Outer Range is a series that we will find fascinating or confusing; original and even disconcerting, it will leave no one indifferent.
What is Outer Range? Cattle rancher Royal Abbott (Josh Brolin) operates the sprawling ranch he owns with his family in the heart of Wyoming. He tries to preserve his domain against the Tillersons, owners of the neighboring ranch led by the patriarch Wayne (Will Patton), who claim part of the land. The tension between the two clans reaches a point of no return when one of the Tillerson sons is killed. At the same time, while Royal reluctantly agrees to let the young Autumn (Imogen Poots) bivouac on the ranch, a mysterious hole appears on her property: a gigantic bottomless pit, of unknown origin, which intrigues and fascinates Royal…
New series from Amazon Prime Video created by Brian Watkins, Outer Range looks pretty basic at first. Don’t be fooled by it: it switches very quickly into something else – somewhere between mysticism, the paranormal and science fiction. This is what makes it a mysterious, original and destabilizing fiction that will certainly not be unanimous. And it is enough to read the first reviews, without half measures: for some, it has the potential to become cult when others see it as a winded, pompous and abstruse story.
Outer Range tells the story of Royal Abbott, who lives with his wife (Lily Taylor), two sons and granddaughter on their ranch in Wyoming, each trying to come to terms with the sudden disappearance of the family’s daughter-in-law, which is investigated by the sheriff’s deputy (Tamara Podemski). Royal carries on his activity as a cattle breeder despite the difficult economic context and the conflict which opposes him to the Tillersons who claim part of his land. A brutal murder will exacerbate tensions and send the two clans into a spiral of violence.
Until then, it’s a good old western with impeccable technical skills, which takes up all the expected of the genre, sometimes even down to the clichés: wide shots of natural landscapes, rides through the plains, rodeos, traditional characters. Like Royal, a weathered and laconic cowboy whose past recalls that of the Rip and whose methods those of John Dutton of Yellowstone. Throughout the episodes, Outer Range connects twists and turns – some more inspired than others – and builds an atmosphere of contemporary far west, with these two opposing families for the control of a territory, in a region shaken by the economic crisis.
Everything changes when Royal discovers a hole in his land. Not a hole caused by rain or a landslide (that would be too simple), but a kind of bottomless pit, which mysteriously appeared overnight and which seems to have… very particular characteristics. And splash! The mixture of western and family saga falls into the supernatural thriller. Taylor Sheridan is writing an episode of The fourth dimensionJohn Ford who meets The Leftovers. This abyss, which is obviously not there by chance, has consequences for all the protagonists, starting with those who dare to approach it. Including Royal, masterfully interpreted by Josh Brolin, a hero who we thought we had seen a thousand times on the screen but who then takes on a whole new dimension, the presence of this hole and the related mystery transforming him physically, mentally, psychologically.
The mix of genres is surprising, and the assumed choice to make them coexist without necessarily intermingling them is at least as surprising. Except for the enigmatic and fascinating pilot, the western and the supernatural are constantly juxtaposed. When the first episode ends with a staggering chasm-related cliffhanger, the next begins as if nothing had happened and plunges us back into the daily and almost mundane life of the Abbotts. Outer Range therefore decides to mislead and frustrate his audience, to play with his expectations.
Even if some clues are obvious (Autumn’s presence, Royal’s past, the disappearance of her stepdaughter, the very specific part of the ranch that Wayne Tillerson wishes to seize), Outer Range disorients and destabilizes. The atmosphere, always dark and tense, reaches its climax in visually powerful and expressive sequences, carried by distressing atmospheric music, where we do not necessarily understand what we are seeing. A choice that puts us in fact in the same situation as Royal: he wanders on his ranch, groggy and incredulous, to try to solve this mystery that is beyond him. And Josh Brolin, decidedly perfect in the role, conveys to us all the uncertainty, astonishment and uneasiness of his character.
Outer range requires an act of faith, we must accept the surrealist premise. The abyss is the founding element of the mythology on which the series will be based; it is nearby that certain phenomena, apparitions or visions occur; it is he who engenders a distortion of history whose initial normality he smashes; it is he who opens up before our eyes and under Royal’s feet a dimension between the supernatural and mysticism, even philosophy; it is he who makes the western a high concept series, with all the inherent questions. Is the concept in question a pretext or does it have a real stake? Will the false leads and revelations lead to a satisfactory conclusion? Will we get a convincing explanation?
Western and esoteric science fiction based on a strong but risky primordial idea, Outer Range has at least the great merit of destabilizing and confusing the viewer. The way it juggles between genres, its deliberately constructed story to mislead us, its allegorical dimension with all the interpretations imaginable for the moment also make it a divisive series. It can be found fascinating, disturbing and captivating… or convoluted, pretentious and confusing. You know what you have to do: form your own opinion by jumping with both feet into the Outer Range, its abyss and its mysteries.
8 episodes of around 50′.
2 episodes per week on Amazon Prime Video