery and then enough answers to both pull us forward and help us re-watch things with a level of intrigue that informs our future viewing of it. To answer your question, I’ll tell you a story about the first few drafts of the pilot episode that I wrote. I really wanted to impress upon people the idea that this story was about the flattening of time or the crunching of time and how past, present, and future live in these very overlapped ways, particularly for the people in “Outer Range.” And so as Royal was falling through the hole at the end of episode one, there was a stage where I had written all of these snippets of what he hears as he falls through the hole. I had written he hears such and such from episode 397…He hears such and such from episode 5,624. He hears such and such from episode -8. And in that way, it was a gimmick and a way to infuse a sense of fun to the read, but I think it also hopefully told the reader what the show is about, which is that overlap of past, present, and future and how that can inform our imaginations about the unknown.
All eight episodes of “Outer Range” Season 1 are streaming on Prime Video now.